We are Juan Echevarria and Maria Mendez. We first met as high school students in the 1970s. Over time, our relationship grew, and we eventually got married after finishing our university degrees. Maria specialized in education, with a focus on physics and biology, while Juan pursued Administration, Accounting, and Marketing. After university, Maria became a teacher, and Juan entered the manufacturing industry. Our family grew, and we had three daughters. As the years passed, we faced the usual ups and downs of life, both personally and professionally. However, in 2008, our lives were dramatically altered. Maria had to retire from teaching due to a health condition, and Juan was forced to close his private business, which was not performing as expected.
Adapting to change
Faced with a new reality and an unplanned change in our lives, we worked hard to adapt. Our first priority was to address Maria's health situation, which we were able to resolve positively. Next, we turned our attention to our economic situation, as we no longer had a stable income. It was then that we embarked on a new life project and became farmers. At first, we weren't sure which crops would be best for our farm, but we explored possibilities over time. In our search for the best crop, we applied two fundamental principles to our agricultural project. Firstly, the crop had to be well-suited to the climate of Puerto Rico, and secondly, it had to have the potential to be exported. After much research, we identified cacao as the ideal crop that met both requirements. However, we needed to decide which type of cacao to produce. We began studying the international cacao market and found a classification for specialty cacao known as Fine and Flavor Cacao. Given that Puerto Rico is a small island with limited farmland, we realized that producing a specialty cacao could be a great opportunity.
The Creation of Hacienda Jeanmarie
After defining our primary objective of growing specialty cacao on our farm, we began our search. Cacao had been cultivated in Puerto Rico for centuries, and its descendants could still be found in the forests and abandoned farms throughout the island. We rescued some of these plants and began growing them as an experiment. Our search continued, and that's how we met Dr. Brian Irish, the director of the USDA ARS TARS Cacao Clones Conservation Center in Mayaguez, just half an hour from our farm. We presented Dr. Irish with our idea of producing a special cacao, and he became very interested in our project. Juan asked to volunteer in the TARS conservation crop to learn more about cacao, and the doctor agreed. For five years, we worked together, and Juan learned everything about the cultivation, propagation, and maintenance of cacao. With Dr. Irish's help, we selected high-quality, high-yield varieties of cacao and planted them on our farm, which we named Hacienda Jeanmarie.
Our Island-wide initiative “Proyecto Pais"
Recognizing the tremendous potential of cacao, we were driven to share our inspiration with the entire island of Puerto Rico. Our focus shifted from solely developing our own farm to creating an industry for the cultivation of Fine and Aroma Cacao across the region. We named this vision Proyecto Pais, meaning "Island-wide project". Our project garnered media attention in Puerto Rico, generating growing public interest. This prompted us to offer workshops on cacao farming, uniting individuals and creating an industry by developing farms throughout the island. Today, the crop continues to thrive across the country. Our legacy to Puerto Rico is the development of an industry that provides opportunities for its people.
When we began producing chocolate with our cocoa in 2010, we needed to create a brand name for our products. During our search, we decided on the name "Jeanmarie", which is a combination of our names in the French language. "Juan y Maria" became "Jeanmarie", our trade name. As a family business, we value transparent and direct relationships with our clients. That's why we're sharing our story with all of you in a simple and open way.
Our mission is to delight our customers with the finest and most aromatic chocolate, produced with cocoa beans grown in Puerto Rico.
Our vision is to process one of the finest cocoa beans in the world, grown in Puerto Rico with sustainable conservation practices that protect the natural resources of our island.