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Equal Exchange

Podcast Episode 7: Organizing for the Long Haul

In 40+ years as an activist pushing for a more equitable food system, Rob Everts has seen a lot. Now he’s one of Equal Exchange’s Executive Directors and he’s still fighting the good fight. In this episode, hear some organizing stories from back in the day, and learn about how you can take part in the upcoming Summit. (You can RSVP here.)

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Episode Transcript

Intro:
0:02
Everyday grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee. These are global commodities. They pass through a lot of people’s hands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart. This is the stories behind our food podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insight or knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robidoux — and I’m Kate Chess — and we’re your hosts.:
Danielle:
0:27
Hi folks. Today we’re here with Rob Everts, president of Equal Exchange.:
Rob:
0:34
Good to be here.:
Danielle:
0:36
Thank you so much for joining us today, Rob. let’s get right into it. Let’s start with your craziest more story as an organizer.:
Rob:
0:45
Yeah, there’s a lot of potential war stories to share. Of course. some are are tragic some are exhilarating, But let me go back to the beginning of my career, one that was actually humorous. So I had dropped out of college to join the United Farm Workers Union. I’m from California, but I got sent to Boston in the heyday of these consumer boycotts — we were boycotting grapes and Lettuce. And at that time, I had organized a group in a western suburb of Boston to hold signs over the Massachusetts Turnpike that said boycott grapes and Lettuce. And we had a lot of people out there. And pretty soon a state trooper pulled up and, told us to get off the bridge. And, I asked him why and bottom line was, he said, because I said, so. So then I said, well, you know, when I ask you a straightforward question, I can’t get a straightforward answer. I just have no respect for the state police. Boom, click, click back of the seat. So I’m in the back of the, of the, cruiser taken to jail. an activist bailed me out and the UFW then launched a, a kind of a tongue in cheek campaign: Free the Newton One. This was in Newton, Massachusetts, Free the Newton One. And, I asked the — I was 19, and so I’d been arrested now and so I asked the director of the office, so what do I do and what you, you got to go hustle a lawyer. So I went and where could I go? Well, you be resourceful. You’re an organizer. So, I uncovered a lawyer at Harvard law school who would work, pro bono. She took my case Jean Kettleson and bless her heart.:
Rob:
2:38
Fast forward to the hearing. We’re in there. There’s a state trooper, there’s me, there’s the judge, there’s my lawyer and there’s the assistant DA for Middlesex County who is prosecuting me. And it’s John Kerry, John Kerry, early in his career, not too many years after he has been very public about his organizing with the Vietnam veterans against the war VVAW. So he does not have his heart in this case, but he’s representing the trooper. And so, so he’s going, yeah, this, that the other thing. And then you could just see that all these characters knew each other. and so the judge was toying with John Kerry and I can just almost hear him all these years later is saying, well, surely you of all people, Mr Kerry, you must appreciate the nature of the activity that Mr Everts engaged in nonviolent, if you will. You know, things like that. In any way. My lawyer proceeded to tie the poor trooper into knots. and the whole thing was thrown out. But it was a, it was a good baptism to early organizing. Having to be resourceful on my own to extract myself out of that difficulty.:
Danielle:
3:47
Sounds, sounds like a rite of passage. That’s a, that’s a really cool story. I, I’m interested Rob, so obviously I’m an organizer for Equal Exchange. what organizing looks like today is obviously really different from, you know, back on the mass pike and, you know, holding up a sign. So I’m curious as to, if you can kind of speak to your experience organizing then and organizing now in some of the major differences that you can see with such largely different contexts, but you know, some, some of the similar same problems.:
Rob:
4:27
Yeah, I think in many ways it hasn’t changed all that much. it’s about organizing is still about building relationships. It’s still about a convincing people that if they are organized, they can build power, that they can have power. In some instances like union organizing, it’s still about combating fear. So in many ways a lot of what organizing hasn’t changed. One thing that has changed, are the tools available. So when you think about technology, I think most people would agree that you know clicks and likes don’t organize people. So that’s, that’s not, that’s not doing it. but when I think about what’s been achieved, I think the first group that I recall doing this was move on.org when they would organize digitally, you know, online these meetups that would get people in the same neighborhoods and zip codes and to meet physically in someone’s living room to then talk with an agenda and, about, you know, a common problem in an organize a strategy together that the blend of some of the technology available with still not losing sight of the importance of being in person, is a real asset in this day and age.:
Danielle:
5:54
Yeah. That’s interesting. Kind of thinking the parallels and really the tools being what are different and thinking about how the problem is, how do I get people to care? How do I get people rallied over a specific issue. What, what do you think makes a good organizer in general, what do you think the best traits to a good organizer are? And you know, you’ve done organizing work then and even today, right? Some of our work is organizing. why are you drawn to this kind of work? Why is it exciting for you?:
Rob:
6:34
I think first in some of the traits of a good organizer, it’s hard for me to put anything above persistence. It can be so slow and the victories can be so few and far between that you have to have a pilot light that is really flaming. and you need to be persistent. And beyond that, I think you need humility. You do need a strong sense of self, self respect. You need to have a love for people, not just tolerate them but like really want to engage. and I think you need to be able to take the long view. So I think all of those are really, critical. I first, you know, got involved in high school with the United Farm Workers when they were picketing a store in my hometown. And I believe that the organizers there, Nancy Elliott, she, she saw me as a potential live wire. There was something, I was pretty shy, but she’s, she, she saw something and so she literally took me under her wing and you know, let me show you how we do it and we walk up to cars and tell them why we’re asking people not to even shop at that store and to please turn around and go away. So it seemed a high bar as opposed to just don’t buy this product. But we did it. And, I got the bug. And so I think what motivates me in some way is, believing that it’s worthwhile and yet that it’s has to be effective. Like when you think about the scale of evil in the world and corporate corruption, I mean, it can be overwhelming. It can be and very disempowering. So it’s not just enough to be outraged at wrongs in the world. You have to believe that there is a path and that you personally can find a role to be effective in that work to effect change.:
Danielle:
8:41
I agree with that. You do need that sense of hope and I do think it’s a lot easier as an individual to kind of see what’s already been done and have this highly critical eye, oh why is it that way? It should be this way. It should be that way. But I think as an organizer you do really want to think about that solution based thinking and having hope and seeing that hey, this is a path forward. So I really liked that you said that here and I’m curious, I actually was a really shy person as well. And do you do just seem to be really articulate, really charismatic, which I do think that human connection and the way we can communicate our ideas to people is important as well. What brought you to that first activity and where you really scared? Did someone push you to go to that kind of first event?:
Rob:
9:31
Yeah, it actually was a sense of, I saw my brother do it — like it was this, it was a liquor store. It was Gallo wine that we were picketing. And I would walk past it on the other side of the street every day thinking I should be able to, I should be there. I should be able to be in that. And you know, I was too shy and not confident enough that I would even know what to say. And one rainy day, my older brother went down to join the picket line for the first time and I just kind of believed, well if he can do it, I can do it as sibling rivalry challenge. And so, and then like, look who stuck with it. Right? So he lasted a few months and I’m doing this 35 years later, you know.:
Danielle:
10:16
That’s awesome.:
Kate:
10:17
That speaks to the power of relationships. Like you were saying, at the foundation of organizing is building relationships with the folks you’re trying to organize. But also with people in the community of activists. Have you had mentors who are notable?:
Rob:
10:33
Yeah. Let me say just one more thing about that, that as much as we think people are attracted to a cause, like it’s all about the cause. People are attracted to you, the organizer. I mean, people win people over. And when I talk about, you know, humility, and not, and not being too self righteous of which I was at that age, I really like anyone who wasn’t boycotting Gallo wine was a complete disaster. Right? Even if they’ve never even heard of the boycott, if they weren’t doing it, they were, I mean, I was really pretty insufferable probably in that age, but so, so you got to find the balance of not being too self righteous, but driven and motivated and engaging and, and with a winning personality because people are attracted to, to people. For a mentor after that first organizer, Nancy Elliott, I think the one who I look up to the most would be Fred Ross, man by the name of Fred Ross. and it’s probably not insignificant that there’s probably not a single person listening to this podcast who’s ever heard of him. and that’s one of the reasons I look up to him because Fred was the person who discovered — I’ll put in quotes — Cesar Chavez, when Fred was looking to organize Mexican Americans in California, he found Chavez in a, in a barrio in, in San Jose. and they worked together for many years before even starting to build the United Farm Workers Union. So Fred worked for probably 60, 65 years as an organizer. And I know him from initially having the story, you know, having trained Chavez, how to organiz, together. Building with Dolores Huerta, building up the United Farm Workers.:
Speaker 2:
12:29
And then I come along as a college dropout at 19. Fred’s there, Fred is leading trainings. He’s accompanying people like me to house meetings. We’re critiquing them at 10 o’clock at night afterwards, while it’s really fresh. 20 years after that he’s working with CISPES, you know, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador doing organizing drives. He’s working with the people who ran the boycott against Nestle’s for the infant formula. and so accompanying people into his eighties accompany people to house meetings and doing debriefs immediately after and never stop training. And so someone like that who had done so much and changed so many lives and someone that no one’s ever heard of it, it just strikes me as a power. For me, he’s always been a mentor.:
Kate:
13:17
I’m glad to get his name out there:
:
13:19
Because it’s back to the humility piece. Maybe that’s why no one’s ever heard of him. Right. Yeah. And to kind of step back, I really did like what you had said about human connection and that kind of being the central point to being a successful organizer. That it is about connecting human to human. And that’s what I really like about Equal Exchange is that we are trying to elevate the stories of people who are a part of making our food, whatever that looks like. And as an organizer, I definitely find it more, I want to know about the people that I’m organizing. I want to know about their lives and their, and their families and why they care about this on a human level. And I think that genuineness of really getting there is, and people feel that, and I think you’re right. It, they’re, they’re gravitated to the person and they can feel that you actually care about then as a human being. So I liked that. I liked that you said that, right?:
Rob:
14:20
Yeah, it really, it really matters.:
Danielle:
14:25
So as for Equal Exchange, you know, we’re an alternative trade organization. We sell coffee, we sell chocolate, we sell tea, we are this for profit business, right? What makes us different and why do you think that organizing is something that’s central to what Equal Exchange should be doing? And as we think about a path forward, what does an alternative trade organization look like, you know, in the next 30 years. Why do you see organizing as a central piece of that?:
Rob:
15:05
I think Equal Exchange is a more unique than we wish. We wish there were many more alternative trade organizations, ATOs out there in the world. like us whose sole mission, right is to change the terms of trade to inject equity and more justice into the, into an international trade in our, in our sector. but I think for us in this era, especially, you could, you could make the case that we should have been organizing in this way with consumers from, from day one, we’ve always put a high premium on education, trying to demystify where people’s food comes from, encouraging people to ask us questions and challenges. But we never have invested in this way. And for us now, it actually feels like a, like a strategy of, survival because, because of market forces and consolidation, corporate change where we all, you know, attempt to sell our food in addition to alternative distribution channels and food coops and things. But they have more control than ever before and their leverage to extract lower prices out of suppliers — And in this case, you know, we are a supplier to stores — it forces us to build an alternative, right? A nonlinear response to that. And I think we need to be, looking at people who consume our products in a way that’s broader than just consumption, not just people who consume. Right? And that’s why we’ve invoked this, this phrase, citizen consumers, because we, we want to engage with actually hundreds of thousands of people around the country who, who, who buy our stuff, in the totality of their being, right? Their whole political beings as citizen consumers, not just, you know, how can I help buy her stuff? How can I help join us? , and I think that’s unique among businesses here where we’re actually inviting citizen consumers people into our, market based organisation, this commercial enterprise to play an extremely important role, ultimately possibly a governance role with a, with a form of membership in this cooperative, that they are influencing decisions that we make, perhaps some day on the board of directors. So that’s the vision, right? And I think we need that in order to be around, you know, for the next 33 years.:
Danielle:
17:47
I think that’s really powerful. And what is different about that is that you’re actually asking folks to — you’re bringing down the walls, you’re asking for shared responsibility and you’re asking folks to walk this path with you and not to kind of, you know, be seeing what Equal Exchange does from afar and maybe appreciating it until actually there isn’t enough support. And maybe in 20 years if you didn’t go down this path, that actually doesn’t exist because you know, you always see that a co op is going out of business and you know, in the final hour you have everyone running to the store, you know, trying to, you know, save the Co op. But where were you for the past three years when they were struggling showing up and saying, Hey, I care about this. I want to engage in this alternative model. And so I think that getting folks to walk that path with us in a totally different way that no — from what I know anyhow, that no for profit businesses doing to me is actually really powerful.:
Rob:
18:50
And I think in this moment when, democracy around the world, you know, in this country and in many countries around the world is under extreme duress. We’re hedging that, democracy matters to a meaningful number of number of people. And we want to give meaning to democracy, within our world, within our, not just within our worker co op, which is extremely important. but extend it to the whole consumer base that we have an end and try to create a model that really is a democratic, brand in the marketplace.:
Danielle:
19:26
And, and democracy doesn’t work if you don’t have active participation. I mean, since working here, I think I actually might understand democracy more than being a citizen of my own country. You know, you show up on election day and where is your involvement for the rest of the year. And so I don’t want to someone who’s just going to show up on election day, I want someone who has this shared responsibility and accountability to this is our planet, right? This is our food system. This is the food that we’re eating. This is the food we’re feeding to our, to our kids, and how do I actually care about that on a different level and realize that I as an individual have power. Right. And I think that’s the power of an organizer is that’s what we’re here to tell you, that we are actually bringing you along this path and getting you to care.:
Kate:
20:12
One thing I feel like I’m seeing a lot is defeatism. You’ve alluded to the magnitude of the problems that folks are facing and you’ve also talked about how essential it is that organizers have a path forward or have a vision of a hopeful future. But I think that might be one of the generational differences, as young people look back on what seems to be this golden age of protest and organizing in the sixties and seventies that we weren’t alive for. It seems like the problems today are bigger and therefore like, let’s not bother or, or something like that. Do you, do you this defeatism and do you have any advice for younger folks that are trying to get involved?:
Rob:
20:54
I would be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t have my own moments like that. Right? Like, I’m thinking of the present moment democracy under duress in this country, right? Our president is, is trampling on democracy. And in my weakest moments, I think he might win the day, right? Can the public, can we, can we, the people rescue our democracy? I think it’s there. I think it’s … I think to deny it is not helpful. And so to acknowledge it, but then to try to, you know, turn the corner and look at it concrete ways that people can make change. There are so many examples, especially young people these days. when I look at, and it’s not just young people, but Black Lives Matter. When I look at the Parkland students, a lot of organizing around immigration. A lot is young people. A lot is effective, right? There’s challenges, but a lot of this is effective and, and young people, in a way they’re fearless. So I don’t deny that there’s this, there’s this backdrop or bigger context of, of defeatism and, and, and the, the warming planet and you know, it’s getting worse and things like, you know, there’s a lot, there’s a lot there, but there’s also a lot of examples of people doing really good work and being successful at what they’re doing. And so, I would try to steer people in that direction because it’s, it’s, it’s the path that we all need to take.:
Danielle:
22:36
Right. And I guess the overall point would be what does organizing among other organizations who are doing similar work, what does solidarity look like, there, on an organizational level and how can we think about that in the same way and what can we learn from what we do on an individual organizing level, but also, like you said, Rob, there is hope. There is a path, there are folks that are in other organizations doing really cool things and how can Equal Exchange, you know, tap in and connect to some of those and you know, really just pave a path forward that that is positive despite, you know, what Kate had alluded to and that all the things that are going wrong in this world and how can we band together as organizations to, you know, move forward.:
Rob:
23:23
Equal exchange is a worker cooperative. You know, we, we buy from farmer cooperatives, we sell to consumer cooperatives. There are other worker cooperatives around. It’s ironic how difficult it is to cooperate despite the sixth coop principal: cooperation among cooperatives. It can be really hard. And I pull back to other organizing and organizing more often than not is issue oriented. It’s driven by issues. And whereas I really believe, that the overstated phrase, there’s more that unites us than divides us. I do believe that. And so the challenge is to be able to articulate that and to overcome suspicion and to relax assumptions and permit others to influence you. And more than anything to be willing to compromise, not your values, but maybe your priorities. Because there is, if we, if we let our, if we let that sink in, if we let ourselves believe that there truly is more that unites us, let’s name it, let’s name those things that unite us and let’s name the common, you know, I’ll say enemy for lack of a better word. and then let’s see where we can work together because it, it, it can be really difficult. But when it, when it does work, it’s a, it’s a beautiful thing.:
Danielle:
25:06
I’m actually interested to Rob just to think about, you know, clearing out the shelves of that. What are some of the tactics that you used as an organizer? You know, how, what are interesting ways to kind of get people to care? I know there’s, you know, different tactics that folks are using to try to get attention from people. Is there anything from your experience that you have seen that too bad an, you know, really successful?:
Rob:
25:34
One of the most successful things at the pure tactical level was knowing that the media loves to cover itself. Now. Now I’ll take it to around 1980, 1990, the organization, Neighbor to Neighbor, which was, leading an effort, among many others to, end the US involvement in the war in El Salvador. And our focus had been on Congress. but here it’s still the cold war. And many Democrats were just as bad as Republicans in terms of supporting US aid to the butchers in El Salvador, the people who had assassinated Archbishop Romero and the six Jesuit priests later on, and the four American church women and 80,000 more peasants and union people and teachers whose names will never know. we, we wanted, we launched a boycott of their leading export, which was coffee. So it was, so, it was the, the governing party was the ARENA party, the party of the coffee growing elite, President Alfredo Christiani was a big plantation coffee plantation owner, and we said, Congress, the congressional strategy isn’t working. Let’s try something else. And many of us had been in the United Farm Workers Union. And so we looked around the room one day and realized we had a hundred years of collective consumer boycott experience in the room and said, there’s nothing to lose. Let’s go after him. And so we launched a boycott of Salvadoran coffee. We targeted Folgers as the leading user of Salvadoran beans in there blend. And the tactic that we used was we used many and, and I almost don’t have time to talk about them all here, but the role of the longshoreman on the West Coast was beautiful.:
Rob:
27:22
But the one I want to say it was right here in Boston, when we made for $5,000 we made a TV commercial or a 30-second TV ad narrated by the actor Ed Asner that ended up with a Folgers’ coffee mug with blood seeping out of it. You know. And Ed Asner’s saying, boycott Folgers’ coffee: what it brews is misery and death. And we tried to shop this to local stations to run it and it was essentially banned in Boston, right? One station after another. Refused to run this ad. And finally, the local, the ABC affiliate, I believe it was at the time, channel seven here, actually agreed, called our bluff. Yeah. We’ll run that spot. And so we, I quickly had to go and hustle like 10,000 bucks to buy a couple of, you know, slots at non prime time, like 10 in the morning during Family Feud or something like that, just to follow through.:
Kate:
28:20
That’s just when I feel like a cup of blood.:
Rob:
28:23
And so we ran it. And then within minutes, practically, Procter & Gamble that owned Folgers revoked $1 million in ad money from channel seven because he had the audacity to run the Neighbor to Neighbor low budget TV spot. So we were able to convert that into a national story. Like this one was too hot — look at who got punished for, you know, running this ad, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so we, because the media likes to cover itself, we’re able to get this on the front page of the New York Times, on CNN. It was like massive coverage of this, of this punishment by a multinational over a local station. that had dared run, this low budget, you know, ad for an advocacy organization. So like that’s just one of the tactics, but I also know that , controversy works, when you think about what to advocates have in their, in their toolkit, in a way it’s too bad, but controversy does work. When there ware other things on the Folgers boycott that we did right, that were, that were controversial and it got press coverage, right. And you don’t get press coverage for the sake of getting press coverage. You get press coverage to make the issue, a real life present day right here in this community or in this congressional district. It’s an issue. It’s not something 4,000 miles away that you don’t have to do with no. You have to deal with it.:
Kate:
29:57
Yeah. Yeah. What about humor?:
Rob:
29:58
Humor is a good, good asset. We, when I was with the United Farm Workers, there was a, actually a mushroom farm in California owned by Ralston Purina. And so all the different offices were asked, to start up a boycott of Purina thinking we could do this one pretty quickly. So we went out and rented a Snoopy costume and in front of the regional — you know, the local office of them. Right. We had, you know, Snoopy says — and who knows if we’re within our rights or we’re just breaking or all sorts of, laws, but we had a massive Snoopy snout, you know, on someone a Snoopy uniform — Snoopy Says Boycott Purina Dog Chow. That got covered by TV. It’s funny. You know, it got coverage and it was one of those things,:
Kate:
30:43
It attracts people to your campaign, I think. You talked about making connections with people and yeah, no one wants to be part of a losing battle and no one wants to do something that’s just all like a horrible chore all the time. Like you want to be around people that are having fun.:
Rob:
30:57
Exactly. Because if you’re in this for the long haul, you need to be the, we’re all han, you know, we’re not 100% serious all the time. Yeah. The issues that we’re talking about in grappling with are serious, often deadly serious. But, that’s not the kind of energy that attracts others to the cause and keeps them there for the long haul. And so humor I think is really vital as one of the things along the way that does not diminish the importance of any cause, whatsoever.:
Danielle:
31:33
Rob, thank you so much for all of your information. I definitely think that I could sit here and talk to you about organizing for days, but thinking about Equal Exchanges organizing now and I want to just talk to the listeners about how they can get involved and thinking about Equal Exchange, really being a part of that fair trade movement and the kind of vote with your dollar idea. How can we talk about what we’re doing now, how that’s different and that we’re building upon that story to kind of expand beyond conscious consumerism and how folks can get involved beyond just, hey, I’m buying Equal Exchange coffee. What, what else can can folks do and how can they get involved?:
Rob:
32:23
Yeah. Good. I mean we obviously do ask people to vote with your dollar. We ask them to buy our stuff. But we also are very aware that that is just one layer, right? That that is vote with your fork, vote with your dollar. those are not the end. Those are big. Those are the points of entry. political engagement and involvement is really crucial here. So for us at Equal Exchange, we are, eagerly inviting, people who, who, who support what we do to engage with us and join us. In fact, this summer in June here in Massachusetts, we’re holding our third year of what we’re calling the summit of activists. and, and, eventually we believe members of Equal Exchange to come and engage with us. you know, if you go to our website, you will be steered quickly to, to this activity to how to join. but we, we need you, we need people engage in, in a deeper way than ever before. Doesn’t mean commit your life to Equal Exchange. It means we have a whole multiple, you know, multipart menu of ways you can get involved in help us from buying to talking to others, to talking to your local store, your, your, your church, any number of ways. So we need you and we’d like you, we’d love it for those who inspired sufficiently inspired after listening to this to go to the website and get in touch with us.:
Kate:
33:51
We’ll put links in the show notes as well so you can find them there.:
Danielle:
33:55
I also think what’s powerful about the Equal Exchange summit, and I am one of the organizers of that event, is that you’re actually asking people to show up physically. It’s really a virtual worlds and folks are engaging in that way every day, every minute. And we actually want to see your face. We want to, for you to show up physically, we want to get to know you on a human level. And so that’s what’s really powerful to me is it’s really a gathering of all the folks in Equal Exchange’s, community, our worker-owners, our customers that we want to call citizen consumers. Right? You’re not just as much as your dollar is worth, you’re more and our producer partners. So really just getting folks around. all parts of our supply chain around one table. So just to talk a bit about the details. It’s going to be June 20th to June 22nd in Norton, Massachusetts at Wheaton College. So we would love you folks to come and we will have in the show notes, but in case you’re not going to look at the show notes, it’s Equal Exchange dot coop slash summit so we hope to see you there.:
Kate:
35:08
Thanks again for joining us, Rob.:
Rob:
35:10
Thank you.:
Kate:
35:13
Thanks for listening to the Stories Behind Our Food, a podcast by Equal Exchange, Inc a workaround cooperative. Love this episode? Please subscribe rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit www.exchange.coop to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers in the global supply chain. This episode was produced by Equal Exchange with hosts, Kate Chess and Danielle Robidoux. Sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of the Stories Behind Our Food.

Why Two Kinds of Olive Oil?

Since 2011, Equal Exchange has carried organic olive oil from Palestinian farmers. West Bank families produce this special oil from olive trees that have been passed down from generation to generation. We’re pleased to be able to work with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) an NGO that helps to organize and assist farmers in order to test their oil’s quality, bottle it, and bring the product to market.

But true partnerships must weather ups and downs. In October and November 2018, the annual olive harvest in the West Bank was the smallest in over a decade. This was due to a number of factors such as climate change-induced drought and the presence of olive flies.  Some farmers had yields as low as 20% of normal, causing great economic hardship.

Agriculture has always been a risky business. If you’re an independent small-scale farmer, a bad season or two can shut you down. That’s why Equal Exchange acts in solidarity with our partners in 20 countries around the world — including PARC — by providing pre-harvest financing, paying higher than the fair trade minimum price, and being as consistent and transparent as we can. We do all this with your support!

Because of the poor harvest and lower total yields in the West Bank, less olive oil hit the threshold of Extra Virgin this year, so we weren’t able to buy as much as in years past.  And as is always the case with supply and demand, when supply is cut, prices go up. Despite these challenges, we’re proud to have been able to pay olive farmers more this year.

Two men and a woman reach up into the branches of an olive tree
Family farmers prune their olive trees in the West Bank

 

What’s the difference between Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Because of the limited supply of Organic Extra Virgin olive oil, Equal Exchange is offering a brand new product — Organic Virgin Olive Oil — at a slightly lower retail price.

But what’s the difference? Extra Virgin olive oil is the highest grade of virgin. It contains no more than 0.8% free acidity. Organic Virgin olive oil, in comparison, has a free acidity that ranges from 0.8-2.0%. Both kinds of olive oil we buy from PARC are 100% certified organic. Both grades are unrefined, derived from the olive fruit by cold mechanical extraction (“cold-pressed”) without fillers or chemicals.  Both can be used the same way — cooked or uncooked.  Let us know if you can even taste the difference!

Shop Olive Oil >>

 About PARC:

PARC is a leading Palestinian non-profit involved in rural development and women’s empowerment. It works with cooperatives and reaches more than 6,000 members. Our work with PARC fits with the larger Equal Exchange mission of providing assistance to small-scale farmers around the world so they can run businesses that help to sustain their families.  PARC offers these farmers an important economic opportunity, since markets for their goods are severely restricted due to the occupation.

This summer, we’re expanding the range of products from PARC that we carry. Starting this July, look for packages of maftoul, freekeh,  za’atar, and dates, all sourced from small-scale farmers in the West Bank.

 

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Building an Alternative Trade Organization for 2020

By Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange President

Equal Exchange was founded as an alternative trade organization (ATO) with the mission of connecting US consumers and small marginalized farmers from the global south from countries like Nicaragua, Peru, or India. Within the ATOs internationally, Equal Exchange has been identified with the organizations that trade food, support social movements and farmer coops, and is itself structured as a worker coop.

Alternative trade organizations had foundational influence in the broader fair trade movement but have been isolated from even their most natural allies including coops, citizen movements, community economic organizations, unions, and NGOs. This isolation has caused ATOs to not only be under grave threat for the future but at risk of not surviving the market in the next ten to fifteen years.

How is Equal Exchange, one of the most successful ATOs in the global north thinking about our future? What is our plan or strategy to try to survive and prosper in this next period? How will we need to change to increase our odds of success?

In general, we have been doing several things at the same time over the last five years, all of which are important pieces of the future we are trying to build. To increase the odds of success we must create a future in which consumers and producers can connect in actual partnership that is real, mutual and sustaining of fair economics and democracy building. We need to:

1) Save and Create a Network of ATOs.

As we watched our fellow northern ATOs recede and face economic collapse we were compelled to act to save and support as many as we could. In 2008 we acted to keep Oke USA, the only fair trade produce company in the country alive. We invested $400,000 of high-risk capital into an organization that was effectively in bankruptcy. In 2013, we put $400,000 into Equal Exchange UK as a sister ATO to keep the doors open. We re-invested in that effort in 2017. In 2014 we invested $400,000 in La Siembra, a Canadian worker cooperative to keep their ATO model alive instead of becoming effectively demutualized and transitioning from an ATO to a brand at the service of venture capitalists.

There have been other circumstances where we looked at trying to lend a hand, There likely will be more. We believe we have done more to keep authentic ATOs alive,, competing and performing their vital work than any organization out there. Today Equal Exchange US and UK, La Siembra, and Oke are all in business, profitable, and together sell over $80 million annually. We have created an ecosystem of ATOs that walk their own path, but learn together and reinforce each other.

2) Recognize that Our Past View of Partnerships was Illusory.

We have always tried to fairly balance commercial sales with strong partners and allies. Those deep partners were primarily food coops and churches. What we came to realize is that these semi-partnerships were ultimately weakly constructed, not structurally coherent and ultimately not able to allow us or our “partners” to co-plan, co-invest, co-sacrifice, and co-share any surplus created. As previously mentioned, ATOs are isolated from even their most natural allies. At times we may have been close to solving this isolation and lack of structural connection issue but ultimately that did not happen. Understanding that what we hoped for and tried to create in partnership was not there. This realization allowed us to re-engage in what our situation really was and still is.

3) Engage and directly organize our citizen-consumer base.

In this last period, we have begun to directly organize citizen-consumers. This is to create a network to support Equal Exchange, our farmer partners, and citizen-consumer power in the market and society. As always, the benefits of this success will flow to Equal Exchange in part but well beyond Equal Exchange as well. We believe for any ATO to succeed in 2020 or 2030 it will require a very strong network of citizen-consumers. We need to build economic alternative institutions, and ATOs in most cases will need to build their own structures in this new environment.

What we can say after three years of active engagement is this work is among the most challenging we have undertaken. It is confusing. Everyone comes at this with their own assumptions. It is hard to share these. We are on unplowed terrain. We have left the heavily tilled ground of social responsibility and sustainability which most of the major players in the multi-trillion dollar global market now support in theory. We believe this is exactly where Equal Exchange as a pioneering, entrepreneurial, imaginative ATO should be spending its time.

4) Recognize our success and the success of our allies.

Fortunately, Equal Exchange has been successful. Our network of ATOs has collective sales of $80 million in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. We have 160 workers, most of them as cooperative owners. We have hundreds of thousands of consumer supporters and now a few thousand more organized citizen-consumers. We have a solid balance sheet, positive net retained earnings and a capital base. We have three brands that are well established and have substantial value as brands to our competitor capitalist frenemies. We have a 33-year history of trying different things and succeeding a fair amount of the time. We exist at reasonable scale and can play our game in the midst of the broad, often challenging,and ever-consolidating market.

5) Gain support for our approach and the trade models we want to build.

While we do this as a networked, international mini-group of ATOs, as the market gets more challenging there is more and more support for our approach and what we have done. For quite a while we and our farmer partners watched as the market took over fair trade and mainstreamed it to the point that it was unrecognizable. More recently worker coops & democracy have gotten more energy, attention and are now in a boomlet of their own. This development is truly exciting. As corporations consolidate further there is an increasing understanding of the need for a new economy, community ownership and worker ownership. One of the foundations of our mission is becoming more understood as a needed reform and that reform is happening in dozens of small organizations and a few bigger organizations across the country. Meanwhile, Equal Exchange has been living with the structure of worker ownership for decades and is yet again in our own unique space.

Equal Exchange remains a unique hybrid. We are one of the few ATOs of scale in the US. We are one of the leading northern ATOs on the planet. We are one of the largest worker coops in the US. As an ATO we support small farmers and small farmer democracy. We support worker democracy and have trusted our organization to workers to govern.

Over the past thirty-two years of building our hybrid model we have learned a lot about building a network of ATOs, fostering supply chains centered around farmers and sharing our unique business model with others. The heart and soul of Equal Exchange has always been about and continues to be about relationships. An unintended but clear mistake of our model has been leaving out our citizen-consumer base. The model will be stronger with them in. We believe our economic and political survival depends on doing this in an effective, meaningful way.

We have a brand. It is of great value to others. We need to continue to leverage our brand, our supply chains, and our unique model in the more hostile market. We need to bring citizen-consumers into our democracy and continue to build the most democratic brand in America.

Earth Day Stories: Leaders in Sustainable Agriculture

It’s not a secret: due to human activity – particularly the activity of the most privileged – the Earth is in crisis. This year, to commemorate Earth Day, we are uplifting the work of those on the frontlines of healing the environment while feeding people, the producers who have spent their lives working towards sustainable agriculture. Read on for news from avocado and banana producers from Mexico and Ecuador.

A NEW BIO-FERTILIZER PLANT

By Ravdeep Jaidka, Sourcing Manager, Equal Exchange Produce

EL GUABO, ECUADOR – In Ecuador, the banana capital of the world, a small farmer coop is leading the charge on an exciting project that provides meaningful benefits to its farmer members, while having a positive impact on the environment. Through premium funds, AsoGuabo cooperative in El Guabo, Ecuador recently launched a biofábrica, or a bio-fertilizer plant. The idea emerged from a desire to increase the productivity on the banana farms of its members in a manner that mutually benefited the environment.

It is important to mention that one dollar per 40 lb. banana box is paid directly to farmer cooperatives in the form of Fair Trade Premium and farmer members democratically elect the projects to support with Premium funds. Since bananas are a volume game, the Premium can be sizable. In 2018, the three banana farmer cooperatives working with Equal Exchange received over $300,000 in the form of Fair Trade Premium. This is a tangible way in which Fair Trade is creating democracy and impact on small farmer communities.

The bio-fertilizer project began in January of 2019 with the construction of a warehouse. From there, the manufacturing process begins with two starters (an active starter and an inactive starter), resulting in 5 different types of bio-fertilizers, each with its own set of characteristics. While some contain nutrients and micro-organisms to promote the growth of the plant, others combat diseases plaguing the banana plant. Disbursements of bio-fertilizers to farmers members began in March. As of April, half of the 150 farmer members of AsoGuabo have already applied the bio-fertilizers on their farms, free of cost.

Farmer and producer

bio fertilizer

 

As you can see in the photos, each bio-fertilizer tank dons a sticker that reads “With healthy soils, we guarantee the quality of the environment.” This connection between soil health and environment is a tangible one, with research pointing to the benefits of a healthy topsoil in promoting water retention, biodiversity, disease control, and carbon sequestration, especially for organic farmers, who already have a limited toolbox for combating disease and promoting plant growth.

Avocados and Pollinators

By Meghan Bodo, Avocado Supply Chain Coordinator, Equal Exchange Produce

MICHOACÁN, MEXICO – Since its inception, Mexico-based avocado cooperative PRAGOR has built environmental sustainability into their heart of their business. PRAGOR sources only from small farmers who have been maintaining organic orchards for at least six years. This membership requirement is based on the cooperative’s desire to curtail deforestation, which is a problem of increasing concern as the global demand for avocados rises.

Beyond ensuring the integrity of the land of their members, PRAGOR has dedicated the use of some of their Fair Trade Premium Funds towards environmental causes. In 2016, PRAGOR started supporting a beekeeping initiative in conjunction with the local government. Five PRAGOR farmers agreed to host bee boxes on their farms, cared for by a group of women – Mujeres polinizadoras de Tingambato — many of whom are associated with the cooperative. The group received formal training; they breed queen bees in order to assist bee population growth in the area and also harvest honey. In 2017 the group reported production of more than 1000 liters of honey from over 80 bee boxes.

bee keeping

When asked about the roots of the project, one group member: “[Bees] help the environment a lot. They are fundamental. They pollinate – they pollinate the fruit in the field.” She is correct: according to Greenpeace, at least a third of our food depends on pollination from bees.

Both through growing organic avocados, and through supporting efforts like beekeeping initiatives, PRAGOR provides an inspiring example of a sustainable business.

bee keeping

THE POTENTIAL OF AGROFORESTRY, SOIL AND BANANAS

by Angelica Hicks, Banana Supply Chain Coordinator, Equal Exchange Produce

EL ORO, ECUADOR – Whenever we’re asked about soil health and bananas, the first person who comes to mind is our friend Rubén Fernández, an agronomist who works for AgroFair, a Netherlands-based fair trade company. Rubén provides technical services to farmer-members of the Ecuadorian banana cooperative AsoGuabo. We’ve met with Rubén to learn about his work with agroforestry farms; though EE does not purchase fruit from these farms, we hope Rubén’s work has the potential to increase access to agroforestry practices for all small commercial farmers.

Rubén is now a formally trained agricultural specialist, but he has been involved in tropical agriculture since he was just a child.  “My dad taught me to do fieldwork. He used to tell me, an agricultural engineer is a person who likes to grow a plant.” He went to an agricultural high school, where he would spend half of the day in the classroom and half of the day in the field apprenticing. He then continued on to study at an agricultural college, completing his thesis on soil microorganisms.

Today, Rubén works as a general administrator for agroforestry projects with a focus on soil health and ecosystem maintenance, an area of work which he says can help boost small farmer productivity while reducing negative impacts of agriculture on the ecosystem. According to Rubén, the typical and conventional lowland monoculture banana farms, when compared with agroforestry systems, require more resource input, including more cycles of fumigation against the devastating plant disease Sigatoka, increased water usage, and higher costs for farmers.

In contrast, “In the agroforestry farms 500 meters above sea-level, the water drops don’t erode the soil. It is like a refuge for microorganisms.” In addition to diversity on a microbial level, the agroforestry farms “maintain native green cover crops and maintain biodiversity, not only with banana and cacao but also citrus and other fruits.”

EE Staff with Producer

While agroforestry is a traditional form of food production in tropical climes, it is also being studied for cutting-edge applications to improve commercial practices.  In 2016, Rubén’s team launched an experiment to observe the results of mycorrhiza application, taking samples of the fungus from agroforestry farms and inoculating lowland farm soils. The team preliminarily found that the plots inoculated with mycorrhiza showed increased root mass, assisting in nutrient uptake, reducing irrigation needs and resulting in larger offspring of the banana plant.

Agroforestry has another critical significance amid our collective global scramble for climate change solutions: its potential to sequester carbon at an impressive rate, both in above ground biomass (i.e., in plants themselves) and belowground (i.e., soil and roots; see Toensmeier and Herren, 2016). Per Rubén, the soil on the agroforestry farms is richer than on monoculture banana farms, with high levels of porosity and aeration, and more or less 40 centimeters of soil organic matter. “When carbon is captured, automatically the issue of climate becomes more favorable,” says Rubén, noting that in addition, healthy soils filter pollution and break down toxins.

Banana producer

 

One personal observation bears mentioning: while a conversation with Rubén can be science-heavy, his passion is inherently social: “Soil health – I define it as the soil’s ability to function as a living system to maintain biological production, promote environmental quality and maintain animal and human health.” That definition leads him to work towards the benefit of small farmers and their products as an integral part of a healthy and harmonious ecosystem.

Print References:

Toensmeier, E. and Herren, H. (2016). The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, pp.22-23, 32-33.

 

Keep current with news about fair and sustainable agriculture.

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Podcast Episode 6: Big Doesn’t Just Happen

Get ready for the most exciting episode of The Stories Behind Our Food we’ve done yet. We talked to Joe Maxwell about consolidation in the food system and why it’s a threat to American farmers, workers and consumers. “Big doesn’t just happen,” Joe told us. “Big is allowed to happen.”


Make sure to visit the Organization for Competitive Markets’ website to learn how you can get involved. It’s here: https://competitivemarkets.com/

A man and his hogs.


You can hear #StoriesBehindOurFood on:

Stitcher (on both Apple and Android.)

Apple Podcasts (Apple devices only.)

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Spotify

or wherever you enjoy online audio!


Hungry for more? Subscribe to The Stories Behind Our Food to hear the newest episodes, right when they release. And don’t forget to review!


Episode Transcript

Danielle :0:02Everyday grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee. These are global commodities. They pass through a lot of people’s hands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart. This is the stories behind our food podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insight or knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robidoux and I’m Kate Chess and we’re your hosts

Danielle :0:28Today. I’m excited to talk with Joe Maxwell about independent family farms. They’re going extinct. Corporations control everything from seeds to supply and prices while chipping away at regulations that inform and protect consumers. It has left the independent food economy, especially farmers devoid of oxygen. How can we change the rules of the game and this episode join myself, Kate and Joe Maxwell, the executive director for the Organization of competitive markets. We will explore how big food hurts American farmers, workers and shoppers. We will discuss how Joe’s history as a hog farmer and legislator has shaped his work in the food system and provide action steps so you can get involved too. Very excited to have Joe on the podcast here. If you had maybe one minute to tell the listeners what, what would be an elevator pitch on why you think this work is important? If you had one minute, what might you tell a listener?

Joe:1:31Absolutely. And I want to thank you all for the opportunity to be on and for all those listening in, it’s extremely important because today independent family agriculture and the family farmers and ranchers that operate within a independent agriculture are on the verge of going bankrupt and being made extinct, by the actions and policies at our state capitals and in Washington DC. And unfortunately their voice is drowned out by big agriculture, industrial agriculture and we need your help. We need it today and we need to join forces if the family farmers of America are gonna survive and they’re the ones that could have the ability and capacity to deliver the safe, healthy food that we know consumers like you are looking for.

Danielle :2:27Thank you, Joe. That’s, that’s awesome. I really love working with OCM, a organization for competitive markets. But maybe, maybe we’ll kind of get into what, what is OCM kind of, how did you become connected to them and your history there?

Joe:2:44Organization for competitive markets, OCM is a 20 year old organization, a that works with family, farmers and ranchers across the country. It’s a national organization and it strives to, reinforce policies and advocacy that support independent family agriculture. we pushed back against the power in the marketplace that multinational food companies now have a, in an effort to give a space, so that our farmers, the what we believe in history will show and does show. Are they good stewards of the land that the animals, our environment and their neighbors, I give them a space so they can operate, stay in business and deliver healthy, safe food, for America’s consumers.

Danielle :3:39That’s great. And I know that you folks are working on a few different projects obviously, as an organizer for equal exchange. I’m really excited about the project that we’re working on together. So, yeah, maybe can you talk a little bit about the food and agribusiness bill and kind of why you think this path is a good step forward for the u s food system specifically?

Joe:4:04Absolutely, and I know many folks that are probably listening are familiar with the recent mega mergers, such as Bayer, Monsanto. These mergers that came over the last several years have sold a concentrated, the, the power of the market and those that control, the very, inputs for the production of our food today after these Bayer, Monsanto type mega mergers, over 70% of seed corn, just as an example, is controlled by two companies. we see that as much as 95% of agricultural seed, now will bear the Monsanto traits, so that, additional roundup can be sprayed on the crops. and, so it’s linking the chemicals, to the actual seed and forcing farmers didn’t have no choice in the market to have the ability to produce a more sustainable, type grains. We also are looking right now, in your, in the protein side.

Joe:5:19folks like, Brazil’s JBS and Brazil’s Marfrig, are now two are the top four, beef producers in the United States that control over 80% of that market. We also see Smith China now own Smithfield and it controls over 25% of the pork production in this country. the problem with those statistics is not that we don’t want to support farmers and ranchers, across the globe. But the fact when these, dominating forces come into the U s market, they’re also in the world market and they’re dictating to every farmer and rancher, price or dictating to the consumer the choices that they’ll have in the grocery stores. And so, we see it’s time to hit the pause button on these mega mergers and these acquisitions within the agricultural sector, beverage and food manufacturing and retail. we believe that until we do, workers will not see justice. Farmers and ranchers will not see justice, nor will the consumer. So we’re working hard to get the u s congress and the Senate and the House, to stop these acquisitions and mergers and take a deep look at the harm that’s been caused to our economy, to the farmers and ranchers, the workers, the environment. Take a look at this and put in place the safeguards necessary to have a fair and open market that delivers health, healthy and safe foods, to, to consumers. Not only here in the u s but around the world.

Danielle :7:06Wow. That’s, that’s great. It sounds like, so it sounds to me like this bill is going to kind of give the economy a chance to pause, right. A chance to breathe. You know, a lot of the concentration, it’s almost like sucking oxygen out of the room for, for independent business. I’m just curious for like on an as an individual, what, what is, you know, why, why exactly is consolidation bad on an individual level? What is the impact on the human level of concentration? Right? Like all those statistics that you just mentioned. Wow. Like, that’s, you know, all those percentages. But what does that really mean on an individual level? You know, I’m a consumer. I’m shopping at my store. Why, why is consolidation bad for me?

Joe:7:54Right? Well, first you also mentioned businesses. this heavy concentration is driving out a small businesses and denying, men and women the opportunity to enter into the food sector. so, it, it denies individuals to fulfill their dream of having their own business, to processed foods, to package foods, and to deliver a high quality, healthy food to their neighbors. How does that reverse of that? Right. Is that we know that here in the US and, also globally, that individual eaters, care about where their food comes from. There’s a rising concern, legitimate concern already in, that, the way in which industrial agricultural globally is producing food. It’s killing. they, they have a care for their bottom line, but they don’t have a care, an equal care for the folks that they’re actually feeding. And so when you wake up in the morning and you think about what am I going to have for breakfast? And you think about how, what your kids and children, should have for breakfast, you, you go to your grocery store and you can’t find that healthy food because too few companies, as few as four companies, regardless of the number of brands or labels that’s on that grocery shelf, it’s really controlled by roughly four companies. And they’re not giving you the healthy choice. They’re giving you the choice that most efficiently produces that, calories in that box or on that shelf, that puts the most money in their pocket.

Danielle :9:53And so consumers wake up every day and are denied opportunities. We also know, especially in the U S and Europe, the, the consumers also trust the voice of those local farmers and ranchers. They trust that, that, that historical, traditional family farm type agriculture, cares about them. And, they not only want to do it for themselves, out of being able to have healthy choices for themselves and their families, but they want to help those farmers. And we are very, very thankful for everyone that has that position, that they are willing to step up and want justice, not only food justice for themselves, the justice for America’s family, farmers and ranchers, that there’ll be treated fairly in the marketplace, that they will have an opportunity to be the sixth or seventh generation. We have, all of us, the staff members, you’re a, Angela Huffman is our director of communications and research, always goof this up, but she, her and her family have been on their farm for over 190 years, who works for us.

Joe:11:12Her family still owns a multi century farm, in, in Europe. And, they, you know, we, we as farmers, I, I’m a fourth generation family farmer from Missouri and, you know, we care about our land. We want to hand it down to the next generation that will feed our neighbors, better than what we found it. we want to care for those animals and we’re not allowed to do that. And we know all those issues are of interest to the consumer, not just the fact that they want justice on the food shelves, but they want justice for those people that have that kind of value, that kind of caring spirit, as they till the soil or raise the, raise the animal.

Danielle :11:56That seems like a great thing about OCM, but folks who were involved with the organization have a personal stake. Can you tell us, Joe, a little bit about what your background is, a farmer, like how that affects this work that you’re doing?

Joe:12:09It’s extremely personal. In that I, have lived, the decline of independent family agriculture in the U s we were thriving in the late seventies, and then there were policy changes in Washington DC, that, began to erode the market opportunity, the fairness and equity, within the marketplace for farmers like myself. My great Granddad plowed the original prairie land under a in Missouri and my grandpa and my dad a farm that as do my brother and myself. Now I take my hat off. My brother is the true American farmer. I do a lot of this work more pretend I’m a farmer. So I want to take my hat off to my brother Steve. he is, the true spirit of what makes American agriculture great. But I have lived that in his early eighties, a this further concentration, these, lax enforcement of the antitrust laws.

Joe:13:25And we’ve allowed monopolies to begin to control the food sector, with that market power brings economic power to them, that economic power brings in political influence or political power. And so, they have now gained a lock of control over the policies, dictated by our elected officials in Washington DC. And so, over that 30 year span or so, I have seen us go from a thriving marketplace where consumers had choice and justice in their food system and we’re family farmers could thrive. The one now where we’re on the verge of bankruptcy and consumers being denied healthy, safe food. We, we strongly, OCM works every day and we all share as staff and as board members, those kinds of values. And that makes it not only personal but gives us a more momentum to get up every day and, and to work hard, for justice within our food system.

Danielle :14:37I think that’s really interesting too. And I’m just kind of looking at your background, right? You know, multigenerational hog farmer. Then you’re kind of talking about the impact of policy on farmers and how that was really real for your family, where you kind of always interested in that connection as a young person. Like where did that begin? That’s just like something that’s really interesting to me. Like did you feel the policy was kind of the next thing that you, the direction that you needed to go to find impact and then kind of what brought you from like multigenerational hog farmer legislator and then kind of taking a different path with OCM as a nonprofit organization? And how do you, you know, kind of exert power and influence in those different spheres and spaces? Just interested in that.

Joe:15:29Growing up? my Steve, I’ve mentioned my brother Steve, we’re twins. Our agreement with the farm who was a value set in us by my, probably more influenced by my granddad because my dad would be out, driving the tractors and we, my brother and I would be helping take care of the animals. And he instilled in us this sense of stewardship, this huge amount of responsibility that a independent family agriculture has as to the things that’s been given to care for. And so I had this deep seated value early in my life as extended by my Granddad and my dad. And all we wanted to do was far. Yeah. So growing up I never dreamed I would be doing this. One day, with changes in Washington d C it became evident that to two of us wasn’t going to be able to stay on the farm. I was going to, and my brother was married. And so I, I was not at the time. And so I, I decided I was going to do something and I got mad. I got furious, right?

Joe:16:43Hate to say that. But I would have been happy to, you know, set on my feed bucket on my prairie farm and watch the sun up come up in the sun, go down. But I became furious that people, policymakers are elected officials would work against my interest, and, and deny me what I grew up as a small child on that prairie farm wanting to do. And I recognize that they made choices. This wasn’t just natural occurrence, it’s just big. Just does it happen. Gig allowed to happen. They gag or culture has been a allowed to happen by our policymakers passing legislation that supports high heavy subsidies or their practices or their predatory retaliatory in discriminatory practices or their abuse of the land and the animals and the gruel communities and the farmers are policy makers make those choices daily. And so got mad.

Joe:17:51And I began to, I thought, well, the other thing I thought to be honest, well, I’m as smart as those elected officials know exactly, I would work. And ultimately ran for office, and and awesome. And I encourage everybody listening, get mad when you go to the grocery store, angry when you go to the grocery store, get angry when you see how little of someone in the food sector, wages are because of the concentration, the prey. Get angry when you could buy healthy food for your children. Get angry and sign up and do something about it because you can make a difference.

Danielle :18:30Yeah. I love what you said and I think that, you know, you do have this interesting experience of like, you know, growing up with your family, just having that farm experience and seeing how that influence that, how consolidation influences people on a human level. And I think that the system exists in a way where we’re really disconnected from our food and that’s the way that folks want it. Like you mentioned, you have this illusion of diversity, illusion of choice. You see hundreds and thousands of brands that are on the shelf as you walk through the grocery store. But like you said, it’s on by four companies and one for companies have that level of consolidation and abusive levels of power. What are they able to do and how are they able to influence the food that we eat? And it’s set up in that way, on purpose, right? To disconnect us from our food and how do we, how do we turn the table on that? How do we begin to start to connect people with their food and to all of these complexities? I think it’s a journey, but I, that’s definitely why I am really excited about this bill that equal exchange is working on with you. So thank you for all your work and I’m really, really great story.

Joe:19:38Thank you. The, the one thing that’s important to know is this legislation would just put a moratorium on these acquisitions and mergers and would establish a commission so that we can study these issues and the impact and the congress and all of us can come together to have the solutions that work. we’re, we believe it’s a low bar. It’s a benchmark. It’s the beginning. and we believe in a u s senator or any member of Congress that does not sign on to this bill and support this bill is really making a choice, a choice to support the demise of independent family agriculture. And the injustice on the grocery store shelves are the consumers of the United States.

Danielle :20:28So my understanding is that your organization is bipartisan. Can you speak to that a little bit? You say any legislators should be signing onto this bill. Do you feel like this is an issue for people across the political spectrum?

Joe:20:40Absolutely. This is, this is not a partisan issue. This is really an issue that affects Democrats, Republicans, independents. It’s an issue that’s impacting the economies, within all states. It’s an issue that’s impacting consumers in every state. And we do not find our organization is a nonpartisan, but we seek out bipartisanship on the support of the legislation. we understand that for some it’s a little tougher lift. but we believe this is a benchmark. This is a place to start so that at a bipartisan way, a the U s Congress House the Senate and come together and find the solutions together, that restore a stewardship within the marketplace, justice within the marketplace and justice on the grocery store shelves.

Danielle :21:46Awesome. Thanks. I have a question that I think a lot of times when you talk about monopolies, you know, thinking about the commission and what, what kinds of things they’ll be working on, you know, cause consolidation at the food system is such a huge topic and there’s so many different things that consolidation touches a lot of people. They kind of focus on price, right? What is the price for consumer? I think that’s definitely an important thing to think about. What, what other things can you imagine that the commission might focus on in regards to consolidation? Anything on like, you know, the, I know that the diversity of the food that we’re growing and you know, even if you look back, you know, not even a hundred years ago that the thousands of varietals of lettuce for instance. Right? And now how many, you know what, I think I had saw some national geographic chart, it was like down to 32 and you know, what is that doing also for the nutrition of our food? I just wasn’t sure if you thought that maybe the commission might focus on, you know, beyond price. What other types of things does consolidation touch that they might focus on?

Joe:22:50Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, um, big ag industrial ag will tell you that they are driving efficiencies on behalf of consumers.

Danielle :23:01Okay.

Joe:23:02To include price, lower prices. What we, what our evidence at, OCM shows is that what they’re driving is efficiencies that put money in their pockets. As we’ve seen fewer and fewer companies, process buying a agricultural goods, processing them into foods for consumers have, there has been fewer and fewer within that food chain. we have seen consumer prices go up and farmer prices go down. Okay. there is not a direct supply and demand fundamentals in operation. They’re extracting the wealth from both the farmer and their rural communities as well as from the pocket of the consumer. So we know the evidence is there. We w we are calling on Congress to take that evidence. So they, consumers are afraid that if it gets, if we move back to more local and regional food systems, that their grocery prices are gonna go up where they can’t afford it.

Danielle :24:15Okay.

Joe:24:16What else needs to be looked at? That is the fact that farmers, back when my dad was farming, we’re getting over 50% of the retail food dollar today farmers are getting less than 15%.

Danielle :24:34Wow. Yeah. I had seen that statistic too, and that was, that was jarring.

Joe:24:40And the other thing that we want to look at is the harm that’s caused when you have so few companies like the Bayer, Monsanto’s the Dow, Dupont, the Syngenta’s, with Kim China, the controlling of the seed, we’re coming to words becoming more monolithic type production, but within that we’re getting fewer and fewer varieties of seed.

Danielle :25:11Yeah.

Joe:25:11Yeah. Which is opening us up to a disease to come in and having no food produced in the United States.

Danielle :25:21Yeah.

Joe:25:22We are very concerned at the shortage of research and development, specially with the climate change. And whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, that you look out your window, you have to admit there’s extreme weather and farmers are on the front line of that. And with these fewer companies, there’s getting to be less and less research and development on a, on variety development, that can withstand the weather. So both threat of disease, the threat, the changes that we see out there with our climate as we’re trying to produce the food to feed our neighbors. And these companies have zero incentive because there’s no competition because there’s too few of them. They just carve up the country into sectors and they’re the only one you can buy from. Wow. And so it’s a threat to our national security. It’s a threat to our future food security. and, so we want them to also take a look at that from a national security or a food security for this country. Look, we also want to look at the concentration. The Roosevelt Institute did a great study, that shows with this heavy concentrating, these fewer and fewer companies controlling the food system, that they now are controlling wages in depressing wages. and, our, whether you’re a UFC, WWE, member or any a union member, you can attest that a, you see the pressure on, on your wages and the threats that those companies bring even against the, organized labor in this country and workers that are organized that find themselves making less and less. I processing food processing, meat processing worker, make significantly less than a manufacturing worker because of this heavy concentration. You get to take the job or you don’t. And we only paying this and is really depressed wages across the country.

Kate:27:31Yeah, we’re the only game in town. So take it or leave it. Yeah.

Joe:27:35Take it or leave it, and a poultry contract grower. the pilgrims, the puritans, the others control the broiler industry. And that farmer no longer is even raising their own animals or feeding the animals their own feet. They just become a landlord or an owner of a building. They got millions dollars borrowed, for the Tysons, the puritans, the pilgrims, any of those companies. And, and then there’s no one else, they’ll rip that building. And taxpayers are subsidizing that industry either through SBA, there’s a government report out on how I SBA, but one point $8 billion into the poultry industry to, to benefit these large monopolies. There’s tax dollars that underwrite the loans so that the banks have no risks. The taxpayer take on the risk if that company stops leasing that building from the farmer. So the farmer, is on the line with consumer and taxpayers on the line and we think it Oughta, they’ll take a look about fair, arrangements with these contract poultry growers and contract a pig growers.

Kate:28:57I find this extremely sobering and convincing and I think anybody listening probably will as well. But it seems to me like a big challenge here, Joe, is just misinformation or lack of information when there are multiple labels out there, you feel like you have a choice in the grocery store. A lot of brands are trying to cast themselves as being, you know, local farmers in some way, despite the fact that they’re not. How can — what can people do to tell their neighbors about this? How can we — I’m not sure everybody recognizes this is the problem that it is.

Joe:29:28Well first of all, they should go to competitivemarkets.com and take a look. We, Angela, I’ve been on our team as director of communications and research is a master at taking some of these complex issues and drilling it down where it can be comprehended and that’s extremely important. I get a little too much in the weeds unfortunately, but she does a great job on that page and I think anyone will find it a digestible and understandable. the second thing is, is that we find is it sounds so bad. No one believes, not we hear all the time. Well that can’t be happening here in America. Oh yes. It is land of the free anymore. And the opportunity to start your small business in your rural community or in your urban or suburban community. It’s, it’s not, we don’t, we have lost freedom. There’s grave injustices within our economic system. Okay.

Joe:30:30Oh, OCM believes what is important is not a, as some try to get caught up in this concept of redistribution of wealth. No, we need a fair and equitable distribution of the opportunity for prosperity that represents America.

Joe:30:49When we help build that prosperity, whether you’re the worker, the farmer or the business owner, we help build that prosperity. Everyone deserves — has a right to share in that prosperity. And we’re all being denied that today and this work, putting a stop on, on these mega mergers, taking a look at our economic system and ensuring that there’s a fair and equitable distribution, to all. One of the notes — I want to put a big note on this one. You know the communities of color in agriculture have suffered for generations and had been denied opportunity. And as we take a look at this, we need to make sure that when we say economic opportunity for all or justice for all we really mean this time in America for all.

Kate:31:51Thank you for saying that. I find that incredibly powerful.

Danielle :31:56Thanks Joe. This is just all these things are swirling around in my mind. Really excited to be working with OCM on some of the campaigns and I’m going to put a lot of this information that Joe has talked about in the show notes so you can stay connected, stay informed. I definitely, We’d love, folks to, you know, join us, right? Like did get involved in this campaign like Joe saying like get mad. So definitely a stay tuned, Equal Exchange is going to be working on this campaign if you want to get involved so you can join organizing with equal exchange and we work with OCM a lot. You can connect with OCM directly. And I would also like to say that equal exchange is having an annual summit and that will be June 20th to 22nd at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. And we’ll be doing a lot of this work and how it’s, it’s important to stay in form. It’s important to really be in tune with the conversation that Joe and I have had today. But I think that would equal exchange wants to do is to connect individuals to what they can actually do and empower them to feel as though they actually can create change in the food system and that year it’s not just your dollar that matters, it’s your voice that matters. It’s your, your political voice. And we want to try to elevate that and encourage folks to use that as much as possible. And I just want to thank you so much Joe and I dunno if there’s anything you have to add in like how folks can stay connected but, we’ll definitely put any resources or information that you suggest in our show notes.

Joe:33:33Well we appreciate your partnership in this effort. We would suggest that folks go to competitivemarkets.com. learn more and sign up. There’s petitions on there. Let’s work together. Let’s put our voices together and unite or, an economic, change, in, in the way of which we approach our food system. And let’s ensure it’s justice for all.

Kate:33:59You’ve been a fantastic gas or so have you on here. Thank you very much.

Danielle :34:05Thanks Joe.

Kate:34:10Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food. A podcast by equal exchange, inc a worker owned cooperative. Love this episode. Please subscribe rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit equal exchange.co op to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers and the global supply chain. This episode was produced by Equal Exchange with hosts, Kate Chess and Danielle Robidoux, sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of The Stories Behind our Food.

Pairing New Chocolate with Coffee

Pairing flavors is an art. Which coffees taste best with Equal Exchange’s newest chocolate bars? We went to an expert to find out.

A woman in a summer dress sips from a paper coffee cup with the Equal Exchange logo

Meaghan Holmes is our Chocolate Supply Chain and Quality Control Coordinator. In the four years she’s worked for the Chocolate Team, she’s done sensory analysis on hundreds of samples in order to make sure the quality and characteristics of Equal Exchange chocolate are always consistent.

Meaghan is extremely passionate about chocolate and coffee! She says “When considering possible pairing combinations for our products, I am looking for products that consistently have flavors that compliment each other, or strongly enhance a particular flavor.”

She found a pairing for each of the three new bars. Read on to discover Meaghan’s flavor recommendations, as well as the rationale behind why they work.

 

Pairing the Organic Dark Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt bar with Mind Body & Soul
coffee

Almond & Sea Salt bar with a bag of coffee, a cup, almonds, and cocoa and coffee beans.

How Meaghan came up with it: The saltiness of this bar can make it difficult to pair with coffee. Certain light roast bright and fruity coffees would clash with the salt and create an unpleasant acidity, whereas a very dark roast can intensify the salt and feel really astringent. I knew immediately that I’d need a mellow and straight forward coffee to pair well with this complex chocolate bar.

Why she thinks you’ll like it: Mind Body & Soul is a wonderfully mellow coffee, it’s nutty and chocolatey with brown spices which makes it a perfect match to round out the sweet and salty richness of the Whole Almond & Sea Salt bar.

What else you might try with Dark Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt: Breakfast Blend. Also a mellow and sweet coffee, this pairing will complement this salty nutty bar nicely.

 

Pairing the Organic Chocolate with Coconut Milk bar with Ethiopian Full City coffee

Coconut Milk bar with a bag of coffee, a cup, a coconut and shavings, and cocoa and coffee beans.

Why Meaghan thinks you’ll like it: The sweetness and creaminess of the Coconut Milk chocolate is wonderful when washed down with the smooth creamy mouthfeel and milk chocolatey  full bodied Ethiopian. The sweet fruity berry characteristics coming from this naturally processed coffee really enhance the toasted coconut.

What else you might try with Organic Chocolate with Coconut Milk: African Roots. Ethiopian beans blended with beans from Congo in a lighter roast than the Ethiopian Full City, this bright and juicy coffee balances the caramelized sweet notes coming from the coconut sugar.

 

Pairing the Total Eclipse 92% Dark Chocolate bar with Midnight Sun coffee

Total Eclipse bar with a bag of coffee, a cup, and cocoa and coffee beans.

Why Meaghan thinks you’ll like it: Midnight Sun is a fan favorite coffee known for its rich chocolatey flavor, and the 92% is also a dominantly chocolate profile. When the two are combined it is a true total eclipse! The robust flavors coming from both coffee and chocolate are surprisingly harmonious. The subtle sweetness from the coffee smooths out the intensities of this dark chocolate.

What else you might try with Total Eclipse: Ethiopian Full City. Creamy milk chocolate plus dark chocolate combine to taste like chocolate chip cookies and other brown sugar spiced baked goods, a straightforward but delicious combination.

Shop Chocolate Bars >>

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Can you taste the harmony of the flavors? Try Meaghan’s pairings and let us know what you think!

Sugarcane Farming in Paraguay: Turning up the Heat for Future Generations

Laura Bechard, Chocolate Supply Chain Coordinator, Equal Exchange

Last December, members of Equal Exchange’s chocolate team met with our sugarcane co-op partners, Manduvira. Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Paraguay experiences its seasons opposite to ours. In December, while Americans enjoy a mug of hot chocolate to warm up, Paraguayans are enjoying an iced tea, called terere, to cool down.

Sugarcane farming at the small-scale level requires a lot of manual work. Traditionally, the brunt of this labor occurs in the fall and spring. In late fall, the sugarcane is beginning to shoot, so sun can still shine on the row spaces and cause weeds to flourish. Using a hoe, farmers must walk these rows to remove the weeds. Once the sugarcane grows tall enough during the winter months, the sun cannot get into the rows and the sugarcane is left to grow tall. In the spring, the sugarcane must be harvested and transported to the mill as soon as possible before it begins to lose its sucrose content. Most farmer members of Manduvira cooperative do not have access to large mechanical harvesting machines that dominate the organic plantation landscape, just 90 miles away in Paraguay’s central departments. This means that like weed maintenance, sugarcane harvesting must also occur by hand. Armed with machetes, farmers work full days harvesting and stripping the cane of its leaves to be ready to sell by the kilo to Manduvira.

Not only is the labor incredibly manual in nature, the seasons are also transitioning either out-of or in-to summer. This means temperatures in the upwards of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit at midday with a sun that beats down unforgivably. For a spry young farmer, this may seem like just an extra challenge to their hard day’s work. But when you look at the average age of Manduvira’s farmer members (40+), a hard day’s work starts seeming more like an impossible feat and farmers depend increasingly on hiring out day-labor. On top of rising age, Manduvira is also experiencing rising average annual temperatures due to climate change. Together, these factors pose a challenging risk to the sustainability of small and medium scale sugar production for Manduvira.

Manduvira recognizes and continues to work to mitigate these challenges. To work on rising spring temperatures, on their co-operative test plot, their staff of extension agents have been testing out different sugarcane varieties that can be harvested at various times of the year, from May to September. As their technical teams explained to us, if a farmer had three different varieties, they would be able to spread out their labor needs across the course of five months and could reduce the amount of a later-season (and hotter temperature) harvest. To work on engaging with youth, Manduvira offers a large source of industrial work in the community. Since the co-operative owns its own sugar mill youth have other options besides farming to stay involved with the co-operative. By opting to work locally instead of moving to the capital city these young Paraguayans remain connected to their rural livelihoods and many continue to participate on their family’s farms.

EE Staff with ProducerFor more information about Manduvira, check out their farmer partner web page and partner profile!

 

Guacamole Recipe

Time for guacamole! Our favorite recipe comes from our friend Scarlett de la Vega Ochoa, a native of Puebla, Mexico. Here’s how she makes it!

Bowls of food, including fresh guacamole and corn chips, crowd a table
5 from 1 vote
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Scarlett's Guacamole

Try a guacamole recipe from Mexico! This creamy dip is sure to delight you and your party guests. Fair trade avocados = perfection.

Course Appetizer
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword Avocado
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 4 avocados
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1-2 limes, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Finely chop the garlic, onion and cilantro and juice the limes.

  2. Cut avocados in half, remove the pit and slice. Detach avocado from peel with spoon and place fruit in a bowl.

  3. Pour juice of one lime along with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. With a fork, smash the avocados until all ingredients are mixed.

  4. Add onion (if it's too strong, rinse with warm water first), cilantro, and tomatoes.
  5. Mix and taste it. If it needs more lime, add the other one and mix again.

A single avocado hangs on a long stem from a tree

Equal Exchange proudly works with PRAGOR, a group of small-scale avocado farmers in Michoacán Mexico. Corporate interests have made it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete in the market. But the farmers of PRAGOR organized to control the entire process, from growing to exporting.

Ask the produce department at your local grocery store to carry fairly traded avocados from Equal Exchange!

 

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Congregation Spotlight: Fair Trade Sunday with Carolyn Boone

Carolyn Boone’s church brews fairly traded coffee at gatherings and sells a variety of Equal Exchange products once a month after services. Every year, they rank among Equal Exchange’s top customers! What’s their secret? We thought we’d give Carolyn the change to tell you, in her own words!

Read on to hear about some of the steps Carolyn and other volunteers take to help the program succeed — and what inspires the whole community to get behind this ministry.

 

We started attending Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, Washington, about ten years ago.  We were drawn in large part by their commitment to community, both locally and internationally.  I was drawn to the Fair Trade ministry that had been running at the church for about six years, and started to help volunteer.

We sell Equal Exchange products on the first Sunday of every month, offering coffee, tea, nuts, olive oil and, most importantly, chocolate.  With a set monthly time that people can depend on, they will wait to buy their product until it’s Fair Trade Sunday, which allows the growth of a dependable customer base.  We listen to their requests and pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t, and try to adjust our inventory to their needs. We also sell at our cost, since our goal is to funnel business to the Fair Trade farmers, not to raise money for some other goal.  This makes us able to sell at a more attractive price than our competitors. Our church has a weekly newsletter that is emailed and handed out every week, and we make a point of putting a reminder and thank you in the week before Fair Trade Sunday.

We have been in the top 5% of Equal Exchange faith-based customers for several years now.  This is due in large part because the church as a whole supports the ministry by buying all coffee through us.  When we make our monthly purchase from Equal Exchange, we always buy several cases of 5-lb bags that are used in the large kitchen for fellowship hour and all other gatherings.  We have a grinder that also measures the correct amount for a good pot of coffee, so it’s a seamless process. The staff kitchen uses the 2.5 oz. pillow pack coffee in their kitchen, which we also buy on a monthly basis.  Other ministries in the church contribute to the cost of the coffee their group uses, so we are truly supported by the entire congregation and staff.

If we who have so much can find ways to help those of us who have so little, I believe it is our duty to do so.  Farmers in the third world work so hard just to survive, while we have so much we are able to splurge on luxuries such as coffee and chocolate.  It seems an easy choice to funnel our money through the most direct pipeline to those farmers while enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Galatians 2:10:  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Two smiling women
Jude Vaders and Carolyn Boone volunteer at their church’s Fair Trade ministry.

Got tips of your own? Let us know how you share fair trade at home, at school, at work or at church! We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Worker Cooperatives and Democracy: A Long, Proud History

It was the early 2000s at Equal Exchange

when it became clear that the company was growing fast. We had many opportunities — like looking into building our own cafes, expanding the markets of our fair trade producer partners, and getting more advanced in the coffee products we were offering — but we’d have to make some big changes to take advantage of them. That is why the management at Equal Exchange proposed that we buy and move to a larger facility and build a roaster to roast our own coffee. And who was this proposal made to, you may ask? It came before the workers-owners of Equal Exchange, and in order for Equal Exchange to move forward with all these plans, the worker-owners would have to say yes, by way of a vote, by more than two thirds of the members present at the meeting this was proposed at. The good news is that in 2004, those worker-owners agreed to all three proposals (to buy, to move and to build) and we could not have grown the way we have since without those changes.

Two men with beards look at a big machine
Worker-owners Kevin Whelan and Edson Silva use the new roasting equipment.

A worker cooperative is a business that has

members rather than shareholders. Each member owns only one share and therefore has one vote in decisions, large or small. To say that there is a connection between cooperatives and democracy would be an understatement. All cooperatives were actually born out of the workers’ struggle for the right to vote which took place  in mid-nineteenth century England. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (now known as Cooperative UK) emerged out of that movement.  Rochdale was the first successful cooperative in modern history, and is the longest running. Its founders believed that the axiom “one person, one vote” was so central that they made it a core principle in the Cooperative’s foundation. And they extended that right to both men and women, a good 80 years before woman in England were offered the same parliamentary option.

A modest brick building with a sign that reads "Store", one of the first worker cooperatives.
Rochdale Pioneers Museum, 31 Toad Lane, Rochdale. Frontage of the original shop which is now the entrance to the museum

Today, democratic participation

through member voting remains a central component to any cooperative, whether that be a consumer co-op, a worker co-op, or a farmer co-op. And it is this egalitarian principle that Equal Exchange values dearly – because it assures workers an equal distribution of power and voice. It’s a very powerful component of our work with our partners in producer co-ops, who had been self-organizing into democratic groups for almost 60 years before the Fair Trade movement took off.

In countries where power is concentrated in the hands of a very few, coffee, cocoa and tea farmer cooperatives offer a true democratic alternative, empowering many, and ensuring that democracy can thrive, even when faced with governments and groups who attempt to stamp it out. Each farmer, no matter how big or small their plot of land, has the same vote, the same voice, and the same power. It is important to note that due to the power that was generated by these farmers’ collectives,  Fair Trade labeling organizations began to require the structure that was already in place in many parts of Latin America. Coffee farmers must be organized in democratic cooperatives in order to be officially recognized and sell their coffee as a fairly traded product. And it’s this requirement for coffee farmers that motivated the early leaders of Equal Exchange to shape the organization as a worker cooperative. If farmers organized themselves in this manner, we decided we should follow suit.

A group of people sits in a circle in a tin-roofed building, listening to a speaker.
EE worker-owners meet with members of the ACOPAGRO cacao co-op in Peru.

The approximately 135 worker-owners

at Equal Exchange are members of a worker cooperative.  All regular employees at Equal Exchange who have been here for longer than a year have to be voted on by other worker-owners to become co-owners of the organization. Each person then receives one share, and thus, one vote. Each worker gets to choose  who represents the workers-owners on its board of directors. Workers serve as six of the nine board members. Therefore, in that historic vote in 2004, each worker-owner — whether their job entailed answering phones, packing boxes or overseeing operations — had the same one vote, no more and no less.

Due to our model as a co-op that purchases from farmer co-ops, and pays a fair price, U.S. food co-ops and their members made up our earliest supporters.   These consumer co-ops use the same organizing structure: one consumer member, one vote, just like the Rochdale Pioneers. We owe the Equal Exchange model and the model of working with small farmer co-ops to those visionary thinkers who championed democracy through fighting for the right to vote.


This guest post was written by Aaron Dawson. Aaron was an Equal Exchange Board Member, the Treasurer of the Democracy at Work Institute, and has served on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Co-ops. He completed his Masters in Management, focusing on Co-operatives and Credit Unions at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada.


 

This fall, we’re posting content about Food and Democracy — and the important ways they intersect — up until the U.S. primaries on November 6th. Stay up to date by following the hashtag #FoodForDemocracy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Emiliano Palacin Melendrez with EE worker-owner Dee Walls.

Read more about the story of the Rochdale Pioneers.

Equal Exchange belongs at the Farmers Market

This guest post was written by Rev. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist (pictured above, left, with Anneliese Bruegel, manager of the Fredonia Farmers’ Market.)

The Idea: Food Justice

It happened at a planning session for our church mission program. We had recently established a food justice program and wanted to expand it. “How could we better serve our community?” we asked ourselves.  And one of our church leaders said, “Why don’t we sell our fair trade food at the local farmers market?”

We had sold some Equal Exchange products to our church members for several years. Then we started to use the coffee in our coffee hour, then the sugar packets, and eventually the compostable paper cups. But this was a chance to do more. It would allow us to take the message of fair trade beyond our four walls.

It seemed to be an inspired idea in the truest sense. First, we were in a university town so we felt sure that there would be a market for these organic and fair trade products. Also, it meant that we were expanding our international mission outreach in that we could increase our support of the farmers all over the world who are Equal Exchange trading partners.

 

A group of elderly churchgoers show off the fair trade products they plan to bring to farmers market.
The group of people who reached out to the farmers market: Cindy Rechlin, Tom Gordon, Carrie Divine, Tom White, Betsy White and Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist.

 

Approaching the Farmers Market

But, we asked ourselves, would the farmers market welcome us? Their mission was to provide a market for crops raised by local farmers. We made contact and described our goals:

  1. To help international farmers
  2. To spread the word about the importance of buying fair trade products
  3. To increase the availability of organic products.

We also agreed to sell only products not carried by our local farmers, such as granola bars and jams. Finally, we told them that we would be selling the products at essentially wholesale prices so this was a non-profit endeavor. (In fact, we did round up the prices in a few cases. We use this to cover the cost of renting space at the winter indoor market and the cost of a tent, tables and display pieces. If we ever make a true profit, we plan to donate it to the Freedonia Farmers’ Market.)

 

Bring Fair Trade to your OWN Farmers Market with these tips >>

 

Success!

Then the market agreed to let us come and the experiment started. And what a success it has been! We are now in the top 5% of Equal Exchange’s sales to churches and community groups.

But that was not the biggest surprise. The biggest surprise is that our presence has benefited the farmers market. At the beginning, we only participated twice a month (two Saturdays out of four) but soon, if we weren’t there, people began to ask about us. We became a draw for the market. As the market manager said recently, “It is a symbiotic relationship.” They helped us spread the word about fair trade and we helped them bring more customers to the market. And the real winners are, of course, the farmers near and far.

Now, we have expanded our participation in the market and the variety of products we sell. We are grateful to Equal Exchange for their high quality products, of course, but most of all, for helping us expand our ministry of food justice for all.

 


This article was born at the Presbyterian General Assembly this year in St. Louis when the Rev. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist, pastor of the Fredonia Presbyterian Church in Fredonia, New York visited the Equal Exchange booth in the exhibit area and told us her story. Peter Buck from Equal Exchange asked her to write it up and send it along —  and here it is!

Do you have a story to tell us? Send it (with pictures if possible) to Kate Chess, the editor of our blog, at kchess@equalexchange.coop.

 

 

What to Say in A Church Bulletin

Your church’s bulletin is a terrific way to let the people in your congregation know why you partner with Equal Exchange. And Fall is the perfect time for a reminder! But what to write?

Maybe an example will help! Here’s a bulletin insert shared by Peter Buck, who works at Equal Exchange and worships at Parish of the Sacred Heart in Roslindale, Massachusetts. Use it as inspiration. Or copy it — Peter doesn’t mind! Just insert your church’s name and the ways you serve or sell Equal Exchange in the second paragraph. Don’t forget to delete the brackets.

 

That Coffee the Hospitality Committee Buys

We’re all back from the summer. The kids are back in school, or soon will be; or our grandchildren have gone back home; and our jobs and activities are gearing up.

Here at [church name ], we’re getting back into our schedule, including [name of activity #1] and [name of activity #2], using fairly traded products from Equal Exchange.

Fellowship hour is important for building community; it brings us the opportunity to spend time together in the afterglow of worship. It also affords us the opportunity to build community with our neighbors across the world, by enjoying a cup of fairly traded coffee, tea or cocoa grown by small farmer communities and brought to us by Equal Exchange.

Why do we purchase our coffee from Equal Exchange?

Equal Exchange purchases coffee, tea, cocoa beans and other crops from forty communities in twenty countries. They pay a stable, above-market price; they purchase in advance of harvest (when farmers need the money) and collaborate, over the long term, in the sustainable development and empowerment of their partner communities. They sell their products through grocery stores and cafes, and through partnerships with a dozen religious denominations.

What does this have to do with church?

A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in the law. Replies the lawyer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells the lawyer he got it right. “And who is my neighbor?” says the lawyer.

Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan: A man is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho. A priest and a prominent citizen of his own community both see him and cross the road to avoid getting involved. But a Samaritan, a foreigner, a member of a despised community, stops and cares for the victim. So who was the real neighbor, asks Jesus. “The one who showed him mercy” replies the lawyer. “Go and do likewise.” says Jesus. (Luke 10:25-37)

Using fairly traded coffee, tea and other products is one of the many ways we can “Go and do likewise.”

 

While you’re here, why not download the Full-Color e-Bulletin digital template or the Printable Bulletin Template to add some visual appeal to your message? And read our other tips for spreading the word about Fair Trade.

Mix up a Chilly Chili Mocha

 

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Chilly Chili Mocha

How are you keeping cool and caffeinated this summer? We've worked up this simple recipe for a Chilly Chili Mocha. Or is it the other way around? No matter -- this iced coffee beverage is sweet yet refreshing, with just a little spice to wake up the taste buds. And it's super simple to make at home!
Course Drinks
Cuisine American, Mexican
Keyword Chili, Coffee, Hot chocolate
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 6 minutes
Servings 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 shots espresso or 4 oz of strongly brewed coffee
  • 1 Tablespoon Equal Exchange's Organic Spicy Hot Cocoa mix, heaping
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 12 oz ice in a glass
  • cinnamon or cayenne pepper for garnish optional
  • whipped cream optional

Instructions

  1. Brew espresso or strong coffee (we used a pour-over method!) and transfer to an empty measuring cup.
  2. Add the Spicy Hot Cocoa mix and stir until thoroughly blended.
  3. Pour mixture into ice-filled glass. Add milk, adjusting to taste, and stir again.
  4. Fill glass to the top with more ice. For extra decadence, top with whipped cream and garnish with a pinch of cinnamon or cayenne power. Or both!
Sip away!
A mocha made with organic spicy hot cocoa sits in a sweating glass, accompanied by a straw and ready to drink.

Try a Cold Brew Lime Daiquiri tonight

 

A cold brew lime daiquiri in a glass with ice sits in the sun next to two limes and a bag of organic coffee.
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Cold Brew Lime Daiquiri

A coffee cocktail? Why not! This Cold Brew Lime Daiquiri is for the adults in the room. The berry and chocolate notes of the African coffees we recommend for the recipe pair beautifully with tart lime juice. This cold brew cocktail can elevate your dinner party -- or help you unwind in the backyard on a hot summer day.
Course Drinks
Cuisine American, Cuban
Keyword Cold Brew, Lime
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 1 shot light or gold rum
  • 3/4 oz. coffee, prepared as cold brew We recommend Equal Exchange's Organic Cold Brew blend or Organic Ethiopian.
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup
  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, about one lime

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to shaker.
  2. Shake well and strain into a glass with ice.
  3. Garnish with lime slices.

 

That was simple! Now, enjoy your Cold Brew Lime Daiquiri. Cheers!

Sweet Tea Perfection

Sweet Tea is the summer drink of choice across the American South. As the days heat up, it’s time to get your tea game on-point!

EE Sales-Rep LeeAnn Harrington is a professionally trained chef. In Texas, where she hails from, folks sip their iced tea without sugar. But during the five years LeeAnn spent in Orlando, FL studying at LeCordon Bleu, she developed a sweet tooth and learned to drink Sweet Tea like a local.

Chef LeeAnn is a perfectionist; when we asked for Sweet Tea tips using fairly-traded teas, she told us she’d have to experiment a bit. She’s been interested in the science of cooking since childhood, when she made her first pudding from scratch, marveling as the ingredients thickened from a watery liquid to a rich, velvety texture.

True to form, Chef LeeAnn tweaked her Southern Sweet Tea recipe until she achieved just the right blend of flavorful and refreshing.

Red and Black Tea
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Southern Sweet Tea recipe

Here are Chef LeeAnn's instructions for black tea, green tea and herbal tea. Try all three versions for peak summer chill!

Course Drinks
Cuisine American, Southern
Keyword Tea
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings 16 servings

Ingredients

  • 6-8 bags Equal Exchange black tea
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 16 cups water
  • fresh mint optional
  • sliced citrus optional

Instructions

  1. Combine the granulated sugar with two cups of water in a medium-sized saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring continuously with a large spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

  2. Over medium heat, bring another saucepan with four cups of room temperature water to 212 degrees F, or just to boiling, (not a rolling boil).

  3. Remove from the heat, and place the 6-8 bags of tea in the saucepan. Cover with a lid and let the bags steep for 4-5 minutes.

  4. Remove the tea bags and let the brewed tea cool to room temperature. Leaving the bags in for much longer than five minutes can result in a bitter taste!

  5. When both mixtures are at room temperature, combine them in a gallon size container and add the remaining 10 cups of water.

  6. Place in the refrigerator for at least eight hours to allow the tea to cool sufficiently.

  7. Once the mixture is prepared and chilled, you can add fresh mint, sliced oranges, or sliced lemons. Serve cold over ice. Enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Variations on this theme:

Try substituting Equal Exchange Organic Green Tea! Bring the water to boil, then let cool to 170-180 degrees and steep for just 2-3 minutes before removing tea bags and continuing with the recipe as written above. Or use a caffeine-free Organic Herbal Tea from Equal Exchange such as Rooibos, Peppermint, Ginger or Chamomile. Bring the water to boil, 212 degrees F. Immediately add teabags, but steep for longer, 8-10 minutes.