Goodwill never tasted so good

Tom Neuhaus calls the Bûche de Noël his “resurrection cake.” Selling them saved him from bankruptcy years ago, when he owned a bakery in Austin, Texas.

Now the Cal Poly professor of food science and nutrition is turning again to the French dessert to raise money to build a cocoa study center in Ebolowa, Cameroon.

The proposed $500,000 center is meant to be a place where international and African university students can learn from and work with cocoa farmers to enhance economic and environmental sustainability and the lives of the workers there.

More than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans are grown and harvested in Africa, where farmers are vulnerable to exploitation and farming techniques could be more environmentally sound, Neuhaus said.

Much of the cocoa, especially in the Ivory Coast, is produced by child workers who never attend school, experts note.

Neuhaus, who also co-owns Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo, has visited several African countries since 2003 to work with farmers and bring them scales and other tools to demand a fair price for their beans.

“I tell farmers about our idea for the cocoa study center and they just fall down on the ground they are so happy. They feel so depressed, like the rest of the world doesn’t care. And that’s true.”

Neuhaus and a growing number of students do care, and the first cocoa study session will begin next year when a group of students from Ball State in Indiana will travel to Cameroon.

Eventually, Neuhaus wants the Ebolowa center to have a building, and for more centers to exist in other African countries. Neuhaus has an initial goal of raising $4,000, at which time the project will become part of the permanent roster for the fundraising site www.globalgiving.com and gain opportunities for more extensive fundraising.

The Bûche de Noël, which is shaped like a yule log and feeds 12, is made with organic butter and fair trade, organic chocolate. Neuhaus will bake a cake in return for each donation of $35 or more at www.globalgiving.com. Search for “cocoa study center.”