If you give a kid a candy bar, he enjoys it for a moment. If you give cocoa mulch to the Unity Gardens in South Bend, you enrich the whole community.

For several years, Davis Chocolate™ in Mishawaka, Indiana, has donated cocoa hulls to the local non-profit, which turns the shells into nutrient rich natural mulch at its 7-acre open garden on South Bend’s west side.

Master gardener Mitch Yaciw says the cocoa mulch acts as a pre-emergent barrier against weeds and, as it breaks down, the nitrogen in the mulch attracts worms, enriching the soil. (He does note that cocoa mulch can be dangerous to dogs.)

As a youth, Yaciw worked in garden stores and remembers selling cocoa mulch, but said he was unable to find it for sale locally. He met Davis Chocolate president Brent Davis at a fundraising event sponsored by Indulgence Pastry Shop and Café in South Bend.

Just like the fine chocolate made at Davis Chocolate, the right ingredients came together to create something magical.

Davis Chocolate had cocoa hulls – a byproduct of the bean-to-bar chocolate making process – and the Unity Gardens had a way to use them in an environmentally safe way. Even more than enriching the soil, volunteers at the Unity Gardens use cocoa mulch to improve the neighborhood through the cooperative practice of community gardening.

Chocolate comes from cacao trees. The beans (actually seeds) are imported from often volatile regions with little infrastructure, grown by small farmers with few resources. Pressured by the global demand for chocolate and to eek out a meager living, local farmers clear forest lands that once provided shade for the tender cacao trees, to make room for more plantings. (Sustainable Cocoa Economy, 2007)

The economic, environmental and social benefits of cocoa production are the interdependent “three pillars of sustainability.” Each pillar’s strength depends on sustaining and developing the integrity of the other two pillars. To allow cocoa production to satisfy the needs of a growing market, responsible chocolate makers engage in fair trade principles.

Fair Trade USA, with whom Davis Chocolate partners, believes “every purchase matters” and offers chocolate consumers a way to identify quality products that improve the lives of the farmers and protect the environment where cacao trees grow. Producer cooperatives share in the economic benefit of the cocoa trade, empowering the farmers to create positive change in their communities.

This weekend, as part of the citywide 150th birthday celebration, the Unity Garden will host a Community Cookout and Yaciw will talk on the history of local urban gardening.

The Unity Gardens executive director, Sara Stewart RN MSN, explains the garden is a lure: gathering a diverse group of people to work together and feeding the hungry with their harvest.

Aside from providing a bountiful yield available for all who wish to partake, the Unity Gardens offers gardening classes, cooking and preserving lessons, and summer day camp for kids. The nonprofit trades with local grocers and restaurants, such as South Bend Farmers Market and Javier’s Bistro on Miami Street, and receives support from philanthropic interests, like the Pokagon Fund and Beacon Health (Memorial Hospital.)

The Community Foundation of St Joseph County also sought to help make the Unity Gardens sustainable. The recent Give Local SJC day provided the Unity Gardens with its largest fundraising event ever; 90 donors raised $47,685 in 24 hours.

Stewart said the kid’s camp is making a difference in the community. The Memorial Hospital Youth Discovery Project gives kids in the nearby Beacon Heights neighborhood a place of belonging, with supervised activities during the day. The Unity Gardens contributes fresh produce to the summer lunch program offered by the South Bend Parks, and the meals include healthy ingredients harvested by the campers themselves. The effort empowers campers with a sense of purpose and develops self-esteem, as they provide for themselves and their families.

In this way, the Unity Gardens and cocoa mulch from Davis Chocolate contribute to a positive network of accountability locally. Through ethical trading practices in the worldwide cocoa industry and corporate responsibility here at home, Davis Chocolate is finding ways to craft premium chocolate while closing the loop on sustainability,