Silver Rail PTA Finds Success Fundraising

At Equal Exchange, we’re proud to help schools, nonprofits and organizations of all sizes raise money with an easy catalog program. Participating groups often reach – and exceed – their fundraising goals while also supporting authentic fair trade!

Silver Rail Elementary School is working to be a collaborative culture that encourages curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving as we engage in academics, wellness and service to the community.”

Silver Rail Elementary School opened in Bend, Oregon four years ago. As a new school in need of funding, the Silver Rail PTA is very active raising money for the school’s various programs including field trips, assemblies, reading programs, artists in residence, and a new LEGO® robotics program.Image shows Brant Himes of Silver Rail Elementary PTA

In the fall of 2018, Silver Rail PTA participated in the Equal Exchange fundraising program for the first time with a goal to raise $3,000. The campaign far exceeded that and they raised over $5,000! To learn just how, in their first year participating, their campaign did so well, we asked Silver Rail PTA President Brant Himes to share his insights to help empower others to succeed. Here’s what he said:

Why Equal Exchange?

Equal Exchange was a good fit for the culture of our school. Our school motto is ‘kindness matters. Equal Exchange gave us an opportunity to participate in a fundraiser where we could feel good about promoting and selling fair trade and organic products that aligned with our values of supporting community.

Planning & Education is Key

We started actively planning for this fundraiser during the Summer before the school year started. We ordered sample products to share at our September PTA meeting, and then had catalogs ready to go home in October. The samples and catalogs arrived very quickly, which made it easy to get organized.

We also appreciated the educational materials that were available, so our students could learn more about what makes fair trade different, and how Equal Exchange works with local farmers.

Good Promotion & Incentives Raise More Money

We sent home catalogs and a letter with every student, and promoted the fundraiser on our Facebook pages and in the school newsletter. We also had a kick-off assembly at the school where we challenged them with our school-wide goal: if we raised $5,000 profit, then the entire school would earn an ice cream party. To help foster a larger sense of community at the school, we opted for a school-wide prize instead of individual seller prizes.

Image of Silver Rail Elementary PTA volunteer organizing Equal Exchange chocolate bars for their fundraiser.Organizational Tips

EE provided great resources for organization. I would advise making sure to review everything that EE provides as you go through the fundraiser. We devised our own system for counting and sorting orders, but then realized the EE had a great order form spreadsheet and so we ended up using that in the end.

We had our fundraising chair take charge of the organization for the launch of the fundraiser, and then our board helped support the fundraiser throughout, especially with counting and entering the orders.

Distribution Made Simple

We rallied a group of volunteers to sort the orders upon arrival, and things went quicker than we anticipated. Again, EE had great strategies for organization (like setting out all the products around the room in order of the order form), and this helped keep the process clear.

We had great enthusiasm for this fundraiser and I anticipate we will want to do it again next year. People loved the products.

Planning Now for Future Fundraising Success

Next year, we will promote more with local businesses to consider purchasing the gift packs for their holiday employee gifts, as we had a couple of large orders for these that really pushed us over the top of our goal. We will also be able to process the orders more quickly just having done this before. From beginning to end, this was one of the more smooth and successful fundraisers that we have done! Thank you for your support of our school!

We did meet our goal, and so it was exciting to provide the ice cream for the school!

Image shows interior of Silver Rail Elementary School

Well done, Silver Rail PTA! Your success is also a huge win for small farmers.

Do you have fundraising tips to share? Join other Equal Exchange Coordinators on Facebook and let us know.

Looking Behind the Barcodes

Next week, the Equal Exchange organizing deparment will be cohosting a webinar with Oxfam America on their Behind the Barcodes Campaign. Join us on Tuesday, January 29th from 4-5pm EST by emailing

Reposted from June 22, 2018 from Oxfam

By: Becky Davis, Oxfam

whole foods banner

Activists demonstrate outside a Whole Foods in Boston as part of the launch of Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign. (Photo: Elizabeth Stevens / Oxfam)

An estimated 22 million people around the world work for food manufacturing companies alone. But that number is just the tip of the iceberg. Millions more work in formal or informal roles, such as seasonal labor on plantations or on fishing vessels at sea.

And while supermarkets earn big profits, many of these workers, year-round or seasonal, face harsh and dangerous working conditions, earn low wages and live in poverty, struggle to feed their own families. From forced labor aboard fishing boats in Southeast Asia, to poverty wages on Indian tea plantations, and hunger among fruit and vegetable pickers in Southern Italy, human rights abuses are widespread among the women and men who produce the food that we buy from supermarkets around the world.

The global food industry generates billions in revenue every year, but the rewards are increasingly skewed toward the powerful. The eight largest publicly-owned supermarket chains in the world generate trillions in sales and billions in profits, and are keeping a growing share of the money we spend in the checkout line – while the small-scale farmers and workers producing the food get less and less. Human suffering should never be an ingredient in the food we eat. That’s why Oxfam launched a new campaign this week seeking to expose the economic exploitation of millions of small-scale farmers and workers face in food supply chains and to mobilize the power of the people around the world to help end it.

In our research, we found that:

  • The average earnings of small-scale farmers and workers in the supply chains of 12 common products—from South African grapes, to Peruvian avocados, to Indian tea—is not enough for a decent standard of living, and where women make up most of the workforce, the gap is greater.
  • Supermarkets have kept an increasing share of the money their consumers spend, while the share that reaches workers and food producers has fallen, sometimes to less than 5 percent.
  • The eight largest publicly-owned supermarket chains generated nearly a trillion dollars in sales, $22 billion in profit, and returned $15 billion to shareholders in 2016.
  • Food insecurity is common, according to surveys of hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers across five different countries working in the supply chains of supermarkets.

As part of the campaign, Oxfam looked at the policies and practices of some of the biggest and fastest growing supermarkets in the US and Europe, focusing on four themes: women equality, worker’s rights, small-scale producers, and transparency.

In the US, Oxfam assessed and ranked six of the biggest retailers, including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Costco, Whole Foods and Ahold Delhaize, the parent company to retailers such as Food Lion, Giant, and Stop & Shop. In general, US supermarkets scored very low across all four themes assessed, demonstrating that they have little awareness on these issues and have not yet chosen to prioritize human rights, due diligence, supply chain traceability, living wages, and gender inequality issues.

Oxfam and the Sustainable Seafood Alliance Indonesia looked specifically at working conditions in seafood processing in Southeast Asia, interviewing workers from some of the biggest shrimp processors and exporters in Thailand and Indonesia that supply to supermarkets like Whole Foods, Ahold Delhaize, Kroger, Costco, Albertsons and Walmart. Through the interviews, we found that wages are so low that 60 percent of women workers surveyed in Thailand were severely food insecure, workers in both countries struggled with controlled access to drinking water and toilet breaks, and were forced to put up with routine verbal abuse by supervisors.

One woman, Melati, told us that she was trained to peel 600 shrimps per hour but was never able to attain that goal. The conditions she was working in at the processing plant in Indonesia were dangerous and she struggled to breathe and burned her hands because she didn’t have proper protective equipment when handling cleaning chemicals like chlorine.

Melati and women like her toil in processing plants in Indonesia and Thailand for little pay. In fact, we calculated that it would take women like Melati 4,000 years to earn what the chief executive at a top US supermarket earns in a year.

Our analysis found that US supermarkets can do much more to support the millions of workers, small-holder farmers, and fisherfolk who grow and produce our food every day. And it isn’t just about paying a higher price, though that would help. As supermarkets have gotten bigger so too has their power. This allows them to set the terms for how they will source their food, from quality and timing to price and risk. Throughout supply chains, more and more risk is being placed on farmers and suppliers and the pressure to produce quality products under extreme time pressures is being borne by workers as well. As our US Supermarket Scorecard shows, the industry has more to do to take the human suffering out of our food.

You and I spend enough at the grocery store to ensure women like Melati have decent working conditions and earn a living wage. Supermarkets depend on us, their customers, so they have to listen. Call on supermarkets to help end the human suffering behind the barcodes by taking action and joining the Behind the Barcode campaign today!

To learn more about how you can be an integral part of Behind the Barcodes join our webinar on January 29th from 4-5pm by emailing

Guacamole Recipe

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

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

Scarlett's Guacamole

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

Course Appetizer
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword Avocado
Servings 6


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


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

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

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

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

A single avocado hangs on a long stem from a tree

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

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


Want to read more fair trade recipes? Sign up for our mailing list!

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Fundraising with a Spring Theme

Fundraising with Equal Exchange is effective any time of year, but add in a special theme during the first half of the year can help you get to your goal faster. Here’s how…

Planning a campaign with a holiday or a seasonal theme gives you the power of suggestion. People automatically will view the fairly traded, organic products featured in the fundraising catalog >> as a gift-giving opportunity. Gifts are priced higher than the other items in the catalog, so you’ll raise more money. For example, five individual chocolate bars sold during your fundraiser will raise approximately $8.00 for your group. If those five chocolate bars were instead five gifts of the Equal Exchange’s Chocolate Bar Collection, you’d raise $62.00 instead of $8.00! It’s the same amount of work, but gifts will help you reach your goal much quicker.

Themes also inherently provide a special energy! People can get excited for Mother’s Day, for example. And, the deadline for your campaign becomes relevant to your supporters so they can get orders to you in time.

If you’re not sure how to promote your fundraiser, themes give you plenty to talk about throughout your campaign. (Click here for more tips to help you promote.) Use social media, newsletters, website, flyers and whatever works best for your group to tell them.

“Mother’s Day is a few weeks away! Our fundraiser ends Friday so order her perfect gift today!”

Pick a Theme for your Fundraiser

Every calendar year offers plenty of themes to choose from. And don’t overlook your organization’s special dates, such as an anniversary. Pick what works for you, then use this guide >> to plan your schedule. Here are a few springtime suggestions to kick off the new year with a successful fundraiser:

  • Small-farmer Products for 1st Day of Spring (March 20) or Easter (April 21)
  • Organic for Earth Day (April 22)
  • Delicious Gift Giving for Mother’s Day (May 12)

To raise the most, we suggest that you give yourself as much time as possible to run a successful fundraiser. Why wait? Request your free catalogs>> today and get the first step out of the way.


Image shows Equal Exchange Tea with text, "Small Farmer Teas for Spring or Easter"
Image shows female farmer picking coffee beans with text, "Organic for Earth Day"

Image shows Equal Exchange coffee with text, "Delicious Gifts for Mother's Day"

What theme has been successful for your fundraiser?

Equal Exchange fundraising organizers want to know! Share your fundraising experience with our special group on Facebook>>.

Sharing + Saving = Buying Club

Buying clubs offer you the opportunity to make a real difference for small farmers around the world while paying less for your favorite organic and Fair Trade foods.  Order together and get staples like coffee, tea, chocolate, olive oil and more at low wholesale case prices. We’ll ship orders of $75 or more for free.

We’re not talking about ordering a pallet’s worth of coffee!  Although we do offer some bulk products, most products come 6 or 12 items in a case.  And you’re still welcome to purchase individual items at retail pricing too.

Buying clubs not only make financial sense and build community, they also minimize your environmental impact.  They help you use less packaging and achieve a lower carbon footprint by consolidating shipments. Buying clubs are also ideal for folks who don’t live near a natural foods store or food coop and want access to affordable, high quality, ethically sourced products. Ordering together also means a unique opportunity to try-out new products at a lower price than if you had to buy something individually off of the shelf.

Follow these 5 steps for a thriving buying club:

1.Gather your group

Reach out to

  • Family or friends
  • Members of your gardening club, book club, or social justice group
  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers

Pro Tip: Host a coffee or chocolate tasting when you introduce the idea of the buying club. Not only will it make it easier for folks to decide what to order, but we’ve found that once people taste the quality, they are likely to want a regular supply! Use these key talking points to get people on board.

2. Get organized 

Once you have a group together, select a coordinator and a treasurer.

The coordinator:

  • Takes individual orders from members and collects them into one group order
  • Places your group’s order with Equal Exchange
  • Distributes products to members or sets a pick up time and location after the products are delivered

The treasurer:

  • Collects payment from members
  • Pays Equal Exchange within 14 days of each order
  • Loves numbers and is organized


3. Plan an order

  • Visit to see our full product range. You’ll see price options for an individual item and the discounted cost per case. Buying clubs must purchase a full case of  a particular product to qualify for wholesale pricing, although you are still welcome to purchase individual items at retail pricing as part of your order.
  • For your first order, we suggest limiting the range of orderable items to some of Equal Exchange’s most popular products, but for a larger selection you can print out our colorful product and price list for each member so they can see how many items are in each case and what the cost per item would be if there are enough orders to fill a case. Requiring pre-payment, at least on your first order, is a good way to make sure that the members of your buying club are serious about participating responsibly.
  • Equal Exchange’s best sellers include:

    Pro tips: Ordering 5-pound bulk bags of coffee to share? Order our tin-tie bags for easy  labeling and distribution. If your buying club is small, consider requiring that members purchase products in full or half-case quantities to minimize leftovers.


    4. Place the Order

    Gather individual orders from club members. Use our order form, or create your own that includes only the products your group orders.

    Pro Tip:  Order $75 worth of products to qualify for free shipping.

    Then, place your master order:

    You’ll pay in full at the time of your order, but if your group is interested in paying an invoice after receiving the shipment, Equal Exchange allows Net 14 payment terms. To apply for credit terms you’ll need to have one order pre-paid with a credit card then fill out our form agreeing you will pay within 14 days of receiving your order. Contact Customer Service at 774-776-7366 to find out more.

    5. Distribute, Enjoy and Reorder

    When products arrive at the designated pick-up location, have a consistent system for distribution. Collect payment when people pick up their orders, if you do not require members to pre-pay. A payment app like Venmo is an easy system to use. Enjoy your good deals, your good food, and place another order when you have critical mass.

    Pro tips: Why not make the pick-up time a chance to enjoy each other’s company? You could hold a chocolate tasting or taste-test newer product releases. Equal Exchange offers a rewards program where you can earn “beans” to be redeemed for things like discounts!

    If folks tend to want the same products regularly, we’re soon going to debut a subscription order program so buying club members don’t always have to remember to re-order. It can arrive at monthly or on your own time-line.

    You can even expand your buying club to include sharing larger quantities of products from local farms. Imagine the feeling of knowing where almost all of your food comes from and the farmers behind the food!


    Not sure buying clubs are for you?

    Read why Edith Stacey-Huber, who runs a successful buying club, chose to start one. Maybe you have some of the same goals?

“The first buying club I started was in the early ‘90s. That club was started out of financial necessity, and as I look back, I was motivated by my view of a monopolized grocery system. There were very few stores, thus the lack of competition didn’t evoke any savings to the consumer. I was also looking for organic food, real food, and there were only two small health food stores in the city.

Since my relatives were farmers it wasn’t outside the box for me to seek out food from farms. Seeing the commitment of our local organic farmers to grow food the way they do, some for years, barely making it, but still staying committed to what they know is right–I couldn’t turn a blind eye to that. I found a small natural foods distributor, gathered a few friends and the first club was born.

Once I started procuring food this way, there was no turning back.  The club model has changed over the years with the obliteration of small distributors, and my deeper awareness of food justice and buying local, but I was always either a key member, treasurer, coordinator, or founder of a club.

Our current club model has taken bolder steps to remove ourselves completely from the commercial food system. Personally, our family has a direct connection to our food and I would say 80 percent of the food we eat, we know who grew it or the source it comes from.

I think consumers have the potential to hold all of the power, if we organize, become diligent in our efforts and become truly informed voters and active in spearheading the changes we want to see.”

  • Edith Stacey-Huber is passionate about food. She is the creator of the food buying club Authentic Provisions just outside of Ann Arbor, Mich. Authentic Provisions aims to reconnect people in the community to the food, land and farmers who sustain them, through collective purchasing outside of the corporate food system. Her quote above has been excerpted from a longer interview with Edith  on our blog from May 2017.

Hot Chocolate Bar With Toppings!

Winter days and bad weather mean … hot chocolate season! Share a steaming cup of cocoa with friends, dressed up with custom toppings. Line up your favorite fixings and gather a group for a DIY hot chocolate bar. This is a fun, hands-on activity —  and an effective way to raise money or raise awareness. We’ll show you how!


First, you’ll need the cocoa!

You can’t have a roof without a foundation. And you can’t have toppings without a good cup of hot chocolate! Mix up one huge batch of cocoa for everyone, keeping it warm in a carafe or thermos. Or give each person the opportunity to pair their own dairy or plant-based milk with the cocoa of their choice.

Milk, soy miilk, almond milk and pother options

Equal Exchange offers a variety of amazing organic and fair trade cocoa options. Traditional Hot Cocoa keeps it super-simple, with powdered milk from Organic Valley right in the canister. This simple mix can be stirred with hot water for instant satisfaction. Looking for more adventure — or a dairy-free option? Our Spicy Hot Cocoa adds a touch of cayenne and cinnamon for a Mexican-inspired kick. And our special Dark Hot Chocolate includes shaved chocolate as well as cocoa for double the rich, chocolatey goodness. These two are Vegan and contain no dairy ingredients. Prepare them with skim, whole, soy, almond — whatever you like best.

For a truly gourmet experience, you can mix up hot chocolate from scratch, the European way. Just combine one tablespoon of Organic Baking Cocoa with 8oz of heated milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey, or agave, and blend it all together. Or try this decadent recipe for Rosemary Drinking Chocolate that calls for baking cocoa and chopped chocolate. Yum!

cups and organic hot chocolate

Set Up Your Hot Chocolate Bar

Here are some set-up ideas for your Hot Chocolate Bar. Ask members of your group to bring in mugs and arrange them all at one end of a long table. Then, line up toppings in low dishes or clear jars, so everyone can see what’s up for grabs and add what they like. Don’t forget serving spoons — and something to stir with.  Make sure to label the toppings, including allergen information for safety.  If different people are bringing in toppings, you might want blank labels and pens. This activity can get messy, so we recommend a tablecloth and napkins.

Cocoa Topping Inspiration

What will you put in your cup? Think outside the box! Once you’ve heated up the cocoa — one serving at a time or in batches — and poured it into people’s mugs, give them lots of treats to choose from.

a linke of toppings in jars

SWEET: marshmallows, fluff, candy hearts, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, sprinkles, candy canes, truffles, shaved or crushed chocolate bars (try our top picks, Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch or Dark Chocolate Orange), ice cream, whipped cream

SAVORY: pretzels, sea salt (or perhaps a Caramel Crunch and Sea Salt chocolate bar in Milk or Dark), peanut butter topping, peanuts, almonds, coconut shavings, churros, waffle bits

SPICY: Cinnamon sticks, peppermint sticks, peppermint drops, candied ginger, shakers of ground cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg or allspice

ADULTS ONLY: Try spiking your cocoa with a shot of whiskey, rum, or the flavored liqueur of your choice. Or add in fresh-brewed fair trade coffee — our favorite thing!

Make This Work For Your Group, Cause or Event!

A hot chocolate bar is truly DIY and customizable. We think it’s a great activity for people of any age who like to have fun together — whether you’re a scout troop, an underground dance collective, a book club or a religious study group! DIY cocoa is also fun for parties and class celebrations. Just make sure to provide appropriate toppings for the size and tastes of your group.

A hot cocoa bar with finished cups of cocoa

Maybe you’d like to raise some money for a local charity, a school trip, an adoption or medical fundraiser, or some other good cause. This is a great way to do that! Ask for a donation for each cup of cocoa. Make sure it’s enough to cover the cost of the toppings — we recommend $2-3 a cup. Earn even more cash by ordering Equal Exchange cocoa at low wholesale case prices and selling it to folks for home use. We find people are willing to pay $7-8 per canister — a markup from the $5.30 per canister cost — when they know the profits are dedicated to a worthy purpose. (Especially once they’ve experienced how delicious it is!) This is called a table sale. Learn more about how do run one here.

Stacked of cocoa cans with a sign pricing them at $7 each

A hot chocolate bar is attention-grabbing and fun. So it’s a perfect way to get attention for an upcoming event. Invite your supporters over for some cocoa and tell them about the concert or book launch you’re planning. Combine it with an informal training or use it as an icebreaker at a meeting. Planning to run an Equal Exchange catalog fundraiser? Kick off your campaign with a hot cocoa bar — use it as an opportunity to let potential supporters taste the great fair trade products you’ll be selling.

toppings with a sign that says "try before you buy"


Ideas we didn’t cover?

We’d love to hear from you! If you tried this, let us know how it went. We’ll share our favorite pictures and tips on social media.

Join us for more fair trade fun!

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The Pasture Ahead: A Path to Organizing

By Emily Ambrose, Organizer, Equal Exchange

Being new at Equal Exchange has been like returning to school. I am constantly learning the intricacies of building supply chains that support producers beyond what a “fair-trade” label could mean. What drew me to Equal Exchange was their unconventional worker-owned cooperative model, and the farmer partners who are supported to stay on their land and to have more bargaining power as small farmers collectively. Working in small-scale agriculture in the U.S. has exposed me to the realities and obstacles around land tenure, access, and security that prevent a lot of people from entering into agriculture and also staying in it.

My path in agriculture and food systems has led me to the organizing work with Equal Exchange that focuses on the issues and effects of consolidation on all parts of the supply chain. The effects of corporate consolidation and the take-over of majority of our food system not only hurts small farmers everywhere but independent food economies. It blinds us with numerous choices we are given as consumers and creates a deception of choice. I feel and live these changes in my life, see them in the news, and in the lives of others around me. I think about the number of small farmers I’ve worked with domestically and the number of small farmers all over the world who are under the control of the market and the monopolistic nature of corporations and agricultural conglomerates.

The idea of being a first generation young farmer to me, is a highly romanticized realization and reminder of just how many barriers do exist in our food system, on all levels. I can picture a world where solidarity amongst small farmers and their communities exists. It’s not something easy to envision, when we live in a globalized world with expansive amounts of inequality and inequity. We have producers and consumers who struggle at both ends to get paid and pay for food; and that gap is widening. The need to make alternative systems of exchange and cooperation between small farmers and consumers is more apparent than ever.

Over the next couple of weeks I will share a follow up piece that will focus on the current dairy crisis and the role of creating viable, equitable supply chains. I will share more on the state of dairy, from my perspective of having worked for small dairy farmers in the US, the concept of domestic fair trade, and local food economies in a globalized world.

The Story of Wells Neal & 1033 SE Main St

By Jennifer Pruess, Demo & DSD, Equal Exchange

Welcome the second edition to the Equal Exchange Out West series! In early August,  I sat down with Wells Neal, current Director of Equal Exchange West. We had a thorough discussion about his beginnings with Equal Exchange, his journey out west, struggles we’ve overcome along the way and ones we face as we peer into the future. One highlight is hearing how the elevator at our old Portland warehouse is now a coffee shop (Elevator Cafe & Commons), one that no longer moves, but can still be found right in the middle of our lively Portland coffee scene.

Wells, you started in the East, correct? Walk me through how you came to work with Equal Exchange.

Took me three applications. I applied for three separate positions over a period of a couple of years. I met Rink and Rob at an SCAA event in Florida. I had become aware of Equal Exchange and the fact that they were it in fair trade coffee in like 1999 when I was working for a privately held coffee roaster in upstate New York  It was a great organization, but we didn’t do fair trade coffee. I was head of Sales, I tried to convince the owner (by saying): “Hey, we gotta do this fair trade thing. It’s really cool.”

I went to this event that Equal Exchange was doing in Boston at the Boston Common, there was all this activity, I had no clue what was going on. There were people speaking and it seemed like really interesting energy and I just kind of got an elixir, it was like, this is really great stuff. It’s all about farmers, it’s all about sourcing, this is cool. We were typically buying through a broker at our coffee company. I could never convince anybody in my company that it was cool, but that’s another story.

I wound up meeting Rink and Rob at a dinner and we ended up sitting down together with a bunch of people. I got to know them a little bit. So, I applied for a couple of jobs, it didn’t work out because I didn’t want to leave Syracuse. Then I got the job as National Sales Manager and my wife agreed  that I could commute to Boston. I would go early Monday morning, drive the six hours, 333 miles, to get to work by 9:30, leave at one o’clock Friday afternoon, drive home for the weekend. I did that for a little over three years.

Wow, that’s quite the schedule!

A committed participant! A side note is that it almost didn’t work out because I didn’t understand Equal Exchange culture. I thought I would, I did not, it wasn’t working, that’s a separate story. We wound up working things out so my job kind of shifted away from being National Sales Manager. One of my direct reports was Tom Wilde who was out west (West Sales Manager based in Oregon). I was his supervisor from the day I was hired so I was always thinking about the west. I would visit the team and try to understand the west more. I have been connected with the west since 2006 and that’s when we started building the team.

And so you were on the hiring committees then?

Oh yes, I mean, we were growing. I was helping Tom think about how we grow in the west, that was just part of my work. You know, when we started, the first budget Tom and I did together was for 4.5 million dollars for the west. They hadn’t hit that goal the year before, that had been the prior year’s sale goal, we hadn’t hit it and we were very nervous. We said: “Well, let’s try to hit it this year.”  And I don’t want to say with any deeper thinking than that, but right now, we’re probably up to 15 million.

So, that was scary and we managed to come through. I was scared to death, but at any rate, that was our first goal and we had a very small team back then. When I came on, they were in Hood River. Fast-forward to the team is growing, I’m putting more time, effort, and energy into the west, I suggest to Rink that I should move out here.

You also had other responsibilities at that time, correct?

We had been shifting responsibilities, but regardless, I was still visiting the west and only going into West Bridgewater a couple of times a month. We also knew that we were outgrowing Hood River, so we formed a committee and decided to get a bigger space. Ultimately, we moved to 1033 SE Main in 2010.

So, we weren’t at that location for that long then.

We were there for like three years and we outgrew it. So we had a very nice landlord and we knew we needed something bigger, our chocolate room needed remodeling.

Ha, yes, I remember our chocolate room.

When we first started receiving chocolate in the west, we would get it on a 52-foot cold trailer. The trailer couldn’t get in to our dock because there was no ability to back up a truck that big in to our yard. So, the truck would park on the street (I think I still have movies of this). We would go next door to borrow the forklift from our neighbor, pick off the pallets and set them down on the street, and then we would pull them up our ramp.

After all of that, where are we going to put the chocolate? The building’s not air conditioned. We would hand unload every single pallet on to a cart, take it down the hallway into our conference room because that room was air conditioned. Then we’d  unstack every single case. And that’s how we started handling chocolate in the west.

My next question was concerning your transition which you spoke of just now. A typical work day for you back then sounds like it was a mix, a little bit of everything.

The west was always Sales and Operations. As opposed to the east being Sales over here and Operations over there with separate people, separate reporting channels. When I came out west as the West Sales Director, I was Director of Operations and Director of Sales. I mean, Tom was really Director of Sales, but it didn’t matter who was leading, you were always worrying about the warehouse because we were small and you had to.

When we started out, the Customer Service Manager was also the Warehouse Manager. We didn’t ever really have a Warehouse Manager. Ultimately, one move we made, was we changed the title to Customer and Warehouse Manager. So, we created a new job. Lincoln (current West Sales Representative at Equal Exchange) got that job, and so once we moved over here (NW Industrial St in Portland, Oregon), we split the job again. We split it into two jobs because we’d gotten so big, the world is more complex, and once he left the position, you kind of ask: “Geez, why didn’t we do this sooner?”

I imagine if you are growing as quickly as we were, you’re constantly dealing with challenges you haven’t dealt with up until then. The landscape is always changing so-to-speak.

Exactly, and there again, an example with that is almonds. We had had this teeny, tiny, failing program. We had cranberries, we had pecans, and we had almonds. This was our domestic fair-trade program. All the supply chains that were domestic, they basically crashed and burned for different reasons. The program, let’s say, self-destructed because of supply chain unreliability.

At the end of that, the only thing we had was almonds and we decided to get rid of our almond inventory we would sell bulk almonds. That’s how our fruit and nut bulk program started, was us being saddled with a few thousand pounds of almonds and being like let’s just put a price on it and ask somebody if they want to buy this from us. That’s the kind of “problem” that we were very accustomed to facing and figuring out. Oh, it’s an Operation problem, we have all this inventory…it’s worth a lot of money, what do we do with it?

So, then you enter into that whole sales process and you find out if the price is wrong or if people want to buy it, or what is it? We had a compelling backstory on how we were sourcing the almonds. We knew where they were coming from, we had visited the farmers, so we had something to talk about. That’s how the bulk program, everything we are doing now, started from that weird mistake. From almonds and us not being able to put them in a little pouch any longer.

So one of my questions was roughly how many folks were working for Equal Exchange at that time. So it sounds like maybe ten around there roughly?

I’m going to say in 2009, we had the café, so let’s say for worker-owners there were three in Seattle in addition to some baristas that were not worker-owners at that time. We had Kevin in Sacramento and in Portland we had about six people and we had a part-time person in the office. We also had Adam who also did the DSD work. Lincoln got hired as a part-timer, and he came in 2011, I think, when we were all doing warehouse work. We all packed boxes every day. He was working part-time for a while, it was just like “Hey, man, you want some hours?” I think we didn’t have anybody full-time.

Just some part-timers.

Yes, so how many is that?

It’s roughly ten.

That’s about right.

So, just in comparison, we currently have about 30 employees out west?

I think we’re thirty! Let’s go office by office. In Portland we have 25 worker-owners and four worker-owners in Washington. That’s it for now. We lost some because of the café closing. So, now, we are up to 28, right? Now let’s go down the coast. Rafael is 30, Kevin is 31, and let’s go to Chicago and get Meade, that’s 32. Interesting, it’s very hard to keep track, it shouldn’t be, but it is.

Yet it’s gone from 10-32 employees out west in a matter of seven years.

Call it 2010 and now it’s 2018 and we’ve tripled in terms of people. Let’s call it 32.5 with Tom since he does still work with us in the west part time.

So, what’s next?

As part of delving into the Equal Exchange history, I want to take a moment to honor Jim Feldmann and the work he did for Equal Exchange. Is there anything that you would like to say about that?

Jim is responsible for a lot of things happening in the west, hiring Rafael is one them. Other than Raf’s own determination, which was considerable, Jim was the one who basically said to Tom: “You gotta hire this guy, we gotta hire this guy.” In typical Jim fashion, as we lovingly remember Jim, when he got a bee in his bonnet, he would be like a dog on a bone and he was that with Raf, because let’s say we didn’t need the body yet, but Jim was saying we gotta get this guy.

Jim’s fingerprints are on everything out here. He helped with the move from Hood River to here measurably. He’s, how can I put this…he’s had a variety of jobs. He’d go through periods where he’d be like: “Oh, I’m done with this now. What do I do? I finished this.”  He was always looking for something new to do that would consume him. Kind of like a gift and a curse.

He was critical in building the relationship with New Seasons that we have today because when Roxanne left Jim became the glue at New Seasons. She was the sales rep and she had been a broker for New Seasons. They loved her. We hired her and then she decided to do something else. She’s at Life Source now, that’s something that she decided that she wanted to do again with her husband Jeff.  Let’s call this 2009. He became Mr. Everything with New Seasons. Developing the relationships, getting to know the key people who were making decisions in the stores, building the DSD program to what it is now.

Jim had a way of involving himself in things. His heart was always in the right place, advocating for people and ideas. There was no truer believer in the Equal Exchange mission than Jim and he was always, always, always talking about the mission very effectively. Sometimes we just talk about selling stuff. Jim always had the mission. It intertwined with whatever he was talking about. He was always educating, always. He’d often speak in public, go to Portland State University, to teach a couple of classes on a Saturday. He did a lot to spread the word shall we say. He was like a brother to me. I can actually talk about him now, mostly without getting choked up. We couldn’t have done this without him.

Wow, thanks for that. Jim is certainly missed.

We’re just down to the last question here and just really quickly, what do you see as being some of the current challenges that Equal Exchange Portland faces and what do you see for our future in say the next twenty years?

Great question. We’re riddled with challenge right now in a manner we’ve never been challenged because it’s insidiously unknown, it’s not clear and it’s all market driven with the click-and-pick-up, with people’s grocery buying habits and methods changing, a bunch of stuff is shifting. People aren’t shopping in grocery stores of any description like they once did, as routinely. I’m not even saying everyone’s getting on Amazon and ordering x,y,z, people are eating out more, cooking less. So there’s a lot of unknowns. How much shifting? What other things should we be thinking of selling?

I think this is a good note to end on.

This has been really great for me too, Jenn. I really appreciate you taking on this thing and allowing me to ramble on. It’s been fun thinking about the old warehouse. Keeping in mind that elevator, you know what it is now? Try to stop in and see our elevator as a prop in a coffee shop!

Editor’s Note:

I find that looking back at where you’ve come from is valuable to determining how to move forward as a company.  Equal Exchange has a history of taking risks, making big changes, and thinking outside of the box. All in an effort to connect small-farmers and producers with consumers while building an alternative supply chain with products that are socially and environmentally responsible. We are a company with many nodes and staying connected through our stories sustains our strength as a worker-owned cooperative. There’s still much to tell about the west, so stay tuned for future posts about that and our journey to bringing the art of coffee roasting in-house.

A Holiday Party Around the World

As the days get shorter in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice draws near, people all over are gathering close to share food, burn candles, and celebrate. Equal Exchange works with producer groups on four continents — and our coworkers here in the U.S. hail from many different lands, too. We checked in with three Equal Exchange worker-owners to learn about Christmas and New Year holiday traditions in their home countries.

A Peruvian Holiday

Gladys Minaya comes from Peru. There, she says, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year — a birthday party for the Baby Jesus. They begin preparations with an advent wreath, lighting a new candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.

The main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, when it’s common to attend midnight Mass, Misa de Gallo. Afterward, family members gather at home to eat different kinds of salad, lamb, and desserts. They set up a Nativity and play music for the Baby Jesus, Villancicos de Navidad. To emphasize giving, not receiving, they also collect for people who are less fortunate. On Christmas day, it’s traditional to eat a turkey dinner and visit friends in the neighborhood, bringing cookies!

And after Christmas, on January 6th, they bless their home for the New Year, praying and writing with blessed chalk on the front door of the house C+M+B. This stands for Christ Might Bless and is also is the initials of the traditional Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

A multi-generational Peruvian family gathers at a holiday table taden with food.
Gladys’s family gets ready to eat a festive meal together. (She must have taken this picture — she’s not in it!)

A German Holiday

Martha Griem was born in the US, but both of her parents are German, so she grew up celebrating German traditions alongside American ones.

December 6th in Germany is Nikolaustag. Before going to bed the night before, children leave their shoes out to be filled with goodies by St. Nikolaus. Sometimes in the days that follow, St. Nikolaus himself will visit a group of neighborhood kids. As he passes out gifts to each girl or boy in front of all the others, he’ll tell them (thanks to intelligence provided by their parents) what they did well that year and what aspects of their behavior need improvement.  Advent calendars and Adventskränze — advent wreaths — are popular ways to count down to the holidays. People decorate their homes with trees and Weihnachtspyramide, spinning wooden carousels powered by candle-heat, depicting nativity figures.

The big celebration — once again — happens on December 24th. Germans share Christmas Eve dinner with neighbors and extended family. Martha’s family eats beef fondue. After the festive meal, the Christ Child personally visits each house! Children are made to hide while the adults meet with him in the living room. He leaves behind presents and sparkly things — glitter or small bells — as evidence for the skeptics.

A 1970s album cover shows three men in a sleigh with snow in their hair.
Merry Christmas from the Flippers — Martha’s family plays this album every year!

A Guatemalan Holiday

Marlon Cifuentes hails from San Felipe Reu on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Just like in Peru and Germany, here it’s also traditional to celebrate on the night of the 24th, a Catholic observance that has become so popular that even the non-religious join in. Guatemalans spend Christmas with siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles and cousins. If you go out with friends beforehand, you’d better be back home for a dinner with your family by the stroke of midnight! Typical foods include tamales, apples, grapes, and perhaps a turkey. They enjoy ponche de frutas, a sweet drink made from fruits and cinnamon — usually non-alcoholic, so the kids can try it, too — and exchange gifts. And they share food with neighbors.

Because the holiday is so family-oriented, Marlon says that it reminds him more of American Thanksgiving than of Christmas. At midnight, you can see and hear fireworks going off everywhere. In small towns, they close off the streets for singing and dancing.

Here in Rhode Island, where he lives now, Marlon usually celebrates with friends. This year, he’ll go to the house of a friend — also a Guatemalan — so they can pretend they’re at home!

A smiling old woman holds her dog in her lap next to lights and holiday decorations.
Gladys’s mother and a canine companion with their Christmas decorations.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!


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Episode 3: Conflict, Coffee Farmers, and the Nobel Peace Prize

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Episode Transcript

Intro:0:05Everyday grocery store items like bananas, chocolate, coffee — these are global commodities. They pass through a lot of people’s hands on their way from the fields to your grocery cart. This is The Stories Behind Out Food Podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insider knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Robidoux — and I’m Kate Chess — and we’re your hosts.

Danielle R.:0:30Sexual violence as a tactic of war is a huge problem worldwide. We’re here today to talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Maybe you heard recently that Dr. Denis Mukwege is the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Panzi Hospital and survivors of sexual violence. We’re here today with Beth Ann Caspersen, the coffee quality control manager at Equal Exchange and cofounder of the Congo Coffee Project. She’ll be giving an important background on the political situation in the DRC and steps that you can take as an individual to make a difference.

Beth Ann:1:07Hi everyone. Great to be here.

Danielle R.:1:10Beth Ann, can you give us just like a brief landscape of the history and overview of this problem?

Beth Ann:1:20The problem we’re working to address is the sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo, the DRC, which it’s known as, is the second largest country in central Africa and it’s located in an area known as the Great Lakes region. It’s surrounded by nine countries and it occupies this great expanse of land and resources. So there are countries like Rwanda, Central African Republic, Uganda, all around the DRC and there are more than 78 million people. It’s rich in biodiversity. It has these vast natural resources. But there’s this history that’s really important to understand. First you need to understand that the Belgians colonized the DR Congo in the 1880s, and in 1885, King Leopold II declared it his private property and he named it the Congo Free State. This is where colonization begins bringing with it, unfortunately, death and disease. And in the 1900s it became the Belgian Congo. You’ll see a variety of name changes throughout the history.

Beth Ann:2:26And during this period of Belgian rule, the Belgians are just extracting resources and there’s very little development. and it really wasn’t until 1960 that they achieved independence. The first president — this might be getting down into the details, but it’s an important to understand about the presidents as well — was Joseph Kasa-Vubu, however, conflict arose over the administration of the territory which became known as the Congo Crisis, and so he was ousted. The Republic of Congo — and it’s also known now as the Republic of Congo. So here we go through our name changes. Through this, you see another leader rise and take power through a coup and he’s called Mobutu Sese Seko, and he was a military dictator. And this is going on from 1965 to 1997. At this point in 1970, the country again is renamed Zaire. So again, we’re seeing this, this theme, what we know is that there’s conflict warring groups and continual fighting for land and resources.

Beth Ann:3:33And this persists throughout the history of Congo. Mobutu begins to lose power in the 1990s. And then we see in 1994 the Rwandan genocide. This is a war between two ethnic groups and the Rwanda is right again on the border of DRC and it’s the Tutsis and Hutus and this unfortunate event claimed more than 800,000 lives in a very short period of time in 100 days, they say. So there’s a lot of warring happening there. There’s this political strife and then the Congo goes into its first war. It’s called the first Congo War and this is in 1996 where there’s a foreign invasion of Zaire that is led by Rwanda and that replaces President Mobutu with the rebel leader Laurent-Desire Kabila, and he is the first Kabila. There is another Kabila that comes along a little later in our story. Mobutu flees and Kabila becomes president.

Beth Ann:4:36Unfortunately, his reign is very short because there are tensions between President Kabila and the Rwandan and Tutsi presence in the country and this led to unfortunately the second Congo War and that was from 1998 to 2003. This war involved all of the neighboring countries, so all nine countries and around 20 armed groups. And ultimately it resulted in the deaths of what is estimated to be 5.4 million people. Let me repeat that. Five point 4 million people. So what happens next? President Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards in 2001. And then he was succeeded. Some people say eight days, some people say 10 days later by his son Joseph Kabila. And so this happens and he’s not officially president or becomes elected as president until 2006 of which he is then reelected in 2011. And so you have this series of presidents and rulers and power and this president that is in power right now, Joseph Kabila, he has been in the … they were supposed to have elections in 2016. Here we are in December of 2018, they still have not elections. And there’s definitely political instability surrounding this. Um, yeah. So the DRC is this large country with what I would call small pockets of development. So I’ll give a little bit of the, the difficult sides of the DRC, but also some of the more positive, but first you need to understand there is overall very poor infrastructure. There are no roads in between, in the interior of the country. People are out in the streets protesting. They want a new, a new president. They want a new election cycle. There’s distrust of the government right now, and then you have denial by the government that people are actually protesting and that people actually have been harmed over over many over the last few years in particular. Meanwhile, you have these armed groups — and I’m building up to why sexual violence is actually such an issue — and these armed groups are now being labeled as terrorists by the DRC government and they’re fighting for land, arms and precious resources and there are a couple of precious resources that everyone needs to understand. In particular, they’re tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold, and they are all found in things that you’ll be very familiar with — your laptop and your cell phone. So all of these minerals are used again to make cell phones and laptops, but they, the mines are what the military groups want to control. And so this is for sexual violence comes in, the groups perpetuate violence by, through sexual assault, which is just a horrific practice where they rape women, children and men of all ages. And this violence is really used as a tactic of war.

Beth Ann:7:52It tears apart communities, destroys families and it creates insecurity. And it’s, when I say it’s complex, it’s really a wild understatement, but sexual violence is really just persisting throughout DRC right now. And on top of all of this, you have an ebola crisis, which is really, really difficult. It’s not the first time it’s happened, however, it’s in a more populous area called Beni. And it’s really, really sad to say that military groups have even attacked the health workers there and there’s a lot of insecurity. So it’s difficult to address just sexual violence when there are all these complex layers of what’s happening with poor leadership, little economic development, a huge country with this wonderful mineral wealth and just little economic development. So these levels of sexual violence continue to persist and destroy families and it’s really to gain power over people and resources. Wow.

Kate:8:57Thanks for that. Really thorough background here. And then just add something else to the pot. Another complication. This is a podcast about food, and we’re a coffee company. What does coffee have to do with this? There are coffee farmers in the Congo. We source coffee from the Congo. What does that have to do with women and other people who have survived sexual violence? And is there any overlap between these groups?

Beth Ann:9:22Definitely. And thanks for asking. Sexual violence, is this really a widespread issue throughout Congo? But it’s really in other parts of the world as well. So we need to at least address that.

Kate:9:34Sure. Yeah.

Beth Ann:9:35But it’s rampant in Congo again, using it as this tactic of war. So we work with the small farmer Co-op in eastern Congo. It’s on the shores of Lake Kivu, which also borders Rwanda. And a number of the women had been sexually assaulted. But historically there hasn’t been anywhere to go. So sexual assault has persisted for a long time. Um, and for people who live outside of larger areas like Goma or Bukavu in eastern Congo, there, there hasn’t been many places to go. However, in 1998, Dr. Denis Mukwege a gynecologist, established the Panzi Hospital and the hospital has become very well known for treating survivors of sexual based violence. And over the years Dr. Mukwege has treated thousands of people, thousands. It’s really, like I said, sad to say. Treating these survivors for sexual violence is a holistic process for them where they’re treating people both physically and mentally at the Panzi hospital. Uh, in terms of the overlap between where we buy our coffee, Bukavu is pretty far away from as the town of Minova, which is where SOPACDI is located. Um, and many of the coffee farmers are in the adjoining communities. And so for years we tried to figure out how, how to get the survivors from those communities some help, but it’s really far away. In 2014, maybe it was 2015, I don’t remember exactly. But the World Bank supported a project to build what they call One Stop Centers in different communities and these are really small clinics that are built in smaller towns in order to treat people that are affected by sexual sexually based violence, um, in that same holistic way, right? As, as the larger Panzi hospital. And this is where some of the farmers of SOPACDI live, they actually live in Bulenga. And so having a small clinic there has been a really important development. I’m on a lot of levels, I mean, but really the overlap is with one small farmer co op, I’m talking about that affects or is part of our coffee project. However, there are farmers throughout Congo and people are affected everywhere, all over Congo. So it’s not just farmers, it’s children, teachers and more. Um, and I think that the One Stop Center that’s been constructed in Bulenga has really helped to bring the farmers closer to the hospital, which I’ll talk about and I hope in a few minutes, um, and together with Equal Exchange in the same way. And I’ve been there to visit and I’ve been there and I’ve spent time with Dr. Bwema and the general manager from SOPACDI and so we’re creating these connections. Yeah.

Danielle R.:12:34So Beth Ann, can you talk a little bit about what kind of inspired the creation of the Congo coffee project and what has been the evolution of this project through the years?

Beth Ann:12:48It’s a great story actually, because, excuse me, I was in the Equal Exchange cafe in Boston and I was there with two — I’m a Coffee cupper by trade — and I was there with two coffee cuppers from Columbia. And I ran into Jonathan Rosenthal who’s one of the founders of Equal Exchange. And he said, you know, Beth Ann, have you ever do you, have you ever heard of Panzi Foundation? And I said, no, who is that? And he said, you know, they’re a really interesting organization, they’re doing advocacy work and in, in Congo, in Democratic Republic of Congo. And they’re looking for a product to tell their story, a private label product and to raise money for their programs. And it really sort of just happened. And serendipitously at the time I didn’t know anything about DRC. I’ve spent time in east Africa and my coffee work, mostly in Uganda but also in Ethiopia, but I didn’t know a lot about DRC. I didn’t know a lot about the issues around sexual violence or the Panzi hospital. And so I, over time as I started to learn more and more, I was, gosh, we’ve got to do something. How in tarnation will this work? Um, we’ve never done this sort of thing before. And so I was very lucky because I spent a lot of time with Tara Herman who was a representative for Panzi over many months to develop a coffee product. Um, we weren’t even buying coffee from the Congo at the time. So it was like, well, how can we actually make that connection?

Beth Ann:14:21In my mind I was working to make a product, but it was almost going a little backwards because I really wanted to figure out how to impact the lives of the coffee farmers on the ground. So I reached out to one of my friends, Richard Hyde, formerly of Twin Trading in the UK and asked him and talked to him and he said, you know, I know a group that you should contact and we should, we should connect to you. Um, and so over the years we’ve gotten to know the farmers and support them with technical assistance. As I mentioned, I’m a cupper by trade. And so I had spent some time working with their team to find a cupper to help them to build their quality. Um, and over time I would say pretty quickly we introduced a product which inevitably came, the, became the Congo coffee project.

Beth Ann:15:12Um, it was the first organic coffee in the US that was fair trade. Um, and I’m really proud of it. It has a beautiful design — our design team did it, props to them. Um, but I think the whole point of the product was to tell the story, right? What is the story, raise awareness and have impact. So we have impact, um, on the farmers by buying coffee at fair trade prices, um, at higher than fair trade prices, that’s for sure. Um, and then in addition to that, we are supporting the Panzi Foundation, so for every bag that we sell it, a, $1 goes into a fund and at the end of the year we collect all of the money or count all the money I should say, and then we send a check to Panzi and I’m proud to say that we’ve raised more than $80,000 with this project since inception, which was in 2011. So I feel like the evolution is continuing. I don’t think it’s done. I think that we’ve got a lot of work still to do. Absolutely. Always more work to do.

Danielle R.:16:22Can you, can you tell us a personal story that you have with maybe one of the women that kind of highlights the collaboration of Equal Exchange in the Panzi project?

Beth Ann:16:38Definitely. I think that there’s, there are many faces that come to mind. There’s this woman, Janet, who works in the nursery school, um, that just really, every time I see her she just has a big smile on her face and she just has a dramatic impact on me in my life, but the woman I think I’d like to highlight is known as Mama Zawadi, um, and Mama Zawadi is the director for the Maison Dorcas aftercare center and she is, um, this is a place where people go, survivors go to the aftercare center to heal and to rest they receive counseling, um, and —

Kate:17:22Is this part of the Panzi hospital?

Beth Ann:17:23This is part of the Panzi hospital. Yes. But she’s just this gentle soul with a giant heart. And I just connected with her immediately. Um, you know, she’s the mother of eight. She also happens to– I know, the mother of eight — but also she’s the sister of Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzi and she’s a widow. She lost her husband a few years ago, which hit her pretty hard, but she told me “I need to be here. I need to be here for the woman.” Wow. Uh, the aftercare center itself is about 300 beds. Um, uh, but you can see this when you walk around. It’s a pretty overwhelming experience. Of course, I’m not in, in each of the rooms. Being there, my first time, was really overwhelming and Mama Zawadi was just very supportive and very direct. You know, I think people sort of walk on eggshells when they talk about sexual violence or, oh gosh, you know, how do you explain it? And she’s just direct and said, you know, “this woman was raped, this woman has AIDS. This child that is four years old was raped,” and it was just really overwhelming. But I feel like she was really supportive for me to, um, because she has this calming presence, really calming presence, which you can see as being really important.

Beth Ann:18:54The first time I went, uh, I had this idea because Lee Ann De Reus from, from Panzi Foundation USA had told me a little bit about the hospital and so I decided I was going to bring a big bag, a big suitcase of clothing for, for the kids. Um, and so I collected all of my son’s things that were too small and went and got some things from my nephew and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received, you know, here, here comes this person that’s never been here with a bag of clothes and I was received with song and dance and it was really another piece of being overwhelmed during that same day. And so every year when I go, I always bring a bag of clothes in that bag of clothes started as a small suitcase and now it’s this giant suitcase that’s called the Wheely Beast. And I shove as much of it in there. The weight is the problem, but it’s always, it makes me feel so happy to pass along small things that, um, that, that while they can get clothesthere, they can get clothes there. But I’m passing along something that is meaningful to me. And she said if everyone in the world could have as big a big a, have a heart as you do, then we wouldn’t have the same level of problems. And that stuck with me. So she is very, very special to me.

Danielle R.:20:23Wow. She sounds so special. Thanks for telling us that story. That’s, that’s really nice. Can, can you talk specifically about maybe one of the women who has benefited from this project in particular with the Congo coffee project?

Beth Ann:20:43It’s hard to sort of pinpoint one woman, you know, survivors are there for us a short period of time and then they move on. So usually I don’t see the same faces which I consider a blessing. Um, but I do see the same staff, like Mama Zawadi. But when we first started the project, all of our funding was going toward the Maison Dorcas aftercare center and so specifically to support vocational training. So I think that’s the place where I’ve seen this impact. The center, you know, again, is this healing place. It’s an important refuge for survivors, but one really important thing that they try to do is give people the skills so that once they leave, um, or some type of a trade so that when they leave they can use it. Um, so that might be sewing, that might be weaving. Um, and this is all happening along with counseling and medical services and so those are, those are important things to, to leave with. Um, it’s a really holistic approach taking into account the physical and the mental, which I think I really appreciate. So I think it was probably my second or third visit, I saw these really gorgeous plastic woven bags and I bought one and I was thinking, how can I, how can I get these to the United States, could I sell them what if we could design them and sell them? What if we, there was an outlet? And so this became the Congo coffee bag, um, and it’s this beautiful woven bag that’s too black and white and they’re, they can be used to shopping bags, as baskets. And so what I love about this program, what is that every bag is there’s a woman earns $10. $5 of that is paid to her outright. $5 is kept, um, as part of a savings account so that when the woman leaves, she has a little pile of money, um, to leave with. So a savings. And I love that. Um, it is just a really — you know that someone was using that as healin. They were learning through weaving and then ultimately they sold it into the market. So for all those people out there that have bought one, now, you know, a little bit more about the story. Yeah. So that’s, that’s something that I feel like has had really good impact.

:23:18And in a lot of ways our funding has evolved as well. So in years past we’ve used that to support vocational training and we’ve decided we want to create a connection between the Bulenga clinic and where the funding goes now. So in 2016 we embarked on a new journey where we decided — now this is after consultation with the clinic, this is not my idea, this is what the clinic wanted — is, um, to build water tanks. Yeah, because the clinic is small. This One Stop Center is, it is a tiny clinic. It doesn’t have the services that it probably needs or the money to support it. So knowing that the farmers are in the same community and they need access to water, the idea was to take the money and use it to build a water tank and they did that and I was able to see that and you can see pictures on our website if you’re interested. So, and we’re working on that. I feel like that’s evolving and how it impacts each woman. The bag project continues and I feel like that will continue to impact women, um, in very specific ways.

Danielle R.:24:32Thanks. Thanks, Beth Ann. I feel like I can, I can really feel from you that you are really passionate about this work. Can you talk a little bit about what this means to you on a personal level

Beth Ann:24:48Without crying? I’ll try.

Danielle R.:24:51It’s okay. It’s part of it.

Beth Ann:24:54I’m a crier.

Danielle R.:24:58Me too. Not a shocker to you.

Kate:24:59You guys can’t see this, but we’re handing out tissues now.

Beth Ann:25:05It means so much to me. You know, I’ve traveled to DRC to work with coffee farmers, visit Panzi hospital, visit the clinic and Bulenga and I don’t think I quite understood the experience it would give me. I’ve traveled throughout the world and in my work and training and working with roasters and cuppers and quality training, but this has had a different level of impact, um, where you see human suffering but hope at the same time and I feel like there’s a, if we have to have hope, we, you always have to have hope and you always have to fight for what is right and this is a very deep and meaningful. This has been professionally a very, very meaningful and I’m personally very meaningful project for me.

Danielle R.:25:56That’s wonderful. And we really appreciate you doing this interview with us. I had done a webinar with Beth Ann and that was kind of how this idea came about and I just wanted to keep getting the word out about this project. I think it’s a really important project that Equal Exchange is involved in, um, how can, how can some of the folks listening beyond this podcast, right? What, what are some action steps that they can take and some good resources that folks can kind of stay connected to this story.

Beth Ann:26:29Well, you should get out your pen and paper. Write that one down. Write these down. Well let’s just start with a blog piece that I just wrote and it’s about our work. And there’s this, I’m not sure how many of you have heard, but in October we received news that Dr Mukwege, the founder of Panzi, is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is


Beth Ann:26:56A round of applause — on so many levels well deserved, well deserved. He’s been up for the Nobel peace prize in years past. So for him to, to receive this as a very high honor, um, and well, well deserved. Um, when I learned the news, um, I wasn’t even expecting it. My husband was on a plane and he sent me a text and said, did you hear the news that he won that? And I couldn’t even believe it. I literally started crying because again, I am a crier, but I started to cry because it was so happy. So happy for him, for the survivors that have suffered for the survivors that have persevered for all the support for everyone out there listening right now for everyone at Equal Exchange and just really for him, for bringing and talking about sexual violence on the international stage for so long and having that acknowledgement I think is enormous and it’s especially important right now given the political situation, you know, that there’s a threat of not having free or fair elections on December 23rd of this month. And I think that that is a threat out there. And so one of my asks for you would be to say let’s get fair and free elections happening. There are no excuses as to why they haven’t happened for two years. The excuses put out by the government are just rubbish. It’s ridiculous and they don’t actually have any traction. And so we really need to put pressure there. I’d encourage you to learn more about DRC. So not just, um, at Equal Exchange, the Congo Coffee project and at Panzi and our work. Um, but there are other fantastic groups out there doing work. Um, there’s the Enough Project, there’s Steer Forward. There are others, um, and those are on our website too.

Beth Ann:28:53So buy the coffee. It is a plug, but I think it’s an important plug because you’re supporting our work and coffee does help to build the economy. So we’re talking about this poor infrastructure and these warring factions in this really complex political landscape. I think that this is something you can do is to buy a bag of coffee or buy a bag and give it to someone else. Um, and then the last thing — and there might be more things I think of when I get off of this podcast — is to support our Create Change campaign. We just launched it to raise additional money for the Bulenga clinic. Uh, our idea is that we have built these small tank water tanks, but we need to do so much more and it’s expensive, but we really want to put solar panels on clinic. We want to have renewable energy options and we want to have consistent, clean water that’s available throughout the community and to really be a model of what a great clinic can be. So I think that those are a few of the things you could do up. So if you forgot all of that and didn’t, write it down,

Kate:30:02we’ve got links that we’ll put right in the episode of this podcast. If you go to the podcast homepage, you’ll be able to find a place where you can take action on all of these suggested steps. I wanted to ask about Dr. Mukwege. It’s so exciting. The prizegiving is in December. So, and not only, I’m sure it’s gratifying for him to have his work recognized, but this brings the issue to a wider international audience. Have you met Dr. Mukwege, Beth Ann? Can you talk about your interactions with him?

Beth Ann:30:34It’s amazing. Every time I’m in DRC he’s not, and then he comes to the states and I’m not. I travel a lot for work. Um, so we’ve had very little time to connect and I think I, I’m sort of an ambassador and a champion on not just his behalf but on the behalf of Panzi Foundation USA, Mama Zawadi. So I have not had a lot of interaction with him. Um, but he’s very proud of the Congo coffee project. I know that. Um, and uh, that, so my connection, my physical connections have not been, have not been so many, but I, again, I feel like this is so powerful what he’s received in the Nobel peace prize alone and putting this work on the international stage when he received word, he was in surgery because he’s still an active surgeon. He’s not just a, he does go out and do a lot of speaking all over the world to talk about sexual violence and the issues in DRC. So he is not afraid to talk about the other issues. So this is another level of excitement and, and honor that I think that will definitely, I, I hope will bear more fruit where people are listening. Um, so my, my interactions are limited, but I think we should all feel very proud of the work that he does.

Kate:31:58Yeah. And thanks for telling his story. I have seen a picture of the two of you together. So I know it’s not a Batman/Bruce Wayne situation.

Beth Ann:32:07I went to, uh, the women for women international dinner in New York City a few years ago because we had not been able to connect and was able to meet him for not very long. It’s really hard to get him by himself. He’s a, he’s a very busy guy, so, and will be even more busy now.

Kate:32:26That’s good news. Yeah. Yeah.

Danielle R.:32:28Thanks Beth Ann. I would just say that, you know, what really had got to my heartstrings was, you know, after this webinar that we did with Beth Ann, just the scale of this problem, the systemic nature of it and just the stories of the women and the brutality that is experienced. I think that, you know, I would really encourage listeners out there to go learn more about this story and the human stories behind it because there is no way that you can not be moved by it. So thank. Thank you so much Beth Ann, for all the work that you do, it’s, it’s really, really important work in, um, we really appreciate you telling the story.

Beth Ann:33:08Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here and tell the story, so tell your friends.

Danielle R.:33:15Definitely tell all your friends about the podcast.

Kate:33:17Subscribe, share the episode. Thanks very much. Thank you.

Outro:33:25Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food. A podcast by Equal Exchange ake a worker owned cooperative. Love this episode. Please subscribe, rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit Equal op to join the conversation, purchase products and learn more about small scale farmers in the global supply chain. This episode was produced by Equal Exchange with hosts Kate Chess and Danielle Robidoux. Sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of the stories behind our food.