Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Sweet Rebel

Very occasionally in life you meet someone whom you know is extraordinary, who genuinely has an impact on the world around him or her and can be seen to be making making history, for me, Mott Green was such a man.  Mott was born in 1966 and grew up in New York and Oregon.  His real name was David Friedman and he came from an impressive academic and professional family descended from Russian Jewish immigrants - his father a respected physician, his uncle a genuine rocket scientist, young David was expected to follow in the family tradition of landing a well-paid and respectable job after graduating.  Mott was highly intelligent and could have succeeded in almost any field he chose, he was also a rebel and he found his cause...
Mott fell in love with Grenada and its people, it is where he chose to live, but he is probably best known for being a chocolate anarchist on both the local and global stage.  Much is said in modern business circles about the value of being disruptive, we espouse the value of being “Punk" in approach or “hacking” to amend and enhance the existing system - certainly, innovation and creative solutions require what can feel like significant change.  However, for many this is simply tinkering with the engine and not a from-the-bottom-up redesign.  

By training Mott was an engineer and he seemed almost at his most comfortable building things (from brave concepts to tangible, working objects to achieve his objectives).  He was clearly happiest when challenging convention and bettering the status quo.   Knowing him as I did, I can vouch for his being a passionate visionary with extraordinary drive and tenacity.  His enthusiasm was infectious and he had a wicked sense of humour.  This short video (a trailer for the wonderful film "Nothing Like Chocolate", in which he played a starring role) will give you a taste of the man, his values, extraordinary abilities and achievements:   He had charm which concealed a core of steel, but he also showed immense compassion to those who needed it and invariably stood for what he saw as right, be that :

  • helping a rural farming community;
  • making a stand against discrimination and abuse (including child slave labour);
  • speaking out against the global exploitation that is the model for the majority of the chocolate industry; 
  • taking action against climate change;
  • building an award winning factory with his bare hands;  and 
  • doing more to reduce the carbon footprint of his business than any other entrepreneur I know.  

He was, in every way, inspirational.  He rewrote the rules and enabled value to be added at the source.  He made me laugh, he made me think and over the past couple of days he has made me cry.  He died unexpectedly at the weekend - electrocuted whilst mending some kit (not the in the factory, which is, I am pleased to say, continuing to produce its exceptional chocolate).  I and many others mourn his loss, but we should also celebrate an amazing life.  I know few who could do what he has done and the legacy he has created speaks for itself - it is an inspiration to all who wish to improve the world.  

Nyran taking wet beans out of cocoa pods in Grenada
Mott discovered his love for chocolate as a 15 year old boy, when accompanying his father to Grenada on a visit to the medical school.  Mott became fascinated by the fat pods encasing plump beans; the harvested crop, hulled and separated from the white pulp inside the pods, lying in piles, like russet brown pebbles, to dry in the Caribbean sunshine; the dapple of light through the leaves in the rainforest, where the cocoa plants grew; the pods hanging like Chinese lanterns and the taste of the fresh white pulp that surrounds the beans - sweet with a slight citrus tang (like passion fruit) - the raw beans themselves almost unpleasantly astringent, nothing like the processed chocolate that he knew from New York.

Cocoa pods
He was swift to realise that, although most of the beans are grown in the southern hemisphere, the majority of chocolate producers are located in the northern hemisphere, where there is a lucrative market for the luxury product.  Confectioners and other industrialists bought cocoa (often harvested by child labour), imported it, processed it into chocolate and were able to make a significant mark-up.  Mott noticed first hand the inequalities within the industry. A few years later, on returning to Grenada (have dropped out of university and spending some time in a commune), after living in the rain forrest for a while, he decided to settle on the island.  

The Grenadian rainforest
Inspired by the disparity in the cocoa trade, he dedicated his life to enabling production of world-class chocolate, from bean to bar, in the location where the cocoa grows.  In 1999 Mott founded the Grenada Chocolate Factory, with two friends.  He literally built a chocolate factory, welding pieces and using salvage to make machines based on designs from the 1900's (when there were more small artisanal chocolatiers in Europe), but powered by solar energy, to achieve his dream.  If you wish to know more about how chocolate is produced in a small Grenadian factory, here is the process:

Edmond roasting cocoa beans, Grenada Chocolate Factory
He slept in a small store area of the factory and worked tirelessly to establish the operation on the island.  He encouraged local farmers to join his cooperative, paying them and him the same wage and taught them how to produce world class crops without resorting to harmful pesticides or environmentally damaging fertilisers.   One of the things that made Mott stand out from other cocoa producers and chocolate makers was his determination to be “green”, ethical and fair.  He declined to sign up to Fair Trade, as he felt that the approach of shipping produce to processors in wealthier countries, for them to capitalise on its value was unjust.  Instead he taught the local farmers how to enhance their crops and trained people from the island to produce high calibre chocolate (despite the problems of doing so in such a hot and humid climate).  
Kimon moulding chocolate bars, Grenada Chocolate Factory
Last year he took this one stage further and, using the power of the Trade Winds, he brought his bars of chocolate to consumers in Europe on a sailing ship.  This year he arranged to reduce the carbon footprint of his chocolate even further, by having the bars collected off the boat and delivered across Holland by cyclists.  I am so sad knowing that he will not see this dream become a reality when the ship makes land in less than a fortnight  You can read the poignant last post on Mott’s blog:

Mott, standing by the moored Tres Hombres
prior to delivering chocolate by wind power to Europe
His dreams have become a reality, he has made a better world and enhanced life for many (myself included).  We should all take inspiration from him and what he has achieved.  If you have a dream and the willingness to pursue it with tireless determination, it is amazing what can be done.

This wonderful song, co-written by Mott, celebrating the cocoa bean and the ethical production of chocolate, seems to me a fitting epitaph and ending for this post...  Please listen and smile in recognition of a wonderful man.

Cocoa pods - grown in Grenada and used for making chocolate


  1. What a lovely remembrance thanks Kate. I'd not heard of Mott before you wrote this - I'll check out his legacy and buy some of his chocolate. Thanks - Doug

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  3. Thank you for drawing attention to the fact that the factory is fully operational and is and will continue producing wonderful chocolate; there is no more fitting tribute to Mott nor a more appropriate legacy. Mott's tragic death occurred in a different building.

  4. A very moving account of a 'Trail blazer' and a man passionate for life and protecting the environment. He leaves a very special legacy in The Grenada Chocolate Company .

  5. Dear Mott, visionary leader in the implementation of truly triple bottom line best business practice.
    People, Planet, Profit.
    We deeply appreciate your work which we will perpetuate, through vocational training curricula; your groundbreaking progress will be shared particularly throughout the cacao industry centres of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, your contribution in the transformation of life on earth is significant and inspirational. Heartfelt thanks.

  6. Kate, you have such a gift! You have capturing the essence of Mott, I can feel him smiling and feeling rather surprised at how much he inspired and connected with all those he met. I feel so privileged to have worked with him for more than 10 years and to have had a constant dialogue back and forth. He was my mentor, dear friend and part of our family. He will be sorely missed and as one of my cousins said, he will leave deep footprints in our hearts.
    Thank you!

  7. Thank you Kate! That is a wonderful piece about our friend Mott.

  8. Beautiful story beautifully and sensitively told, best wishes Richard