These delicious peanut butter balls taste similar to the peanut butter cups we are all familiar with from our youth. Easy to make, and don't require any baking. They are a great recipe for the holidays or you can make them as a fun activity with kids. And they're gluten-free!
Combine Peanut Butter and Butter into a bowl and beat together. Add in vanilla extract and sugar and combine until you get a nice crumble.
Roll mixture into balls of about 1 heaping tbsp each. Place on baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper.
Insert toothpicks into each peanut butter ball and place in the freezer for 1 hour.
About 20 minutes before removing the peanut butter balls from the freezer, start melting your Equal Exchange chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave. For microwave, heat and stir the chocolate every 30 seconds. Make sure not to overheat. If using a double boiler, you can temper the chocolate to get a shiny surface. Dip each ball into the chocolate leaving a small "eye" of peanut butter at the top.
Place on wax paper to cool.
By: Dana Drugmand, Equal Exchange Barista
On Thursday October 11th, a group of activists, teachers, friends and allies gathered in the Equal Exchange cafe for a discussion on chocolate and climate change hosted by the Equal Exchange Organizing department. The event, titled, “The Current Storm: The Realities of Climate Change for Cacao Producers,” featured Miriam Elena Maza Asencios and Cesar Salas Garcia from Acopagro in Peru and Abel Fernandez from the CONACADO Co-op in the Dominican Republic.
Cesar Salas Garcia pictured left with Julia Baumgartner
For cacao producers in Central and South America and in other regions around the globe, climate change is already a reality and a significant challenge. “We’ve seen climate change affecting us in terms of prolonged droughts and fires,” Cesar Aide Salas Garcia, president of the ACOPAGRO Co-op in Peru, said (via translator) during the presentation.
Precipitation extremes on both ends of the scale – droughts and flooding – are intensified by climate change. The ACOPAGRO Co-op has dealt with drought and fires in recent years. Cesar showed a picture of a farmer standing in a dried up area that used to be a river.
“We have droughts, and on the other hand we have another problem, which is flooding,” he said. In 2017 the flooding destroyed about 60 percent of the cacao crop and affected 150 members of the co-op. Increased rain also brings about more pests, exacerbating another problem.
Small-scale cacao producers face similar challenges in the Dominican Republic.
With 10,000 producer-members, CONACADO is now the leading supplier of fair-trade cacao in the Dominican Republic, exporting about 17,000 metric tons of cacao per year. Last year, however, the Dominican Republic’s cacao production was down by roughly 30 percent. Climate change impacts – like excessive rain and flooding – are a big reason why. As Abel explained, the rain levels, if high enough, can drench and kill the flowers on cacao plants so they don’t produce. This in turn can throw off the harvesting timetable.
“Normally the cocoa market is managed in advance,” said Abel. “Climate change has been making that more difficult. Sometimes we cannot meet the deadline for delivery.”
So what are the farmers doing to address these challenges?
Reforestation, is a big part of the solution, because intact forests act as huge carbon sinks absorbing some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is warming the planet. ACOPAGRO is working to restore virgin forests in the Peruvian Amazon. The co-op currently owns 180,000 hectares of a reserve and is helping to reforest it. From 2012 to 2014, 50,000 metric tons of certified CO2 were captured through this project.
ACOPAGRO is working on crop diversification and is installing 80 hectares of cacao with other agroforestry crops such as sacha inchi, black pepper, fruit trees, timberwood and medicinal plants. Farmers are applying intensive management practices to stay on top of increasing pests.
In the Dominican Republic, cacao producers are finishing up an eight-year project on model farms to practice resiliency techniques such as using organic fertilizer and biochar and deep-soil planting. Production on these model farms has increased by 500 percent.
And yet, challenges still remain, and the impacts of climate change will only worsen. But small-scale cacao farmers are navigating these hurdles and leading the way to find solutions.
“They’re not only having to adapt to the effects of climate change, but they’re doing an incredible job of trying to mitigate the effects for the entire planet,” said Julia Baumgartner, Cooperative Development Program Consultant at Equal Exchange.
The evening closed with questions and reactions from the audience, the room filled with thoughts on carbon capture, mitigation techniques, and actions consumers can take to push for better climate policy in the US.
An attendee and professor at Bridgewater State University, Jame Hayes-Bohanan commented “I learned more about the ways in which cacao farmers are suffering and the effects of an increasingly unstable climate system. I was humbled by the farmers who take on their responsibilities as contributors to climate change with an obligation to reduce their own carbon footprint.”
As Cesar with ACOPAGRO put it, “We can’t sit still and do nothing. We can’t let this [climate change] situation dominate us.” Cesar’s words offer inspiration and urgency for all of us to find ways to make a difference.
This risotto, cooked with white wine and chunks of butternut squash, makes for a quick, comforting dinner on chilly days, or a classy side dish that will impress your friends. The sweet and salty maple almond topping provides the perfect crunch. Looking for a new Thanksgiving recipe? You may have found it …
Enjoy one of our favorite fall recipes!
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and sauté until it softens and begins to brown. Add the butternut squash, the Italian seasoning and 1 tsp salt. Cook for 5 more minutes.
Combine the uncooked rice, the stock, and half of the wine in a 9x13” baking dish or large cast-iron skillet. Add the cooked onion and squash mixture. Without preheating the oven, put the dish inside on a center rack, set the temperature to 400, and allow to bake for 15 minutes. Stir the mixture, return the dish to the oven, and continue to cook for 15 more minutes.
While the risotto bakes, make your maple almonds. Melt butter in a skillet. Add the almonds, the maple syrup and the extra pinch of salt. Stir to coat almonds and allow to toast, then remove them from the skillet promptly. Leave them to cool on a plate or a piece of parchment paper.
Take the risotto dish out of the oven and stir in the parmesan cheese and the rest of the wine. Broil in the oven for five minutes, until it bubbles. Top with the maple almonds.
Here’s the second episode of our storytelling podcast, The Stories Behind Our Food!
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Intro:0:02Everyday 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 our food podcast, the podcast where expert guests share insider knowledge about every step along the process. I’m Danielle Roberto and I’m Kate. Chess and we’re your hosts. Hi. Welcome to the stories behind our food podcast. I’m Kate Chess and I’m here today with Daniel fireside. Hi. Thanks for having me on. Thanks for coming. Daniel is the capital coordinator here at Equal Exchange and we’ll be talking with him about something we don’t always think about when we think about the food system, the role of capital, and how a company can use financing to actually support its social mission instead of undermining it. All right, we’re rolling. Who are you and what do you do here at Equal Exchange?
Daniel Fireside:0:59Yeah, so I’m Daniel fireside. I’m and I’m the capital coordinator at Equal Exchange. So what that means is I’m in charge of raising all the outside capital that the company needs and managing the investor relations. Uh, the one part I don’t deal with this sort of our conventional banking relationships which are getting us to be a smaller and smaller piece of what we do.
Kate Chess:1:27For those of us who aren’t in finance, would a company the size of Equal Exchange normally have a, a person in your position have a capital coordinator?
Daniel Fireside:1:36Probably not by that name. I’m not aware of any other company that uses that term. And when, when I was offered the job I was told I could be a, I could come up with whatever name I wanted, I could be head of investor relations or a finance something or other, uh, but we’d often use the term capital coordinator. And what I liked about it and why I decided to keep it was because it’s so unusual and it like everything equal change does, reflects our unusual approach to business.
Kate Chess:2:11All right, great. Yeah. We want to talk to you about what the role of capital is in a food business.
Daniel Fireside:2:18So you know, capital is generally a company needs capital for longterm expenses in general. So your buildings, we own an 80,000 square foot warehouse and roasting facility with offices. We lease a lot of, a very expensive equipment. So those are normal capital expenses. A lot of other expenses are finance through your normal sales. So a payroll and for most conventional companies, inventory wouldn’t necessarily be a huge expense, a capital expense, especially for a coffee company of our size. They would just be having a very, as little inventory as possible, buying from brokers, uh, or contracting from a coffee producers and getting the coffee delivered whenever the roaster needs it or they’d be buying futures contracts. We decided that that whole system really puts the growers, the farmers at a huge disadvantage and they’re the ones least able to carry that cost. So our whole model, our business model from the start flips that around. So we arranged months in advance with the farmer cooperatives for basically a year supply of what we’re going to buy. And as soon as they’re ready, once they’ve milled it and sorted it, and once they’ve mailed it and sorted it and are ready to ship it, we settled on a final price, which is always above the market and is very favorable to the farmer co op. And as soon as those containers hit the water, I’m on the ships, we pay for the entire contract, we pay upfront and as soon as we own the coffee and then it’s a great deal for the farmers. A lot of other companies pay months, many months later, um, or they force them to sell at a huge discount. It’s great for the farmers. It creates a problem for us that have our own making where we suddenly have a huge amount of inventory that is sitting around. We can store our co ffee unrested coffee for a long time, but we, we’ve paid for it and it’s a capital expense. So as the company grows, that volume of inventory grows. So we’ve always needed a capital coordinator to really figure out how to do this kind of financing basically from the start.
Kate Chess:5:03So it’s really just, you’re talking about the cost of the coffee itself, it’s the building block of the business and the cost of that product is what you’re raising capital for that. That’s the unusual capital we’re talking about. Is that correct?
Daniel Fireside:5:14Well, we have the usual capital expenses that any other business would have, uh, the, the buildings and the equipment and so forth. But the other stuff is a, is a problem that we’ve created because if we don’t take it on, it’s pushed onto the farmers. And, and that’s we, you know, one of the really crazy things about the modern food system is that the big businesses that are the multinationals that are making all the money and all the profit, uh, take on as little risk as possible and push and basically have the farmers financing all the inventory costs as much as possible. And the farmers are the weakest link in this whole. And there are the ones who have the least amount of power. So we’re trying to flip that equation that creates a problem for us. And instead of just, uh, getting the financing from some deep pocketed venture capitalist, we early on figured out that we need to have our financing reflect our cooperative fair trade business.
Kate Chess:6:23Yeah. Gotcha. It seems like there are other people in the world who have these types of ideals who would like to be doing the right thing and treating farmers fairly and paying them well or doing good work in other parts of the food system. But it seems like whenever. It seems like a lot of food companies seem to be being bought up these days and the ownership changes in the way they do business changes. Can you answer in your opinion why food company so often seem to sell out?
Daniel Fireside:6:56Yeah. And especially, I mean, I think a conventional food company, it’s a, what their goal is from the start is to sell out, you know, build up the business, get it to a certain scale, whether it’s profitable or not, doesn’t really matter. You just sort of build the brand and done the legwork. And then your. If you get bought up by coke or Pepsi or General Mills, that success, you get a pile of money, you can move onto your next thing. Um, if you’re, you know, have a social impulse in the social goal when you created the whole business. Uh, that’s where our heart kinda breaks when we keep seeing these businesses that are in the same universe that we are really concerned about the equity issues and how the farmers are doing, the producers are doing and trying to create a business that changes that power dynamic. And then they get to a certain scale and they sell out as well. So why do they keep doing that? Well, in, in, in my view, because I talked to a lot of people in startup phases and, and, and a little bit beyond that early startup capital, it’s the hardest to get. And they go around talking to a financial backers and you know, venture capitalists and Angel Investors and they sign these deals because somebody hands them a wad of cash that they needed that moment and they’re just not thinking about the fine print and the implications that go down the road. And so the first question, the businesses I always ask is, what’s your exit strategy? How are you going to sell this business? Either either sell it to big whatever or go public where it’s sold to investors and it’s going to get eaten up by big whatever, uh, in five to seven years. And if you don’t have an answer to that, they’re not gonna put their money in because they want 10 times their original investment. It’s crazy. It’s just a total casino. I, I think the greatest PR job was done by people who label themselves angel investors because they’re really anything.
Kate Chess:9:05But that’s just the term everybody uses fitness. Yeah.
Daniel Fireside:9:09Oh, the angel came in with a pile of cash and it’s like, no, it’s the other kind of angel. Then you’ve got to read the fine print. I’m so people are just like, oh, that’s the deal. You know, the, the laws are also written to really privilege, really wealthy people to invest and the finance laws, investing laws were written that way to protect small investors, especially after the Great Depression. And then after every scandal where were some. Somebody rips a bunch of people off the. They try to write new laws, protect against the last scandal and the problem is you know that that’s all well and good, but it also has created such huge barriers for anyone who isn’t a millionaire to invest directly in a regular company. Some of those laws are changing now and some of them have certain exemptions that equal change has used to reach out because only about two minutes, two percent of the US population fits the criteria that the securities laws are written for. That says you can invest in anything. Ninety eight percent of us were, were not allowed legally to invest except in rare circumstances. So equal is using those exemptions. And uh, some of those laws have have eased up a little bit. And I hear from companies all the time, how can we follow Equal Exchange his path to avoid this other a trap. I call it the exit strategy trap. You know what, if you’re trying to build a company, not for an exit, but to stick around.
Kate Chess:10:46So to connect the dots here a little bit, even if you’re a company with a social mission, it’s hard to find investors or to get around the laws too. Utilize investors who aren’t huge dollar amount, big dollar investors and those people. What’s the disadvantage of going with a big investor?
Daniel Fireside:11:04Well, it’s not necessarily that are they all evil or is there something more there? No, it’s more that the investors, people who are investing for a living or investing other people’s money for a living have created this game plan that says, uh, you pick, you know, seven companies you put money in with the expectation that within five to seven years they’re going to return your money times 10. Now you actually figure that six of the seven are going to fail, but one is going to pay off. That sounds to me a lot like gambling. And it basically is, they don’t really care about those other six companies. They just care that enough of their bets, they’re going to pay off that they come out ahead and then they sound like geniuses. This is a system that works to keep making really rich people richer. It helps get some companies off the ground, but it doesn’t further the interests of people who, you know, back when Equal Exchange was founded. I, I’ve, I’ve often heard from our three founders, Jonathan Michael, and a rink that, um, you know, back in the mid eighties when they got into the coffee business, I said, any idiot could make a lot of money in coffee. And that wasn’t really their goal because first off the end of the day, if it works, they’d be above another bunch of idiots who made money in coffee. And if it didn’t work, then they’d be the real idiots who couldn’t even make my own coffee. They said, no, they’re, they’re a goal from the start was to really change the food system and empower workers and empower consumers, uh, in a food system that wasn’t allowing them to do that. And coffee was the vehicle that they used and that’s great because now we’ve added chocolate and tea and bananas and mangoes and all sorts of other wonderful things to eat and drink. So if your goal is to make change and not, and within the system, within the financial system that we have, your goal isn’t to maximize profit, it’s to maximize all these other things. You want to be profitable and keep growing and doing more good. Keep the lights on. But it’s hard to find people and institutions that say, well, if there’s other things are really valuable and when we’re making crazy returns, when we’re making crazy profits, it’s at a certain point, it’s a zero sum game. You’re, you’re, you’re making profits on the back of the farmers. You’re making profits on the back of the workers, you know, if, if everybody keeps their expectations reasonable than everyone can come away better off.
Kate Chess:13:46Yeah. It seems like we’re talking about money here, but we’re also talking about power and control. Um, and those are some of the strings that seems to be attached when you use a more traditional way of raising capital. Can you talk about how Equal Exchange has raised capital without giving up control? How we’ve stayed independent and democratic?
Daniel Fireside:14:06Yeah, absolutely. That’s really, besides that expectation of crazy profits, what companies, entrepreneurs, whoever are giving up when they’re dealing with these so called angel investors is control more and what those people in control are always demanding is increased profits at whatever. Hey, if you can do it and put a happy face on it and you know, not not exploit the farmers, that’s great, but when it comes down to it between the farmers and me always going to pick me and I’ve just heard so many stories of Oh, even successful companies, so six out of those seven are going to fail and the investors are fine with that. Well that seventh guess what does founders got pushed out anyway? Maybe they got some money but they lost their company because they weren’t making money fast enough or it sold out and general mills didn’t want you or starbucks didn’t want you. And, and you know, some people walk away with like a million dollars and they’re really unhappy and that just seems crazy. So equal said we need to raise money and it’s been a real problem for Co ops more than any other business because a cooperative, whether it’s a consumer co op or a producer or a worker co op it control stays with the members, the farmers, the producers of the customers, the, the workers, and you can’t give it up. So it’s been really limiting, uh, in cooperatives business, a cooperative businesses ability to raise capital. What equal figured out was you can offer a kind of investment vehicle that doesn’t give up power and you can offer a financial return. We’re not a charity, but the way we wrote the rules said, you, uh, you, the investor, don’t get to say how we run the company. And I often say like, look, if you invest in the conventional stock market, you bought some Microsoft, you might get a proxy statement in the mail asking you to vote on something. No one’s counting your proxy statement. Bill Gates out votes you a trillion to one, a google. They have special shares where they don’t even count outside shareholders. So it’s a myth that shareholders, the average shareholder actually has some say in how companies are run. We sort of say, first off, we don’t think just because you have money, you should get to say how you run the company. If you work here and you’re a member here and you get voted in and you contribute your labor and your time and your energy. Yeah, you have a say an equal say, but you don’t get to sell the company. If you’re an outsider, you can be a partner, you can be a stakeholder and we’ll offer return. It’s a variable return between zero and eight percent. So any given year will give you zero percent. And that’s part of the deal. Uh, we say the target is five and if everything goes right and we’re treating everyone well in the businesses in good shape, we’ll, we’ll pay you five, but it’s decided by the workers on the board. Um, if things are going gangbuster, we’ll, we’ll pay a little more and we’ve treated everyone else, right? Um, things are going terribly. You’ll get less and maybe zero. And that’s, it seems pretty reasonable. And over the long haul, uh, we’ve done really well, we’ve done well by our investors. And what I tell people is, look, we can’t guarantee you’re going to make any money. I can’t guarantee you’re not going to lose your money. I can guarantee whether you made it or lost money. You feel good about it. And you can’t really say that about anything else you invest in.
Kate Chess:17:54So you were saying that investors don’t actually have a say in traditional businesses either.
Daniel Fireside:18:00Yeah, I think that’s a real myth Uh, it’s, there’s two myths. One is that companies, publicly traded companies are democratic because shareholders get to vote, one share, one vote, and whoever has the most shares gets the most votes. So that’s already a kind of anti democratic thing. Then the way companies are structured, it’s incredibly hard to vote on companies and change them. There’s a whole industry of social activist organizations and really wonderful places that have pushed companies to enact a environmental goals or social goals through shareholder resolutions. And whenever they’re successful, the company’s just changed the rules to. They say, Oh, you need higher and higher threshold.
Kate Chess:18:48Yeah. So
Daniel Fireside:18:50I, I love those groups that are doing that, but it’s a real myth that, that is democracy and that it’s possible. And then the other sort of myth that everyone believes so much that it’s basically become true is that the only focus accompany can legally have is to increase its profits for shareholders. And there, there’s a great writer who just passed away recently. She was a law professor at Cornell Lynn Stout who, uh, wrote some. She looked into that and said it’s a myth. Actually. Case Law doesn’t back it up. Uh, companies have great discretion in terms of what they consider their longterm, uh, a greater good. You know, they can say, no, we’re not going to maximize profits this quarter because we’re thinking in the next 10 years or something. But the reality is people have bought into that so much that they just say, whenever a company faces a dilemma, where on one side is making more money and the other side is any kind of social good, you have to go with the money. And so we say, look, we’re not going to be pressured by shareholders. Ben and Jerry’s was forced to sell out because shareholders were saying, uh, if you don’t sell to Unilever, we’re going, sue you. Other companies have seen that and they’ve just, they’ve capitulated without even a fight. Uh, we said we’re writing it into our bylaws were making sure nobody invests with any thought that we’re ever going to sell. We basically created a rule that said, if we ever sold, we have to give all the profits away.
Kate Chess:20:24Do you have to set this up from the start? When you’re, when you’re starting a business, do you think that companies that have this kind of motivation can transition to a similar structure?
Daniel Fireside:20:35It’s tricky. It’s definitely easier before there’s piles of money on the table. Everybody always, you know, easier to be generous. You don’t have anyone, you don’t have any money there. Uh, and then change as everybody knows when there’s piles of money. Wait a second. I worked hard for that. Um, should be up to me. I came up with the idea. So I always advise people, set up the rules before you’re profitable, set up to the game plan, you know, and you can set a different ways. A solar company in Colorado, namaste solar that, that I helped convert to being a co op. They said if they ever sold a part of the money has to be given away. Part of it has to go back to the outside shareholders. Part of it goes back to the workers in the company. Uh, you, you can, you know, we’re the more extreme version. We said 100 percent of the assets have to be given away. I think as long as you put some roadblocks in there, that just takes away that incentive and it doesn’t depend on people being good. The other thing is, if you’ve taken some of that early, you know, it’s a fallen angel money, let’s call it. They often write in, um, uh, protections for them against you, changing the rules. So be careful with that money. We actually just a w we have, you know, a great story where there was one point when we were about to get into coffee roasting. We used to outsource everything and we want, wanted to ramp up the business. We needed some big infusions of cash to be able to, to go into roasting and, and expand on our own. And one of these self-styled social investors came up and said, well, you’ve been doing all this great hippie stuff for so long and that’s fine, but now you’re talking real money. You want my big investment, a quarter million dollars a, I need a special sheriff, a special class of stock where I get a special return. Uh, I’m protected from any losses and I want to see it on the board. And he was just changing the whole roles. And I know it was before my time, but I saw the document and I’ve talked a lot of people who are around. When that offer came through and there was a lot of people were like, well, is this what we’re supposed to do? We need to grow. This is our big shot. And I saw some, some other letters that went when they were passing it around that said, you know, it’s because of people like this that I got out of Wall Street and they use a little more colorful language than that. I’m sorry, who were the letters? Friends? Well, they were from advisors that we had internal people who, you know, the founders and the board. Whereas like you know, we don’t know is this what you’re supposed to do when you get to a certain scale? And so we asked them some, some more wiser financial hands and they said, these are the terms that will under your business if you take this money, you’ve, you might succeed financially but you’ll have failed and all your other goals. And that was really one of the missions of the company was to show you could succeed in a different path. And here’s what happened. It took us a lot longer. We could have, we could be a much bigger company. We could have grown a lot faster if we had just cut all the corners and taken that quick money and cut all the social stuff. But we decided that doesn’t prove anything that, that we ended up being the idiot who made money in coffee. And so we took the harder road and here we are over $70,000,000. We’ve been profitable for almost our entire history. We’re doing right by everybody. And we have over $17,000,000 in outside investment. We have millions of dollars in loans from alternative lenders and everybody, you know, if, if we started returning crazy returns, 10 percent returns, our investors would go, wait, this is too much money. Who are you shortchanging who you’re exploiting like that. We’ve built up this whole community and now these people are out there. They’re like, what else is out there? Whereas the next Equal Exchange. So that’s really exciting. Now we have companies coming to us saying, how can we copy your model? It’s taken awhile to be an overnight success, but 30 years. But, um, I, I think, you know, the, the Wall Street crash 10 years ago was really a big turning point because people used to think, oh, you guys, I don’t know, how are you a charity? Are you a business? I can’t quite figure it out and, but you know, my smart money goes in Wall Street and goes into my 401k into. I’ll close my eyes. I don’t know how that money’s made. Well, what happens, you know, 2007, 2008. The whole system collapses. People’s portfolios disappear. Uh, the bastards on Wall Street and made out like bandits anyway. And we kept chugging out, our little five percent returns it because it was based in our actual sales and our profits and how we were treating everybody. And people were like, oh my God, this is a real thing. I was able to send my kids to college because you guys. And uh, I think that woke up a lot of people that actually the system really is rigged and we are building something much more sustainable that is built for the long term and is built for all the stakeholders.
Kate Chess:25:43In a way you can actually appeal to people’s self interests because this can be, like you said, more sustainable and a steadier way to.
Daniel Fireside:25:50Yeah, I mean, I think, look, people need to save money. People need to invest, then they need to park there. They’re extra money and earn some kind of return that beats inflation for future longterm goals, retirement, college houses. Uh, I, that’s how our system is built. We don’t have a real effect of safety net in this country. So, um, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to do that, that’s reasonable. It’s reasonable for equal change to be using other people’s money to help build our business and to pay a cost for that. But that shouldn’t be the focus of the entire economy of just turning money into more money and not paying attention about all the costs that are passed off onto people and the planet that can least afford it.
Kate Chess:26:41Now, that Equal Exchange has become at long last and overnight success. What I mean you, you were talking about how people approach you and they, they ask you where else can I invest? Or they ask you, how can my business use this model? Do you have answers for those questions?
Daniel Fireside:26:58It’s tricky because a lot of the securities law, it’s still built around a treating every company that wants to reach out to the general public as potential crooks and every person who isn’t a millionaire as some dupe waiting to be ripped off and you know, and a certain level, that’s great because there are a lot of crooks out there and a lot of people who could get ripped off, but you know, they don’t mind if you go to the casino or spend all your money on the parable. So there needs to be some sort of a middle ground and you know, whenever we offer stocks, so the company I would work with, there’s full disclosure that all the financials, we’re not guaranteeing anybody anything. We’re saying this is the risk, you know, it’s like when you look at your lottery ticket and here are the odds. Okay? Um, you know, we can also say, look, besides even if you didn’t make money, here’s all the good things that you’ve accomplished with this investment. And we’ve tried really hard and an equal. We actually, the workers in the company put half of our profit sharing or patronage into back invested into the company, so we have a lot of money tied up. So the problem is a, it’s very hard to. You can’t just slap labels on your products and say, hey, invest in us. There’s restrictions and, and roadblocks. Some of them are coming down. The hard truth is you have to do a little homework. You have to research, you have to talk to the companies that you’re really like. You have to sort of network. You have to.
Kate Chess:28:29You’re saying as an investor, you’d recommend talking to companies that you think are doing good.
Daniel Fireside:28:32Yeah. And you know, talk to me, talk to other places, talk to your local food co op. Um, you know, like it would be nice if you could just go down the supermarket and look at the labels and go, oh, these are the good guys or bad guys. Here’s the easy thing to do. I fill up my shopping cart and what we’ve learned. The sad truth is the labels only went so far that you can say anything on your package. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really great companies out there like Equal Exchange, but you got to do some digging, um, to, to really learn about it. So
Kate Chess:29:04yeah, same thing with this analogy, with this investing stuff.
Daniel Fireside:29:08You know, what the hard part is, you got to do some research, you got to dig in, really look at what the companies are talking about, what are the terms say what happens if you succeed or you going to sell out to big whatever, you know. Um, and if they say no, then that’s a really good sign.
Kate Chess:29:27Yeah. So, um, companies that, it seems like it would be difficult to distinguish as an investor between companies that are genuinely, that have built protections the way that Equal Exchange has that are still doing good and companies that are sort of now owned by someone else and not like that at all. Uh, is it easy to distinguish if you, if you’re willing to put in the time and do the research?
Daniel Fireside:29:53Well, cooperatives are a great start and you know, I’m out there working with cooperatives all the time when you to say, hey, you don’t have to. If you don’t, if you want to stay small, that’s great, but if you want to get bigger and you need to raise capital, follow our model because you’re not giving up control and you’re signaling to people out there that are really hungry for this kind of stuff. I would say in the public stock markets, the publicly traded stocks, you’re going to be really hard pressed to find anything that is really good. If you. Even if you look at these socially responsible mutual funds, so called look at what they’re actually investing in and nine times out of 10 it’s Microsoft and apple and comcast and they pick one bad thing. We don’t do that, but that doesn’t mean we’re not doing all these other bad things. So it’s, it’s really frustrating because that, that people want to do good and there’s a lot of money in those funds, but they’re, they’re just not quite doing what you want. So, you know, a lot of cooperators are starting to go out there and raised in this way. Um, these direct public offerings actually you can advertise in your own state, you can open it up to people who are not millionaires and if other bigger companies are following our model, there’s always space for, for average investors as well. Uh, there’s also a couple of loan funds that kind of do it for you. So the cooperative funding New England is one where you can put money in with them, they pay you a return on it and then they loan the money out to cooperatives all throughout the Northeast. There’s a, the impact capital cooperative and uh, the Midwest and they lend all over the place. The same thing also RSF social finance. They have our mortgage and you can put money in with them. They’ll pay a return and then they loan money out to really cool businesses. One other is a calvert social impact. They, they created a fund with us, a special program where you can put in as little as $20 or many thousands if you want and direct that that money backs Equal Exchange and they will loan all of the money that’s directed that way to Equal Exchange for us to help with our coffee buying. Um, they, they take a little, make a little profit on the difference between what they’re paying out in interest and what they’re charging us. But it’s really very minimal. They want to open this stuff up. And so these loan funds are one way to sort of consolidate these things. If you want to go deeper. It’s really about building relationships. We don’t necessarily want money from people who don’t know about us and are just saying five percent and I don’t have to worry about it. No, that’s not the deal. We want, we love the investors who, you know, sell our coffee, their church or synagogue basement who, uh, by our chocolate for all their family. Or we had one guy up in Vermont who bought a, one of our bulk bags of minis, you know, 888 pieces and gave it away to everybody in the neighborhood to give out to trick or treaters. So those are what we call committed participants. People who are really in it, they get excited and we feel good about paying interest and dividends to those folks because we know that they’re putting their money back into the same things that, that we believe in.
Kate Chess:33:17What I’m getting out of this is that there’s no shortcuts that work. There’s no easy way out whether you’re a company or whether you’re an individual is looking to invest. You sort of, you can’t get around informing yourself and thinking about eventualities and even protecting yourself from yourself in the future.
Daniel Fireside:33:35Not Shortcuts, uh, you know, equal. We make, I sort of think of us just having a lot of planned to inefficiencies. And that’s, that’s where our strength is. We don’t run our coffee roasters 24 slash seven in part because it’s really not good for people to be working in the middle of the night.
Kate Chess:33:50Do some people do that?
Daniel Fireside:33:51Sure. You know, um, and, and some efficiency expert would probably tell us, you know, we’re wasting all this capacity, but we’d also have a ghost workforce that would never be able to participate in our meetings. We shut the whole company down when we have all company meetings. We shut the cafe down. We, um, we say, you know, what, we’d rather lose some money, lose some profits, and pay people to not be working to help actually be co owners and run the company and sit and collectively make really important decisions. So often the things that are, you know, like many things in life that the best ones take a little more effort and time. Um, but that’s, that’s how we’re going to change thing is yeah, there is no quick fix, but there are longer fixes that are really much more satisfying.
Kate Chess:34:42It’s nice to know that people are out there looking for that.
Daniel Fireside:34:44Oh, I see a huge potential for this. I, I talked to investors all the time. I mean, and I see all these people putting their money into these socially responsible mutual funds and they’re not getting what they think they’re getting, but they want that. I see all these companies that are trying to do really wonderful things there, you know, have this crazy entrepreneurial spirit they’re seeing, hey, what if we just sold this product and got this stuff from here and we could help all these people that’s, you know, this real dynamism and they’re dying to get money from investors who believe in what they believe in the. So it’s a market that needs to happen. What we’re slowly seeing are some regulation changing. We’re seeing some lawyers that you can go to that understand this. You’re seeing some financial advisors that can help people shift money with larger amounts or family foundations. Um, so I’m seeing sort of ecosystem in creation. You need all these different elements to come together at equal. We’re doing our part, uh, and it, it’s, it’s happening, it’s there. There are dozens and dozens more companies today that are following this path. And there were when I started nine years ago, so that’s exciting, but there should be, you know, I, I talked to rick about it, our co founder Co president, and he said, well why aren’t there thousands? I’m just like, oh, you’re right. Why aren’t there so that, that’s our challenge to make this the norm.
Kate Chess:36:10Very cool. Anything else that you wanted to talk about or want to say that you didn’t get a chance to?
Daniel Fireside:36:16You know, it just, if you’re thinking about starting a company or you have one with a social mission, think about carefully about how you’re getting your money. If you’re investing, think about what happens if this company is successful, is it going to sell out to big whatever and lose all of its social mission? How can we protect that from happening and still make it financially viable? If you’re supporting companies, find the ones that are doing the harder thing and figure out how to support them and buy their stuff, even if it’s maybe a nickel more than than the product next to it. If we want these kinds of changes, we have to think strategically about having different outcomes and you know, we’re, we’re the proof that it can happen.
Kate Chess:37:00All good things to keep in mind. We want to thank you again for joining us today. Daniel.
Daniel Fireside:37:05Thanks for having me.
Kate Chess:37:06Yeah, thanks.
Daniel Fireside:37:07It’s really helpful to have you break all that down and it sounds like you do have one more message for our listeners.
Daniel Fireside:37:12Well, our lawyers say that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that all the descriptions of the company performance and the securities that we’ve offered and how they’ve done all relate to the past. As we know, past performance is no guarantee of future results. We’re not offering any stock at the moment. If we were, there would be all sorts of, uh, extensive disclosures. So don’t make any financial decisions based on a quick podcast or radio description.
Kate Chess:37:43Thanks for listening to the stories behind our food, a podcast by Equal Exchange inc. A worker owned cooperative. Loved this episode. Please subscribe, rate and leave a review. Be sure to visit Equal Exchange.coop to join the conversation. Purchase products. And learn more about small scale farmers and the global supply chain. This episode was produced by Equal Exchange with hosts, Kate Chess and danielle rabickow. Sound engineering provided by Gary Goodman. Join us next time for another edition of the stories behind our food.
Distribution day is the day your participants and supporters have been waiting for! They’ve been anxious to see – and finally taste – the delicious, organic and fairly traded goodies that they purchased during your catalog fundraising campaign.
You’ve wrapped up your fundraiser and submitted your master order form. Now, it’s time to prepare space to receive your group’s shipment so that you — and any helpers you’ve recruited — can separate individual orders and package them up for supporters to take home! If you set up tables before the shipment arrives, you can avoid handling all the products twice by simply placing them where they need to be for distribution as you check them in. In order to accomplish this, you need to know the sizes of the products to make a spot for them all. This kind of visual guide for product placement is called a plan-o-gram or a schematic.
Fundraising orders that are approximately $2,000 will require at least four tables that are four feet in length or longer. Larger orders will likely need more space. If you can, avoid placing your tables against the wall as you may need the room behind (and under) them to stack extra cases of product. Also, leave enough room between the tables so you can comfortably walk around them during distribution.
Allocate one table per product category and place them in the same order as they appear in the fundraising catalog:
Using separate pieces of paper, write the name of each product in the fundraising catalog (products may vary from example below) and place them, in the same order, on the matching product tables. (In the unlikely event an item was not ordered, still place a note to mark its place so people can follow along the order form with ease.)
Once every product is indicated, use the diagrams below to plan the space on the table tops so everything fits. Arranging things in the same order as the catalog will expedite distribution and help eliminate mistakes. This is true whether you and your helpers prepare orders for each participant or whether you plan an assembly-line for distribution day where supporters pick up the products themselves. Should you choose the latter, be aware that more errors can occur –plan extra supervision to ensure all products go home with the correct people!
All measurements below are approximate. Products are measured from left to right.
Chocolate needs approximately 40” of table space.
We hope this guide helps you prepare enough space so you can have your best distribution day ever!
Do you have tips or photos to share from your distribution day? If so, please help others by sharing them in our small group of Equal Exchange Fundraising Coordinators on Facebook.
If you’re in the early stages planning your campaign, here are tips on Logistics and Collecting Orders. Also, we provide insights for schools to distribute their orders per class room which are helpful for any fundraising organizer.
By Rob Everts, Equal Exchange Co-Director
While we take stock in the still-incomplete election results of last week, a more “evergreen” threat to American democracy is busy working 24/7 to thwart the will of the people.That is the corrupting influence of big money in politics. In fact, spending on the mid-term elections topped $5 billion—much of that from “dark money” groups who don’t need to disclose who is behind them.Taking a stand in favor of democracy, Equal Exchange recently endorsed the direction of American Promise.
The fundamental premise of American Promise is the need to pass a 28th amendment to the Constitution in order to curtail the destructive role big money has had for too long in quashing the wishes of the people. While it is no secret that our country is dangerously divided politically, polls show remarkable support among voters of all stripes for this approach to leveling the playing field. In other words, it is not a pure pipedream but a potentially viable strategy to achieve this important goal.
Why has Equal Exchange taken a stand on this issue? To us, democracy is more than a political system. It is our governance structure at work. Imperfect as our own worker cooperative may be, it is profoundly important that the highest-level decisions this organization makes are the domain of those who work here, the worker-owners. We are proud of this structure and work hard to give it meaning every day.
Furthermore, our supply chains are grounded in the solidarity between cooperatives. On the product side, we don’t buy coffee or tea or cacao from individual farmers. Rather, we support their institutions, democratic farmer cooperatives, because we believe the only way to help marginalized farmers gain more political power is to support their efforts once they have organized.
We also face the disproportionate influence of corporate power in the market. Massive consolidation in every sector—coffee, chocolate, bananas, grocery, distribution—makes it increasingly difficult for independent businesses to compete and succeed in the market. Consumer choices are ultimately limited, profits accrue to faceless, distant corporations, and control is lost by local communities.
One challenge Equal Exchange doesn’t have that American democracy is confronting is the outsized influence of corporate shareholders. In the political sphere, corporations and wealthy individuals have influence far disproportionate to their numbers. As described in The Sacramento Bee last year, “The problem can be traced back to 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in elections, money is the same as speech, and thus it’s unconstitutional for the government to limit election spending. That decision opened the door to corporations, unions, and the super-wealthy to wield immense influence.” This is the problem a 28th amendment would correct.
There are currently several versions already pending in Congress. The one with the strongest support so far (it received 54 votes in the US Senate in the last Congress, and was reintroduced in the House (167 co-sponsors) and Senate (44 co-sponsors) contains the following principles:
Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.
Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.
Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.
In other words, a 28th Amendment along these lines would enable the federal and state governments to no longer grant corporations equal status with human persons and in turn, no longer equate spending with free speech. While other measures are surely needed to restore faith in our democracy and combat the relentless efforts to suppress voting by minorities and the poor, such an amendment would be an enormous confidence builder that our democratic system can indeed work for all of us.
Equal Exchange avocado supporters may remember that in October 2016, Equal Exchange avocados were unavailable for about 2 weeks due to strikes in Mexico. You may also remember that during that time, Equal Exchange Produce President Nicole Vitello put out a blog post about the supply gap in which she tackled two major questions about the situation. Why did the supply of Mexican avocados to the U.S. suddenly stop? And how is Equal Exchange an alternative?
In late October and early November 2018, we found ourselves in a strikingly similar situation – once again, there were strikes in Mexico that effectively halted the avocado industry for a little more than two weeks. Although the strikes have come to an end as of November 14, we want to take the time to reflect address these questions again.
The avocado business is weekly and imperfect. Each week, exporters consider their costs, margin, and the forces of supply and demand at play in the market to determine a field price, or price per kg of fruit that will be paid to growers. The field price is perhaps the biggest influencer of the subsequent prices in the supply chain, down to the price for a single avocado on the store level. However, the train goes both ways — the field price is also influenced by the desired unit prices of retailers.
In this push and pull to determine a weekly field price, there are imbalances of information and power. As fruit is harvested, packed, and shipped, the market continues to move — sometimes resulting in fruit that was purchased above or below the price in the market when it is sold.
The strikes that just concluded in Mexico were largely in protest of different issues related to field prices, including market volatility and the low level of field prices. Large price drops are especially difficult on farm operations. “Prices fell quite abruptly in the last week … to almost half of what the producers were receiving a month or a month and a half ago,” Ramon Paz, president of Avocados From Mexico and consultant for the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (APEAM), told Fresh Fruit Portal last week. The level to which the price has dropped is low enough that growers are citing “economic losses and employee layoffs”.
These economic frustrations are very much akin to those behind the strikes in 2016. Colin Fain of Agronometrics shows how monthly prices have been dropping since supply became steady in August.
Price (USD) = price per 25 lb case of avocados
This chart shows shipping point prices in 2016 vs in 2018. Why did producers strike this October, since prices are not at or near the lows of 2016? As discussed earlier, market volatility is part of the issue. This chart illuminates the drop in prices between August and October – along with generally lower price levels throughout the season.
Side by side with steep price drops and consistently lower prices, the more nuanced issue of transparency throughout the avocado supply chain and industry shines through. Growers asked APEAM, an industry association, to set minimum price levels. APEAM cites international trade law in stating that they cannot legally comply with this request, and that price is to be determined between a buyer and a seller. Per the recap of price negotiations earlier in this article: pricing in the avocado business is messy and lacks transparency, with various actors and forces influencing the price with changing and uneven force.
Ramon Paz’s statement regarding the end of the strikes further suggests the importance of the transparency issue: “…the parties had agreed to increase the transparency of information so that everyone knows the reality of the market, the costs and the marketing margins.’”
Equal Exchange takes an approach in which farmer and importer can sit at a table together, on equal footing, and express themselves, negotiate terms that work for both sides, and learn from one another.
It is estimated that the avocado industry lost $4.3 million a day due to the closures caused by the strikes. While Equal Exchange’s producer partners were not directly involved in the strike, they, along with 25,000 growers and 24,000 industry workers, were impacted by the halting of operations and are implicated in these losses.
On Wednesday November 14, harvest, packing, and shipment of avocados resumed per agreements between growers and APEAM. The resolution that was reached include various commitments that address the root issues of the strikes, like transparency: one next step is the development of a weekly report with market information shared by APEAM.
As the avocado industry continues to evolve, Equal Exchange is committed to continue offering an alternative supply chain that is transparent, direct and fair, and will continue to act as a bridge and advocate between producers and the rest of the supply chain.
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Carolyn Boone’s church brews fairly traded coffee at gatherings and sells a variety of Equal Exchange products once a month after services. Every year, they rank among Equal Exchange’s top customers! What’s their secret? We thought we’d give Carolyn the change to tell you, in her own words!
Read on to hear about some of the steps Carolyn and other volunteers take to help the program succeed — and what inspires the whole community to get behind this ministry.
We started attending Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, Washington, about ten years ago. We were drawn in large part by their commitment to community, both locally and internationally. I was drawn to the Fair Trade ministry that had been running at the church for about six years, and started to help volunteer.
We sell Equal Exchange products on the first Sunday of every month, offering coffee, tea, nuts, olive oil and, most importantly, chocolate. With a set monthly time that people can depend on, they will wait to buy their product until it’s Fair Trade Sunday, which allows the growth of a dependable customer base. We listen to their requests and pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t, and try to adjust our inventory to their needs. We also sell at our cost, since our goal is to funnel business to the Fair Trade farmers, not to raise money for some other goal. This makes us able to sell at a more attractive price than our competitors. Our church has a weekly newsletter that is emailed and handed out every week, and we make a point of putting a reminder and thank you in the week before Fair Trade Sunday.
We have been in the top 5% of Equal Exchange faith-based customers for several years now. This is due in large part because the church as a whole supports the ministry by buying all coffee through us. When we make our monthly purchase from Equal Exchange, we always buy several cases of 5-lb bags that are used in the large kitchen for fellowship hour and all other gatherings. We have a grinder that also measures the correct amount for a good pot of coffee, so it’s a seamless process. The staff kitchen uses the 2.5 oz. pillow pack coffee in their kitchen, which we also buy on a monthly basis. Other ministries in the church contribute to the cost of the coffee their group uses, so we are truly supported by the entire congregation and staff.
If we who have so much can find ways to help those of us who have so little, I believe it is our duty to do so. Farmers in the third world work so hard just to survive, while we have so much we are able to splurge on luxuries such as coffee and chocolate. It seems an easy choice to funnel our money through the most direct pipeline to those farmers while enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Galatians 2:10: Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Got tips of your own? Let us know how you share fair trade at home, at school, at work or at church! We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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Promoting your fundraising campaign is important. If supporters don’t know about it, they can’t participate. Use email and handouts to amplify your campaign, or take advantage of your organization’s website, newsletters, blog, and — best of all — social media accounts. We’re here to help! For this post, we’re going to focus on your organization’s Facebook page, but many of these tips can be applied to other forms of communication.
You’re raising money for something important. We’re not all sales people and for some of us, reaching out for support can be uncomfortable; even a bit scary. What can help take this fear away, as with most things in life, is to simply make a plan. There are three phases to a fundraising campaign; a beginning, a middle, and an end. When broken down into sections, planning out what to post on Facebook and when to post it becomes much easier.
Facebook works best when you use short, direct posts and good images. Planning these in advance isn’t difficult, but it does require a little thought before starting your campaign. If you don’t map this out, you can easily forget, post haphazardly (people do notice!), or miss out on fundraising opportunities altogether just because people just don’t know.
Facebook posts should coincide with each phase of your campaign. Rotate messages to include just one or two these key basic points: Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How. First, customize this list to fit your organization’s needs:
Then, rotate Facebook posts about these points throughout your campaign to remind your supporters what you’re doing, how they can help, and when you need them to help.
We created graphics >> that you can use in various places on Facebook including your Cover Photo, Profile Pic and Event Cover Photo.
Feel free to use these anywhere online they fit. You can also choose pictures from Equal Exchange’s inspiring photo collection >> which includes farmer and product images. Just be sure to follow our easy usage guidelines >>.
Your first post will overview your fundraiser so will likely be your longest post. (You can always link back to this post in the future to remind supporters of the most important details.) Your post could read something like this:
As you know, we need to raise $X,XXX for ______________ so we can __________.
We’re partnering with Equal Exchange (tag EE’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/equalexchange/ ) and their fundraising catalog program to help us reach our goal. We’ll raise money while also also supporting fair trade by offering delicious and organic chocolate, coffee, tea and more, grown by small-scale farmers around the world!
Your participation is very important for us to reach our goal so please find products for yourself and for gifts!
Our campaign dates are (start date) – (end date) so to help, connect with our team during these dates. (Please note: You must be local to participate). With your help, we know we’ll be able to continue our amazing work!
As always, thanks for your support!
To start a wish list, click here (provide link to preview catalog: http://equalexchange.coop/sites/default/files/communitysales/fundraising/catalog.pdf)
Follow up with very short posts to inform people about the upcoming start date (“Our catalogs arrive Tuesday!”). This helps generate excitement. Remind them what you’re raising money for and how they will be able to participate (“We’ll be at the library Saturday from 11:00am-1:00pm to take your order! Stop by and help us reach our goal!”).
This is, obviously, the most important part of your fundraiser. Communicate your campaign’s progress and continue to let supporters know how they can participate. Be sure to thank them for their support so they feel appreciated. Remind them how much time they have left to be able to help you, and what they are supporting. People want you to succeed, so these kinds of posts boost sales. Share pictures of your fundraising goal board and of the project or people you’re raising money for to keep supporters engaged.
This phase is, sadly, the most forgotten with fundraising communications. It is so important to let all involved know how much they helped your project, whether you reached your goal or not. Let them know when they can expect your team to deliver their products to them. Sum things up with a recap of how much the money will help your organization and what is next on the horizon.
No matter what method your group uses to inform your community about your fundraiser, we hope these tips help you raise the most you can during your campaign! As always, feel free to reach out and network with other Equal Exchange Fundraising organizers in our special Facebook group >>.
November 16th marks the 29th anniversary of the slaying of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by government-run death squads in El Salvador in 1989. This past October 14th, slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. The murders of these priests—and of 80,000 more whose names we’ll never know—were carried out in no small part with the support of billions of dollars in U.S. funding and training of corrupt governments in El Salvador. The victims were largely peasants and workers organizing for their rights and a better life.
This violence which lasted from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, caused hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans to flee the country, seeking safety. It also exposed a generation of young people to a culture of violence and disrespect for human life. Such was the backdrop to the formation of the oft-mentioned gang MS-13, formed in Los Angeles the same year Romero was killed, 1980. The deportation of gang members back to an El Salvador still traumatized by years of war has contributed to yet another generation terrified by the constant threat of extortion and assassination.
Is it any wonder that so many have sought refuge and stability in the north?
Since time immemorial, humans have migrated in the quest for survival and a better life. That much is a given. But the daily dose of lies we hear from our president about who these people are also ignores our own role in triggering the decades-long exodus of desperate people from Central America, and Mexico as well.
I have highlighted El Salvador here, but a brief internet search will bring up equally disturbing examples of our government’s role in supporting violent anti-democratic forces in the region dating back nearly 100 years through to the present day.
Besides our fundamental support for human rights and economic justice, why is Equal Exchange dedicating this space to this topic? It is because many of the small farmers we work with in all these countries are victims of our government’s policies. As Green Coffee Buyer Carly Kadlec wrote last December,
“This week I was supposed to visit our producer partners at Café Orgánico Marcala S.A. (COMSA) in Marcala, La Paz, Honduras, along with Equal Exchange Coffee Quality Manager Beth Ann Caspersen, to discuss milling practices, contracts, and ongoing project work with our counterparts at COMSA. However, due to political unrest we decided to reschedule our trip so as not to put any of our partners at risk, and recognizing that our work could be put on hold while the Honduran people are fighting for democracy.”
Similarly, our Director of Purchasing and Production, Todd Caspersen, reports that our partners at the Las Colinas Cooperative in Tacuba, El Salvador have informed us it is no longer safe for us to visit them at the coop and accompany farmers on their parcelas, and so we can only meet them in the country’s capital.
We’ve written in the past about the sordid history of U.S.-based banana multinationals like Chiquita and Dole, with support from the U.S. government, have worked to eliminate competition from smallholder farmers while exploiting and injuring workers. It is against this backdrop of corruption and exploitation that our affiliate, Oke USA, has worked for ten years to educate store owners and consumers to the true cost of a banana, and to build demand for an ethical alternative.
As a reader of this blog, you know that the mission of Equal Exchange is to build viable, sustainable markets for small farmers in a system stacked in favor of big players. More broadly, we are trying to inject equity into a food system overwhelmingly controlled by large corporations. Fair trade as we live it is both a philosophy and a practice. It is also a direct challenge to the worst impacts of unmitigated free trade.
One such consequence of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 was the massive inflow of subsidized industrially-produced corn from the U.S. to Mexico. The tragic result was the depression in prices for this nearly religious staple, maiz, such that hundreds of thousands of smallholder corn farmers lost their land and saw no alternative for economic survival but migrating north in search of a better life.
Finally, as we seek to honestly account for the role the United States has played in provoking emigration from Central America and Mexico, we have to recognize the devastating impact of climate change. While our country has historically been by far the largest contributor to the warming of the planet, we have only recently experienced its devastating impact as manifested by extreme weather events. But for many years, small farming communities around the world—communities that have contributed little to the problem—have lived at the mercy of increasingly frequent, unnatural weather extremes. Many of our partners, from cacao producers in Peru to coffee growers in southern Mexico to rooibos farmers in South Africa and cashew growers in El Salvador, have confronted weather patterns and events that add exponentially to the challenges of survival on the land. The extremes of droughts and floods, together with the no longer dependable seasonal patterns of rain and sun, have forced thousands of farmers to abandon their land and seek economic alternatives elsewhere. Again, that “elsewhere” has often meant leaving family and everything familiar behind in favor of the dangerous journey and uncertainty wrapped in the hope of better opportunities in the United States and other countries.
So as we at Equal Exchange do our best every day to help improve the livelihoods of small farmers and make that work viable over the long run, it is our duty to speak our truth as we see it in response to the many crises in the world today, especially those that touch our coop and our partners directly. The demonization of desperate immigrants and the ignoring of our own government’s role in the tragedy are among those issues we will not stay silent on.
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