Crioco Cacao, LLC

Over ten years ago, BFREE began exploring the environmental, social, and economic benefits of shade grown organic cacao as a tool for conserving and restoring tropical forests and ecosystems. In 2016, BFREE’s cacao trees and chocolate grown in the project received “Heirloom Fine Flavor” designation from the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund. This designation ignited BFREE’s interest in the very real possibility of using this special and rare cacao to save the rainforests of Belize. Just three years after the HCP designation, BFREE’s Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, established Crioco Cacao, LLC – a fully owned subsidiary of BFREE. Crioco’s  goal is to grow 100% criollo cacao cloned from wild trees in a commercial farm environment to support the conservation mission of BFREE and help advance the fine flavor cocoa industry in Belize.

Below are the Crioco Cacao staff who manage operations of the cacao agroforestry project at the BFREE Field Station.

Special thanks to Jorge Silva Rivera for the staff photographs and Autumn Dietrich for interviewing the staff.

Meet the Crioco Cacao Staff

Jacob Marlin, BFREE Executive Director and Crioco CEO

Jacob A. Marlin grew up in Washington D.C. receiving an A.S. degree in Biological Park Management. He is the founder and Executive Director of BFREE and the CEO of Crioco Cacao, LLC, and serves as President of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund. From a very young age, he had a passion for the natural world, with a particular focus on reptiles. His professional career has spanned over 40 years, including working at four Zoological Parks in the departments of Herpetology, as well as U.S. Federal, State, and local agencies. Jacob began his interest in the cocoa industry over a decade ago when he discovered wild cacao trees growing in the rainforest on the BFREE property in Belize.

Elmer Tzalam, Cacao Operations Manager 

After growing up in Golden Stream, Elmer has held different positions around all parts of  Belize, gaining experience in operating heavy farming equipment and learning advanced farming skills. He also received a certification in Cacao Farm Maintenance. In 2011, there was an open position with BFREE, which seemed like a good fit for him, and he’s stuck with it ever since. He’s made huge contributions to the initial planting of the cacao farm. Today, Elmer manages the farm as well as the operations of BFREE. It’s a big role to fill, but he gets it done and takes pride in his work. Even though he’s worked with BFREE for a while, he continues to learn more each day. He feels that it’s a great place to develop skills and appreciate nature. 

Pedro Teul, Cacao Farm Worker 

Born in San Marcos, Pedro now lives in Golden Stream with his wife and three daughters. Prior to working for BFREE, Pedro worked on his own farm to provide food for his family. In 2019, rangers from BFREE, who were also living in Golden Steam, told him of an open position. After applying, he was quickly hired and took no time in becoming a member of the team. During the quiet years of Covid, he helped a great deal in the construction of The Hammock. Once that project was completed, an opportunity opened up in the cacao project and he wanted to give it a try. Now that he’s been in the project for several months, he has enjoyed watching the farm grow and improve. He also feels safe in the jungle and loves that he gets to work in such an amazing place everyday. 

Mark Canti, Cacao Fellow

Mark was raised in the village of Golden Stream and has always had a close connection to BFREE as his father is a ranger for the property. While he visited BFREE as a kid multiple times, the most memorable visit was in 2018 on a school trip with his Junior College Class. It was during this visit that he saw a harpy eagle and it inspired him enough to come back as an employee once he completed his associate’s in Natural Resource Management. He worked in the cacao field for 11 months before applying for the Cacao Fellow position. He loves that he continues to learn more everyday in different aspects of his life while he’s here. He also enjoys the huge amount of wildlife that he sees on a daily basis and spending time with people who feel the same. 

Leonardo Choc, Cacao Farm Worker

Before Leo came to BFREE in September of 2021, he was working on various welding projects in Belize City. When he went back home to care for family members, he started a growing interest in everything cacao. When he found a position open at BFREE in the cacao farm, he jumped on it. This is his first time working with cacao, and he has fun learning every day while working the farm. He loves the peace and safety that comes with working at BFREE. 

Kevin Pop, Cacao Farm Worker

Kevin started working for BFREE in August of 2021. Prior to this, he had experience in construction while working and lying in Placencia. When COVID-19 hit the country, he had to leave that position, but fortunately, Pedro Tuel informed him about opportunities at BFREE. He enjoys the close community that he finds here as well as wildlife spotting. When he’s not at BFREE, he enjoys working on his own farm at home.

Jairus Coc, Cacao Farm Worker

Jairus has worked for BFREE since July 2021. He has extensive experience with farming and is especially interested in learning more about cacao farming. Jairus recognizes that there are dangers to working and living in the jungle but feels safe and at home at BFREE because of the people. He says, “my colleagues create a comfortable and loving community.”