From the Field: Chiapas, Mexico

Earlier this summer, Green Coffee Buyer Carly Kadlec traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to visit our farmer partners at Comon Yaj Noptic Cooperative. Here she shares her thoughts on these farmers’ inspiring efforts to preserve local biodiversity:

Back in 2013, during my first visit to our partners at Comon Yaj Noptic (CYN) in Chiapas, Mexico, I learned about an incredibly interesting community-led effort to monitor biodiversity in and around members’ coffee farms.  CYN’s farmers live in and around the buffer zone of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. El Triunfo is an incredibly important and biodiverse mix of tropical and cloud forest in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range. After a massive hurricane impacted the region in the mid-2000s, conservation non-profits in the area looked for community partners to participate in monitoring projects to study the impact of climate change on this ecologically significant biologic corridor.  Luckily, the non-profit coordinating the project found CYN and engaged the farmers in the design and implementation of this project. The goal of the project was to monitor migratory bird species over the course of several years and track the impact that increasingly significant climate events have on this ecosystem. Farmer members of CYN were trained by wildlife biologists on how to perform bird counts and learned the scientific names of local and migratory species. The farmer-biologists then completed their species monitoring every month and reported their data back to a project coordinator at the cooperative.

This is a unique project for a couple of reasons. One of the common weaknesses of biodiversity conservation efforts is the lack of local input in project design and execution. In this project, the farmers directly contributed to the data collected, received compensation for their work as field monitors, and increased their knowledge about international birding tourism.  Comon Yaj Noptic now offers tourism packages for bird-watching in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve and has attracted birders and photographers from around the world. I love traveling to Comon Yaj Noptic because I get to learn directly from farmers about the incredible biodiversity of the region as well as see an example of how community-centered conservation efforts can be successful scientific studies and add value to the local economy.

We’re proud to partner with this co-op and support their environmental stewardship efforts. In honor of this work, we roast Organic Bird of Paradise, a blend which includes beans from the coffee farms bordering these spectacular protected lands.

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee

It’s summertime, and that can only mean one thing for coffee lovers: cold brew. While cold brew coffee is all the rage at cafes lately, it’s surprisingly easy to make yourself at home. No barista required.

One of our favorite ways to make cold brew is by using the Toddy method, which produces a reliably rich and smooth brew to cool off with. You can find our step-by-step Toddy brewing instructions here.

No Toddy? No problem. You can make cold brew coffee with just a few simple household items. Here are two ways you can do it.

To start:
· There is no “wrong” way to do this, as coffee generally comes down to your personal preferences.
· There is a “best” way to make cold brew coffee that highlights the flavor notes and most delicious characteristics of the coffee
· There is such a thing as “bad water,” so make sure you are using water that tastes good and is free of odors. It will affect the flavor of the cold brew more than if it were brewed hot. We suggest using filtered tap or bottled water.
· We will be using a 1:4 coffee to water ratio. This will produce a concentrate that you can dilute as desired according to how strong you like it.

What you’ll need:
-64 oz. mason jar with a two piece lid (a solid lid is fine if you’re using the cheesecloth method)
-1 liter (1,000 grams) of cool, clean water
-.5 lb (227 grams) finely ground coffee
-A filter: cheesecloth for method #1, or standard coffee filter or cheesecloth for method #2

The process:
1. Measure out your water into a clean container.
2. Measure out and then finely grind your coffee into a separate clean container.
3. Put your ground coffee onto the cheese cloth, fold up the edges and tie off the end. Or, put your ground coffee directly into the mason jar.

Method #1:
4. Slowly pour your water into the mason jar.
5. Let the coffee steep for 12 hours.
6. Remove the cheesecloth bundle from the concentrate, letting the coffee drain completely into the mason jar before discarding.

Method #2:
4. Slowly pour your water into the mason jar in a steady circular motion.
5. Gently submerge all of the coffee grounds with a butter knife.
6. Let the coffee steep for 12 hours.
7. Remove the center lid piece from the mason jar and use the outer ring to secure the coffee filter or cheesecloth to the top of the mason jar mouth.
8. Gently invert the mason jar over a clean glass container that will hold your concentrate.
9. Be patient, this may take a few minutes – let drain completely.

You’re almost there! Your finished coffee concentrate can now be diluted with water at a 1:1 ratio. More or less water can be used to achieve the desired taste. Store your cold brew coffee concentrate in a glass container and keep refrigerated. The concentrate will keep for a week (but if you’re anything like us, it’ll be gone much faster than that!).

Explore our organic, fairly traded coffees on our web store!

The Not-So-Sweet U.S. Sugar Policy

Sugar.

It seems like such a simple thing. The essential ingredient we so often buy in the U.S. that ends up in something delicious that makes us happy – a morning cup of coffee, a celebratory cake, or a pan of brownies.

The reality is, sugar is far from simple. We could dedicate a lot of space to the disconnect between small-scale farmers and the market due to the control of export by large sugar mills that have all the power at source. Or, we could highlight the continued labor abuses on sugarcane plantations as graphically detailed 10 years ago in the documentary, “The Price of Sugar,” which depicts the plight of Haitians who have been lured into a form of indentured servitude on sugar plantations across the border in the Dominican Republic.

We aim to cover some of this in future blog posts, but today we want to look at something that we see so blatantly on a yearly basis when we work to import sugar from small-scale farmers into the U.S.: the manner in which corporate sugar barons have manipulated trade policy to disproportionately benefit themselves at the expense of smaller producers, including thousands of peasant farmers around the world. U.S. shoppers who might be inclined to support small-scale farmers have little choice and pay far more than they should due to a complicated system of price supports and duties. So let’s dig in a bit more.

The U.S. sugar industry has long used money and political clout to protect and grow the industry, as exemplified by the discovery last year that the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to place the blame for heart disease on saturated fats instead of sugar, influencing decades of U.S. health policy.

Today, the sugar industry focuses money and resources on political lobbying to prop up domestic sugar prices and control sugar imports from cheaper sources. In large part due to the outsized donations and influence from the sugar industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture enacts a complicated sugar policy with price supports and quota systems that elevate U.S. sugar prices above world market prices – sometimes two-to-three times higher than the world market price.

On the surface, this policy appears sweet and maybe it’s not so bad for our health if sugar is not dirt cheap. Supporting U.S. production keeps cash, investments, and resources domestic, and Equal Exchange is are all for that when it helps local economies and local communities. Digging a little deeper, however, the effects may have a bitter outcome.

These protected American producers are not necessarily small-scale operations and often the benefits land in the hands of a few who have disproportionately high influence over the industry. And, American consumers end up paying higher prices for sugar and sugar-containing products at the grocery store.

Current policies can be traced back to a relatively small number of key actors. Arguably, the most significant actors are the Fanjuls. The Fanjul family co-owns the world’s largest sugar refinery here in the United States and are significant names behind big companies like Florida Crystals and Domino. In the 1980s, the Fanjul sugar barons outgrew Florida and expanded production to the Dominican Republic. Today their Dominican company, Central Romana, is the largest private landowner and employer in the D.R. This company has been fined numerous times for labor law violations and mistreatment of their workers, many of whom are Haitian and Jamaican immigrants.

To protect their interests, the Fanjuls are major donors to lobbying groups and political candidates. Conveniently, their political ties are bipartisan: one brother is a Democrat and the other is a Republican. Before the 2016 presidential election, they hosted benefit dinners for candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Historically, the Fanjuls have even hosted presidents at their 7,000-acre Casa de Campo resort in the D.R. Some of the policies they influenced include federal health recommendations of sugar consumption, higher volume trade quotas with the Dominican Republic, and lowering environmental regulations in the Everglades. According to one environmental lawyer in a 2016 issue of The New Yorker, “Given the choice between buying a tractor and hiring a lobbyist, the sugar industry is going to hire a lobbyist every time.” Because of the Fanjuls’ dominant presence, other sugarcane growers in the United States and around the world struggle to compete.

These trade policies impact organic and small-scale farmers in a big way. Equal Exchange’s producer partner for sugar, Manduvira co-op in Paraguay, emerged as an alternative to conventional sugarcane plantations, supporting over 1,000 small-scale producers to grow organic sugarcane. Like its neighbor Brazil, Paraguay also suffers from deforestation in its Atlantic rainforest due to rising agricultural pressures. Unlike its neighbor Brazil, Paraguay has a higher proportion of its population living in rural areas (40 percent of rural residents in Paraguay compared to 14 percent in Brazil). This results in a higher proportion of Paraguayans who are still dependent on agriculture, such as sugarcane, as their main source of income and subsistence.

Sugarcane in Paraguay has become yet another industry that denies access to the small producer. Major sugar refineries in Paraguay own their fields and only purchase from outside producers after all their company sugarcane is processed, and only if there is a high enough demand – often long after the small farmer’s ideal harvest cycle.

Manduvira Co-op: A Case Study

In 1995, members of Manduvira worked together to establish Fair Trade certification for sugarcane and sell their product cooperatively. They have been so successful that today, Manduvira built and manages its own mill for its own sugarcane production, making it the first and only organic sugar mill owned by small-scale farmers! Their accomplishment serves as an example, not only for Paraguay, but also for the international cooperative community, and is one way to combat global sugar giants. Equal Exchange is committed to our partnership with Manduvira, and we work diligently within the context of biased policies and costly tariffs to import their sugar.

For the small-scale farmers that have put their heart and soul into Manduvira, to access the U.S. market Equal Exchange has to work with Manduvira to navigate the U.S. sugar quota system. Organic sugar is considered a specialty sugar and there are five specialty sugar windows in which it can be imported each year.

Manduvira’s sugar needs to arrive at a U.S. port, in this case it’s New York, during a sugar window so it can be cleared. To get it to New York on time, it needs to get on a river barge from Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, to make its way to the ocean where it will be loaded on an ocean vessel bound for New York from Montevideo, Uruguay, or Buenos Aires, Argentina. This trip can take 40-60 days depending on how smoothly all the pieces line up, so to have the sugar land during the sugar window is often a bit of a miracle given all the external factors.

If the product arrives on time, Manduvira sugar is then competing with many other companies trying to access the window and there is a limited amount of sugar allowed with each window. After all of that effort, the sugar may end up entering the U.S. at a high duty rate or only a percentage of the shipment will access the low duty rate if the quota is prorated amongst all the people accessing the window. When this sugar doesn’t get in at a low duty rate, which has certainly happened, it is pretty much impossible for Manduvira’s sugar to compete and be viable in the U.S. market.
While getting a little in the weeds on the importing side of business, this demonstrates the real systemic challenges small-scale sugar farmers face, whether that’s in Paraguay or the United States. Power is concentrated in the hands of those with big money, keeping those who are marginalized by the system voiceless and poor. Despite the unlevel playing field, we are inspired by the members of Manduvira co-op and hope to see more stories like theirs.

 

Written by Dary Goodrich & Laura Bechard, Chocolate Team 


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How to Brew Coffee While Camping

Just because you’ve decided to rough it for the weekend doesn’t mean that you have to go without excellent coffee. There are plenty of ways to brew a cup of coffee in the woods, or on the trail, without sacrificing quality or getting weighed down by bulky brewing contraptions.

First, you’ll need to bring coffee. If weight is an issue (especially if you’re backpacking) make sure you bring only as much as you need and weigh out your coffee at home.

The next question is whether or not you need to pre-grind your coffee. There are plenty of pocket mills and hand grinders on the market. Some of them fairly expensive and some of them very affordable. I personally always bring a hand grinder. I love brewing with freshly-ground coffee, and hand grinders don’t take up much space or weight. If you don’t want to grind in the wilderness, then grinding your coffee at home is the best solution. Just make sure you know how you’re going to brew so that you can correctly weigh out and grind your coffee according to your desired brew method.

You’ll also need to bring a container to heat your water in. There are plenty of ways to heat water while camping, just make sure you can keep ash and debris out of the water if you’re using a campfire. Make sure that the container has a spout, even if it’s very small (let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to bring a gooseneck kettle on a camping trip, but it’s not unheard of) so that you aren’t pouring hot water directly out of a large-mouthed pot which could potentially be dangerous.

Most importantly, you’ll need to decide how you want to brew your coffee. There are many ways to brew coffee in the woods, although some may be quicker and easier than others. It’s up to you! Here are some of the ways we do it:

Aeropress. The small, lightweight and compact the Aeropress is very high up on the favorites list for campers. It’s done in about two minutes and cleanup is a breeze. Just make sure you bring your favorite sturdy cup to press your coffee into, and don’t forget filters (the reusable stainless steel filter is perfect for use in the great outdoors). We think it’s perfect for backpacking and camping.

French Press. For those who like a little taste of home in the wilderness, the French press is another good choice. Cleanup is a little more involved than the Aeropress, but still easy to handle. It’s easy to achieve a smooth, balanced cup without all the gadgets in your kitchen. It’s great for camping or car camping, but may not be so great for the trail, especially if you have a glass model!

Pourover. Who says you can’t have a café in the woods? Although it requires a little more time and attention, the pourover is a great method for brewing outside. Just don’t forget your filters! For this brewing method, you’ll need a more gentle stream of water than you would need for the Aeropress and the French press, so take that into consideration when packing your water vessel. (REI sells a great camping pourover that’s collapsible; check it out HERE, especially if you’re backpacking — it’s a huge space saver!) This is good for camping, car camping and backpacking.

Percolator. Want an easy way to brew? You can always just set a percolator over the fire. Just set it and forget it! Ok, not for too long. All you’ll need for this is the percolator itself: no filters or separate water vessel, making it a convenient, durable all-in-one brewer. Percolators are an iconic camping brew method. Although not as popular in the specialty coffee scene, they get the job done. Don’t forget your beef jerky and harmonica.

Enjoy your caffeinated trip to the outdoors! What’s your favorite way to brew coffee in the wild? Let us know in the comments.

Shop for organic, fairly traded coffee online.

The Action Forum: A Democratic Food System

What does democracy mean to you? Do you believe that you are an active citizen in a democracy? How about in your food system?

To me, democracy goes beyond showing up for one day to vote for a presidential candidate, sharing a politically charged status on social media, or filling out your e-mail to sign another online petition. Democracy takes effort, commitment, collective responsibility, and passion. It’s not always easy, certainly not simple, but if we as a people are committed to a better world, it cannot begin and end on Election Day.

Danielle Robidoux, left, at an Action Forum event in Boston. 

Likewise, participating in the food system cannot begin and end with a purchase. To get closer to a more transparent, just, and safe food system, we need to be fully engaged, not passive consumers. For a long time the jargon of conscious consumerism has been “vote with your dollar.” It is not enough. Now more than ever is the time to not only raise your dollar but to put your voice behind it.

So, how can we become real participants in a democratic food system and make a positive impact to build the world, and the food system, that we want to see? I believe we need to build communities and meaningful connections; there is power in organization, in solidarity, and in numbers. A successful democratic food system cannot be built without an active populace, without active citizen-consumers.

Equal Exchange has always had people at its center. Coffee, chocolate, tea, mango, cashews—these are just mediums by which Equal Exchange can show the world that ethical supply chains are viable—that there is more than one way to do business. The radicalism lies within the Equal Exchange model: a supply chain that is characteristic of true democracy, cooperative learning, transparency, a respect for our planet and its people.

For the past 31 years Equal Exchange has worked on supporting our producer partners abroad and standing alongside them in their struggles, on a journey to build a more sustainable system. We have done this with a commitment to our internal democracy, too, as a worker co-op. As we reflect on the change we have built and the complexities that now define our world, we realized there is a missing piece: you. And so we launched the Action Forum late last year to provide an organizing mechanism.

On June 9, over 100 individuals got together to have a conversation, when Equal Exchange hosted our first-ever People’s Food System Summit. This event brought together all parts of our supply chain: Equal Exchange worker-owners, producer partners, and Action Forum members. The gathering was a milestone for our work to build the Action Forum and to have conversations around food justice. As a community we began to grapple with many food industry dilemmas and how we could imagine building a better food system, together.

The first day of the summit we delved deeply into the corporate consolidation that characterizes our food system, successes and failures of the Fair Trade movement, climate change from the perspective of our producer partners, and alternative buying models that opt out of the corporate system. The second day was spent building the foundation of our community and culture of democracy among members of the Action Forum. We debated and voted on proposals regarding the Action Forum’s path forward, broke out into small groups to discuss how we can build tools and grow our community, and made a commitment to stay connected to continue this work, together.

Our current economic and political climate is not conducive for alternative food systems. The food industry encourages us to think as individual shoppers rather than as a collective. The key to building effective, long-lasting change is to build strong communities centered around people. The Equal Exchange Action Forum is striving to facilitate this work, through connection, democracy, transparency, authenticity, and putting people over profit.

Join us, and add your voice. Learn more here.

The People’s Food System Summit

You can be a part of changing the food system!

For over 30 years, Equal Exchange has worked together with farmers and consumers to change the way that our food is grown and distributed, and to give farmers a fair shake.

On June 9th and 10th, Equal Exchange held our first People’s Food System Summit at Stonehill College in Massachusetts to explore how to broaden the food activist movement. We gathered 50 Action Forum citizen-consumers and 50 Equal Exchange worker-owners together with visiting small-scale producers to discuss a wide variety of issues. Many rich discussions took place, leaving us motivated and inspired to continue building this movement together.

Here are some of our reflections from workshop sessions at the summit!

Workshop Session Recap: “From Chavez to Human Rights: What Can We Learn about Organizing Consumers from Successful Boycotts in the Past?”
by Charlie Brandes

During his workshop session, Equal Exchange Co-Executive Director Rob Everts presented an overview of his experiences in community organizing and leading social and political movements.

Rob began the session by pointing out that while most consumer boycotts are “time-bound,” meaning, consumers are organized to protest against a specific store, company, product, or commodity for a specific period of time, the boycott either produces the change it seeks or it doesn’t, after which the organizers and consumers move on. Even though the Action Forum seeks to build a more lasting, ongoing model for organizing consumers, it seems prudent to look to past campaigns for guidance in building this model.

Rob’s story of how he was motivated to live a life of political activism and organizing by United Farm Workers members was stirring. The UFW, including Rob’s brother, had been picketing against Gallo wine outside of a liquor store that was on his way home from school. Nervous as he was about engaging consumers one-on-one about the consequences of their purchases, sibling rivalry finally got the better of his fear, and he joined the protest. Rob also talked about his relationship with Fred Ross, who was a behind-the-scenes mentor to Caesar Chavez, and ultimately to Rob as well.

After years of working with the UFW, Rob moved east to help organize hotel and restaurant workers, and ultimately founded Neighbor to Neighbor, which successfully campaigned to shut off aid from the US government to the Contras in Nicaragua. Inspired by the anti-Apartheid movement, as well as Rob’s past activism with the UFW, Neighbor to Neighbor then embarked on a boycott of Folger’s coffee. The goal was to put pressure on the (then) manufacturer of Folger’s, Procter and Gamble, to stop supporting the oligopoly in El Salvador that was carrying out a brutal civil war against its people. This ultimately brought him into contact with members of the young Equal Exchange co-op, and the rest is history.

Workshop Session Recap: “From Uniformity to Diversity in the Food System”
 by Bethany Karbowski

The supermarket shelves are not as diverse as they seem.

Annie’s Homegrown. Stonyfield. Applegate Farms, Kashi. Back to Nature. Lara Bar. Late July. Naked Juice. During this workshop session, there were gasps of “Oh no!” from the audience as we examined a food web showing how corporations like General Mills, Mondelez, Pepsi, Hormel and Hain Celestial have been hungrily buying up our favorite food brands — brands we love and have trusted to stand for the things we ourselves stand for.

“Unless you look closely, you wouldn’t know they were the same brand,” said Phil Howard, a professor in the Community Sustainability department at Michigan State University, who has been researching the consolidation trends in the food and beverage industries for years. “It looks like you have a lot of choices. There are fewer and fewer people making decisions about the food we eat.” The increasing trend has been that corporations are acquiring as many profitable organic brands as they can, trying to control the market without making these changes visible on packaging.

Why should it matter if these brands are no longer independently owned? Howard explained that large corporations often have an agenda and must answer to their shareholders. This means that well-intentioned consumers are often unknowingly supporting agendas that may not match their own values. Brands that originally had strong values and a commitment to quality, organic ingredients and sustainable practices are now subject to owners whose main motivation is frequently increased profits, not consumers. By purchasing a sub-brand of a mammoth, multinational corporation, consumer dollars are going directly into that larger organization and, without knowing it, we could be supporting things we may not actually agree with and reinforcing trends that we ultimately don’t want to see increasing.

In spite of this discouraging trend, Howard explained that “there is a positive counter trend moving towards real diversity.” There are a handful of companies, like Equal Exchange, who have chosen to remain independent despite buyout offers. Howard recommends focusing our efforts on creating alternatives and raising awareness surrounding these issues. He suggested the website “Buycott.com” whose slogan is “vote with your wallet” as a resource to help consumers determine where their money is really going, in the food sector and beyond.

By working together and looking deeper we can stay informed and choose to support brands and movements that are working towards shifting the power structure, increasing diversity in the food system and ensuring future access to healthy, affordable, food for everyone.

Learn more about Phil Howard’s research online and check out his book, Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What we Eat?

Workshop Session Recap: “Buying Clubs and Opting Out of the Corporate System”
by Tom Hanlon-Wilde

Edith Stacey-Huber and Adi Faribank discussed their experiences with buying clubs, sharing how they work around traditional grocery entities to bring food to their communities. Edith first organized a buying club in Ontario to make organic food affordable to families in her neighborhood, and eventually she brought that model to Michigan. Each of the four dozen families involved in the club is the buyer for one specific farm, in order to make it more sustainable. Participants are committed to purchasing food that’s grown locally, versus food that’s regulated and labeled. Edith overcame eight months of Michigan state bureaucracy around warehouse licensing until member families were able to purchase and store food sourced directly from farms.

Adi Faribank helped the project to grow by creating a non-corporate information system which made things much easier on the members. The community-based nature of the open source software provided a model for systems development. Adi applied his computer science learning to the project in 2003, and by 2006 it was processing over a quarter million dollars of food orders with a dozen buying clubs. By 2015, that participation jumped to $6.5 million. With the growing use by different groups Adi added back-up servers and program improvements including a user fee to the software.

The software allows families to source locally and then manage their purchases through an alternative food system tailored to each club’s needs. The major differences to the corporate food system is that there is traceability back to every farm or kitchen, the food is fresher, more money stays with the member families, and there is no food waste.

Edith strongly endorses the buying club as of a form of food activism. “I still remember the first bite of a locally sourced walnut and how amazingly good and different it was from a walnut from the grocery store,” noted Edith. Member families do have to adapt to the limited hours and there is a need to move to a business model (not volunteer) so that families who dedicate lots of time can get compensated by the families who have less time to dedicate. Edith and Adi are happy to help any group to that wants to get started. Join the Action Forum to start the conversation!

Join the Conversation!

Do you want to get involved in this movement and participate in future events with us? Join the Equal Exchange Action Forum to become a member of this growing community of activists, advocates and citizen-consumers.

Learn more about the Action Forum >

A Palestinian Olive Oil Story

We’re proud to offer fairly traded, organic olive oil grown by small-scale farmers in the West Bank. We believe this olive oil is truly special, both for what it is as a product and for the story behind it. Watch the video below and read on to learn more!

 

 

In 2007, Jim Harb ​of ​Knoxville, Tennessee​, was asked to help start Olive Branch, a local non-profit social enterprise to support West Bank Palestinian olive farmers. His co-founder ​searched the internet and found Tania Maxwell, one of the first ​U.S. ​importers of West Bank​ olive oil. Tania and another woman interested in crafts had traveled by themselves to Ramallah in the West Bank on behalf of Palestinian rights groups, trying to find ways to assist Palestinians to survive economically.

Tania started an olive oil partnership with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) which she ran out of the basement of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for over five years. ​Olive Branch started ordering ​cases of oil from Tania to supply ​Episcopal, ​Methodist​, Presbyterian​, and other​ congregations​​ in the southeastern U.S. that wanted to advocate peacefully ​for ​the ​Palestinian ​people.

When​ ​Tania retired ​in 2012 after five years, she asked Equal Exchange if we wanted to take up where she left off. We did. A few of us traveled to Ramallah and ​met with PARC leaders​, and we were convinced that continuing the partnership was​ vital​ work. Jim ​Harb ​and the ​congregations​ ​he worked with then became partners with Equal Exchange​, ordering ​thousands​ ​more ​bottles of PARC oil ​over the past​ ​​five​ years. ​Jim’s story demonstrates how ​an ​activist can help ​make a huge difference​,​ and how groups of ​individuals ​working together for social justice through their congregations​ can provide tangible support to people in need. Jim and congregants from the Southeast U.S. are part of the movement to help Palestinian olive ​farmers stay on their land, feed their families,​ and educate their children while ​working toward a better future.

Learn more about our olive oil >

Buy Equal Exchange olive oil on our web store >

Celebrating 11 Years of the Equal Exchange Fundraising Program!

This year marks the 11th anniversary of Equal Exchange’s Fundraising Program! The program started with Virginia Berman, a co-owner and the Organizing Director at Equal Exchange at the time. One of the roles of the Organizing Department was to find supporters of Equal Exchange and provide them with the resources to spread the word about authentic Fair Trade, and conscious consumerism.

Equal Exchange’s Organizing Team began receiving requests from parents for a fundraising catalog.  Some parents had been fundraising on their own with Equal Exchange products, but many parents had trouble convincing their PTAs to choose Equal Exchange without the benefit of a traditional catalog.

In response to requests, an entrepreneurial member of the Organizing team, Julia Khodebandeh put together Equal Exchange’s first fundraising catalog and the school fundraising program was born!  Equal Exchange co-director Rob Everts, was excited to reach a younger audience and create educational resources for  teachers and parents to use alongside the fundraiser.

The first catalog included just four products: two coffees and two cocoas! Still, the program gained momentum right away through word of mouth. Parents talked to other parents, shared the Equal Exchange mission, and the program kept growing! By year four, it was thriving.

Through the years, the catalog and program expanded, largely in part to strong relationships with like-minded organizations and groups. Two relationships that were integral to the success of the program were with the Montessori Schools and the New York State United Teachers. Both relationships helped us reach new groups of individuals and helped put our shared social justice mission into action. These relationships helped us boost our sense of purpose and fine tune the educational aspects of our program. We were also very lucky to have partnered with Ten Thousand Villages for six years, offering fairly traded crafts as part of our fundraising catalog. With this partnership, we were able to offer communities more ways to support farmers and artisans through their purchases.

One of the best aspects about the fundraising program is that it is constantly innovating! Over the last 11 years, the program has never been stagnant — we are always thinking of new ways to help make fundraising easier for our customers and to keep things fresh and exciting.

We’re proud to offer a fundraising option for schools and groups that they can feel good about bringing to their communities.  In particular, we’re pleased to offer parents and educators tools to help introduce their students to the important concepts of Fair Trade, conscious consumerism, climate change, gender equality, income equality, and so much more.

While thinking about the future, we continue to ask ourselves how can we get to the next level and establish a greater presence in the fundraising world. We also continue to ask ourselves how we can improve our process to make things easier for participants. Beyond that, we hope to reach new audiences and create more incentives, materials, and guides for the groups that are currently using our program.

One idea that we are interested in bringing back is the creation of a fundraising advisory team, made up of parents and administrators who will gather ideas and provide us with insights about what their schools, friends, children, and community are looking for out of this fundraiser.

Celebrating 11 Years of the Equal Exchange Fundraising Program!
Photo of Virginia at the American Montessori School Conference in Boston in 2010.

Thank you to Virginia Berman and Rob Everts for reflecting on the past 11 years of the program with me! I started in this position about a year and a half ago, so it was a great experience to learn more about its beginnings, how it has changed throughout the years, and what they would like to see in the program’s future.

Virginia Berman has moved on from Equal Exchange and has created her own organization called Invent Boston. One of the inspirations for her starting her own company was experiencing the everyday challenges of running a home, with jam packed schedules. Here is a information about her first product,  Toothbrush Timer, a Two Minute Turtle, which was created to make brushing teeth easier for children and parents. You can find out more about her organization on her website. We wish her well! 

 

How to Store Coffee the Right Way

A lot of effort goes into growing, shipping, roasting and packaging coffee to ensure a great-tasting cup. However, the benefits of those efforts can be lost at the very end of the line: in your own home! The way you store coffee has a profound impact on its taste and shelf life, so here we will explore the best ways to keep your beans fresh and delicious — plus a few pitfalls to avoid.

What makes coffee go bad?

The first step in learning how to store your coffee is to understand what causes coffee to lose its freshness and flavor. Coffee is sensitive to several environmental factors, including air, moisture, light and heat. Coffee readily absorbs surrounding smells and moisture, which will negatively affect the flavor (“leftover garlic pizza” is not a tasting note you want). Light and heat both introduce energy into the coffee, speeding up oxidation and spoilage.

How do I properly store coffee?

Now that you understand the enemies of coffee freshness (light, moisture, heat and oxygen), you can do what it takes to minimize their effects. Store your coffee in a cool, dry place, like your kitchen cupboard or countertop. Keep it in an opaque, airtight container — you can even keep your coffee in its original packaging, rolled tight and enclosed in a resealable plastic bag. If you want to go the extra mile, try a vacuum canister to remove excess oxygen and moisture between brews. Be sure to keep your container away from the stove, or above the refrigerator or microwave, as these appliances all generate heat which can affect the beans!

What to avoid:

Keep it out of the fridge. This is a common misconception! While refrigerators do keep many things fresh, coffee is not one of them. Coffee will quickly absorb the moisture and smells in your fridge, causing it to spoil and take on the flavors of the foods around it. The cold doesn’t increase the shelf life of the beans, either — room temperature is just fine.

Keep it out of the freezer, too! Similar to storage in the fridge, the freezer does provide help in dealing with some of the elements that damage freshness. But these are often negated by increased exposure to moisture, including moisture caused by condensation as you move coffee in and out of the freezer. Similar to the fridge, there is also the risk of the coffee absorbing smells from the surrounding foods in the freezer.

Avoid buying coffee that is already stale. Not all coffee is packaged equally, and it might have lost freshness before you even get to it! Keep an eye out for a tightly sealed bag that is made to resist light and moisture. The bag should also have a one-way seal to allow CO2 to escape after the roasting process. If the bag lacks a one-way valve, it means the coffee was allowed to sit for a number of days to off-gas before it was packaged. In other words, the coffee went stale before it even went in the bag! You can also look for nitrogen-flushed bags, which help remove excess oxygen from the bag before it’s sealed. Finally, you want to purchase coffee that was roasted as recently as possible. Buy direct from a roaster or look for best-by dates to make sure your coffee isn’t past its prime.

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge to store your coffee right, you’ll be able to get the best out of your beans every time you brew.

Do you have any other tips for storing coffee? Let us know in the comments below.

Our Favorite Summer Recipes

When the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, it’s time for backyard cookouts, sipping cold drinks, and frosty desserts. Here are a few of our favorite summertime recipes, each featuring organic, fairly traded ingredients!

Cold Brew Coffee
Ingredients:
Your favorite Equal Exchange coffee! Try Organic Cold Brew or Organic Love Buzz.

Directions:
1. Using a Toddy brewer, combine 12 oz of ground coffee with 7 cups of cold water.
2. Let the coffee and water combination stay at room temperature for 12-24 hours and filter the grounds when the brew cycle is complete.
3. Store as a concentrate for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
4. Serve with ice!

For more detailed instructions, click here.

Favorite Ice Tea Recipes

Iced Tea Concentrate
Ingredients:
Try your favorite tea iced! Try Organic Vanilla Rooibos, Organic Black or Organic Mint Green.

Directions:
1. Boil 8 cups water and pour into a heatproof glass pitcher.
2. Add 15 tea bags of your choice (with strings, tags and staples removed) and let steep for 5 minutes.
3. Remove the tea bags and let cool to room temperature.
4. Transfer to sealable containers and refrigerate.
5. When you’re ready to drink, add 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water and ice in a glass or pitcher.

Simple Syrup
Sweeten your tea or iced coffe without the sugar crystals lingering at the bottom of your glass! Simply combine 1 part sugar with 1 part hot water just off the boil and mix well. Add to your glass or pitcher to taste.

Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken
Ingredients
4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 c. Equal Exchange Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2/3 c. lemon juice
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 medium onion diced
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt

Directions
1. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Then add the diced onion.
2. Transfer marinade to a gallon sized plastic bag or container and add the chicken. Place in the fridge and marinate overnight.
3. Place the chicken on a preheated grill and sprinkle with pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes or until cooked through, with no pink in the center.
4. Grill additional lemon slices, for garnish.
5. Serve and enjoy!

Adapted from The Recipe Critic

Citrus Collards with Raisins
Ingredients
2 large bunches of collard greens, chiffonaded, rinsed, and drained
Coarse sea salt
1/3 c. fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. Equal Exchange Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 c. Equal Exchange Chilean Flame Raisins

Directions
1. In a large pot over high heat, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the collards and cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened.
2. Prepare a large bowl of ice water to cool the collards.
3. Remove the collards from the heat, drain, and plunge them into the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and set the color of the greens. Drain.
In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the collards, raisins, and ½ teaspoon salt. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add orange juice and cook for an additional 15 seconds. Do not overcook (collards should be bright green). Season with additional salt to taste if needed and serve immediately.

This content is from the book Grub by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry.

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
Ingredients
½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
½ c. granulated sugar
½ c. light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. Equal Exchange Organic Baking Cocoa
½ tsp. baking soda
2 c. of your favorite ice cream

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add butter and sugars to a large bowl and mix on medium speed with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.
3. Add egg, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat until well incorporated.
4. Combine flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a separate bowl. Whisk together until well combined.
5. Switch the hand mixer to a low speed and slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. The batter will be thick – mix only until everything is combined.
6. Spoon the cookie dough onto your baking sheets and bake for 9 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
7. While the cookies are cooling, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scoop ice cream into balls – as many sandwiches as you want to make. Once you have all your scoops, immediately put the baking sheet in the freezer.
8. When the cookies have completely cooled, remove the ice cream from the freezer. Using a piece of parchment paper and your palm, gently push down on each ice cream ball to flatten it slightly and fit the width of your cookies.
9. Place the pressed ice cream balls between two cookies, firmly but gently enough not to break the cookies.
10. Serve and enjoy! Or you can wrap them in parchment paper, plastic or foil to preserve them in the freezer until needed.

Adapted from Inspired Taste 

Classic Fudge Pops
Ingredients
6 oz. Equal Exchange Organic Very Dark Chocolate
2 c. whole milk
½ c. cream
¼ c. sugar
2 Tbsp. Equal Exchange Organic Baking Cocoa
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions
1. Break chocolate into pieces and put into a blender. In a saucepan, bring milk, cream, sugar and cocoa to a low boil, then immediately remove from heat. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate in the blender, add vanilla and salt and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is softened. Blend on a low speed until the mix has emulsified and is smooth.
2. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds. Let sit in the freezer for about 1 hour before inserting wooden sticks, if needed.
3. Freeze well for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Adapted from the New York Times