Building Community Through Shared Space
2019 Equal Exchange Summit
Equal Exchange has always been about building authentic relationships. We want people to reconnect to where food comes from, to engage around each product supply chain, to understand that there are people and ecosystems behind our tea, chocolate and coffee. Equal Exchange also believes in alternatives. We seek to share our cooperative business model- to resist against business as usual and that people can be put before profit.
In 2017 we launched an organizing effort to build an Equal Exchange community. This has been our attempt at building an autonomous network of supporters, activists, consumers, teachers and advocates to have deep involvement within the Equal Exchange’s model. Who are the people supporting our farmers and our business model?
In our early days of launching; we often tasked our audience with the idea that we want to build this community together. One of the biggest ways we have built and sustained community is by hosting an annual summit. Each year, these summits have grown, more people are showing up, and more work has been done to make a positive impact on our food system.
In 2017, our summit was a rite of passage, our first take at bringing together citizen-consumers, worker-owners and farmer partners. We hosted around 100 people at Stonehill College, brought together friends, allies and convened over shared meals and breakout sessions. We had our first vote as a community, it was a vote of direction.To endorse a climate change campaign seeking to address the challenges many of our farmer partners face-or to choose to invest in building up our community through events, shared platforms and capacity building. The vote was a pivotal point in exercising our group’s ability to help us build a direction, together. In 2018, we experimented with reaching more people, by hosting two summits in two different locations. One summit was held in Easton, MA and one was held in Chicago, Illinois. We learned the pros and cons of two locations; how it offered ease of travel for some, but a slit in energy at both.
This year we held our summit in Norton, MA about twenty minutes from our West Bridgewater HQ and roastery. 2019 was a significant landmark in the development of our shared community. We maxed out our venue, put forth a governance path, held engaging workshop sessions, and launched two solidarity campaigns, Behind the Barcodes and the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019.
On Friday June 21, we opened up the day with keynote speaker, Santiago Paz, the export manager of Norandino Cooperative located in Piura region of Peru. Santiago helped to set the stage for Norandino’s long standing relationship with Equal Exchange, their growth as a cooperative and what it means to be in true partnership. We then broke out into various sessions including the plight of US farmers, our alternative trade network and allies, a deep dive on our coffee supply chain, and a look into our family dairy farm cheese partnership. The afternoon was spent digging into our solidarity campaigns, Behind the Barcodes with OXFAM and the Food and Agribusiness Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019with the Organization for Competitive Markets(OCM). Attendees were challenged to grapple with action in the context of our community and two very different strategies.
Saturday we opened the morning with a keynote from Rink Dickinson, one of Equal Exchange’s three founders on building an Alternative Trade Organization for the future. Joined by Rob Everts, Equal Exchange’s co-director, Rink and Rob spoke of our challenges and successes and what it will take for Equal Exchange to survive going forward for the many challenges ahead.
We opened up the mid-morning with continued learning about the food system, a panel highlighting the challenging landscape for food cooperatives, a deeper look into small farmer coffee cooperatives in Peru, building cooperatives in immigrant communities in New York City, and how to engage more deeply in our interfaith program at Equal Exchange.
In the afternoon, we put forth a new model for this community, exploring the possibility of a citizen-consumer seat on Equal Exchange’s board of directors. In anticipation of hopefully amending our bylaws to embrace this role, we had a competitive election with 10 citizen consumers who ran and were nominated. The candidates ranged from committed buyers, local activists, fair trade academics, and a leader of a small independent spice company. The process felt like another landmark for this community as the group did indeed elect a prospective member to our board.
Democracy takes effort, commitment, collective responsibility and dedication to an often slower and messier path. We believe that in an attempt to build a democratic food system that is truly transformative, it is not enough to focus on the buying and selling of a product. Likewise, for true change to occur, involvement cannot begin and end with a purchase. Voting with your dollar is not enough, and this is what we hope to foster throughout our Citizen-Consumer community for years to come.
Interested in attending next year? Visit: equalexchange.coop/summit