The Equal Exchange Action Forum: An Organizer’s Perspective

I started at Equal Exchange almost two years ago, as a sales rep in Philadelphia. The path that led me here to our co-op was not the most intentional. I went on a series of brutal interviews for a personal assistant job to try to get my foot in the door somewhere in the environmental and community building fields. I spent a year going through interviews, and felt the humanless nature of the whole process; I was a number or name on a piece of paper. I applied to Equal Exchange with little knowledge of Fair Trade and the cooperative movement, but was attracted to a line in the mission statement to work toward a “more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.”

Upon being hired I was warmly welcomed into a community that valued learning, autonomy and risk taking in order to learn. I quickly felt valued as a member of a bigger collective with a shared vision. I felt supported and encouraged. Not only did Equal Exchange value me as a worker and member, but my voice was heard and thoughts valued. During my time spent working in Equal Exchange’s sales department, I had a supervisor that consistently encouraged me to find spaces where I could nurture my skills and passions. The opportunity to work more closely with Equal Exchange’s mission came along through the Organizer position last year and I decided to go for it. With no community organizing experience, I had a team that was again willing to give me a shot.

The Equal Exchange Action Forum is a space within Equal Exchange for individuals to join a virtual and physical community to network, learn and challenge the injustices within our food system. It’s a vehicle to build an authentic and democratic community, and a tool to foster connections and relationships that will connect us to each other and our food.  As an Organizer for the Action Forum I see myself as a dot connector to help facilitate building an even bigger community with our customers and allies. Despite the system’s power to commodify every aspect of our lives, including our abilities to connect with one another, here we have the opportunity to create something anew. That element is what truly inspires me to get up and do this work every day. Equal Exchange to me has always been about creating community and fostering connections to people.

Frankie Pondolph, center, with Equal Exchange Co-President Rob Everts, left, and Co-Organizer Danielle Robidoux at an Action Forum event in Jamaica Plain, MA. Photo by Alexander Novakovic, The Daily Free Press. 

Today, our growing Action Forum community has around 400 members spanning three different time zones. Our membership is diverse in age, background and passions; each person has a different relationship to Equal Exchange or connection to the work we have been putting forth for 30 years. This, to me, is one of the most fascinating parts about creating the Action Forum: the space to build something organically together. It really is about showing up, having conversations with one another and slowly building something that gives everyone a seat at the table to create the future we’d like to see.

This June we are hosting the first-ever gathering of this growing community, bringing together Equal Exchange worker-owners, our farmer partners and Action Forum members for two days of planning, learning and sharing together. The People’s Food System Summit will include sessions on climate change and its affect on our producer partners, the corporatization of our food system, and alternative food distribution models. The second day is carved out specifically for planning with members on how we may mobilize around an action in the upcoming year.

In many ways this work feels like returning to our roots, 31 years in. The Action Forum creates a space to allow the humanness and relationship building to continue to be a part of what makes Equal Exchange so unique and special. A space where we can take risks, learn, and innovate together. To do this we need to hear your stories, your challenges and your vision.

I hope we can continue to grow the Action Forum community and to continue to use Equal Exchange as a vehicle to propel systematic change – for a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.

“I salute the present generation. Hang on to one of your most precious parts of youth,  laughter – don’t lose it as many of you have seem to have done, you need it. Together we may find some of what we are looking for – laughter, beauty, love and the chance to create.”
— Saul Alinsky, community organizer

If you’re interested in joining the Action Forum or attending the People’s Food System Summit on June 9-10, 2017, fill out an application here or send an email to eeactionforum@equalexchange.coop

Reflections on Fair Trade and Immigration

How do your fellow parishioners react when you propose fairly traded coffee for sale or fellowship hour? Do you get a yawn, or a pat on the back, but not much support? Do you quote Matthew 25, Luke 10 or Laudato Si’ to no avail?

In his book on church organizing, Activism That Makes Sense, Gregory Pierce points out a reason for apparent apathy: many people—including many Catholics—tend to feel that if an issue does not directly affect their self-interest they should leave it to people who are directly affected.

To reach those people, you need to drop the charity argument and point out that the well-being of others, especially in countries close to ours, affects us directly and immediately.

The countries of  Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for example, are currently experiencing gang violence, high unemployment, unbalanced distribution of wealth and inadequate infrastructure. Their societies cannot provide all the jobs they need or safety for all their people. Migrants searching for jobs and safety travel to where these are available, the United States, so they can support their families back home.

In the last few years hundreds of thousands of people have travelled from Central America to the United States. Many Americans fear that these immigrants will compete for jobs in a bewilderingly changing economy. We have been told that migrants are “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” and that we need a two thousand mile long wall to keep them out.

They’re not bringing drugs and crime, they’re fleeing drugs and crime. Spending billions of dollars building a wall on the U.S. Mexico border is like ordering the ocean tides to stop rising. It would be far more effective to help mitigate the conditions which force people to migrate.

Equal Exchange and other alternative trade organizations collaborate with small farmers who have pooled their resources in cooperatives. We offer long-term relationships, stable, above-market prices, affordable credit and collaboration in sustainable development.

In buying fairly traded coffee you are acting in your own self-interest, collaborating with the people of Central America to build safe, stable, prosperous societies on our borders, to trade with us on a more equal footing and who have the means to do what most of them want to do in the first place, stay home with their families.

The Citizen-Consumer Dilemma, Part Three: The Action Forum

By Rob Everts, President 

In The Citizen-Consumer Dilemma, Part One and Part Two, we discussed many of the challenges facing consumers, and many other players along the food supply chain. We talked about the insidious steps corporations have taken to achieve virtual total control of food, from the farm to processing to distribution to retailing. We looked at some reform efforts to rebalance the power equation more in favor of small farmers and their democratically organized cooperatives, food co-ops, non-corporate owned brands and end users.

In this often bleak landscape, how can citizen-consumers come together as a political, thinking community? What can we learn from past efforts, and from the current efforts of others involved in the movement for food justice? Equal Exchange has taken the step to create a community of people working together to deepen our collective understanding of these issues and to take actions where strategic, through the creation of the Equal Exchange Action Forum.

“We need to understand the systems we operate in, and how it can be changed by reform, and how those reforms themselves get digested and weakened by a prevailing company-brand system that is, in many ways, the problem,” Equal Exchange President Rink Dickinson and Deepak Khandelwal stated in Part One. In other words, are there strategies we can employ that have a shot at taking back control, and that can be inoculated against eventual digestion by corporations?

A common thread that appears across these efforts is organization. When small-scale farmers organize into cooperatives, they at least have a shot at holding on to their land and supporting their families. When farm workers organize into a union or similar association, they have leverage to fight for better wages and working conditions. When sponsoring groups organize boycotts of products that are based in exploitation—and commit sustained resources to the undertaking—people respond and gains are made.

What then, would be required for citizen-consumers to organize to inject more equity and justice into a food system dominated by large players who have a permanent interest in maintaining the status quo and a year-round lobbying force to ensure policy makers support the corporate agenda? To bring it closer to home, how might members of the Equal Exchange Action Forum engage?

  • Educate ourselves: it sounds so basic, but it is a fundamental first step to engaging ourselves and others in just how high the stakes are. We won’t find the information we are looking for on the packaging of any brand’s products on the shelves, so we need to look elsewhere, and there are good sources out there. We are attempting this ourselves in our series of blog posts on the consolidation of the food system.
  • Peer learning: share examples of alternatives to the conventional system that are working right now in our communities. We hope to do some of this at our inaugural gathering of members in June (see more below).
  • Learn about the many communities that might be affected by the broader struggle for food justice: small- and medium-scale farmers; farm workers; people of limited means and limited access to healthy, high-quality food; food service workers, many of whom are immigrants; independent businesses and brands; as well as the compelling issues that impact them, like climate change and environmental protection; and find organizations advocating on their behalf.
  • While no single campaign will achieve the scope of change we seek, we could consider focused efforts that can galvanize others around tangible leverage points. This might include a climate change effort to engage others where this is front of mind and connect it to the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in many parts of the world. This will also be discussed at the June summit, outlined below. We could support initiatives of others on policy opportunities such as the Farm Bill which comes around every five years.

A key goal in any of these would be to consider what approaches work best to engage people in the long-term struggle required to effect big changes. The necessary tools and conditions needed to organize ourselves for a long-term undertaking like this are not self-evident. But, we know from the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Resistance movement that there are millions of people hungry for dramatic change and who know that corporate power, broadly speaking, is at the root of many of the injustices in the world today.

An Action Forum event at the Equal Exchange Cafe in Boston. 

If you would like to engage in person with Equal Exchange worker-owners and Action Forum members, we invite you to become an Action Forum member and then join us for the two-day gathering.

Equal Exchange People’s Food System Summit

JUNE 9-10, 2017 

WHAT: This will be the first-ever Equal Exchange People’s Food System Summit and gathering of the entire Equal Exchange community that connects all parts of our supply chain. Our goals are to organize Action Forum members, farmer partners, and worker-owners together in this physical space.

We will be hosting workshops, a roastery tour and cookout at our headquarters, and we will make plans for how we can organize to take back control of the food system, together.

WHERE: Stonehill College in North Easton, MA and Equal Exchange Headquarters in West Bridgewater, MA.

*Food and accommodation will be provided by Equal Exchange on Thursday, June 8, and Friday, June 9.

Learn more about the summit here: https://equalexchange.coop/peoples-food-system-summit

Interested in attending? Give us a heads up at eeactionforum@equalexchange.coop

Ground Coffee vs Whole Bean Coffee: Which Is Right For You?

When deciding between ground coffee and whole bean coffee, it comes down to a question of convenience vs. the opportunity for better quality. We’ll break down the details below with some questions you can ask yourself to determine which one is right for you.

Shop Coffee >>

 

What brew method are you using?

When choosing between whole bean or ground coffee, you’ll first want to consider what brewing method you’ll be using. In general, pre-ground coffee is the right coarseness for drip brewers, like manual pourovers and standard home coffeemakers. Pre-ground coffee will not work well for brew methods which require a fine or coarse grind, such as an espresso maker or percolator unless the grind on the bag specifically states it is ground for that method. If you’re not using a traditional drip/pourover brewer at home and need a fine or coarse grind, you’ll need to select whole bean coffee for the best results.

Grind Size Chart

How quickly do you consume coffee?

Once you have established that the grind is correct for your brew method, you will want to determine how quickly you consume coffee. Most coffee is stored in nitrogen-flushed or airtight bags shortly after roasting to preserve freshness. Once the bag is opened and exposed to air, the coffee will start to lose freshness. Ground coffee loses its freshness more quickly due to the increased surface area exposed to air after grinding. For the average coffee drinker, ground coffee that is stored in an airtight container and consumed within 1-2 weeks will maintain enough freshness to brew a good cup of coffee. If you’re not likely to get through your selected quantity of coffee in this timeframe, whole bean coffee might be the better choice.

Are you pressed for time?

Suffice it to say, pre-ground coffee is a bit more convenient than whole bean coffee — it’s ready to go right out of the bag. With whole bean, you will need access to a burr grinder, and you will need to measure and grind the correct quantity of coffee for your daily brew. You’ll also need to ensure your burr grinder is grinding to the correct size, and make sure to regularly clean and maintain your grinder for the best results. So if you’re pressed for time, pre-ground coffee might be the better choice. But if you have a little more time on your hands, and you feel a little extra effort is worth it for a better cup, whole bean coffee might be the better option for you.

8 Common Coffee Brewing Mistakes
8 Common Coffee Brewing Mistakes (And How to Fix Them!)

Are you a bit of a coffee snob?

Do you dream of coffee every night and take pride in brewing the best coffee around? If so, you’ll probably want to go the whole bean route, since it gives you maximum freshness and control. But be careful: you can also end with a worse cup of coffee from whole beans if you don’t grind them correctly. The advantage to pre-ground coffee is the grinding process is highly controlled for uniformity and consistency. If you’re grinding your own coffee, you’ll need to use a burr grinder to achieve the same uniformity and consistency. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort for a proper grind, you can achieve superior results. In addition, by grinding your own beans, you’ll be able to make the micro-adjustments, either coarser or finer, to achieve optimal extraction and the best possible cup.

In summary, when choosing between whole bean or ground coffee for your home brewing experience, consider the following benefits and drawbacks to each option.

Ground Coffee

  • Benefit: The easiest and fastest way to brew coffee at home.
  • Benefit: Consistent, uniform grind size.
  • Benefit: No need to purchase a burr grinder.
  • Drawback: Coffee loses freshness more quickly.
  • Drawback: You can’t make adjustments to the grind based on taste.
  • Drawback: You can only brew the coffee using the specific brew method it was ground for.

Whole Bean Coffee

  • Benefit: Beans stay fresher over a longer period of time.
  • Benefit: You can grind your beans for different brew methods each time.
  • Benefit: You can make micro-adjustments to the grind for superior extraction.
  • Drawbacks: Less convenient. You will need to grind your beans each time you brew.
  • Drawbacks: You will need to ensure your beans are being ground correctly and that your grind size is consistent.
  • Drawbacks: You will need to purchase a burr grinder for your home.

Did we miss something in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below.

For a wide selection of both whole bean and ground coffee, visit the Equal Exchange web store.

 

Bring Fair Trade to Your Farmer’s Market

Because coffee, tea, and cacao (chocolate)  aren’t grown in most places in the U.S., many local farmer’s markets allow folks to sell these items at booths, especially when they’re fairly traded and organic. If you’re used to sell Equal Exchange products at your church table sale or for your community group, the farmer’s market is a great way to connect with new people. It’s also a good way to have more in-depth conversations about food justice.

How to get started selling at a farmer’s market:

Find out how to get a permit. Information is often available through your town’s web site, or ask a vendor at your local market who you should call. Permits become available as early as February or March. You will most likely have to submit an application and pay a fee. Then, figure out how often you want to sell. Some markets allow you to be a “visiting vendor” and sell once a month. Secure your spot by obtaining a permit with your local government office.

Jeanne Clapp is a social justice advocate who’s been selling Equal Exchange at local farmer’s markets in Pennsylvania for years. Here are her top tips to have a successful farmer’s market table. 

  •  Get to know your customers! Start by asking “Are you familiar with Equal Exchange Fair Trade products?” Use our handy talking points to get started.
  • Try to offer small samples of chocolate or nuts! People love samples and it’s a great way to talk about Equal Exchange.
  • Have plenty of printed materials available. Folks love learning about the small farmer co-ops. It’s so easy and fun!

Common Questions:

1. Can I sample products before I order a whole case?
The best way to taste our products is to order single items. So, for example, if you hope to start selling chocolate but don’t know which flavors to choose, you can order one bar of each at retail prices and see which you like best and think will be easiest to sell.

2.  Can I order the products on consignment and return any leftover products?
Unfortunately, because our products are perishable food items, we are not able to sell them on consignment. Our hope is that our low wholesale prices make it easier for you to place your first order, and that soon the program will pay for itself and give you additional profit.

3. Which products do you recommend I offer for sale? 
We suggest starting conservatively, with just 2-3 types each of coffee, tea, and chocolate, then expanding as you learn what your customers’ favorites are.

Some of our best-sellers are:
Organic Mind, Body and Soul Coffee
Organic French Roast Coffee

Organic Breakfast Blend Coffee
Organic Decaf Coffee
Organic Ginger Tea
Organic Green Tea
Organic Rooibos Tea
Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate
Organic Dark Chocolate with Caramel Crunch and Sea Salt

Organic Total Eclipse 92% Dark Chocolate
Organic Dark Chocolate Minis
Organic Palestinian Olive Oil
Organic Tamari Roasted Almonds

Natural Pecans
Organic Dried Mango

Check and see if your farmer’s market has a local coffee roaster who will be selling or serving their own coffee, to avoid competition.

​4. How much should I charge?

Are you hoping to raise money through the market? If so, how much money do you need to raise? Is your goal to expose more people to Fair Trade products, without necessarily making a profit for your group? The lower your prices, the more people will buy. You might want to do some research to find out how much products like these cost in local stores or what people in your community are accustomed to paying. Think about any extra costs so that you can ensure that your efforts become self-sustaining. Consider marking things up a dollar or more to cover the market booth fees and also your time. You can get free shipping by ordering at least $75 worth of product with each order. You might want to offer some bite sized samples of chocolate or nuts to draw people to your table and spark interest in the products​. The cost of these samples will be another factor.

Wholesale Pricing Information, Selling Tools and Resources

Check out our Wholesale Product List

We recommend the following educational and display items for effective and eye-catching farmer’s market set-ups:

Coffee Supply Chain Poster #45104

The History of Authentic Fair Trade Comic Book #44202
Equal Exchange Annual Report #45007
Table Signs #50004

Chocolate pamphlets #45006
Tea pamphlets #45051
Equal Exchange general brochures #45004

Power to the Farmers stickers #45030
Olive Oil tags #72521

If you’re sampling coffee, use air pot label stickers to tell people what kind of coffee you’re featuring:
Community Sales Airpot Labels #46223

Display Racks:
Product display racks for tea #40184
Product display racks for chocolate #40180

Ordering is easy!

Order online here.

Or order by phone: 774-776-7366 9-5pm Eastern M-F

Co-op Spotlight: Fortaleza del Valle

We’re proud to work with Fortaleza del Valle, a 935-member cacao co-op in Calceta, Manabí, Ecuador. We use their distinctive and delicious cacao in our Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate and our Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate! Read on to find out more about the co-op, our partnership and the farmers who grow the cacao.

 What makes this co-op special?

Fortaleza del Valle is one of few Fair Trade and Organic certified cacao producer organizations in Ecuador. They place a strong focus on offering a quality product to their customers, and the emphasis on quality starts with the genetics of the trees. Ecuador produces 70% of the world’s cacao designated as “fine and with aroma,” and Fortaleza will only purchase from members who grow the Nacional Arriba variety that falls under this designation. In 2012, we began working with the organization and co-financed a laboratory that allows the staff there to make small batches of chocolate. We also helped them to form a tasting panel that has tasted more than 200 samples to date! This allows Fortaleza to evaluate their product in the way their buyers do, to improve their post-harvest processing, and to recognize the true value of their product. From 2012 to 2014, they were able to increase their quality premiums from $800 per metric ton above market price to $1,150. In 2016, they plan to produce chocolate bars for sale on the national market.

What makes our relationship to this co-op special?

The partnership between Equal Exchange and Fortaleza del Valle over the 3 years of the USAID Co-operative Development Program (CDP) allowed the two organizations to develop a much closer working connection than before.

Fortaleza del Valle is also the first cacao producer organization in Ecuador to have implemented a member savings program, akin to the patronage program that Equal Exchange’s worker-owners participate in. With the help of co-op experts in the US and Ecuador, our USAID CDP project introduced the concepts of member equity to gain member loyalty and capital to help support the growth of their organization. Farmers understood quickly that this savings approach was not just about themselves but about their whole family and their greater community. Right now they save $0.75 per kilo of cacao delivered in their name in an account at FDV

From Grant Projects Coordinator, Cristina Liberati:

“One of my personal favorite outcomes of our collaboration in quality is the change in fermentation protocol at the Quiroga post-harvest processing center. The Calceta center is the primary post-harvest center for FDV, and Quiroga is secondary. They were using the same protocols for both, with 4 days of fermentation. We visited Quiroga and noted that the
elevation and climate varied significantly from Calceta, and the delivery of beans in some cases is a multi-day process via boats. Through tasting samples in the lab and some experimental trials, the team there established that the quality of the beans from Quiroga would benefit significantly from an additional day of fermentation. After making this change to
the processing, the quality of the beans from Quiroga did improve significantly.”

Meet Guadalupe Intriago Mera:

“Lupita” and her family manage a 4 hectare farm with just over 3,000 cacao plants. They also harvest banana, orange, lemon, and sapote. They have installed an irrigation system which has helped to increase the productivity of the plants. In addition, they have chickens and a tilapia pond. Lupita’s farm mainly features Ecuador’s well-known Nacional Arriba cacao, famed for its fine flavor and floral aromas. Lupita has also served many years on the Board of Directors of the organization.
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Meet Cruz Alvarado Arturo:


Don Cruz is a member of the FDV Oversight Committee at Fortaleza. He was also selected to participate in the Model Farm Program as part of our USAID CDP project. Don Cruz has three hectares of cacao. He mainly works the farm by himself but sometimes his son also helps out. In 2012, he harvested 29 quintals of cacao and through participation in the Model Farm program he increased to 38 quintals per hectare. In addition to the cacao, Don Cruz also grows mandarin, banana and coffee, and raises chickens.

Want to experience Ecuadorian chocolate? Try our Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate and our Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate!

8 Common Coffee Brewing Mistakes (And How to Fix Them!)

If you’re like most coffee drinkers, you brew coffee at home at least some of the time. But are you making any of these 8 common coffee brewing mistakes? Let our Coffee Quality Control Tech, Hillary, walk you through our top brewing tips — so you get a great cup of coffee every time.

Mistake #1: Don’t store coffee in the fridge or freezer! When you store coffee in the fridge or freezer, the grounds can absorb moisture and odors from that space, which will negatively affect the taste of your coffee. Instead, store coffee in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

Mistake #2: Don’t over- or under-heat your water! Sometimes your coffee will taste off just because it was brewed with water that was too hot, or not hot enough. The ideal temperature is between 195F and 205F. Unfortunately, many home brewers just aren’t strong enough to heat water to the proper temperature for a good cup of coffee, so it’s worth investing in a high quality machine if that’s your preferred method.

Mistake #3: Don’t use a blade grinder or spice grinder! If you’re grinding your beans at home, use a burr grinder. Blade and spice grinders will chop your beans unevenly, leading to a poor extraction that will make your coffee taste off. A burr grinder crushes your beans in a way that gives you a uniform grind, an even extraction, and a better cup.

Shop Coffee >>

Mistake #4: Don’t use a dirty grinder! Stale grounds and oils can build up in your grinder and affect the taste of your fresh beans, so it’s important your grinder clean. You can use a commercial product, or grind a scoop of uncooked white rice to clean out old grounds and absorb oils.

Mistake #5: Don’t use the wrong grind for your brew method! Using the wrong grind size for your brewer can lead to weak or bitter coffee, so make sure you know and use the proper grind for your method. Coarse-grind coffee (French press) should resemble kosher or sea salt in texture, medium-grind coffee (drip brewer) should be similar to granulated sugar and fine-grind coffee (home espresso maker) should resemble confectioner’s sugar.

Mistake #6: Don’t use a dirty brewer! Minerals and scale can build up in your brewer, negatively affect the taste of your coffee, so make sure to keep it clean. You can use a commercial cleaning product, or run a cycle of 50/50 white vinegar and water mixture through your brewer to clean it out. Just make sure to run a cycle of plain water through the brewer after that, before you start brewing coffee again.

Mistake #7: Don’t use bad-tasting, unfiltered or distilled water! When it comes to the taste of coffee, the water you use plays a huge role. If you wouldn’t enjoy drinking it from the tap, don’t brew coffee with it. We recommend brewing with filtered tap or bottled water.

Mistake #8: Don’t use an inconsistent or unmeasured amount of coffee! Using too much or too little coffee can drastically affect the taste of your cup, so it’s important to properly measure your grounds. We recommend a 17:1 water-to-coffee ratio, but you can also weigh your coffee according to the specifications of your brew method. From there, you can adjust to taste: if your coffee tastes too strong or bitter, use less coffee, and if it tastes weak or grassy, use more coffee.

Keep these tips in mind to make the most out of your fairly traded coffee whenever you brew at home!

 

Love Buzz Starts Here: Reflections on a Trip to Nicaragua

In January, fellow Equal Exchange co-owner Laurie Foote and I were on a plane bound for Nicaragua. We were part of an Equal Exchange/Presbyterian Hunger Program Delegation, a special immersion experience focused on Fair Trade and the journey of coffee, starting at its origin. Once in Nicaragua, we would meet 11 people from congregations all over the country — some who sell and serve Equal Exchange products after church services, some who work with PCUSA, and some who were just interested in learning more about Fair Trade and coffee.

Equal Exchange and the Presbyterian Hunger Program have led more than 10 educational delegations to Nicaragua over the course of the 16-year partnership with the Presbyterian Church USA. The highlight of this trip was a two-night homestay visit to San Jeronimo, a primary coffee cooperative in Canto Gallo, Nicaragua.

In late January, many of the coffee cherries were ready for harvesting, so we were able to work alongside our farmer hosts, picking the bright red fruit from the trees and learning about planting, composting, and de-pulping. We learned from the cooperative president, Antonia Munzon, that their coffee plants had been severely affected by la roya, the coffee leaf rust fungus, but that they had been busy replanting new trees and nourishing their plants with organic compost that they were proud to show us. She told us, “We’ve been working hard… be ready for our harvest in a few years!”

After visiting the farms we stopped at PRODECOOP, the secondary level cooperative partner of Equal Exchange, where we learned about the next steps of coffee production. Beans are sun-dried on large patios then samples are roasted and cupped by professional tasters. The dried beans are stored in the warehouse in green bags to show they are organic, and some of those very beans would be bound for Equal Exchange’s roastery!

Additional learning opportunities in the realms of economic and social justice included presentations on Fair Trade vs. free trade, witnessing culture and community building programs at Batahola Norte community center in Managua, and a visit to a Fair Trade artisan craft organization, Esperanza en Accion (Hope in Action).

We also visited historical sites and learned about Nicaraguan history and the United States’ role in shaping the political landscape in the 1980’s (which had a direct connection to Equal Exchange’s very first coffee import). We also had the unique chance to visit two farmers whose farms had benefited from the year-round irrigation provided by a water capture system project, funded in part by the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Small Farmer Fund.

It was a powerful delegation that elicited a range of emotions from everyone. The appreciation that I gained for each individual coffee bean and the gratitude I left with for the hands that do the work to bring us a delicious cup of coffee is indescribable, but immense and real.

Some of the delegation participants offer their reflections on the trip below:

A Cup
by Judy Brown, Grace Presbyterian, Midland, TX

A cup.
A cup offered to you, to me, to us, and, from us, to others.
A cup of welcome.
A cup of invitation,
An invitation to share, to visit, to stay.
A stepping stone to a friendship, to a support system, to what matters.
A conduit for compassion, for consolation, for voicing concerns, for laughter, for sharing joy
In community.

What do you put in your cup?
Coffee, tea, water, milk, sugar, sweetener, honey?
Or sweat, hopes, dreams, determination and frustrations?

A cup.
So easy for us to fill to overflowing
At the expense of those we do not see.
It can be a cup…of salvation.
Much like what God offers to all, to us, to you, to me.
A cup filled with love, intentionality, respect, conscientiousness, and empowerment.

A cup–
Filled to the brim with such grace, can make a difference,
To a child, to a family, to a community.
Come join me;
A cup is waiting for you.

 

Video by Rev. Peggy McDonald, Presbytery of Whitewater Valley, Presbyterian Church USA

Upon returning home, Jenni Heimach, of Irvington Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN gave a presentation about her trip to her congregation. Jenni sells Fair Trade products after service using this fantastic home-made cabinet!

For information on similar delegation opportunities, including a trip  to Nicaragua May 13-20th with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice visit: http://uucsj.org/journeys/nicaragua/

For information on trips with the Presbyterian Hunger Program contact Jessica.Maudlin@pcusa.org

 

Photos courtesy of Kimberly Rousseau, Craig Brown and Jillian Robinson.

Organic Chocolate vs. Conventional: What’s the Difference?

Chocolate is undeniably one of the most popular treats around, and one of the most widely available. But do you ever stop and think about where that chocolate comes from and how it’s made? While you may be used to choosing organic produce, you might not be familiar with the differences between organic chocolate and conventional chocolate. What’s really the difference? Let’s dive into some of the details of what makes our organic chocolate worth reaching for!

First, organic chocolate is healthier for farmers.

Behind every bar of chocolate are two key agricultural products: cacao and sugar. Conventional chocolate uses cacao and sugar can be grown with the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and more. These chemicals have been linked to numerous negative health effects, and most farmers lack the kind of protective gear that would help mitigate some risk of exposure. Organic chocolate, however, means that cacao and sugar are produced without the use of these harmful chemicals. Instead, farmers use biodynamic and organic fertilizers and pest deterrents. These natural agricultural products are better for both the crops and the farmers who grow them, allowing their work to thrive without putting their health and the health of their communities at risk.

Second, organic chocolate is better for the environment.

The chemicals involved in the cacao and sugar production for conventional chocolate have a negative effect on the environment, too. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are designed to kill unwanted insects and plants, but usually end up eliminating important complementary species from farms, throwing off the delicate balance of local ecosystems. Chemicals leech into the soil and water, affecting plant and animal life even beyond the treated area. Organic chocolate is made from cacao and sugar that is grown without these synthetic chemicals, on farms that use natural, organic and biodynamic tools to cultivate these crops. Organic methods are good for biodiversity, ecosystems and the environment — and choosing organic chocolate means supporting these alternative means of production.

Lastly, organic chocolate is better for you!

In choosing organic chocolate, you are choosing to eat a food that is made without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and other chemicals. While we may not think of chocolate as an agricultural product in the same way as the fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle, we can think of the benefits of organic production in a similar way. Why consume the added chemicals of conventional chocolate when you don’t have to? Enjoy the chocolate made from cacao and sugar grown with care by small farmers.

It’s important to make informed decisions about the products we buy, the things we eat and the systems we support. Choosing organic chocolate means giving your purchase power to a system that values your health, the health of farmers and the health of the environment. Now unwrap a bar and enjoy!

Shop for organic, fairly traded chocolate here!

 

Making the Oil of Chrism with Justice

Every year on Tuesday in Holy Week, the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of California gather at Grace Cathedral to renew their ordination vows and receive newly blessed oils for healing and baptism. The oil they receive is the “Oil of Chrism,” a mixture of olive oil, cinnamon, cassia, calamus, and myrrh blended according to an ancient recipe prescribed in the book of Leviticus and prepared annually by the verger of Grace Cathedral, Charles Shipley. Priests receive two vials each year to be used in their congregations: Chrism for baptisms and Infirmorum for anointing the sick.

In March of 2016, when Mr. Shipley prepared the Oil of Chrism, one ingredient was different than usual. The olive oil in the mixture was organic and fairly traded, produced by small scale Palestinian farmer cooperatives in the West Bank. Please enjoy this video featuring Mr. Shipley preparing last year’s batch of Oil.

Equal Exchange olive oil is processed by the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), a nonprofit organization that works with farmers and helps with overall technical assistance, water consultation and supply, storage facilities, quality control testing, and bottling. The organization also works with women and youth to promote viable and sustainable economic development.

Equal Exchange, together with the CRS Ethical Trade program, Episcopal Relief & Development, and other faith-based partners distribute the Palestinian oil in the U.S. PARC, Equal Exchange, and its other faith-based partner organizations are very committed to helping Palestinian farmers in the West Bank to make a living. One way that these farmers can make ends meet is through sales to individuals and churches around the world.

With Lent in full swing and Holy week around the corner, the Chrism Mass will soon be prepared and celebrated across several denominations including the Episcopalian Church, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

Consider asking your Dioceses to include fairly traded, organic olive oil from the West Bank as part of the blend this year. The Chrism oil must be made with pure oil of olives. What’s more pure than olive oil made by workers in the Holy Land who are paid a fair price for their harvest? It adds the element of Justice to the Oil of Chrism.

Contributed by Peter Buck and Susan Sklar, Equal Exchange Interfaith Team