Cooperatives and Democracy

One of the challenges of worker coops, consumer coops, and producer coops is how to reconcile two competing high level goals. On one hand most of these coops have an economic,organizational, and service mission. In the case of a consumer coop the mission is to serve the members, which translates to goals such as good and affordable food. In the case of a producer coop the goal is higher prices, while in a worker coop the goal could be rewarding and economically sustainable jobs.The competing goals are to run the organization democratically, where members participate in some type of joint democratic development and learning process.

It seems that most of the engaged coops are more complicated, not to mention the competing goals of economics and service versus democratic development. Most food coop  have mission statements that will go beyond good and affordable food to goals such as supporting local producers, building a cooperative network, and moving towards greater food justice.The Equal Exchange mission is global and is about connecting US consumers with small farmers and demonstrating the viability of fair trade and worker coops.

Ignoring the layered complexity in the missions of many producer, worker and consumer coops, let’s return to the challenge of delivering benefits to members and the goal of living as a democratic/learning/mistake-making organization.


The United States at large and democratic countries in general are failing at learning, practicing, and building democracy. This failure of the last forty or fifty years has now reached the point where democracy itself as a value and a process is being openly sabotaged. This attack on democracy is very present in the US, but also in most countries that are more or less democratic. A short list of these countries would include France, the UK, Germany, India, and Brazil. Defending, developing, and creating political democracy in these democratic countries is becoming the great political challenge of this time.


My thesis here is that there is a connection between the challenges that democracy is facing on a political level in our democratic countries, and the problem democracy faces in our cooperatives. For democracy to function there has to be community engagement, dialogue, risk, learning, and some ability to learn from failure and success. There has to be participation, communication, and respect. The mix of risk, learning, failure, success, and starting that process over again is very fragile. The process and the results have to be considered fair and meaningful to the participants.

We are all experiencing the challenges in our political system. Participation in the US is too low and  many people believe there is no reason to participate. There is an overt strategy to reduce citizen’s participation particularly directed at racial minorities.Communication, respect, and support for minority views is being greatly reduced. In this environment it is harder to obtain healthy learning, or understanding of success and failure which is vital to society progressing.Ultimately,the political process in most of our democracies is becoming weaponized between parties/interest groups and has become a fight for winning and little else.

In our worker, consumer, and producer coops the democratic dilemma plays out differently but the underlying processes are similar. The greatest threats to our nominally democratic coops are these:

Too little organizational success-  picture a consumer or producer coop that is small, economically struggling and just doesn’t have enough members, capital, or capacity, and is weak economically. This type of organization does not deliver enough benefits to its members, is too marginal in terms of resources and capacity to work that well. Perhaps there is a culture of caring and sacrificing for this type of coop organization for a medium or long period but the risk of social fracture, anti-social fighting, poor management, poor board leadership is also quite likely to be part of the culture as well. Ultimately, these organizations are under extreme threat because they struggle to develop to a place where they can deliver benefits to their members. They are often at very high risk of destructive democratic conflict as well.

Too much organizational success- it seems odd to argue that success would threaten a cooperative organization. Possibly success in and of itself is not the problem. It is when economic success is present, but meaningful democratic control is not generally present or not really possible. My image here is coops that are ossified become coops in the name only. I am thinking of large agricultural coops that have been around for 50 or 100 years.They might be economically large, perhaps economically successful, but operate just like an average corporation. The democratic control of membership is long past and is basically there in form only. The messy issues of minority viewpoints, investing in democracy, and making good and bad democratic decisions are long gone.The worst form of this type of coop is one in which members are members in name only. The very worst situation  is one in which “members” are coerced participants with no options but to sell to participate with no control whatsoever over “their” coop. An example of this is many large scale dairy coops in the US, which have delivery vehicles to isolated farmers to offer prices below the cost of production.

Too little democratic process- this often pairs up with coops that are economically successful but it doesn’t need to. How do we know when our democratic coops are keeping and building their democratic culture? How many high level decisions do members make and how often? If you are a farmer in a dairy coop in the US, or in a producer coop in Guatemala, or a coffee coop in Nicaragua, or a tea coop in South Africa how much involvement is the right level? That question applies to consumer and worker coops as well. Scale compounds these issues. To be economically stable it often makes sense to be larger. Being larger requires all kinds of skills which make the organization more complex which require skill and specialization.  The larger scale and specialization in itself weakens commonality and group learning on successes and failures. It is easy to see an economically successful coop slowly, unconsciously evolve into an organization with little real democratic process, learning and decision making. Even in well intentioned situations what can result is the structure of democracy (well the board is elected by the members of this good sized entity and therefore we are passing as a democratic organization) with no democratic culture, or muscle.

Too much democratic process/destructive democratic process- again the problem here might be too much process or it might be an unskillful or destructive democratic process. Democracy is risky. We will make mistakes. The goal is to keep making decisions and mistakes but to avoid destructive, brutal, internecine, cooperative warfare. Every one of our genuinely democratic coops is at some risk of being brought down by highly destructive conflict through the needed democratic process.  There is a direct relationship between the problem of too much democratic process and too little democratic process and this is where management and the board come in. As coops live through near death experiences from too much democratic process/destructive democratic process a lesson learned can often be to not put the organization at that risk again. Our very democratic structure and democratic participation can destroy us.  So perhaps the solution appears to be to avoid those risks altogether (which might be sort of correct) but the way to do that is do avoid all large, unclear issues getting in front of membership (which is incorrect). The contradiction is ultimately if the membership doesn’t debate, decide, or learn together that the coop is on the path to losing its culture and raison d’etre. Perhaps ten or thirty years later the coop will become an economically viable organization but not really a coop.

A man with a dated haircut sits at a desk
Rink in the early years of Equal Exchange


Just to be in the market is risky. Most of us don’t really like risk.  We must choose between unpleasant options all the time. A large part of that process requires solid management.

Building democratic coops also is in itself risky. We can only learn by making mistakes and learning. Meaningful large scale decisions need to be in front of membership with enough frequency for the coop as a whole to learn and advance. This group learning, struggle, and solidarity is the essence of what we are building. It is extremely challenging for membership, board, and management to build the skills to artfully negotiate the dilemma of which decisions should or should not go to membership. Usually there is no roadmap. What looks like an interesting vital issue to one person or group of people might look like the shadow of the real issue to another person or group.  There is no right answer, but there is risk and danger nevertheless. Ultimately we need to learn the skills of managing democracy and communication while also learning the more standard skills of running an effective organization

Father’s Day Thoughts and Coffee Ideas

above: Gary Goodman with his father.

This Father’s Day, share some time — and a special cup!

Is your dad a coffee lover, a brewing geek, or the kind of guy who takes his daily dose of caffeine like medicine? No matter what his blend, you can help him get the best out of his morning ritual this Father’s Day. It’s a way to say:  “Thanks for being there for me, over the years!” We’re excited to share our line of single-origin coffees and our manual brewing tips, below.

On a day that celebrates relationships, the most meaningful gift can be time spent in appreciation. If your father’s around, that might mean a slow cup of coffee with him and a heart-to-heart. Or maybe you’ll just take a moment to acknowledge the role-model — dad, stepdad, relative or friend — who helped shape you.

Gary Goodman, EE Worker-Owner, and father, voices his thoughts:

As Father’s Day comes around each year, it reminds me of something I learned from early on; family, the one you’re born into and the one you build, is one of the most important parts of life.

Family has a huge impact on the opportunities afforded to you, the degree of love and security you feel while growing up, and is a great source of joy and sorrow. On Father’s Day, I remember the incredible impact my dad had on me. He taught me how to work, how to play and how to love. He taught me to put family first, and that as you build a family of your own, that sometimes you need to make personal sacrifices to keep the family strong. The memories that are most vivid for me are the times I spent with my father one-on-one. When he asked me about my life, provided gentle guidance and fatherly wisdom. It is in these moments, these memories, that the true essence of what Father’s Day is materializes for me.

As I have grown older, and become a father myself, I have gained new insight into fatherhood and a new understanding of my own father. When I think about what I want out of Father’s Day, it isn’t a new tie, a case of beer or some other material object. What I want to give, and to receive, is time. Time to talk, to connect, and to make memories with the ones I love and who love me. So as you ponder what to do for Father’s Day this year, remember what truly matters; a chance to remember those special moments with your dad, and if you’re lucky, to make some new memories in the year ahead.

Help Dad shake up his morning routine with these coffee ideas.

Let’s face it. Everyone’s dad is unique — and so are our single-origin coffee beans. Each has its own particular aroma, flavor and aftertaste. Explore the full selection and find the perfect brew for your dad.


Shop Single Origin Coffees >>


Looking to spice up the morning coffee ritual, and put a little extra hair on his chest? If he isn’t already into manual brewing, Father’s Day could be the perfect opportunity to introduce a new way to brew. Read and watch Equal Exchange Coffee Quality Coordinator Mike Mowry’s tips for brewing the perfect cup in his comprehensive, step-by-step guide.


Read Our Brewing Tips >>



What’s It Like to Grow Coffee?


In early spring, gardeners in the USA welcome warmer weather by pouring over our seed catalogs, readying the soil in our plots, and starting plants indoors. By June, we’ve moved those seedlings outside. We’re beginning the rounds of weeding and watering that will lead to bountiful harvests in the summer and fall. If gardening’s your hobby, burying your fingers in the damp, rich soil (and later, scrubbing that dirt out from under your fingernails!) can help you feel a connection to the people who grow coffee.

A Long Cycle to Grow Coffee

Across the world, coffee farmers are hard at work, too. But Coffea arabica has a multi-year growth cycle. Its rhythm of cultivation is different from the vegetables we’re used to tending. A tomato or zucchini plant bears fruit all summer before dying. We save its seeds or buy new ones next year. Farmers who grow coffee invest more deeply. Each plant takes years to mature.

Coffee begins its life in a nursery. After about a year, when a plant has reached 18 to 24 inches tall, it’s hardy enough to be replanted on a farm. But it won’t begin to produce until it reaches age four or five. Flowers cover the branches of the mature coffee plant and release a jasmine-like scent. Six to nine months later, fruit – called coffee cherries because of the similar size and shape — appears. Each cherry holds two seeds. These are the coffee beans! As the cherries ripen, they change in color from green to yellow, then to dark orange or deep red.

Farmers must tend their plants carefully to ensure good yield. And when they get old, they won’t  produce reliably. If diseases like La Roya affect the plant, the farmer must replant sooner. This renovation is expensive for small-scale producers, but necessary.


A gray-haired organic farmer knows how to grow coffee and pick it from the tree in Nicaragua.
Roberto Cardnas, a grower at PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, picks coffee cherries.


The Harvest Season

Because coffee requires a warm climate to grow, spring doesn’t mean the same tasks for farmers in the Coffee Belt as it does for us. Coffee thrives in tropical and subtropical climates, usually 1,000 miles from the equator or closer. But that doesn’t mean the crop ripens at the same time in all countries that grow coffee. Generally speaking, higher altitudes mean a cooler climate, deferring the cherries’ readiness.

The beginning of the harvest season yields a small amount of coffee with a flavor that isn’t optimal. Most coffee ripens during the middle of the harvest. Then, the end of the harvest brings the leftovers. Because Equal Exchange has longstanding relationships with growing cooperatives, we can buy high-quality coffee that’s ripen enough to have acquired its most refined and mature flavor.

We talked to Todd Caspersen, our Director of Purchasing and Production, for better insight into what coffee farmers are up to at this time of year. He says:

“As you plant your summer garden, our producer partners in Central America are finishing up their export season, shipping last containers and doing the accounting of the 2017/2108 crop. Farmers will now turn their attention to pruning, fertilizing, replanting and weed control. In Peru and Bolivia, farmers have begun harvesting and will be doing the meticulous work of harvesting ripe cherries, processing and drying the beans that will be exported starting in August.”


Patience is A Virtue

If you’ve ever grown anything, you know it’s not exactly instant gratification. We choose to do it because we enjoy the steps in the process! Our gardening efforts protect something incredibly delicate and vulnerable until it flowers, matures and produces.

For crops like coffee, the maturation of the fruit is still just the beginning. Producers must pick the cherries by hand,  then de-pulp, ferment, dry and sort them before the green beans are finally ready to be shipped. Those who grow coffee are highly-skilled professionals. Their hard work humbles us. That’s why Equal Exchange commits so firmly to trading directly and paying a fair price for every harvest.

This spring, we hope you’ll enjoy every task you undertake in the garden or flowerbed. We hope you’ll recognize all you have in common with people around the world who grow coffee and make their living from the land. And we hope when you brew a cup of fairly traded, Organic coffee or enjoy a glass of cold-brew afterward, you appreciate it fully!


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Learning from the Past to Build Resilience for Our Future

By Rob Everts, Equal Exchange, President

As April 4th passes and June 5th approaches, it is impossible not to take stock in those cataclysmic events 50 years ago and to reflect on what it means to be doing the work we are doing today.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, to anyone who was alive and alert at the time, were shocking and to many, a source of deep despair and pessimism on the potential for making real progress in this country on matters of racial and economic justice.

The loss felt by millions was profound; the sorrow, and even fear, very real. Fear for what the future might bring. Fear that any leader who was actually challenging the entrenched power structure would not survive.

While very different, maybe the closest later generations would feel to this combined sense of grief and fear for the future was after the attacks of 9/ll. We have not recovered from that. Still later, few could avoid the feeling of fear of the unknown when corporate greed brought the country to the brink of depression in 2008-9. For millions, recovery from that one has also not come.

1968 was a period of upheaval, of intense resistance, of pressing the system to the limits. And not only in the United States of course. In France, massive general strikes and occupations of universities, triggering street battles with the police nearly brought the government down. The traditional Latin American folk song “nueva cancion” movement which began in Chile in the 1960’s spread throughout Latin America and would soon become inextricably linked to revolutionary movements, which were responses to state oppression and which then expanded to target artists and musicians.

Here, young people led the massive resistance to the American war in Vietnam. The draft provided legitimate self-interested activism for many, but the corruption and lies underlying the war provided reason enough for millions of others to join protests.  The riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 were in large measure a protest of the war. But they can’t be divorced from the rage triggered by the two recent assassinations, and the riots and police brutality that followed.

Farm workers were on strike in the fields of California and millions responded to their call for boycotts of grapes and lettuce, while Nixon sided with agribusiness and shipped boycotted grapes to soldiers fighting a world away. The Black Panther Party formed armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department but became even better known for their free breakfast program for children and community health clinics. Regardless, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and employed ruthless tactics to destroy the organization. The Establishment truly feared revolution and responded in kind.

Here we are, 50 years later. As Rink wrote in our blog shortly after the 2016 election, democracy is under duress in many countries around the world. A year later, we see autocrats increasingly emboldened, firmly believing that the models of governance they offer are stronger and supported by their majorities. Police brutality in our country has not gone away. Mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of young African American men ensures the legacy of slavery will be felt for generations to come. Immigrants are scape-goated for all manner of ills facing the country. Bullying and threats against other vulnerable populations are on the rise.

But thankfully, democracy is finding its sea legs here once again. People are organizing in almost unprecedented numbers. The Occupy movement inspired thousands to challenge spiraling income inequality. Black Lives Matter has galvanized thousands more to end police brutality while showing a staying power that cannot be dismissed. More women than ever in our history are running for Congress, and with credible shots at winning.  The courageous, poised and articulate young people leading efforts to bring sanity to gun policy are making a difference. Are there lessons from the pitched battles of 1968 and the intervening 50 years that we can learn and apply moving forward? Can we avoid some of the pitfalls while pulling from the strategies that succeeded in mobilizing large numbers of people in concerted action?

The moment is ripe for all the great organizing happening throughout the country and this includes those of us focused on food justice. What we are building together through the Action Forum has never been done before. Citizen consumers engaged deeply with an alternative commercial business seeking to build justice in the market place—this is a source of real inspiration to those of us at Equal Exchange. Like any organizing for big change, this will take years and our progress will be measured in increments.

We are holding two Summits this summer that we consider critical building blocks to the movement we are building. All parts of our supply chain will gather and discuss our food system and how we can make a positive impact together, as a community. Our Northeast summit is taking place at Stonehill College on June 8th and 9th and our Midwest summit at Loyola University Water Tower Campus July 7th and 8th. It is not too late to join us for either summits! To RSVP please follow this link or reach out to our Action Forum organizers at We hope to see you there!



Celebrando el cinco de mayo con mole poblano de comercio justo

Traducido por Mercedes Paloma Lopez Mancillas, de la Oficina Regionál del Suroeste de CRS en San Antonio, Texas y por Scarlett de la Vega Ochoa, Oké Banana (Equal Exchange’s fairly traded bananas), West Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

(Read the English-language version here.)


Pollo en Mole Poblano es un platillo tradicional Mexicano con pollo cocido en una salsa oscura, picante, y con una base de chocolate. Esta primavera, los empleados de Equal Exchange y nuestros aliados de Catholic Relief Services, preparamos tres cazuelas de mole – cada una ligeramente distinta – con ingredientes orgánicos y  de comercio justo. El veredicto fue unánimo: ¡qué rico!

Amamos cocinar casi tanto como amamos compartir relatos. Debajo, lea más sobre nuestros distintos trayectos con el mole. Luego, ¡intente este auténtico platillo Mexicano en su propia cocina!

El Mole de Nuestro Libro de Cocina Favorito

Nos unimos, Sandy Davis, Kate Chess, y Peter Buck, trabajadores-propietarios de EE; para hacer mole en la cocina de la sede de Equal Exchange, en Massachusetts. Utilizamos Chocolate Amargo Extremo, Almentras Naturales, y Aceite de Olivo Palestino. Usamos como referencia el muy usado libro de Peter, The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking por Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, y adaptamos generosamente la deliciosa receta de 50 años para que cumpliera con nuestras necesidades.

Trabajadores-propietarios de EE en la cocina.

Así es como hicimos nuestra versión:

Primero, cortar dos pollos grandes en porciones individuales. Cubrir con agua y llevar a ebullición. Hervir a fuego lento por una hora, luego drenar y secar. Guardar dos tazas del caldo de pollo. Calentar tres cucharadas de Aceite de Olivo Extra Virgen Orgánico en una sartén para freír. Dorar el pollo en el aceite y pasar las piezas a una cacerola grande u horno holandés.

Después, preparar y combinar los ingredientes para la salsa. Empezar con 14 chiles secos: (6 ancho, 4 pasilla, 4 mulato – o si no están disponibles, usar sólo ancho). Remover los tallos y semillas de los chiles, romper en piezas y transferir a un tazón grande. Hervir suficiente agua para cubrir los chiles. Echar el agua caliente sobre los chiles y remojar por una hora.

Mientras se remojan, picar dos cebollas medianas y cuatro dientes de ajo. Pelar, desgranar, y picar una libra (medio kilo) de jitomates. Blanquear y pelar una taza de Almendras Naturales Orgánicas. Combinar la cebolla, ajo, jitomate y almendras con media taza de Pasas Flame Orgánicas Equal Exchange (disponibles a granel en muchas tiendas de alimentos naturales), media cucharadita de clavo molido, canela molida, y semilla de cilantro molida; media cucharadita de anís, y dos cucharadas de ajonjolí. Agregar dos o tres ramas de cilantro fresco y tortilla de maíz en trozos. Utilizar una licuadora eléctrica para moler todos los ingredientes hasta que quede como un puré espeso.

Ahora, cocinar el puré. Recalentar el aceite en la sartén. Saltear el puré en el aceite caliente por cinco minutos, moviéndolo constantemente. Agregar las dos tazas de caldo de pollo que se reservaron al hervir el pollo, y una onza y media (14 gramos) de Chocolate Amargo Extremo Orgánico (88% cacao). Mezclar hasta que el chocolate se derrita. El puré debe estar más denso que la crema espesa.

Finalmente, vaciar la salsa sobre el pollo en el horno holandés y cocer cubierto, a fuego muy bajo, por 30 minutos. Espolvorear con dos cucharadas de ajonjolí y servir con tortillas, arroz, y frijoles.

¡Buen provecho!

¡Nos divertimos mucho haciendo este platillo y recomendamos como un ejercicio de vinculación, la colaboración en esta complicada receta y sus varios ingredientes! Pero, ¿qué tal quedó? Nuestra compañera de trabajo, Scarlett de la Vega Ochoa dijo, “¡Este mole está bueno – y eso que soy de Puebla!”

El Mole Millential Mexico-Americano

Sergio López es un Gerente de Relaciones con sede en San Diego, California, en la Oficina Regional del Oeste de CRS. Intentó una sabrosa receta de mole que encontró en Internet. Sergio utilizó Almendras Naturales Orgánicas de Equal Exchange y nuestro Cocoa Horneado Orgánico, versátil y de alta calidad.

Aquí está su historia:

Si bien mi esposa y yo crecimos en hogares mexicanos, no siempre nos enseñaron cómo cocinar la sorprendente comida reconfortante de nuestra infancia. Parte de nuestro camino como “adultos” ha sido reclamar las partes deliciosas de nuestro crecimiento para que algún día podamos pasárselas a nuestros hijos y nietos.

Con este espíritu, recientemente decidimos darle un toque de comercio justo a la receta tradicional del mole. Fue la primera vez que cualquiera de nosotros hizo la salsa de mole desde cero y me alegra decir que ¡no decepcionó! Una mitad de pollo cubierto con una salsa de seis tipos diferentes de chiles, verduras asadas, Almendras de Equal Exchange  y Cocoa Horneado de Equal Exchange servido con una cama de arroz hecha para un plato delicioso y ético que estaremos ansiosos por compartir con la familia y amigos en los próximos años.


A smiling man holds a bowl of mole prepared with fair trade ingredients.
¡La familia de Sergio prepara su primer mole!

Aquí está la receta que utilizó Sergio:

 El Mole Secreto de la Familia

Norma Valdez es Gerente de Relaciones en la Oficina Regional del Suroeste de CRS en San Antonio, Texas. Probó la receta secreta familiar de su tía abuela, una herencia de cinco generaciones. Al igual que Sergio, Norma también utilizo Cocoa Horneado Orgánico y Almendras Naturales Orgánicas de Equal Exchange –  gran diferencia de los cacahuetes (mani) que exige la receta. Norma tiene instrucciones estrictas de no compartir su receta. ¡Es un secreto!

Pero ella compartió la historia:

Mi Tía Bessie fue querida por todos, muy de familia y amaba cocinar; nunca podrías ir a su casa sin comer. Aprendió esta receta mientras vivía con su bisabuela en Puebla, México.

Tía preparaba este mole para todas las ocasiones especiales, como bodas, bautizos, quinceañeras, eventos relacionados con la iglesia, al igual que lo hizo su bisabuela. La cantidad más pequeña que haría serían seis pollos enteros. Más tarde, cuando ella y mi Tío se jubilaron, comenzaron a hacer su mole para otras personas, pero cobraban. Protegía celosamente su receta porque había otra señora en el vecindario que también preparaba mole para ocasiones especiales  y cobraba.

Ella no le enseñaba a cualquiera como prepararlo. De hecho, no conozco a ningún miembro de la familia a quien ella le haya enseñado excepto a mí. Pero cuando vio que realmente me encantaba cocinar, e incluso tomé clases y cociné para ella, realmente quería que aprendiera a cocinar su mole.

Ella me dijo que cuando ella aprendio, era un evento de todo un día, porque tenían que preparar a las gallinas, es decir, matarlas y limpiarlas. A ella nunca le gustó esa parte, pero vivieron en una granja y en aquel entonces no había carnicerias como los que tenemos hoy.

Nunca antes había utilizado almendras- la receta de Tía exige cacahuetes (maní) – pero salió bien. No tan bueno como el de mi Tía Bessie, pero estuvo bien, incluso mi sobrino y mi sobrina que solo comen el mole de Tía Bessie estuvieron de acuerdo. El cacao también fue favorable en la receta. Utilice menos, porque era una buena calidad de cacao.


Norma y su madre están listas para comer.

¿Tienes una receta de mole favorita? ¿Alguna vez has intentado cocinar un plato especial con ingredientes de origen ético? ¡Cuéntanos en los comentarios!

Fundraising Catalog Success: $250,000+ Raised!

Equal Exchange is proud to partner with non-profits, communities, individuals and schools with our fundraising catalog program. Not only does our catalog help you raise money, it also supports small farmer co-operatives world-wide! 

Since Fall of 2017, our Fundraising Catalog raised over $250,000 for almost 400 groups! Schools have been able to fund basic classroom materials, educational trips, musical instruments, dance programs, sporting equipment, and much more! Non-profits and community groups also participated to raise money for medical expenses, gardening programs, animal rescues, etc. Read more

“Signing up for fundraiser is painless, ordering is a breeze, Payment is easy, Delivery is quick and profits are great! What more could you ask for out of a fundraiser!”— Kim Carey, First Position Performance Troupe

Image shows various fair trade products available through Equal Exchange's fundraising catalog including organic coffee, tea, hot cocoa and chocolate.The catalog kicks off each September. Organizations take advantage of our free tools, including our easy-to-use profit calculator, to help reach and exceed their fundraising goals!

In addition to raising money, you can also educate about the importance of fair trade and food sourcing with materials and resources for classrooms. As a result, you, too, will be part of building a more equitable, sustainable and democratic food system.

You can sell our best-selling, Organic and fairly-traded products while earning 40% profit! There are no minimums and no upfront costs. Catalogs, posters and other educational materials are free. And, we offer free shipping for orders over $135!

And if you plan early, you can qualify for a special offer! Simply sign up for your 2018 Fall fundraiser before June 1, and we’ll offer an additional 10% discount, applied to your catalog order. You pay less for the products, so your group earns more! (To qualify, Fall catalog orders must be over $500 and must be placed before 12/31/2018. The 10% discount will be reflected on your invoice, which you’ll receive in the mail with your products.)

Our Fundraising Catalog is a win-win! So, sign up now & earn more!The Fundraising Catalog graphic reads "Make money. Make a difference."

Want to raise more funds with Equal Exchange? In addition to our catalog, groups also participate in our community table sales and serving programs to help raise moneyQuestions, feel free to contact us at 774-776-7366 or

Mole Poblano with a Fairly-Traded Twist



Pollo en Mole Poblano is a traditional Mexican dish of chicken simmered in a dark, spicy, chocolate-based sauce. This spring, Equal Exchange employees and our partners from Catholic Relief Services prepared three batches of mole — each slightly different — with fairly-traded and Organic ingredients. And the verdict was unanimous: ¡Que rico!

We love to cook almost as much as we love sharing stories. Read about our various mole journeys below. Then try out this authentic Mexican platillo in your own kitchen!

 (¡En español aqui!)

The Favorite-Cookbook Mole

Three employees in Equal Exchange aprons prepare mole with fair trade almonds and tomatos.
The EE kitchen team.

Here’s how to make our version:


0 from 0 votes

Pollo en Mole Poblano

EE worker-owners Sandy Davis, Kate Chess and Peter Buck teamed up to cook some mole in the kitchen at Equal Exchange’s Massachusetts headquarters. We used fairly traded Extreme Dark Chocolate, Natural Almonds and Palestinian Olive Oil. We referred to Peter’s much-used copy of Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz’s The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking, generously adapting Lambert’s delicious 50-year-old recipe to meet our needs.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword Almonds, Chicken, Chili, Chocolate, Mole
Servings 8


  • 8 chicken breasts, or your favorite chicken pieces
  • 2 cups chicken stock, reserved from simmering
  • 3 Tbsp Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 14 dried chili peppers: 6 ancho, 4 pasilla, 4 mulata (or all ancho, if the others aren't available)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound tomatoes
  • 1 cup Organic Natural Almonds
  • 1/2 cup Organic Flame Raisins
  • 1/2 Tbsp cloves
  • 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp anise
  • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2-3 sprigs coriander, fresh
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • 1.5 oz Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate


  1. First, cover the chicken with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour, drain and dry. Reserve two cups of the chicken stock. Heat Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a frying pan. Brown the chicken in the oil and put the pieces in a large casserole or dutch oven.

  2. While the chicken simmers, prepare and combine the ingredients for the sauce, starting with the dried chilies. Remove the stems and seeds, tear chilies into pieces and put them in a large bowl. Boil enough water to cover them. Pour the hot water over and soak them for about an hour.

  3. As the chilies soak, chop the onions and garlic. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Blanch and peel the almonds. Combine the onions, garlic, tomatoes and almonds with half a cup of Equal Exchange Organic Flame Raisins (available in bulk at many natural food stores) and with the cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds,  anise, and two tablespoons of the sesame seeds. Add the fresh coriander and the torn-up corn tortilla. Use an electric blender to grind all the ingredients into a coarse purée.

  4. Now, cook the purée. Heat the oil again in the frying pan. Saute the purée in the hot oil for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock you reserved when you cooked the chicken, along with the Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate (88% cacao). Stir the mixture until the chocolate has melted. The purée should now be thicker than heavy cream.

  5. Finally, pour the sauce over the chicken in the dutch oven and cook, covered, over the lowest possible heat, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle it with the remaining two tablespoons of sesame seeds and serve with tortillas and rice and beans.

¡Buen provecho!

We had a lot of fun making this dish and recommend collaborating on a complicated, multi-ingredient recipe as a bonding exercise! But how did it actually taste? Our coworker Scarlett de la Vega Ochoa said, “That’s good mole–and I’m from Puebla!”


The Mexican-American Millennial Mole

Sergio Lopez is a San Diego, California-based Relationship Manager in CRS’s West Regional Office. He tried a tasty mole recipe he found on the internet. Sergio used Equal Exchange’s Organic Natural Almonds and our high-quality, versatile Organic Baking Cocoa.

Here’s his story:

While my wife and I both grew up in Mexican households, we weren’t always taught how to cook the amazing comfort food of our childhoods. Part of our “adulting” journey has been reclaiming the delicious parts of our upbringing so that we can one day pass them on to our children and grandchildren.

In this spirit, we recently decided to give a fair trade twist to the traditional mole recipe. It was the first time either of us made the mole sauce from scratch and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint! A half chicken smothered in a sauce of six different types of chilies, roasted vegetables, Equal Exchange Almonds, and Equal Exchange Baking Cocoa served with a bed of rice made for a delicious and ethical dish that we will be looking forward to sharing with family and friends for years to come.

A smiling man holds a bowl of mole prepared with fair trade ingredients.
Sergio’s family prepares their first mole!


Here’s the recipe Sergio used:

The Family Secret Mole

Norma Valdez is a Relationship Manager in CRS’s Southwest Regional Office in San Antonio, Texas. She tried her great aunt’s secret family recipe, handed down for five generations. Like Sergio, Norma also used Organic Baking Cocoa and Organic Natural Almonds from Equal Exchange — a big departure from the peanuts the recipe calls for. Norma is under strict instructions not to share her recipe. It’s a secret!

But she shared the story:

My Tía Bessie was loved by all, very family-oriented and loved to cook; you could never go to her house without eating. She learned this recipe while living with her great-grandmother in Puebla, Mexico.

Tia made this mole for all special occasions, such as weddings, baptisms, quinceñeras, church related events, just like her great-grandmother did. The smallest amount she would make was six whole chickens. Later on when she and my Tío retired, they started making her mole for other people, but charged for it. She guarded her recipe more closely because there was another lady in the neighborhood who also made mole for large occasions, and charged.

She wouldn’t teach just anyone how to make it. In fact, I don’t know any family member she taught this to except me. But when she saw that I really loved to cook, and even took classes and cooked for her, she really wanted me to learn how to cook her mole.

She told me that when she learned, it was a whole day event because they had to prepare the chickens, meaning kill them, and clean them. She never liked that part, but they lived out on a farm and back then there were no meat markets like what we have today.

I have never used almonds before—Tía’s recipe calls for peanuts—but it came out OK. Not as good as my Tia Bessie’s but it was good, even according to my nephew and niece who only eat Tía Bessie’s mole. The cocoa was also good in the recipe.  I used less, because it was a good quality of cocoa.

A younger woman and and older woman enjoy mole. A sign reads "Cocina de Norma."
Norma and her mother are ready to eat.


Do you have a favorite mole recipe? Have you ever tried cooking a special dish with ethically-sourced ingredients? Tell us about it in the comments!


On May Day, Help Change the Food System

Welcome to the Food Revolution.

Happy May Day! International Workers’ Day is near to our hearts here at Equal Exchange. After all, we’re one of the largest worker-owned co-operatives in the U.S., and May 1st is our birthday. There’s no one we’d rather celebrate with than YOU, our discerning customers and passionate advocates.


Why the Party?

Around the world, the first day of May is known as Labour Day or Workers’ Day. It’s a day for street demonstrations, speeches and parades. The holiday isn’t as well known here in the U.S. (where our less-radical Labor Day falls in September). But, in fact, the first May Day in history happened here in the U.S.

On May 1st, 1886, tens of thousands of people walked off their jobs to advocate for an 8-hour workday. In Chicago, the demonstrations began peacefully, but the size of the crowds swelled. A few days later protesters clashed with police in Haymarket Square, where an anonymous bombing led to a riot. Seven anarchists were later sentenced to death for “conspiracy,” though evidence showed that none of them had thrown the bomb.

A man shouts as a crowd of civilians and police officers with raised clubs flee an explosion.
A contemporary depiction of the Haymarket Riot from Harper’s Magazine.
Four years later, the Second International, an organization of socialist and labor parties, called for a coordinated international demonstration for workers everywhere to commemorate the Haymarket Affair and keep up the push for a shorter workday. Eventually they got it. And ever since, May Day has been a time to organize for a better world.


Spring to Life

May Day lines up with Beltane, a festival of fertility and rebirth. At this time of year, ancient Europeans would typically revel in the return of warmer weather with dances, singing and cake. After three back-to-back March nor’easters here at our Massachusetts headquarters, we’re totally feeling that!

May Day flowers growing in planters made from burlap coffee sacks printed with the Equal Exchange logo
The EE Green Team planted these flowers in old coffee bags!

Plus, here’s another reason for cake: 2018 marks Equal Exchange’s 32nd birthday. We, the Worker-Owners of EE, own our company. Unlike many players in the rapidly-consolidating natural food and specialty coffee industries, we’re not beholden to anyone but one another. And it’s going to stay that way.

Every May, at our Annual Meeting and Party, we celebrate co-op togetherness and think of the future.


Our Action Plan

Since the beginning, Equal Exchange has worked with farmer partners to create direct supply chains. Our goal of connecting consumers to small-scale, democratically-organized producers remains the same. But the food system around us has changed in the last thirty years. And not always in the ways we hoped to see.

More people than ever before recognize the concept of fair trade. That should be good news, and it is! But because of consumer demand, big business wants to buy a piece of the movement. When corporate conglomerates swallow up natural food companies, the foundational principles — democratic engagement and responsible sourcing — erode. These corporations mostly care about the name, slapping a “Fair Trade” seal on products that haven’t earned it. The challenges to Authentic Fair Trade are serious. Read more about them here.

But we can push back! We believe that customers’ involvement is invaluable, which is why we’re calling for citizen-consumers to join our movement. By learning together, we’ll all figure out the best strategies for action. In partnership with small-scale farmers, we’ll defy corporate control and build up a fair and sustainable supply chain that benefits both those who grow real food and those who eat it.


How Will You Celebrate This May Day?

We’re proud to commemorate 32 years together in the fight. We’ll never stop sharing our challenges, or our successes. As we go up against the big guys, enduring partnerships give us strength. And new strategies give us energy.


Join us to work for an evolving and inclusive food system!

Take part! Join the Action Forum!

Show Your Support! Put your money behind Authentic Fair Trade products!

Keep Learning! Sign up for the EE Newsletter!


A worker in a plaid shirt holds up a hand-lettered sign that reads "As a co-owner of EE, I want continued Rabble-Rousing from my Coop!"
Worker-Owner River Cook shares their goal for the co-op.


And another thing! We’re excited to announce that Equal Exchange is hosting two Summits this year — one in Easton, MA, down the street from our headquarters, and the other in Chicago! Join Action Forum Members, Equal Exchange worker-owners, and our farmer partners for two days of workshops, planning sessions, and celebration as we work together as a community to create positive change in our food system.

Want to attend one of the Summits? RSVP here!

Food for Thought: Hot Chocolate in Art


Do you love fine chocolate and cocoa? You’re in good company. Many powerful and discerning people — from Aztecs conquerors in the New World to the Holy Roman Emperor of the Old — were all about it! Men and women have enjoyed this marvelous substance for hundreds of years. And you can tell a lot about a society from the art it leaves behind. Long-ago chocoholics honored their favorite treat with pictures, statues, and beautifully decorated serving dishes.


Shop Chocolate & Cocoa >>


Chocolate for Health?

Mesoamericans began consuming chocolate as early as 500 B.C.E. Their craftspeople created special vessels to prepare and serve it. The Maya drank their chocolate unsweetened, as a paste formed of ground cacao seeds, water, and other ingredients like cornmeal and chili peppers. Some historians believe they consumed it for medicinal purposes. An artisan in around 400 C.E  made the lidded earthenware basin pictured below, in what is today Mexico or Guatemala. The basin would have held the cacao mixture.

Art: a brown earthenware vessel for chocolate with a human head on top of the lid.
Credit: Unknown Mayan artist. De Young Museum.


Drink of the Gods

Maya people identified chocolate drinks with their deities. In this fascinating scene, painted in Guatemala between 670–750 C.E., the ruler of the Maya underworld sits in state, wearing his owl-trimmed hat. Behind him, one of his female attendants spills out chocolate from a drinking cup. Mayans who prepared the beverage would froth it by pouring it back and forth from a pot to a vessel like the one on which the scene was painted!

Decoration shows a figure on a throne, the Maya god L, surrounded by his attendants.
Credit: Unknown Mayan artist. Princeton University Art Museum, gift of the Hans A. Widenmann, Class of 1918, and Dorothy Widenmann Foundation.


Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Though Maya of all social classes enjoyed chocolate drinks, elite members of society served these preparations from large urns like the one below. Modeled cacao pods ring the edge, and a cacao tree forms the knob on top of the lid. Glyphs confirm the vessel’s function as a chocolate drinking-cup.  Nobles sometimes gave them as gifts to seal alliances.

This Maya lidded figure is ringed by molded cacao pods and has pictures that are difficult to make out etched into the side. The knob os a cacao tree.
Credit: Unknown Mayan artist. Stendahl Galleries, gift of John Bourne, 2009.


Pay Me in Chocolate

The Aztecs mixed their cacao with vanilla, and  drank it cold. After the Aztecs took over much of Mesoamerica, the rich reserved cacao beverages solely for themselves. In fact, in Aztec society, a person of low status drinking chocolate constituted a bad omen! Subject peoples even provided chocolate as tribute. So, it makes a lot of sense that chocolate would show up in Aztec art. Sometime between 1440 and 1521, an artisan crafted the statue below, which depicts a man carrying a cacao pod. The figure is made from volcanic stone.

Statue of an Aztec man with a neutral expression on his face. He carries a huge cacao pod in his arms. Over the years, his feet have broken off.
Credit: Unknown Aztec artist. The Brooklyn Museum.


The Latest Fashion

Chocolate traveled to Europe from the New World via its Spanish colonizers. Members of the court of Charles V became big fans. Because of its distant origin, chocolate was strictly a luxury item. By the 18th century, Europeans prepared and sipped from delicate porcelain cups, like this one. It was made around 1720.

White china cup resembles a tea cup, but has two handles and a lid as well as a saucer, all with a red floral pattern.
Credit: The Du Paquier factory, Austria. Gardiner Museum.


For Adults Only

By the time chocolate reached England, it was still a drink, but Europeans began to add milk and sugar to the mix. Because of its expense — and because it made children excitable — only grown folks drank it. This silver chocolate pot was crafted in 1714-1715 and has a hinged finial to admit a swizzle stick called a molinet, used to stir the chocolate. A similar pot bought by a diplomat in 1735 cost a staggering twenty pounds and eighteen shillings!

Elaborately molded silver pot has a spout, attached lid and a handle of a metal that looks like brass.
Credit: John Fawdery, England. The Victoria and Albert Museum, gift of Thomas Hugh Cobb.



Chocolate has been delicious for centuries. Enjoy a modern version of this treat, rich with history. Equal Exchange sells a great powdered Baking Cocoa, as well as a traditional Hot Cocoa Mix, a decadent Dark Hot Chocolate Mix, and a more adventurous Spicy Hot Cocoa Mix with cinnamon and cayenne. And all four are always fairly traded and Organic!

If chocolate doesn’t show up in our art too much anymore … well, maybe that’s something we should reconsider!


A delicious mug of Organic fair trade hot chocolate, with whipped cream on top.


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Haiku Challenge: Read the Winners

Happy National Poetry Month! And thanks to everyone who entered our recent social media Coffee Haiku Challenge. We savored all your responses, each and every delicious haiku! But since we promised #braggingrights to a select few, we’re reposting our favorites here (in no particular order).

Brew a cup of fairly-traded coffee and prepare to be impressed, because these haiku have many good qualities. We found them to be:



Sunrise breaks the night

Morning coffee breaks the fast

Fair Trade breaks the chains

Dick Dahle


Thanks to playful goats,

Coffee beans were discovered.

Every cup is joy.

Andrew Lyons


crimson hued cherries,

harvesters roasters abound,

blissful hot liquid

Danielle Kocinski


I am a do-nut. 🍩

You are a cup of coffee.☕️

Start your day with me.

Sears L Barnett Jr.


Coffee, java, joe.

Cuppa, brew, octane go juice.

Life force from a bean.

Viki Matson



I love my coffee

My coffee awakens me

My coffee loves me

Elizabeth McNeil


A warm thanks to every single poet who participated!  Read more Coffee Haiku here, or by searching for #eehaiku.

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