Shade-grown coffee is as natural as it comes — the low-to-the-ground plant thrives as part of a healthy ecosystem surrounded by other species of plants and wildlife. Equal Exchange’s mission to work with small farmer cooperatives has led us to work in regions with extensive landscape degradation. The market access we provide to producers in these regions is critical to restoring these landscapes. Because we’ve been working with our co-op partners for so long, we’re able to source outstanding beans. And much of the coffee we buy is shade-grown. The plants that shade the coffee give shelter to birds and insects, sequester carbon and serve as a source of food for local communities. That’s not all. Shade actually helps make for a sweeter cup!
Coffee is a shade-loving shrub. But in recent decades, people have developed sun-tolerant varieties of the coffee plant. These varieties, grown on plantations in a mono-culture system, do what they’re meant to — produce large yields. People clear forests of native plants to plant these large fields of coffee. And a growing environment without crop variety doesn’t support biodiversity. Over 98% of Equal Exchange coffees by volume are certified organic. (Our few non-organic coffees are clearly labeled.) The overwhelming majority of these organic coffees are shade-grown. Shade trees and various types of crops and plant-life are an important part of the ecosystem for birds and pollinators.
Some of the non shade-grown coffees that Equal Exchange sources are produced in locales where deforestation has occurred. The land in these areas is in transition; it’s still in the process of being restored with agroforestry systems using coffee as the principal crop.
Want to learn more? Watch our documentary about farmer partners who grow coffee in buffer zones around protected biospheres in Peru:
The coffee beans we roast are the seeds of the plant. They’re found in its small round fruit, its cherries. Some fruits, like bananas, can be picked when green; they’ll continue to ripen after harvest. Coffee is different. It will not ripen any more once the fruit is off the bush. For that reason, skillful growers wait until the cherries are mature, when they’ve developed as much sucrose as possible. The sucrose in the cherry flavors the coffee in the cup — and it depends on factors like altitude and shade cover. Coffee plants needs sunlight to develop, of course. But they thrive when they grow in partially shady conditions. According to the Coffee Quality Institute, shade-grown coffee will have 3% more sugar than coffee that is grown in full sun.
While the shade-grown certification system is appropriate for some growers, it comes with costs. We don’t believe it provides sufficient additional benefits for us to ask our producer partners to go through this process on top of the fair trade and organic standards they are already meeting. It’s important to note that both organic and fair trade standards have environmental components that cover much of what shade-grown certification requires. From our perspective, shade certification doesn’t alter in a significant way the practices of farms that are already fair trade and organic certified.
This effervescent coffee cocktail matches cold brew with sweet pineapple and gin. Mix it up for endless summer vibes! We like it best with fruity Ethiopian coffee.
Here’s to summer!
Why pay for a fancy scrub when you can make one at home using fair trade ingredients?
To make this scrub, we mixed Equal Exchange’s Palestinian Organic Virgin Olive Oil and ground Organic Coffee (both known for the antioxidents they contain) with brown sugar (for exfoliation). For little extra tingle, you can add a few drops of tea tree oil, too.
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We’ve been selling organic, fairly traded coffee since 1986 and our coffee bags are without a doubt one of our most recognizable products. When you’re in the grocery aisle, those bright red mylar bags are hard to miss.
But those red mylar bags are single-use and destined for the landfill in every municipality we sell them in. We are on a mission to change that.
We’re not on this path alone. Packaging is a clear opportunity for companies wanting to offer more sustainable options. And for good reason — 30% of US household trash on average comes from product packaging (Allaway et al pg. 5). Equal Exchange’s Environmental Sustainability Committee has been tracking our impact on various environmental metrics since 2015 and because of that we know about 30% of our company’s solid waste tracked goes to a landfill, much in the form of mylar coffee bags. Unfortunately, in seeking a righteous alternative, we’ve discovered that there are no simple solutions.
Compostable options have been leading the way in terms of alternative coffee packaging, so we’ll focus on them. Biotrē, made by Pacific Bag, accounts for coffee’s need for shelf stability with paper-based bags that have a lining of PLA, a plastic made from plant materials instead of petroleum. There’s a good article on Biotrē here.
But based on our research, this material could be problematic for two reasons.
First, most of these bags never actually get composted. Yard debris compost facilities rarely if ever accept packaging. Facilities that accept food waste and yard waste together are more accommodating, but still about half of all food waste composters won’t accept compostable plastics, and only an estimated 4% of US households have access to pickup food waste composting collection (Platt et al, Allaway et al pg 17). For example, many of our worker-owners live in Portland, Ore. which is one of those municipalities that only accepts food waste for composting. So, if they bought a Biotrē bag they would either have to compost it in their own backyard heaps or put it in the landfill. Any compost made with compostable packaging or utensils cannot be used on organic farms according to USDA standards, because they are considered synthetic inputs — much of which is derived from GMO corn (Sullivan).
Second, there is the full life cycle of environmental impacts that packaging has (beyond just its disposal) to consider. In 2018 The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released a comprehensive review of academic studies on packaging covering the previous 20 years and concluded that “compostable packaging that is composted does not consistently fare better than non-compostable packaging that is either landfilled, incinerated or recycled” across a wide array of environmental criteria (Allaway et al pg 11-12). The report goes on to cite that “higher impacts for compostable options are due to several factors, including higher production-related emissions” (Allaway et al pg 12) and the fact that composting doesn’t enjoy the “higher benefits of recycling,” (Allaway et al pg 13) which reuses materials, thereby cutting down on resource extraction. Biotrē was not evaluated in any of the studies covered by the DEQ’s review and may have lower production-related emissions than the compostable packaging that was studied, but we do not know.
Even if it is, we come back to the limited infrastructure for composting.
Some companies and thinkers in this arena have been adopting a “build it and they will come” approach, suggesting that if more and more companies adopt compostable packaging, more composting facilities will be built to handle the demand. We don’t know if that will happen. We do know that recently several Pacific NW composting facilities have stopped accepting compostable food service ware (which is different from packaging, which this post is about, but still telling) and released this press release on why. Even if waste management caught up and most “compostable” packaging was able to be composted, we’d have the higher energy inputs for alternatives to consider. Furthermore, viewing this issue solely from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, David Allaway (DEQ) says, “If Oregon could recycle or compost 95 percent of its waste (all waste, not just packaging), we’d reduce [Oregon’s] greenhouse gas emissions by about six percent” — driving home again the fact that the greatest energy impact of any packaging material is incurred upstream at the time of its manufacture, and that recycling and composting are helpful but insufficient by themselves.
There are well-intentioned people on both sides of the compostable packaging debate, but it is our view at Equal Exchange that we need to keep searching for a more environmentally sound solution, ideally one that is recyclable. We’re keeping an eye out for one, and will continue evaluating compostable options and considering any that turn out to be lower-impact at the production stage.
This article was co-written by Equal Exchange worker-owners Ellen Mickle and Lincoln Neal. Questions? Email Ellen: email@example.com
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Recipe & photo courtesy of Blanche, feastinthemiddleeast.com.
Here comes the sun! On a hot day, it’s easy to make a refreshing beverage from fair trade and organic tea without turning on your stove, as long as you don’t mind waiting. Tea leaves will impart their flavor to water at any temperature – and a blast of sunshine speeds up the process. It’s so simple, we hesitate to even call this a recipe, but here goes:
This tea can be made with your favorite variety of organic black, green or herbal tea.
Fill pitcher or gallon-size canning jar with water.
Add eight teabags and leave in the sun to steep.
Wait 2-3 hours, until the tea is the color you prefer.
Sweeten with simple syrup, honey or agave and add lemon.
Serve over ice.
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“Ours is a growing church with an average attendance about 250 members, with new members joining all of the time. This is because we’re an open and affirming Reconciling Congregation which makes people feel comfortable and safe. And whenever a new member joins we give them a gift of an Equal Exchange product whether it’s a box of tea, a bag of coffee, or a can of cocoa.
We make it easy for people to access and purchase the Equal Exchange products throughout the week; they‘re available in a heavily-trafficked room where neighbors come to drop their kids off for Scouts or to participate in exercise classes. We also don’t seek to make a profit; we don’t use the products as a fundraiser. And we occasionally do things like Sunday school lessons and announcements to educate people about fair trade and the people it affects.
We also sell Equal Exchange products through an honor system where people can take the products they need and leave a check. Finally, as a member of a clergy choir in Central PA, I bring products once a month to display at every choir concert. What this means is that by May this year I will have taken a display to 26 different churches. My clergy colleagues always buy; but those attending the concert often purchase as well!”
Experimenting with ways to eliminate those too-much-coffee jitters or sleep better at night? You don’t necessarily need to give up coffee. Decaf can be a satisfying substitute — especially when you choose a decaf made through an all-natural process that leaves the flavor intact.
Go-juice. Caffeine fix. Jolt of joe. Day-starter. Jet fuel. All these nicknames for a cup of coffee refer to properties that come from caffeine. But what is caffeine? It’s a substance that naturally occurs in coffee beans — likely the reason why humans domesticated the coffee plant in the first place. Speaking more precisely, caffeine is an organic compound, a stimulant chemically derived from xanthine. It temporarily blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and stimulates parts of the central nervous system.
So, caffeine is a drug — a legal and popular one. It wakes you up, makes you feel more alert. It keeps you up, staving off drowsiness. But what if you don’t want that?
If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, one option would be to simply stop drinking coffee. But if you’ve come to truly love the taste and smell of coffee, the way I do? If you appreciate the feel of a warm mug in the hand? If you look forward to the morning ritual of brewing a pot at home or sipping a cup in a cafe with a friend? Well, quitting can be hard to do.
A better option: you could switch to decaf.
Decaf gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried it, I heard lots of negative things about how it tasted. But when I decided to switch to decaf, I was pleasantly surprised. True confession time: I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my old regular coffee and the new decaf varieties I tried.
One explanation for this is that the decaf I was drinking was high-quality coffee — 100% organic Arabica beans, sourced from farmer co-ops in direct trading relationships. It had been roasted by people who really knew what they were doing and it was freshly ground. The all-natural decaffeination process probably also helped. Still, I was surprised how little I missed what I’d always thought was an essential component to coffee.
When you think about it, though, there are all kinds of ways we modify our coffee already. Many people add milk or sweeteners or both. We serve it over ice. We experiment with different brewing methods. And we all have different sensory equipment — different taste buds, different receptors. Why not give decaf a spin and see what YOU think?
Equal Exchange’s decaf coffee is decaffeinated with a process called CR3 Natural Liquid Carbon Dioxide Decaffeination, first patented in Germany in 1970. Here’s how it works:
The use of carbon dioxide and water poses no risk to your health (think of carbonated water – it contains the same natural liquid carbon dioxide). This process removes 99.9% of the caffeine, yet leaves the bean and its natural oils intact.. These are the two reasons why Equal Exchange switched from offering Swiss Water Process in 1996 to the CO2 process — more caffeine is removed and the taste is fantastic!
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For Immediate Release: May 22, 2019
Contact: Rob Everts, President
EQUAL EXCHANGE SUPPORTS MORATORIUM ON AGRICULTURE AND
FOOD ACQUISITION AND MERGERS
New Legislation Will Hit the Pause Button on Mega-Mergers
In the wake of unprecedented concentration in the agriculture and food sectors, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced legislation today to place a moratorium on large agribusiness, food and beverage manufacturing, and grocery retail mergers and acquisitions. Known as the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019, the bill would also establish a commission to review mergers, concentration, and market power in those sectors.
“We commend Senators Booker and Tester and Representative Pocan for taking this vital step forward on this critical issue,” said Rob Everts, President of Equal Exchange. He added, “We urge Congress to act now to stop mega-mergers until their full impact can be assessed and market safeguards put in place. While independent food stores are being crushed by corporate grocery consolidation, farmers are being squeezed at both ends by corporations with abusive levels of power, from the sellers of inputs to the buyers of farmers’ goods. Meanwhile, food workers’ wages remain low and consumer choice is greatly diminished.“
While the largest multinational agribusiness corporations are posting record earnings, farmers and independent retailers are facing desperate times. Since 2013, net farm income for U.S. farmers has fallen by more than half and median on-farm income is expected to be negative in 2019.
In just the past two years, chemical and seed company acquisitions and mergers have allowed three companies to control two thirds of the crop seed and nearly 70% of the agricultural chemical markets. When these acquisitions and mergers were announced it led U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley to call the wave of mergers a “tsunami.”
Over the last three decades, the growth of market concentration and market power has spun out of control. During this period, the four largest multinational corporations have gained control of 71% of the pork market, 85% of the beef market and 90% of the grain market.
The Food and Agriculture Concentration and Market Power Review Commission which would be established by this legislation will develop recommendations to establish a fair marketplace for family farmers and their communities. The commission would be specifically required to review the impact of vertical integration, packer ownership of livestock, and contracting practices by large agribusinesses on family farmers and suppliers.
Equal Exchange is worker-owned cooperative that pioneered the practice of “fair trade” food importing in 1986. With sales of $74 million, the coop roasts organic coffee at its roastery in West Bridgewater, MA, and markets fairly trade organic coffee, tea, chocolate, cashews, bananas and avocados to stores, cafes, congregations and direct to consumer in all fifty states.
If you’re a U.S. consumer, 8 out of 10 times your avocado will come from Michoacán, Mexico. There are various reasons for this Mexican dominance of the U.S. avocado market: geographic proximity, ease of trade restrictions due to NAFTA, and a fairly long growing season that extends from August to May. However, as consumer demand has continued to boom, Mexico has struggled to keep pace with the burgeoning demand.
In order to diminish the gap between supply and demand, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cleared Peru for export in 2009, cleared Colombia for export in 2015, and has been pushing to open the Mexican state of Jalisco. While Mexico may still continue to be the biggest player in the U.S. market, it has become clear that other origins are needed to provide a stable and reliable year-round supply for consumers.
Peru Emerges As An Avocado Player
Peru has emerged as a prominent player in more recent years. It is important to mention that Peru has a thriving agricultural economy. Peruvian coffee and cacao are well known in specialty markets. More recently, the coastal region of Peru has emerged as major hotspot for produce production. Peru has become a produce powerhouse, accounting for a large percentage of asparagus, grapes, and mangoes imported into the U.S. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that Peruvian avocados are gaining a bigger share of the U.S. market.
A major advantage for Peruvian avocados lies in their seasonality for exports, which roughly extends from May to August. This serves as a good complement to the Mexican export season, which lasts from August to May. This timeline has provided Peruvian avocados with a tremendous window of opportunity, as Peru has been able to supply avocados when sparse product has been available on the U.S. market.
To shine some numbers onto this growth: In 2010, the USDA reported 300,000 pounds of imports from Peru, while in 2018 Peru imported an impressive 180 million pounds of avocados (USDA ERS). In 2018, Peruvian avocados accounted for 8% of all avocados imported into the U.S. While conventional Peruvian avocados have been a large percentage of that growth, organic and/or Fair Trade Peruvian avocados are a more recent addition to the U.S. market.
Equal Exchange Enters The Peruvian Market
In 2018, Equal Exchange launched its Peruvian avocado program in partnership with LaGrama, a Peruvian company providing essential services to small scale farmers in Peru. Equal Exchange saw the opportunity to bring in a Peruvian program during the summer months, when supply of organic, Fair Trade Mexican avocados is fairly limited. More importantly, Equal Exchange’s mission has always been to create space for small farmers in the global marketplace. This has been true in coffee, tea, cacao, and bananas.
As the Peruvian avocado market expands, we saw the need to give small farmers a share of that growing market. The Peruvian avocado industry is young, dynamic and developing. We have an opportunity here to include small farmers into the mix at the very onset of this emerging industry. After extensive research with industry partners and a sourcing trip to Peru, we were thrilled to find partners like LaGrama that align with our mission and vision for change in the avocado industry. This summer, we are excited to be offering a second season of small farmer grown, Fair Trade, Organic Peruvian avocados.
Lessons Learned One Year Later
Building a successful program takes time and patience. After our first season of Peruvian avocados, we now understand that there are some inherent differences between Mexican and Peruvian avocados and given the Mexican dominance of the U.S. market, retailers and consumers are more familiar with the characteristics of a Mexican avocado. This understanding was part of our learning curve during the first year of the program.
While both the imported Mexican and Peruvian avocados are Hass varieties, there are crucial differences in the climate in which these avocados are grown. Mexican avocados are grown in semi-warm or temperate climates with natural rainfall patterns. In Peru, avocados are grown in an arid climate with the help of intensive irrigation infrastructure. Since avocados are not native to Peru, Peruvian avocados are under constant climatic pressure.
Some of the perceivable differences between the Mexican and Peruvian avocados, such as the texture of the skin and difference in color, are a result of these contrasting climates. Other factors come into play as well. Because of the geographical proximity of Mexico, Mexican avocados can be harvested at a much higher oil content, as dictated by USDA regulations. Peruvian avocados, on the other hand, are harvested at a lower oil content due to the longer transit time. This means Peruvian avocados require more handling as they need more time to ripen.
We now understand that it will take some time for consumers and retailers to familiarize themselves with Peruvian avocados, especially within the organic and Fair Trade market. We strongly believe that with more education and exposure, the U.S. consumer base will become more accustomed to Peruvian avocados. Until then, we will continue to provide the information and tools needed to build a small farmer movement in Peruvian avocados.
Being part of an alternative business means not only responding to demand, but actively creating demand for alternatives that lead to positive change in the food system. Equal Exchange did not get into small farmer, Fair Trade bananas because there was a demand for it. We got into bananas because there was a need for it. We are here to do the same with small farmer grown Peruvian avocados.