Mott Green (ne David Friedman), a visionary anarchist chocolatier who abandoned his upper-middle-class upbringing in favor of an idealistic, sustainable lifestyle, died June 1 in Belmont Estate, Grenada, following an electrical accident. He was 47.
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Green founded the Grenada Chocolate Company in 1999, after relocating to the Caribbean island a year earlier from Oregon. With his tremendous idealism and endless determination, he achieved in his adopted homeland what few people could dream of: The first-ever sustainable, ethical chocolate operation that brought the tasty treat from the tree directly to the consumer.
He rewrote the rules of the global chocolate industry by adding all the value at the source and bringing maximum benefit to the local economy, in this case to the people of Grenada whom he loved. He visited Grenada on and off for many years before actually moving there, but only became interested in chocolate more than a decade after first arriving on the island. “I saw all those lovely cocoa beans ending up being highly priced chocolate bars in Europe and America, and I thought why don’t the cocoa farmers just make cocoa bars themselves?” he said. This awareness, combined with the high unemployment on the island at the time, propelled him into the adventure of his life.
The chocolate industry has its bittersweet side: Ten companies control the entire cocoa roasting, chocolate production and worldwide sales, and growers, always the weakest link in the chain, are left with as little as 6 percent of what consumers pay for high-end chocolate. Mott started a cooperative in which farmers and producers have shares in the company and all get equal pay.
True to his vision of sustainability, Mott recently realized his dream of the first ever "farm-to-bar" zero-carbon chocolate. In March 2012, he loaded eight tons, or 50,000 bars of the Grenada Chocolate Company, onto the Tres Hombres, an old-fashioned sailboat driven by wind power, for the six-week journey that would bring the chocolate to Europe. This year’s shipment, arriving in Europe just weeks before his death, was delivered across The Netherlands by volunteers on bicycles.
My life was touched by Mott in 2009, when I joined filmmaker Eti Peleg on her journey to shoot a community of cocoa growers in the remote highlands of Guatemala for a documentary she was making about chocolate (Yaron Shani later signed on as co-director). She persuaded Mott to share his immense cocoa-growing and selling wisdom. When I first met him, he appeared unshaven, wearing a torn grey T-shirt, shabby khaki shorts and old Converse sneakers – but his humble appearance was clearly deceiving.
Mott's vision and life story as he recounted it to us, with the deafening sound of tropical crickets in the background, could almost sound like a caricature of an anarchist-idealist-environment-fanatic – if you didn’t actually know the person.
Born to a Jewish upper-middle-class family in New York, he didn’t seem destined to become a chocolate pioneer living on a tropical Island. Soon after beginning his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he lost interest in American society. He dropped out, and embarked on a life of squatting, or sometimes homelessness, and radical social activism. When he had enough of New York’s harsh winters, he started exploring various Caribbean islands, eventually falling for, and settling in, Grenada.
Despite his radical lifestyle and confident vision, Mott struck me immediately as a funny, and profoundly humble and genuine person. In our first evening with the family of growers, he naturally found himself sitting next to the mother outside our shack, joining her with separating the maize.
Using that great resourcefulness, his two hands (and a little money), he explored the complex and meticulous process of chocolate-making. He built some machines to be used in the process, bought other antique ones, and tasted every cocoa bean he could – eventually producing chocolate that has received international acclaim.
Under his leadership the Grenada Chocolate Company was awarded the Silver Medal in the Best Dark Chocolate Bar, Academy of Chocolate Awards 2008, 2011 and 2013; and the U.S. Secretary of State award for corporate excellence internationally.
At the time of his death, Grenada was preparing for the premiere screening of a documentary "Nothing like Chocolate" (narrated by Susan Sarandon and produced by Kum Kum Bhavnani), which introduces viewers to Mott and his vision to create the best chocolate in the world.
"Mott was an astute businessman, patriot, chocolatier, environmentalist, advocate, innovator, community activist, and people lover, always working relentlessly and tirelessly to ensure that Grenada’s cocoa farmers, cocoa, and chocolate were respected and recognized locally, regionally and internationally," Shadel Nyack Compton, the managing director of Belmont Estate, wrote on that site's Facebook page. "He was indeed a genius - simple in lifestyle, but profound in thought, word and deed."
Mott lived on his own in a bamboo shack, championed solar-panel technology for his local community – and, up until his last day, he continued living what he preached, sleeping in a small room used as a tool shed in the chocolate factory.
“Mott was a true visionary, a uniquely pure spirit who engaged with everyone whose paths crossed with him," Chantal Coady, one of Britain’s finest chocolatiers, who had been collaborating with Mott for years and sells his chocolates in Britain, told me. "He had a magical quality of sharing his chocolate, his deep passion for sustainability and he was also a hugely gifted cook. He leaves a very large pair of bare feet to be filled in the chocolate world."
Green is survived by his mother, brother, uncle and aunt.