Experimenting with ways to eliminate those too-much-coffee jitters or sleep better at night? You don’t necessarily need to give up coffee. Decaf can be a satisfying substitute — especially when you choose a decaf made through an all-natural process that leaves the flavor intact.
Go-juice. Caffeine fix. Jolt of joe. Day-starter. Jet fuel. All these nicknames for a cup of coffee refer to properties that come from caffeine. But what is caffeine? It’s a substance that naturally occurs in coffee beans — likely the reason why humans domesticated the coffee plant in the first place. Speaking more precisely, caffeine is an organic compound, a stimulant chemically derived from xanthine. It temporarily blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and stimulates parts of the central nervous system.
So, caffeine is a drug — a legal and popular one. It wakes you up, makes you feel more alert. It keeps you up, staving off drowsiness. But what if you don’t want that?
If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, one option would be to simply stop drinking coffee. But if you’ve come to truly love the taste and smell of coffee, the way I do? If you appreciate the feel of a warm mug in the hand? If you look forward to the morning ritual of brewing a pot at home or sipping a cup in a cafe with a friend? Well, quitting can be hard to do.
A better option: you could switch to decaf.
Decaf gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried it, I heard lots of negative things about how it tasted. But when I decided to switch to decaf, I was pleasantly surprised. True confession time: I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my old regular coffee and the new decaf varieties I tried.
One explanation for this is that the decaf I was drinking was high-quality coffee — 100% organic Arabica beans, sourced from farmer co-ops in direct trading relationships. It had been roasted by people who really knew what they were doing and it was freshly ground. The all-natural decaffeination process probably also helped. Still, I was surprised how little I missed what I’d always thought was an essential component to coffee.
When you think about it, though, there are all kinds of ways we modify our coffee already. Many people add milk or sweeteners or both. We serve it over ice. We experiment with different brewing methods. And we all have different sensory equipment — different taste buds, different receptors. Why not give decaf a spin and see what YOU think?
Equal Exchange’s decaf coffee is decaffeinated with a process called CR3 Natural Liquid Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination, first patented in Germany in 1970. Here’s how it works:
The use of carbon dioxide and water poses no risk to your health (think of carbonated water – it contains the same natural liquid carbon dioxide). This process removes 99.9% of the caffeine, yet leaves the bean and its natural oils intact.. These are the two reasons why Equal Exchange switched from offering Swiss Water Process in 1996 to the CO2 process — more caffeine is removed and the taste is fantastic!
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For Immediate Release: May 22, 2019
Contact: Rob Everts, President
EQUAL EXCHANGE SUPPORTS MORATORIUM ON AGRICULTURE AND
FOOD ACQUISITION AND MERGERS
New Legislation Will Hit the Pause Button on Mega-Mergers
In the wake of unprecedented concentration in the agriculture and food sectors, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced legislation today to place a moratorium on large agribusiness, food and beverage manufacturing, and grocery retail mergers and acquisitions. Known as the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019, the bill would also establish a commission to review mergers, concentration, and market power in those sectors.
“We commend Senators Booker and Tester and Representative Pocan for taking this vital step forward on this critical issue,” said Rob Everts, President of Equal Exchange. He added, “We urge Congress to act now to stop mega-mergers until their full impact can be assessed and market safeguards put in place. While independent food stores are being crushed by corporate grocery consolidation, farmers are being squeezed at both ends by corporations with abusive levels of power, from the sellers of inputs to the buyers of farmers’ goods. Meanwhile, food workers’ wages remain low and consumer choice is greatly diminished.“
While the largest multinational agribusiness corporations are posting record earnings, farmers and independent retailers are facing desperate times. Since 2013, net farm income for U.S. farmers has fallen by more than half and median on-farm income is expected to be negative in 2019.
In just the past two years, chemical and seed company acquisitions and mergers have allowed three companies to control two thirds of the crop seed and nearly 70% of the agricultural chemical markets. When these acquisitions and mergers were announced it led U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley to call the wave of mergers a “tsunami.”
Over the last three decades, the growth of market concentration and market power has spun out of control. During this period, the four largest multinational corporations have gained control of 71% of the pork market, 85% of the beef market and 90% of the grain market.
The Food and Agriculture Concentration and Market Power Review Commission which would be established by this legislation will develop recommendations to establish a fair marketplace for family farmers and their communities. The commission would be specifically required to review the impact of vertical integration, packer ownership of livestock, and contracting practices by large agribusinesses on family farmers and suppliers.
Equal Exchange is worker-owned cooperative that pioneered the practice of “fair trade” food importing in 1986. With sales of $74 million, the coop roasts organic coffee at its roastery in West Bridgewater, MA, and markets fairly trade organic coffee, tea, chocolate, cashews, bananas and avocados to stores, cafes, congregations and direct to consumer in all fifty states.
If you’re a U.S. consumer, 8 out of 10 times your avocado will come from Michoacán, Mexico. There are various reasons for this Mexican dominance of the U.S. avocado market: geographic proximity, ease of trade restrictions due to NAFTA, and a fairly long growing season that extends from August to May. However, as consumer demand has continued to boom, Mexico has struggled to keep pace with the burgeoning demand.
In order to diminish the gap between supply and demand, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cleared Peru for export in 2009, cleared Colombia for export in 2015, and has been pushing to open the Mexican state of Jalisco. While Mexico may still continue to be the biggest player in the U.S. market, it has become clear that other origins are needed to provide a stable and reliable year-round supply for consumers.
Peru Emerges As An Avocado Player
Peru has emerged as a prominent player in more recent years. It is important to mention that Peru has a thriving agricultural economy. Peruvian coffee and cacao are well known in specialty markets. More recently, the coastal region of Peru has emerged as major hotspot for produce production. Peru has become a produce powerhouse, accounting for a large percentage of asparagus, grapes, and mangoes imported into the U.S. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that Peruvian avocados are gaining a bigger share of the U.S. market.
A major advantage for Peruvian avocados lies in their seasonality for exports, which roughly extends from May to August. This serves as a good complement to the Mexican export season, which lasts from August to May. This timeline has provided Peruvian avocados with a tremendous window of opportunity, as Peru has been able to supply avocados when sparse product has been available on the U.S. market.
To shine some numbers onto this growth: In 2010, the USDA reported 300,000 pounds of imports from Peru, while in 2018 Peru imported an impressive 180 million pounds of avocados (USDA ERS). In 2018, Peruvian avocados accounted for 8% of all avocados imported into the U.S. While conventional Peruvian avocados have been a large percentage of that growth, organic and/or Fair Trade Peruvian avocados are a more recent addition to the U.S. market.
Equal Exchange Enters The Peruvian Market
In 2018, Equal Exchange launched its Peruvian avocado program in partnership with LaGrama, a Peruvian company providing essential services to small scale farmers in Peru. Equal Exchange saw the opportunity to bring in a Peruvian program during the summer months, when supply of organic, Fair Trade Mexican avocados is fairly limited. More importantly, Equal Exchange’s mission has always been to create space for small farmers in the global marketplace. This has been true in coffee, tea, cacao, and bananas.
As the Peruvian avocado market expands, we saw the need to give small farmers a share of that growing market. The Peruvian avocado industry is young, dynamic and developing. We have an opportunity here to include small farmers into the mix at the very onset of this emerging industry. After extensive research with industry partners and a sourcing trip to Peru, we were thrilled to find partners like LaGrama that align with our mission and vision for change in the avocado industry. This summer, we are excited to be offering a second season of small farmer grown, Fair Trade, Organic Peruvian avocados.
Lessons Learned One Year Later
Building a successful program takes time and patience. After our first season of Peruvian avocados, we now understand that there are some inherent differences between Mexican and Peruvian avocados and given the Mexican dominance of the U.S. market, retailers and consumers are more familiar with the characteristics of a Mexican avocado. This understanding was part of our learning curve during the first year of the program.
While both the imported Mexican and Peruvian avocados are Hass varieties, there are crucial differences in the climate in which these avocados are grown. Mexican avocados are grown in semi-warm or temperate climates with natural rainfall patterns. In Peru, avocados are grown in an arid climate with the help of intensive irrigation infrastructure. Since avocados are not native to Peru, Peruvian avocados are under constant climatic pressure.
Some of the perceivable differences between the Mexican and Peruvian avocados, such as the texture of the skin and difference in color, are a result of these contrasting climates. Other factors come into play as well. Because of the geographical proximity of Mexico, Mexican avocados can be harvested at a much higher oil content, as dictated by USDA regulations. Peruvian avocados, on the other hand, are harvested at a lower oil content due to the longer transit time. This means Peruvian avocados require more handling as they need more time to ripen.
We now understand that it will take some time for consumers and retailers to familiarize themselves with Peruvian avocados, especially within the organic and Fair Trade market. We strongly believe that with more education and exposure, the U.S. consumer base will become more accustomed to Peruvian avocados. Until then, we will continue to provide the information and tools needed to build a small farmer movement in Peruvian avocados.
Being part of an alternative business means not only responding to demand, but actively creating demand for alternatives that lead to positive change in the food system. Equal Exchange did not get into small farmer, Fair Trade bananas because there was a demand for it. We got into bananas because there was a need for it. We are here to do the same with small farmer grown Peruvian avocados.
In 40+ years as an activist pushing for a more equitable food system, Rob Everts has seen a lot. Now he’s one of Equal Exchange’s Executive Directors and he’s still fighting the good fight. In this episode, hear some organizing stories from back in the day, and learn about how you can take part in the upcoming Summit. (You can RSVP here.)
Want to attend the Summit? Make sure to RSVP by May 24th here.
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This savory staple is great for picnics, barbecues, or an easy dinner on a warm night. Stop yourself from eating it all in one sitting — we think it tastes even better the next day.
This is the best version of the classic American pasta salad we've ever had. We used fair trade Organic Olive Oil from our partners at PARC in the West Bank in the dressing.
Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool.
Cook bacon until crisp, then chop.
Quarter tomatoes and slice cucumber.
Dice onion into tiny pieces. Soak in cold water to reduce its bite. Drain well.
Mix pasta with vegetables and bacon. Salt to taste.
Blend all dressing ingredients and toss with pasta. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Since 2011, Equal Exchange has carried organic olive oil from Palestinian farmers. West Bank families produce this special oil from olive trees that have been passed down from generation to generation. We’re pleased to be able to work with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) an NGO that helps to organize and assist farmers in order to test their oil’s quality, bottle it, and bring the product to market.
But true partnerships must weather ups and downs. In October and November 2018, the annual olive harvest in the West Bank was the smallest in over a decade. This was due to a number of factors such as climate change-induced drought and the presence of olive flies. Some farmers had yields as low as 20% of normal, causing great economic hardship.
Agriculture has always been a risky business. If you’re an independent small-scale farmer, a bad season or two can shut you down. That’s why Equal Exchange acts in solidarity with our partners in 20 countries around the world — including PARC — by providing pre-harvest financing, paying higher than the fair trade minimum price, and being as consistent and transparent as we can. We do all this with your support!
Because of the poor harvest and lower total yields in the West Bank, less olive oil hit the threshold of Extra Virgin this year, so we weren’t able to buy as much as in years past. And as is always the case with supply and demand, when supply is cut, prices go up. Despite these challenges, we’re proud to have been able to pay olive farmers more this year.
Because of the limited supply of Organic Extra Virgin olive oil, Equal Exchange is offering a brand new product — Organic Virgin Olive Oil — at a slightly lower retail price.
But what’s the difference? Extra Virgin olive oil is the highest grade of virgin. It contains no more than 0.8% free acidity. Organic Virgin olive oil, in comparison, has a free acidity that ranges from 0.8-2.0%. Both kinds of olive oil we buy from PARC are 100% certified organic. Both grades are unrefined, derived from the olive fruit by cold mechanical extraction (“cold-pressed”) without fillers or chemicals. Both can be used the same way — cooked or uncooked. Let us know if you can even taste the difference!
PARC is a leading Palestinian non-profit involved in rural development and women’s empowerment. It works with cooperatives and reaches more than 6,000 members. Our work with PARC fits with the larger Equal Exchange mission of providing assistance to small-scale farmers around the world so they can run businesses that help to sustain their families. PARC offers these farmers an important economic opportunity, since markets for their goods are severely restricted due to the occupation.
This summer, we’re expanding the range of products from PARC that we carry. Starting this July, look for packages of maftoul, freekeh, za’atar, and dates, all sourced from small-scale farmers in the West Bank.
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By Kim Coburn and Frankie Pondolph, Equal Exchange
During the week of April 10th Equal Exchange coffee team hosted 10-20 coffee & cacao producers at Equal Exchange headquarters for Coffee & Cacao Sensory Activities, learning from each other and participating in the annual Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo. I sat down with Kim Coburn, Equal Exchange’s green coffee buyer to talk about bringing producers together, sharing knowledge and learning from our farmer partner community.
As a green coffee buyer I imagine a lot of your work is going to the farmers and country of origin. What does this week mean to you hosting our partners here at Equal Exchange and at SCA?
I’m coming up on my first full year at Equal (amazing how time flies!), which means that this will be my first SCA with the team. Its exciting because we will be using this as an opportunity to meet with folks who we rarely get to see- from producer partners to project partners and other NGOs working in the region. It’s always good to know what other work is going on in the various countries to see if there is synergy and potential to collaborate in the future.
Wow! The web of the coffee industry is big, and I bet that SCA helps foster future collaborations, especially with people and partners we may not be directly connected with all the time. What producers are visiting us this week?
We purchase from twenty-three cooperatives in twelve countries, and only some of those will be represented this week. From Chiapas, Mexico we will have Finca Triunfo Verde, CESMACH, Comon Yaj Noptic. From Guatemala we have Chajulense and Manos Campesinas. From Peru: Sol y Cafe, San Fernado, Cecovasa, and NorAndino. Other coops from central america will also be here, including COMSA, a coop from Honduras, and Prodecoop, a coop from Nicaragua.
What do think one of the most rewarding aspects of bringing together farmers from different cooperatives is?
Providing a platform for discussion and exchange is absolutely the best thing. On top of that, of course we all get to know each other which doesn’t typically happen outside events like these.
We gave our visitors a tour of our facilities which proved to be a really fun experience. Many of the coops we work with also roast, grind their own coffee and have national distribution or aspirations to distribute a value-added product in their country. To see the scale that our cooperative operates at and some of the challenges we face with our distribution is important for us as a coop. Our growth has been steady and we are always happy to share our learning transparently to other ATO’s.
That’s super exciting to hear! I have heard a couple of folks at Equal Exchange share that when opportunities arise for farmers to learn from each other, share experiences and talk through various challenges- that’s some of the best cross-culture learning you can foster. What are some techniques and process farmers will learn in the lab this week?
Since we had a relatively large groups, and needed translation, we kept it simple. We tasted brewed coffee from various regions, and chocolate with different percentages of cacao.
We chewed the chocolate in silence, let it melt on our tongue, then sipped the coffee and noted how the flavors, acidity, and mouthfeel changes or were accentuated. The end result was a conversation on how chocolate and coffee pairings can accentuate characteristics in coffee and vice versa. We did this for three different pairings and then discussed our experiences as a group and what we noticed. Our first pairing was a coffee from Peru, and our mini chocolate bar, which is 55% cacao content. At the onset the chocolate was raisiny, coconutty, and floral. The coffee had the aroma of nuts and butter. Once I tasted the chocolate, and mixed it with coffee there was a burst of acidity and the flavor profile tasted more like whiskey and cherries. It was really fun!
We nixed the idea of doing a traditional cupping because of the group size, and this pivot ended up being really rewarding and really engaging. (Cupping is the industry term used for the process of analyzing a coffee based on its sensory qualities – for example, its aromas and flavors. Read more about it here.)
What do you imagine the biggest take away farmers gained during their time at Equal Exchange?
How our company operates as a cooperative, and what that means, how the market is affecting medium-sized alternative trade organizations (ATOs) such as ourselves, and how seriously we take food safety for us & our manufacturing processes.
I think it’s really cool that the coffee team choose to showcase our coffee and collaborate with a local cooperative business. I heard a delicious coffee IPA was brewed for the special week. Can you talk about this years SCA event and our collaboration with Democracy Brewing?
The SCA is an annual conference that brings coffee farmers, traders, roasters and baristas from across the industry together. This year it happens to be in Boston (in the past couple years its been in Portland and Seattle). The Equal Exchange coffee team attended lectures on the challenges posed by volatility in the global market and presented on panels. Our quality control team, Beth Ann Caspersen and Mike Mowry judged a cupping competition, while on the buying side, we sat down with a majority of the producer partners to check in on harvest and talk about upcoming needs, whether its contracting or financing, or questions about logistics that arose over the last couple months. It’s a great way to see a lot of people in a very short, jam-packed amount of time.
The Democracy Brewing event naturally came together for a couple different reasons. First,since SCA was in Boston after a hiatus, we wanted to take advantage and showcase a cool and new cooperative in our hometown of Boston.
Second, Equal Exchange is a coop, we’re sourcing coffee from cooperatives and.d=Democracy Brewing is a cooperative. Another fun fact is our co-president Rob also sits on their board. (And our co-president Rob is on the board). To have a coop to coop collaboration and create a beer together made so much sense! Years ago when SCA was in Boston, EE worked with Harpoon brewery. we go visit producers, they still bring the collaboration up. It made a lot of sense to have another coffee-beer combo, but we wanted to do something out of the ordinary. We didn’t want to do a coffee porter. While those are delicious, we wanted to surprise people and so when they picked up the lighter beer, and IPA-like beer, they were surprised because of the coffee aroma. Even the democracy brew folks weren’t sure how it would turn out- but I think all folks agree- it was delicious!
That does sound delicious! What cooperative did that coffee come from? Can you talk a little about the process of brewing coffee and beer?
For this beer we used a Peru Medium (meaning medium roast level), from the coop Sol y Cafe from the north of Peru. We made a cold brew concentrate out of it, and delivered that to Democracy, who then added it to their IPL Smash. The result was a light colored, hoppy Coffee IPA they named Crash.
Nice! That sounds like a delicious collaborating and so fun to highlight product from one of our visiting partners Sol y Cafe in Peru.
I imagine that week was filled with a lot of inspiration, learning and networking, not to mention that amount of logistics and planning it takes to host! Do you have a favorite moment from the week?was one of your most favorite moments during the week?
During the open house event, the general manager, Cayo Quispe, of the San Fernando Coop in southern Peru, saw a coffee bag out on our floor. We took several photos of it with him standing and smiling– it was amazing that the coffee that he helped get to us, was about to get roasted the moment he came to visit us (and the United States) for the first time. It was a reminder that coffee brings us together, no matter what part of the supply chain you’re in.
In this Mediterranean-inspired recipe, smokey roasted eggplant pairs perfectly with a tart, creamy sauce while the sweetness of pomegranate seeds bursts on the tongue.
It’s a beautiful dish, too — testers here were in such a rush to eat, we had trouble snapping a pic that did it justice! Maybe you can do better …
We used fair trade olive oil from our partners in the West Bank to roast the eggplants. We also mixed it into the sauce. Za'atar seasoning and pomegranate seeds set this vegetarian side dish apart from the pack.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Equal Exchange was founded as an alternative trade organization (ATO) with the mission of connecting US consumers and small marginalized farmers from the global south from countries like Nicaragua, Peru, or India. Within the ATOs internationally, Equal Exchange has been identified with the organizations that trade food, support social movements and farmer coops, and is itself structured as a worker coop.
Alternative trade organizations had foundational influence in the broader fair trade movement but have been isolated from even their most natural allies including coops, citizen movements, community economic organizations, unions, and NGOs. This isolation has caused ATOs to not only be under grave threat for the future but at risk of not surviving the market in the next ten to fifteen years.
How is Equal Exchange, one of the most successful ATOs in the global north thinking about our future? What is our plan or strategy to try to survive and prosper in this next period? How will we need to change to increase our odds of success?
In general, we have been doing several things at the same time over the last five years, all of which are important pieces of the future we are trying to build. To increase the odds of success we must create a future in which consumers and producers can connect in actual partnership that is real, mutual and sustaining of fair economics and democracy building. We need to:
As we watched our fellow northern ATOs recede and face economic collapse we were compelled to act to save and support as many as we could. In 2008 we acted to keep Oke USA, the only fair trade produce company in the country alive. We invested $400,000 of high-risk capital into an organization that was effectively in bankruptcy. In 2013, we put $400,000 into Equal Exchange UK as a sister ATO to keep the doors open. We re-invested in that effort in 2017. In 2014 we invested $400,000 in La Siembra, a Canadian worker cooperative to keep their ATO model alive instead of becoming effectively demutualized and transitioning from an ATO to a brand at the service of venture capitalists.
There have been other circumstances where we looked at trying to lend a hand, There likely will be more. We believe we have done more to keep authentic ATOs alive,, competing and performing their vital work than any organization out there. Today Equal Exchange US and UK, La Siembra, and Oke are all in business, profitable, and together sell over $80 million annually. We have created an ecosystem of ATOs that walk their own path, but learn together and reinforce each other.
We have always tried to fairly balance commercial sales with strong partners and allies. Those deep partners were primarily food coops and churches. What we came to realize is that these semi-partnerships were ultimately weakly constructed, not structurally coherent and ultimately not able to allow us or our “partners” to co-plan, co-invest, co-sacrifice, and co-share any surplus created. As previously mentioned, ATOs are isolated from even their most natural allies. At times we may have been close to solving this isolation and lack of structural connection issue but ultimately that did not happen. Understanding that what we hoped for and tried to create in partnership was not there. This realization allowed us to re-engage in what our situation really was and still is.
In this last period, we have begun to directly organize citizen-consumers. This is to create a network to support Equal Exchange, our farmer partners, and citizen-consumer power in the market and society. As always, the benefits of this success will flow to Equal Exchange in part but well beyond Equal Exchange as well. We believe for any ATO to succeed in 2020 or 2030 it will require a very strong network of citizen-consumers. We need to build economic alternative institutions, and ATOs in most cases will need to build their own structures in this new environment.
What we can say after three years of active engagement is this work is among the most challenging we have undertaken. It is confusing. Everyone comes at this with their own assumptions. It is hard to share these. We are on unplowed terrain. We have left the heavily tilled ground of social responsibility and sustainability which most of the major players in the multi-trillion dollar global market now support in theory. We believe this is exactly where Equal Exchange as a pioneering, entrepreneurial, imaginative ATO should be spending its time.
Fortunately, Equal Exchange has been successful. Our network of ATOs has collective sales of $80 million in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. We have 160 workers, most of them as cooperative owners. We have hundreds of thousands of consumer supporters and now a few thousand more organized citizen-consumers. We have a solid balance sheet, positive net retained earnings and a capital base. We have three brands that are well established and have substantial value as brands to our competitor capitalist frenemies. We have a 33-year history of trying different things and succeeding a fair amount of the time. We exist at reasonable scale and can play our game in the midst of the broad, often challenging,and ever-consolidating market.
While we do this as a networked, international mini-group of ATOs, as the market gets more challenging there is more and more support for our approach and what we have done. For quite a while we and our farmer partners watched as the market took over fair trade and mainstreamed it to the point that it was unrecognizable. More recently worker coops & democracy have gotten more energy, attention and are now in a boomlet of their own. This development is truly exciting. As corporations consolidate further there is an increasing understanding of the need for a new economy, community ownership and worker ownership. One of the foundations of our mission is becoming more understood as a needed reform and that reform is happening in dozens of small organizations and a few bigger organizations across the country. Meanwhile, Equal Exchange has been living with the structure of worker ownership for decades and is yet again in our own unique space.
Equal Exchange remains a unique hybrid. We are one of the few ATOs of scale in the US. We are one of the leading northern ATOs on the planet. We are one of the largest worker coops in the US. As an ATO we support small farmers and small farmer democracy. We support worker democracy and have trusted our organization to workers to govern.
Over the past thirty-two years of building our hybrid model we have learned a lot about building a network of ATOs, fostering supply chains centered around farmers and sharing our unique business model with others. The heart and soul of Equal Exchange has always been about and continues to be about relationships. An unintended but clear mistake of our model has been leaving out our citizen-consumer base. The model will be stronger with them in. We believe our economic and political survival depends on doing this in an effective, meaningful way.
We have a brand. It is of great value to others. We need to continue to leverage our brand, our supply chains, and our unique model in the more hostile market. We need to bring citizen-consumers into our democracy and continue to build the most democratic brand in America.
It’s not a secret: due to human activity – particularly the activity of the most privileged – the Earth is in crisis. This year, to commemorate Earth Day, we are uplifting the work of those on the frontlines of healing the environment while feeding people, the producers who have spent their lives working towards sustainable agriculture. Read on for news from avocado and banana producers from Mexico and Ecuador.
By Ravdeep Jaidka, Sourcing Manager, Equal Exchange Produce
EL GUABO, ECUADOR – In Ecuador, the banana capital of the world, a small farmer coop is leading the charge on an exciting project that provides meaningful benefits to its farmer members, while having a positive impact on the environment. Through premium funds, AsoGuabo cooperative in El Guabo, Ecuador recently launched a biofábrica, or a bio-fertilizer plant. The idea emerged from a desire to increase the productivity on the banana farms of its members in a manner that mutually benefited the environment.
It is important to mention that one dollar per 40 lb. banana box is paid directly to farmer cooperatives in the form of Fair Trade Premium and farmer members democratically elect the projects to support with Premium funds. Since bananas are a volume game, the Premium can be sizable. In 2018, the three banana farmer cooperatives working with Equal Exchange received over $300,000 in the form of Fair Trade Premium. This is a tangible way in which Fair Trade is creating democracy and impact on small farmer communities.
The bio-fertilizer project began in January of 2019 with the construction of a warehouse. From there, the manufacturing process begins with two starters (an active starter and an inactive starter), resulting in 5 different types of bio-fertilizers, each with its own set of characteristics. While some contain nutrients and micro-organisms to promote the growth of the plant, others combat diseases plaguing the banana plant. Disbursements of bio-fertilizers to farmers members began in March. As of April, half of the 150 farmer members of AsoGuabo have already applied the bio-fertilizers on their farms, free of cost.
As you can see in the photos, each bio-fertilizer tank dons a sticker that reads “With healthy soils, we guarantee the quality of the environment.” This connection between soil health and environment is a tangible one, with research pointing to the benefits of a healthy topsoil in promoting water retention, biodiversity, disease control, and carbon sequestration, especially for organic farmers, who already have a limited toolbox for combating disease and promoting plant growth.
By Meghan Bodo, Avocado Supply Chain Coordinator, Equal Exchange Produce
MICHOACÁN, MEXICO – Since its inception, Mexico-based avocado cooperative PRAGOR has built environmental sustainability into their heart of their business. PRAGOR sources only from small farmers who have been maintaining organic orchards for at least six years. This membership requirement is based on the cooperative’s desire to curtail deforestation, which is a problem of increasing concern as the global demand for avocados rises.
Beyond ensuring the integrity of the land of their members, PRAGOR has dedicated the use of some of their Fair Trade Premium Funds towards environmental causes. In 2016, PRAGOR started supporting a beekeeping initiative in conjunction with the local government. Five PRAGOR farmers agreed to host bee boxes on their farms, cared for by a group of women – Mujeres polinizadoras de Tingambato — many of whom are associated with the cooperative. The group received formal training; they breed queen bees in order to assist bee population growth in the area and also harvest honey. In 2017 the group reported production of more than 1000 liters of honey from over 80 bee boxes.
When asked about the roots of the project, one group member: “[Bees] help the environment a lot. They are fundamental. They pollinate – they pollinate the fruit in the field.” She is correct: according to Greenpeace, at least a third of our food depends on pollination from bees.
Both through growing organic avocados, and through supporting efforts like beekeeping initiatives, PRAGOR provides an inspiring example of a sustainable business.
by Angelica Hicks, Banana Supply Chain Coordinator, Equal Exchange Produce
EL ORO, ECUADOR – Whenever we’re asked about soil health and bananas, the first person who comes to mind is our friend Rubén Fernández, an agronomist who works for AgroFair, a Netherlands-based fair trade company. Rubén provides technical services to farmer-members of the Ecuadorian banana cooperative AsoGuabo. We’ve met with Rubén to learn about his work with agroforestry farms; though EE does not purchase fruit from these farms, we hope Rubén’s work has the potential to increase access to agroforestry practices for all small commercial farmers.
Rubén is now a formally trained agricultural specialist, but he has been involved in tropical agriculture since he was just a child. “My dad taught me to do fieldwork. He used to tell me, an agricultural engineer is a person who likes to grow a plant.” He went to an agricultural high school, where he would spend half of the day in the classroom and half of the day in the field apprenticing. He then continued on to study at an agricultural college, completing his thesis on soil microorganisms.
Today, Rubén works as a general administrator for agroforestry projects with a focus on soil health and ecosystem maintenance, an area of work which he says can help boost small farmer productivity while reducing negative impacts of agriculture on the ecosystem. According to Rubén, the typical and conventional lowland monoculture banana farms, when compared with agroforestry systems, require more resource input, including more cycles of fumigation against the devastating plant disease Sigatoka, increased water usage, and higher costs for farmers.
In contrast, “In the agroforestry farms 500 meters above sea-level, the water drops don’t erode the soil. It is like a refuge for microorganisms.” In addition to diversity on a microbial level, the agroforestry farms “maintain native green cover crops and maintain biodiversity, not only with banana and cacao but also citrus and other fruits.”
While agroforestry is a traditional form of food production in tropical climes, it is also being studied for cutting-edge applications to improve commercial practices. In 2016, Rubén’s team launched an experiment to observe the results of mycorrhiza application, taking samples of the fungus from agroforestry farms and inoculating lowland farm soils. The team preliminarily found that the plots inoculated with mycorrhiza showed increased root mass, assisting in nutrient uptake, reducing irrigation needs and resulting in larger offspring of the banana plant.
Agroforestry has another critical significance amid our collective global scramble for climate change solutions: its potential to sequester carbon at an impressive rate, both in above ground biomass (i.e., in plants themselves) and belowground (i.e., soil and roots; see Toensmeier and Herren, 2016). Per Rubén, the soil on the agroforestry farms is richer than on monoculture banana farms, with high levels of porosity and aeration, and more or less 40 centimeters of soil organic matter. “When carbon is captured, automatically the issue of climate becomes more favorable,” says Rubén, noting that in addition, healthy soils filter pollution and break down toxins.
One personal observation bears mentioning: while a conversation with Rubén can be science-heavy, his passion is inherently social: “Soil health – I define it as the soil’s ability to function as a living system to maintain biological production, promote environmental quality and maintain animal and human health.” That definition leads him to work towards the benefit of small farmers and their products as an integral part of a healthy and harmonious ecosystem.
Toensmeier, E. and Herren, H. (2016). The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, pp.22-23, 32-33.
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