KAPA‘A — Valentine’s day is approaching and one farm has the perfect Kaua’i-made product that anyone could appreciate: chocolate made with passion.
Will Lydgate, owner of Lydgate Farms since 2007, said chocolate chose him.
“We got some cacao tree starts from National Tropical Botanical Gardens at Allerton in 2002 and became fascinated with it,” Lydgate said. “No one in Hawai‘i knew much about how to grow or how to make chocolate. My great-grandfather was a botanist and I’ve always been interested in plants, especially ones that make food or medicine. So I just sort of followed my passion and here we are now.”
Lydgate has nine employees and manages 46 acres of agriculturally zoned land in Kapa‘a Homesteads in the Olohena district.
“I did this for my family and for future generations of Lydgates and Kauaians,” Lydgate said. “I want to build a farm business that takes care of my family and team, pays above market wages for the best people out there, and is at the cutting edge of the new craft chocolate movement that is spreading through the U.S.”
Lydgate Farms is the largest cacao farm in Kaua‘i and growing, and one of the largest in the United States, as this is the only state you can grow the trees in.
“We have been selected by the Fine Chocolate and Cacao Institute to represent the U.S. as a leading cacao grower and had our beans win top 50 best in the world in Paris, France at the Cocoa of Excellence awards,” Lydgate said. “I am excited to be leading a team that is growing a crop that has a future on Kaua‘i, much like wine in Napa Valley. It’s a good comparison because chocolate has both fine and subtle flavors just like a good red wine.”
Although passion drives his daily production, Lydgate said he and his team sell about 30,000 bars per year.
“Sales go up and down every month, it’s been a challenge to reinvent ourselves as an online business while still staying open to tend to our trees and get ready for visitors coming back,” Lydgate said. “I don’t want to lose my wonderful team and shut down. We are still open for tours and have a nice special for local folks right now.”
Lydgate said that the pandemic has been “one of the hardest periods of my life.”
“We were just taking off before COVID, all my big plans were coming to fruition. COVID really changed things. It took away our visitors, which were 80% of our sales — farm tours, chocolate, new customers for online, everything.”
Lydgate said he has deep gratitude towards his team for pulling through to increase online sales to 300% in 2020.
Lydgate said his cacao is fermented properly, which is an art unto itself.
“Many Hawaiian growers have not mastered this art,” Lydgate said.
According to Lydgate, fermented cacao is actually the second most chemically complex substance on the planet after crude oil. It has over 500 different chemical compounds in it, many of which have fine flavors and health benefits.
Although the pandemic brought some setbacks, Lydgate is looking forward to the future.
“We have some really exciting new products launching in 2021, we are about to change the game,” Lydgate said. And if you haven’t tried the new Kaua‘i Cacao from Koloa Rum, get some, it’s a true Kaua‘i agricultural product.”
Lydgate Farms’ Hawaiian Chocolate can be found in different businesses island-wide.
“Lydgate Holey Grail Donuts uses our 70% dark chocolate in all their glazes, and Koloa Rum uses our cacao nibs to make their Kaua‘i Cacao Rum, which can be found at their tasting room at Kilohana,” Lydgate said. “We are also at Princeville Wine, Trilogy Coffee, Kaua‘i Juice Co, Papayas, Vim n’ Vigor, and the Koloa Rum Company Store. And we have some new places coming online like bars at Holey Grail Donuts in Ward on O‘ahu and Maui Wine in Ulupalakua upcountry Maui where my family used to have a home.”
Lydgate’s farm shop is Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information go to lydgatefarms.com.
Source: The Garden Island