Let’s Talk Chocolate with CB Sacks

totes made from cacao bean sacks

Did you know that our raw cacao beans arrive from around the world in 150lb. burlap sacks? Each sack is beautifully marked to designate the cacao growing region, farm or farmer cooperative, harvest lot number, and more. Today, our popular Let’s Talk Chocolate series continues with a look at CB Sacks, a local Vermont company that upcycles cacao and coffee bean sacks into stylish tote bags, clutches, and other accessories. Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker, Nick Hadsel-Mares, recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Kara Greenblott, owner and founder of CB Sacks, to discuss her unique way of utilizing cacao bean sacks.

a pile of burlap sacks

Kara has deep-rooted passion for improving food security in developing countries. For years, she lived abroad in Africa and Southeast Asia working for a variety of non-profits and United Nations agencies on issues related to food, nutrition, and public health. In 2010, after returning to her home state of Vermont, Kara was invited to join the Food 4 Farmers board of directors.

“I love the approach Food 4 Farmers takes in supporting coffee-growing communities. They work with coffee cooperatives to help farmers frame their challenges, identify resources, and develop strategies for overcoming chronic food insecurity. They promote the idea of diversifying livelihoods – this means helping coffee farmers create additional sources of income, to supplement their coffee revenues, in order to improve their access to nutritious food for their families all year long.”

cocoa bean sacks hanging on the display

It was during her time on the Food 4 Farmers board of directors, that Kara’s idea for CB Sacks was born.

“Many of the board members are involved in the coffee industry and we’d have our meetings at [Keurig] Green Mountain Coffee. I started immersing myself in the coffee industry and as a result I started seeing the different coffee sacks at the different roasters. I saw how often these sacks were discarded or given to gardeners for weed suppression. I noticed that they had these beautiful markings on them and I grabbed a few from Green Mountain, brought them home and spent about a year thinking about something to do with them.”

the materials that go into making a cocoa bean tote

After contemplating ideas for about a year, Kara settled on creating a tote bag from the coffee bean sacks.

“I hired a local designer, Matt Renna, from Queen City Dry Goods who does some awesome stuff with leather, waxed canvas, and other materials and he designed my first bag…From there I showed it to people and they liked the concept. I thought, I need more than one product if I’m really going to do this’ so I also started making clutches.”

leather straps of the cocoa bean totes

For Kara, CB Sacks is more than just about creating unique totes and clutches. She uses her products as a means to share the knowledge of Food 4 Farmers and their social mission.

“From the very beginning, I thought of it as a way to finally express my creativity and artistic self, after being in public service for so many years. On the other hand, I also use CB Sacks as a platform for educating people about the food security situation in coffee-growing communities. I’m constantly talking about the countries where these bags come from and the people who live there. I’ve spent most of my career living and working in developing countries, and I use my conversations with customers as an opportunity to advocate for the programs and approaches that I believe in, like those of Food 4 Farmers.”

a finished tote made from a fundalachua cocoa bean sack

Kara’s collaboration with Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker was a fruitful matter of happenstance.

“Getting involved with Blue Bandana was sort of an accident. I didn’t know cocoa sacks were also made of burlap and, like coffee sacks, also had beautiful markings on them. When you opened 716 Pine Street, I first saw your cocoa sacks in there. Then Eric [Lampman] approached me and asked if I would be interested in making some handbags from their cocoa sacks… We made a few [from the Zorzal and the Fundalachua sacks] and Eric really liked them. And we’ve been doing them ever since.”

a fair trade cocoa bean sack

For Kara, creating beautiful totes and clutches from recycled cocoa bean and coffee bean sacks is more than just a creative hobby, it’s a social mission.

“At CB Sacks our slogan is 'Go Beyond the Bean', which advocates for going beyond just consuming your favorite coffee or bar of chocolate. It means thinking about what else you can do: whether it’s buying fair trade, supporting Food 4 Farmers, understanding the lives and livelihood of farmers, or being an advocate. This social mission is why CB Sacks donates 5% of their profits directly to Food 4 Farmers projects.”

wine totes made from cocoa bean sacks

CB Sacks and Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker are a match made in heaven. This collaboration combines both companies' dedication to transparency and social responsibility. Kara's beautiful CB Sacks, crafted from Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker cocoa bean sacks, make a great holiday gift, and they can be found at the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory Store in Burlington, VT.

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