The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Friday, May 31, 2013


While we in Iowa are most familiar with the farming of corn, the most common crop in this part of Brazil is cacau.  We spent the majority of the day at a unique cacau farm.  Not only do they have mass (or "commodity") production, but they are also completing research on how to grow cacau that makes the finest chocolate possible.  It was very interesting to see all of the different components of the process and just how they can be manipulated and researched to get the perfect cocoa for chocolate.  The researcher/farmer that was leading us was very enthusiastic and wanted to talk a lot about everything, but he did not speak English, so poor Marcelo had to try to keep up with translation.  It's amazing, though, how scientific words are so close between English and Portuguese, so that if you were to pay attention very closely, you could get the main ideas without even having translations.

We got to try a lot of different things at the farm.  We started with drinking juice from the cacau blended with ice.  It was DELICIOUS!  We also had juice from the cupuoacu (also blended with ice).  It was different, but also good.  The farmer told us how they are trying to use every part of the cacau fruit for something.  The shells are ground up and used in the fermentation process, the milk is used for juice and for sweetening things, and of course the beans for making chocolate.  Another part of the cacau that they are utilizing is called the placenta.  This is the stringy part that holds the beans together inside the fruit.  They are sweetening it with the cacau honey and drying it to make what they call a candy.  We got to try it too, and it was very good...much like dried fruit.  We told them if they ever market it in America, though, they should definitely not call it placenta :)

We saw everything involved in the process from the shucking of the beans, to drying, fermenting, grinding, mixing, molding, and wrapping.  At this farm they process the "commodity" beans (lower quality) through the drying phase and then sell them.  They use their highest quality beans for experimenting to make the best chocolate possible.  They treat this process very carefully, and require everyone to wear protective gear!

Finally, we got to try the experimental chocolate, and it was fantastic!  We were able to purchase some (they don't sell it ANYWHERE!) to take home.  They also gave me three giant eggs as gifts!  I think it was a great experience for our students, as well as the UESC professors that accompanied us.  I think they have made a new connection that may lead to great opportunities (internships, projects) for their students!

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