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Askinosie--A World Class Chocolatier In The Midwest

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Production support for Earth Eats comes from Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial, and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive, and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. bill at griffy creek dot studio. Insurance Agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home and auto, business, and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at bill resch insurance dot com.

[Earth Eats theme music]

KAYTE YOUNG:: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, this is Earth Eats and I'm your host, Kayte Young.

“The greatest opportunity for us, as chocolate makers, to influence the flavor of our chocolate, is right here in this roaster."

This week on the show, We visit Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield Missouri, to learn about bean to bar chocolate making and to talk with the owner about what it means to ‘know your farmer’ in the world of cocoa production."

And Summer gardens might be winding down, but it’s almost time to get your garlic in the ground. I’ll walk you through the steps of curing and planting garlic later in the show, so stay with us.

[theme music fades out]

Let’s check in with Renee Reed for news. Hi Renee!

RENEE REED: Hello Kayte. I've got just one story today, from Chad Bouchard.

Recent investigations have underscored grim realities for farm workers facing unsafe conditions, now made more deadly by the pandemic. 

Politico analyzed a sample of counties across the U.S. and found that coronavirus infection rates are disproportionately high in farm communities.

Most states are not collecting data on the number of infections among farm workers. 

As harvest season continues in many states, infection rates in those counties have been rising steadily for several weeks. 

The country employs 2.5 million farmworkers and the USDA estimates about half are undocumented.

Advocates say fear of getting fired or turned over to authorities keeps many workers from taking any time off when they get sick, which worsens infection rates.

As Bloomberg reported in July, migrant workers have filed whistleblower complaints for being fired for seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms at hospitals, with some employers reporting their workers to immigration authorities.   

Lack of testing, protective gear and scant access to health care create a confluence of factors that increase risks for vulnerable workers.  

The Food and Environment Reporting Network says that up to 57 thousand workers across the food system have tested positive for coronavirus. 

Those numbers only reflect known cases, and advocates say a lack of testing means real numbers are certainly much higher. 

The Centers for Disease Control in June issued safety guidelines that included taking workers’ temperatures, working at a distance, and grouping workers into cohorts to help contain outbreaks. 

But the Labor Department declined to make those rules binding, and voluntary use of safety measures has reportedly been weak. 

A report from Johns Hopkins University in July found that the rate of infections across the country is highest for Latinos, with 73 cases per 10,000 people, compared to a rate for white people of 23 per 10,000 people. 

The rate of hospitalizations for Latinos in the U.S. is more than triple that of white people.

[news music fades up]
For Earth Eats news, I'm Renee Reed.


[news music fades out]

[soft xylophone music]

KAYTE YOUNG: Having spent my formative years in Springfield Missouri, I would not have expected to find there a small chocolate factory producing award-winning, single-origin, craft chocolates with direct trade cocoa bean sourcing. A lot has changed in this Ozark town of my youth, including the revitalization of Commercial Street. Askinosie Chocolate has been instrumental in that effort. They located their production facility and retail space in the district when they started the company in 2007. Shawn Askinosie left a successful career as a defense attorney, to pursue a passion for high-quality chocolate, and to do some good in the world along the way. I had a chance to visit with Shawn in Springfield earlier this fall. We started our tour of the chocolate factory in a warehouse behind the main facility. 

Shawn Askinosie: So this is where... just… you know… a few steps away from the backdoor of our factory. What you see here are cocoa bean bags from the four origins that we buy them from. So Philippines, Tanzania, Amazon and Ecuador. What you see is probably around 25 metric tons of cocoa beans. It smells a little bit vinegar-y. 

KAYTE YOUNG:: Yea it smells like something fermenting.

SA: Yeah. For me, it smells good because I know that it's right. You know… I know that it's been fermented. So all of these beans I visited before they came here. This room is probably the greatest source of pride for me, personally. 

I just got back from Tanzania a few weeks ago. It was my 44th origin trip since I started the company. And every year I go visit these farms and every origin that we buy from. Not just to lay my eyes and hands on these beans, but to see people that I’ve developed relationships with now, over the years. In Tanzania, we’ve been buying beans from this village for almost 10 years. Peter Cruz, I’ve been buying beans from him since 2008, and going there every year, and the Philippines, Davao. And then Ecuador, I’ve been buying beans from Vitaliano, who’s on the front of our package, almost 15 years. So I go there to see them.

I take nothing for granted when it comes to these cocoa beans. I never took these beans for granted… from the first trip that I took to the last one a few weeks ago in Tanzania. And what I mean by that is, I know that quality drift is easy in any supply chain relationship. But we cannot afford quality drift in a little family business with only 17 employees. And so I know that making great chocolate starts with what you’re looking at here, these cocoa beans. 

The other thing is we share profits with the farmers and so I wanna do that in person. And we translate our financials into their language. So when Lawren and I were in Tanzania a few weeks ago, our financials were in Swahili. And the farmers were able to understand our profit share calculation by looking at the financials and we go over that with them every year and give them money back on the prior year’s sale of cocoa beans. 

This is a lot of hard work. I know the farmers, you know... who’ve harvested these beans and who grew these beans. Then to watch them pull up on a semi truck, and use this fork-lift… not me personally, that would be too dangerous. But to this forklift to unload the beans, and to see them in here, I mean its a real source of pride for me. There’s a lot of story, and a lot of work and love behind the acquisition of these cocoa beans. 

KAYTE YOUNG:: I wanted know what Shawn is looking for when he inspects these raw cocoa beans at their origins. 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: Well the first thing is… there’s some beans here, from… you can just kinda look at them, and what we wanna do is just look at the exterior of the bean and just look at its color. Look at its shape, look at its size. All of these things have to do with quality specifications in cocoa beans. And they don’t need to be perfectly uniform in color. As you can tell that this one is really dark and this one’s kinda tan, this one looks like its got some white stuff on it, which is actually oxidized pulp from when these beans were fermented. 

So... what I'm looking for… is I break this open, and the shell is very thin, and these beans have not been roasted yet. So they’re not gonna be a flavor that I'm wanting. But I can tell when I’m at origin, I can tell by looking at the exterior of the beans, not even the interior, just the exterior, are they quality? Will they meet my specification? I can tell by holding the beans in one hand and kind of... crunching them up next to my ear, by the way they sound, if they meet the moisture content specification that we have in our beans. 

So what we’re looking for at the beginning of the whole thing is... can these beans that I’m looking at, just meet a minimum threshold of quality specification that we set forth? And then we’re gonna be tasting them, and what they smell like... and what they taste like. 

And so the interior of a bean is called a nib. This is a trinitario variety. The first little crunch of this... there’s fruit on the very first crunch. Now this is not what it’s going to smell and taste like when we make chocolate from these beans. And we make a high cocoa content chocolate out of these, we make a 77%. But I can tell they’re good. I can tell they’re high quality. If I’m at origin, I’m in the middle of the jungle, and I’m looking at these, I say to myself, after looking at the exterior, looking at the interior. And then this is the other thing that we do I didn’t mention, but I open these beans up at origin, and I cut down the middle of all of these beans and I’ll look at the interior of the bean. I’ll look at the color of the interior. And I can tell by how dark it is, to how purple it is, to how brown it is, I’m gonna know whether or not I’m able to detect higher or lower levels of fermentation-based on the color of the interior of the bean. 

And so the reason that’s important is because we want there to not be just perfectly uniform fermentation, because that’s gonna give my chocolate a little more interesting flavor profile. It’s not gonna be sort of a monotone, its gonna have highs and lows, if some of the beans have different characteristics in terms of fermentation. 

Now another thing that I do… that I do sometimes, I don’t do it every time, but I will take these at origin and find a fire, sometimes it's just like a campfire, or a kitchen fire, and get a little pan and roast them there myself, just in the kitchen of a farmer. Then I can tell, not again, again, not what it’s gonna taste like but I can smell the roast. And that’s gonna give me more indication of taste than if I taste the roasted beans, because we know that taste is 90% smell. So that’s just in a nutshell what we’re looking at. 

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KAYTE YOUNG: After a short break we’ll head into the factory to learn more about chocolate production. 

Production support comes from Bloomingfoods Co-op Market providing local residents with locally-sourced food since nineteen seventy six. Owned by over twelve thousand residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot co op.Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent with Personal Financial Services.  Assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over fifteen years.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net. Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial, and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive, and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. bill at griffy creek dot studio

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I’m Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats, and I’m back with Shawn Askinosie. We’re heading into the factory to talk about the details of crafting his award winning chocolates. 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: Kind of in the backdoor of the factory, and we’ll just go into the roasting room. And this is what happens; so we take those beans, over there, that you saw, we put them into these containers, we’ve cleaned them, so then we put them in the roaster... which is hot. So this is a roaster that I bought in Columbia, and the thing about this is... it has no thermostatic control... and it never did. So it would be like roasting on a campfire. And we’ve won a lot of awards around the world with this roaster, cause I think really the greatest opportunity for us as chocolate makers to influence the flavor of our chocolate, is right here. It's in this roaster. So if we’ve got good quality beans that have met our specification, then we’re gonna have the greatest chance right here. To roast, whether we’re gonna roast with a high temperature for a short time, or a lower temperature for a longer period of time, that’s where we’re gonna be able to do it. 

But the thing about this roaster is that... so the beans go in the hopper, and there’s the temperature gauge. But the only way to control the temperature is by watching the temperature gauge and then determining when to drop the beans into the roaster. And then we watch the temperature gauge go down. You have to absolutely pay attention cause at these temperatures, and at these times, which sometimes can be really short. I mean some of these beans roast for only 8 minutes. So you have to be really careful. 

KAYTE YOUNG:: And are you gonna be wanting to roast all of the beans about the same, or do you have different roasts for different kinds of flavors that you’re looking for in each product that you’re making?

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: We have different roasting profiles for every different thing that we’re gonna make. We had some criollo beans in here from the Amazon, just a really limited supply of them, and we made a chocolate bar over the summer with them. We had a guest chocolate maker in from Washington D.C. Zeke Emanuel, he’s a doctor but a chocolate maker on the side. 

And so we were in this room, sitting right here, trying to figure out how to not screw those beans up. That was the big thing. They’re very great beans, they’re very rare, we knew they were what we wanted them to be. And the only... our main job was to not mess them up, in this roaster. So we were really careful. And that… yeah, so every one of them has a different profile. 

They go into the cooling tray, they go up the cooling tray through this auger system. And we crush the beans here, there’s a little… like roller up on top that crushes these beans. And then they fall down this chute. This is what they look like when they fall down that chute. And the shells are all… you can smell it, yeah. And the shells have all essentially been vacuumed off. We have a cyclone on the roof. And it is a kinda a big vacuum. And it takes those shells and removes them. There’s some shell, which is fine. The shell goes into this thing right here, where that big hose is. 

Depending on how many we have we might sell them. If a brewer needs to steep the shells in a recipe that they have. Or if we have a whole bunch, we’ll give them to a local organic farmer and he uses it for both his pigs, and also as a compost. 

Now the noise that you hear now, this is called a universal refiner. And this machine is a grinder. So it's just like your kitchen grinder at home, except it holds 250 kilograms and its on its side. You can smell this too, that’s chocolate. 

I’ll get a spoon. 

KAYTE YOUNG:: Oh! This is my lucky day. 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: So what I’m about to do... is put a plastic spoon under a curtain of chocolate inside this machine that is running. If any one of my employees did what I’m about to do... I would fire them on the spot.

So this is what we call our Ecuador Bull. This we will sell to a coffee shop near you to make mochas and hot cocoas with, or bake with or make ice cream with. 

KAYTE YOUNG:: Yes, I got to taste from that curtain of molten chocolate flowing inside that refiner. 
It’s really nice. What do you put in there? 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: That tub of nibs. So we put those nibs in there, and we put organic sugar in there, and we put cocoa butter in there, that we make. Yeah, and that’s it. This thing is gonna run for a while. This thing is on 24/7.

KAYTE YOUNG: It’s unusual for chocolate makers to process their own cocoa butter, even craft chocolate makers. He has a custom-built machine for this process. Once the chocolate leaves the universal refiner its held in special staging tanks then moved into the tempering room for the final stages of molding, cooling, and packaging.

It's all very beautiful to be honest. I personally fell in love with a space-age looking machine called a panner. It’s used to apply an even chocolate coating onto round candies. You can see a photo of it on the website. 

Next we went into the retail space to talk about, and taste specific bars. I was especially interested to hear about the Zeke bar. 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: And then this is the bar that I was telling you that’s special. Those special criollo beans, from the Amazon, Chinchipe Ecuador. This is the Zeke bar cause of Zeke Emanuel that I was telling you about. We only made 2,300 of these bars. But…

KAYTE YOUNG: Can you talk about what you’re tasting?  

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: The Zeke bar is a very complex flavor profile. It’s not monotone, like we what we were talking about before. It’s gonna have a nuttiness to it, it's going to have a fudgy coffee flavor. So there’s definitely a strong coffee note in this chocolate bar. And what’s really cool about this is, we didn’t put coffee in it. So this means that the roasted cocoa bean is going to bring out flavors that you won’t expect. So for example the Tanzania, for whatever reason tastes like bread and jam. I don’t know why, I mean I’m not a chemist. It has to do with the organoleptic profile of the fermentation and drying process, and the chemical process that occurs during roasting. Just when you make toast… you know, when it turns from bread to toast, or when chocolate chip cookie dough turns to cookies, that same chemical reaction is occurring in the roaster. And so that’s when all of these flavors are kind of unlocked. So when I was on this farm in the Amazon in May, tasting these beans out of the pod... it doesn’t taste like this. You just know it’s gonna be different. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So you don't... you don’t know what’s gonna happen?

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: No… no. But here's the thing about this, that I think is staggering... is that, what we’ve learned... if we can get these beans to pass through this threshold spec that I talked about earlier, then the challenge for us, as I said, on these beans that we just now are tasting that's still in our mouth, is to not mess it up. And I would say that's... we wanna do that for all of these chocolate bars, to not mess it up. And this is where the challenge comes in…we’ve done... I mean… Vitalinano, I’ve been buying beans from him for almost 15 years. So the challenge for a chocolate maker is you can… anybody can do this once. I can go get you a bag of beans, and you can take a little grinder to your basement, and “Hey! I made a chocolate bar”. But to do that year in, year out, year in, year out, knowing that sometimes the beans are gonna not be as great. And then they're gonna be great - it’s like wine. Then they’re gonna be better, then they’re gonna be awesome. We know that, and we’re perfectly willing to accept that. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Finally I asked Shawn to talk about the difference between fair trade chocolate and direct trade chocolate. 

SHAWN ASKINOSIE: Fairtrade is a certification. Direct trade is a practice, as defined by the practitioner. Fairtrade is a certification based on the premium that’s paid on the per-metric ton price of the cocoa bean. And I know... that look, I respect the fair trade movement. It served so many wonderful purposes. I can only speak to cocoa, socially, economically, environmentally. But in my opinion, it has become a victim of its own good marketing. And what I mean by that is, people see a label, they feel a sense of trust that that money, that they’re paying for that bar, that premium they're paying, is going to the farmers. But unfortunately, study after study recently has determined that much of that premium doesn’t trickle its way down to the farmer whose struggling to harvest, ferment and dry these cocoa beans. And so it’s also really... I think more applicable to really large cooperatives that can afford it and use it as a management tool. It’s a management tool, it's a certification process, it's a premium. But direct trade is a practice. 

So Intelligentsia Coffee they were really the pioneers of direct trade coffee. They were my teachers. And we define it the way they do. You know and it has to do with paying a high price, having high-quality specs, going to visit the farms, making sure there’s not children and slaves working on these farms. 

Yeah, succinctly that's what I'd say the differences are. And I would say to your listeners… your listeners are thinking “Well gosh, how am I gonna know what to do? I need to know” Well, we all have now, with the wealth of information available to us in fashion and food, all of these things... we can find out. We need to develop, I think, trust relationships with the people that we buy stuff from. And trust is built over time. And I think trust is deeper and more dependable than a certification. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Shawn Askinosie is the founder and CEO of Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield Missouri. There’s so much we didn’t get to. Their collaborations with places like Jenny’s Splendid ice cream, Chocolate University and other philanthropic projects launched by Askinosie.

You can find out more about all of this on our website, and see photos from my tour

[music fades]

It’s harvest season for many summer crops--like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra. But fall is also the time to think about PLANTING garlic. It’s a bulb, after all, so just like tulips or daffodils, fall is the time got get them in the ground. 

[sound of foot steps and a door squeaking open]

I recorded instructions last summer as I headed out to our shed to bring in my cured garlic

Alright so in the shed... this is a good place to cure the garlic because you don’t want it like out in full sun, where it could get too hot, get burnt. But you want it to have a lot of airflow, you want it to be a dry place, you don’t want it to get rained on. And we have a shed, it is not insulated. It does get really hot in here in the summer. But it is nice, and open, and airy, and dry. 

Garlic looks pretty good. You don't want it to mold, and you're trying to prevent it from molding throughout the winter. When you’re storing it in your house, you don’t want it to mold. I worked on an organic garlic farm for a short period of time in my 20’s, and that was a really big deal with garlic curing... was you wanna make sure you get all those outside papers nice and dry so they’re not holding any moisture. And then they can protect the garlic, and they don’t allow it to mold. 

So I bundle my garlic up into bundles of five bulbs, and then I just tie them at the top, and I hang them up in my shed in these bundles. And that’s the whole stalk. Like I just pull up the stalk, clean off any excess dirt from the outside of the bulb, but then I just leave it. I have braided them in the past, and they’re beautiful, and they look really handsome hanging up in the kitchen. But I didn’t have time this year to spend the time braiding. I just  bundled them up and got them in the shed, that was about all I could handle. 

And I have a total of… one... six, seven… eight bundles of five. It's not a huge garlic crop. Doesn't last us the entire year but pretty close. 

Garlic is a really wonderful thing to grow, because it's kinda off-season. Like you plant the bulbs in the fall. I mean just think of it like when you would plant tulip bulbs, or daffodils or something. You're getting it in the ground in the fall. And then you wanna cover it up with a nice layer of straw, or dry leaves, to mulch it and sort of protect it through those cold months of the winter. And then in the spring it’ll come popping up. And it'll grow throughout the spring, and then you harvest it in June. And then you’ve got that bed available for another crop, which you can plant in late June, early July and then have a fall crop. I often put carrots in the bed after the garlic, and it works out really nicely, or you can plant some fall lettuce or other salad greens. 

And once I bring it in from the shed then I need to cut the stalks off. And I also trim off those little roots. Give it a little haircut. And it looks really nice when you do that. And then I peel off the outer most papers, revealing that nice white kind of ivory-color garlic skin underneath. And then at that point it looks just like the garlic that you would purchase in a grocery store. I like to do this outside on my front porch, where I can make a mess and not worry about it. 

And then when you bring it inside, I always just store my garlic in a mesh bag, like those kind that onions come in, or sometimes lemons. And I just like to store it in there and just hang it in a nice dry place, either in the kitchen or somewhere else in the house. 

The other very cool thing about growing garlic is that you plant a clove of garlic, and you get a blub. So you’re multiplying your yield by like... six times, every year, because each bulb has six or eight cloves on it. And so it's kinda an amazing crop in that way. But that does mean you have to set some aside to make sure that you can plant it for the next year. Like your seed garlic. And I always the largest, best looking bulbs for that. And I just store them in a brown paper bag until the fall when it’s time to plant them. 

You’ve still got time to prepare a garden bed and get your hands on some garlic to plant. It’s an easy, satisfying crop, and you’ll find lots of recipes for putting it to use, at Earth Eats dot org. 

[theme music fades up]

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Shawn Askinosie, and everyone at Askinosie Chocolate. 

Production support comes from Insurance Agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home and auto, business, and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at bill resch insurance dot com. Bloomingfoods Co-op Market providing local residents with locally-sourced food since nineteen seventy six. Owned by over twelve thousand residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot co-op. Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net

[theme music fades out]
Shawn Askinosie standing in front of a storefront with a large white dog.

Shawn Askinosie doesn't do anything half-way. He was a high-powered defense attorney before he dove head-first into chocolate. He approaches his work in chocolate with the same rigor he applied to his law practice. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“The greatest opportunity for us, as chocolate makers, to influence the flavor of our chocolate, is right here in this roaster."

This week on Earth Eats, We visit Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield Missouri, to learn about bean to bar chocolate making and to talk with the owner about what it means to ‘know your farmer’ in the world of cocoa production."

And Summer gardens might be winding down, but it’s almost time to get your garlic in the ground. I’ll walk you through the steps of curing and planting garlic for a mid-summer harvest.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Maker in the Heartland

Having spent my formative years in Springfield Missouri, I would not have expected to find, on the north side of town, a small chocolate factory producing award-winning, single-origin, craft chocolates.

A lot has changed in this Ozark town of my youth, including the revitalization of Commercial Street. When I lived in Springfield, Commercial Street was a largely abandoned section of town, with a railyard and some interesting, but neglected industrial buildings and storefronts.

Askinoise chocolate has been instrumental in the revitalization efforts--they located their production facility and retail space in the historic district when they started the company in 2007.

Shawn Askinosie left a successful career as a defense attorney to pursue a passion for high-quality chocolate and to do some good in the world, along the way.

A big metal machine with a round steel barrel and a light blue base
This machine is called a panner. It is used to evenly coat round candies with chocolate. When I visited the factory, they had malted milk balls in here.

I had a chance to visit with Shawn in Springfield earlier this fall. We talked about the difference between Fair Trade Chocolate and Direct Trade Chocolate. He talked about the relationships he builds with individual farmers that grow and process the beans he uses for his chocolate. He shared that he doesn't really know what the finished chocolate will taste like when he encounters a raw cocoa bean at Origin, but he can tell if it's high quality or not. The final flavor is often a surprise.

There's more to Askinosie than we had time for in our show, so be sure to check out their website to learn about Chocolate University, and the work they've been doing in some of the communities where they source their chocolate.

Listen to our conversation from earlier this year, with Hans Theyer of Fairtrade America, and please share your thoughts, we'd love to hear from you. Email us at eartheats at gmail dot com.

Music on this episode:

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music by KieLoKaz from The Free Music Archive.

Stories On This Episode

Plant Your Garlic In The Fall

Two braids of garlic on a wooden table

Just like tulips and daffodils, garlic bulbs get planted in the fall for a June harvest.

US Farm Workers Hit Hardest In Pandemic

Two people working in a green field, a black plastic crate at the foot of one person.

New reporting on infection rates shows that agricultural counties are bearing a disproportionate share of COVID-19 infection rates across the U.S.

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