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Newport native shares the taste and the traditions of ancient Mayan ritual

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 6/8/20

It’s a superfood that dates back to ancient Mesoamerica, the cultivation of which has real social and environmental impacts today. Done right, it has the power to heal communities and forests …

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Please support local news coverage –

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Newport native shares the taste and the traditions of ancient Mayan ritual

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It’s a superfood that dates back to ancient Mesoamerica, the cultivation of which has real social and environmental impacts today. Done right, it has the power to heal communities and forests and, according to Nola Ganem, a healing arts professional and founder of One World Cacao, it can also heal mind and body.

It’s cacao, and Ms. Ganem has been bringing it home to Aquidneck Island for about eight years. Her goal is to bring the healing potential of cacao to wellness practitioners around the world.

A fifth-generation Newporter, Ms. Ganem credits her parents for giving her the freedom to find her own way in the world.
“My mom encouraged me to live the life you live, and create a life you love. They never forced me into anything,” she said. After high school, she worked in seasonal employment, in Newport and Utah, then worked for The Omega institute in upstate New York.

“There, I was exposed to an international community of top spiritual teachers,” she said. “I began doing massage work, and studied western modalities, but I was always seeking answers.”

Seeking answers led Ms. Ganem to travel to Southeast Asia to study healing, then to Central America, where she learned about how traditional practitioners there regard cacao as the food of the gods, and use it to heal.

“I hopped on a chicken bus and went to Guatemala, and eventually got connected with a farm that has the same mission I do,” she said.

That farm, Finca El Porvenir, is an extensive, off-the-grid operation that has replanted more than 150,000 hardwood trees. Owners Beronica and Laurent Maniet grow an heirloom high-grade cacao that almost went extinct, and they grind it hydroelectrically by waterfalls. “It was the original bean of the Maya; it’s so pure,” said Ms. Ganem.
She imports the cacao from Guatemala, in bulk, and fine-grinds it for consumers here. “When I started bringing cacao to Aquidneck Island seven or eight years ago, people would come to my events, then buy the brick to bring home, and they wouldn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “So I started fine-grinding it and putting it in rice bags and canisters. Now I’m moving into bars and some more grab-and-go products."

Ms. Ganem founded One World Cacao (oneworldcacao.com) in 2017 to share the power and potential of cacao. Rooted in community and ecosystem health, One World’s business model centers on harmonious relationships between the people, places, and plants involved in every aspect of cacao production, from beautiful products, to ceremonial experiences, to immersive retreats.

One World is committed to giving back to the farmers, Guatemalan youth, and sustainable agroforestry system which creates its product. “It was the kids in the village who inspired me to start the company,” said Ms. Ganem. “I was watching them grow up, and at 13 some of them were already supporting families; they were being told that coming to America was the answer, at a time of great political uncertainty here.

“I realized I am in a privileged position to create something that can help.”

The partnership between One World and the Maniet’s farm has been able to employ several of these boys, who are now about age 17. “They are learning permaculture farming. We’ve set them up with their own edible forest. And they are going home with organic food from the farm,” said Ms. Ganem. “We are helping to create systemic change.”

“A cacao ceremony can be different every time,” said Ms. Ganem. “It’s a gathering. Chocolate is a vasodilator, it gets your blood flowing. We create a sacred space for 15 to 35 people. We sit in a circle. I welcome everyone and talk about cacao and its history, and its health benefits. We do guided meditation, maybe a sound bath.

“It melts off stress, and euphoria, insights and creativity come in. I get a lot of caregivers, like nurses and teachers.
“It’s an opportunity for both a superfood and a heart-to-heart connection.”

Ms. Ganem has been working on a new space on Aquidneck Avenue which will include a bar for cacao tastings and small groups. She was planning a ribbon-cutting for this spring, following her launch of an immersive travel program to Finca El Porvenir that she hopes to run twice a year in the future.
Thanks to Covid-19, her ribbon cutting was postponed and her time in Guatemala was extended by a couple of months; Ms. Ganem just returned to Newport this week.

“I am aiming to get back into the kitchen this week, and scheduling an official opening ribbon cutting towards the end of the month,” she said. “We will also have private chocolate pourings and tastings, as well as wellness offerings, and one-to-one cacao ceremonies and consultation services … in addition to being able to order yourself a frozen choco-banana and an iced cardamom coconut cacao to go on your way to the beach or to stock up your freezer at home for the kiddos.”

Though she did not anticipate the extra two months in Guatemala, it was time well-spent.

“We expanded our outreach tremendously and are launching a new line under our wing, supporting direct trade with the women of the Mayan families we employ and their backstrap looming masterpieces,” she said.

“It is quite dire there right now, and our impact is needed now more than ever.”

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