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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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This fall’s midterm election is sure to be full of emotion, anxiety and a fair bit of tension. Many of us will go to the polls on November 6th to elect new or existing members to Congress to be our representatives in Washington DC. We will vote for those who most closely align with our individual ethical standards and our beliefs about what is important. The choices we make will have a substantial impact on the direction of our country and the world in the years ahead.
For some of us, however, the choices may be limited. The seat may be uncontested in your district, or none of the candidates might represent your values. In this case, your direct options are to vote for the least bad candidate or to get inspired to run for office yourself during the next election. That being said, voting in elections is not the only way to participate in democracy. There are other ways to express your ideals that are just as essential.
While the election this fall is important in shaping the politics of the coming years, there are other votes we all make, every day. These votes are choices, related to where we spend our money, our time and our thoughts. With these everyday votes, we can have an immeasurable impact on our community and the world around us. So while you’re deciding how to vote this fall in the election, I challenge you to also reflect on how you vote each day by running through this simple exercise below.
Think about the products you purchase every day, week or month.
Most of us work, socialize and spend our time in various ways, sometimes productively and sometimes simply for relaxation. How we spend our time is also a vote.
This is a little less concrete than where you spend your money and time. But what you give your attention to is also a form of vote. All of us are bombarded each day with messages, ads and content vying for our awareness. You can’t possibly concentrate on everything happening around you, so you must choose what and whom to pay attention to.
I hope this quick post and exercise is a useful and helpful reminder to reflect on the votes we all make each day. If together we make better choices, we can affect real change in our personal lives and in the world around us.
Please feel free to share in the comments below your thoughts on everyday votes you have made that you are proud of! What do you hope to change this fall?
We’re excited to announce that Equal Exchange has a new storytelling podcast, The Stories Behind Our Food! Here’s the first episode.
You can hear #StoriesBehindOurFood on:
Stitcher (on both Apple and Android.)
Apple Podcasts (Apple devices only.)
Google Podcasts (Android devices only.)
or wherever you enjoy online audio!
Did you like this episode? Please consider subscribing to The Stories Behind Our Food and leaving a review. It means the world to us!
Danielle:0:17I’m here to introduce the new Equal Exchange podcast, The Stories Behind Our Food. My name is Danielle Robidoux and I’m here with my co-host Kate Chess.
Danielle:0:29I’m also here with Susan Sklar, who’s been a worker owner, at Equal Exchange this year for 15 years.
Danielle:0:34And she will be talking about her personal experience with the cooperative movement from when she grew up, all the way to now
Kate:0:47— focusing on the groovy seventies!
Kate:0:54All right. Susan, where did you grow up? Where and when? And what was your experience of food?
Susan:1:00I grew up in a very, um, kind of conformist time when it, when it comes to food, when it came to food and I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a pretty conservative area. And in my city, the ethnic food consisted of Italian food and Chinese food at the local Chinese restaurant that was pretty, um, pretty bad. I had had the floppy chow mein and all that stuff. Um, so food was, it was very, um, a rigid that world. And in addition to that, my mom really didn’t love to cook. Um, so, you know, she would make frozen vegetables, frozen peas and carrots. Um, we had iceberg lettuce salad with Russian dressing and all of that stuff. So when I went to college I started at University of Pittsburgh in 1972 and at that time I met someone who was a boyfriend who was older than I was and who introduced me to the wonderful world of food co ops. And it was totally revolutionary for me. I did not know about things like brown rice granola. I had heard about those things, but, um, I was a pretty mainstream kind of eater and I’m again, and I didn’t cook very much at all. So that was, those were my origins. Yeah.
Kate:2:57What was going to the food co op like to a grocery store of the time?
Susan:3:01Oh, it was like night and day. It was totally different. Um, the whole shopping experience was um, you know, these kind of gleaming aisles full of boxes and cans. I mean, we still have that today, but there really were not that many fresh vegetables or there were no natural foods back then. So, um, it was pretty sterile I would say, and I hardly ever went to the supermarket Spec then. So, um, when I went to this co-op in Pittsburgh for the first time, it was magical because it was really like going back in time, it was old fashioned looking within a storefront and had a wooden floors and all kinds of foods that I had never seen before. There was arrowroot powder in little bags. There was burdock root, there was fresh ginger. It was crazy. Um, I just had never really encountered foods like this before, so it really rocked my world in terms of the types of food that were out there. And um, I also began to meet different types of people who were very, very interested in where food came from. And um, were interested in small farmers, um, you know, and um, local farmers — things I had hardly ever thought about. I think the only time I had ever thought about those things was when I — there was a big farmer’s market in the summer in Scranton and I used to go once a year with my mother and see all the fresh peppers and um, you know, various types of eggplants and various types of vegetables and would get very excited by that, that, but that was once a year. So here was a store that was really focused on food. People were participating, there were all these new kinds of foods. There was all this, these discussions going on about whole foods and natural foods and organic foods, something that I hadn’t heard about at all. And it was really pretty riveting.
Kate:5:11How would you characterize the other people who shopped at the Co op?
Susan:5:16They were different than people I hadn’t encountered before. Um, first of all, it definitely a lot of women, more women were involved, um, which, you know, usually when you would go into a supermarket or just about any type of business in those days. Men were in charge. Um, things have definitely changed since then. But um, in 1972, it was really refreshing to see a lot of women taking leadership roles. Calling meetings, running the co op, um, and making decisions. So that was also revolutionary and um, it was eye opening for me. It really, really changed my world.
Kate:5:59You’re talking about other people taking part where there rules for this co op who could be a member who could shop there?
Susan:6:06Yeah. This was um, in the old days of Co ops you had to join you how to become a member, so you paid your dues and you also had to work. So you had to bag rasins, you had to bag nuts, you have to put it. I don’t remember how many hours it was, but you really had to work there. There was no opting out and in so doing, you really got to know the other people who work there and you got to know their styles and there were definitely lots of rules about how to do things. Um, but it was very community oriented and you know, you did have those interesting conversations with people while you were working. So, um, it was very, very interesting. It was much more, it felt more participatory, more democratic, and even me as a new person who was, I’m pretty ignorant about a lot of the new foods that people were starting to eat and think about and this whole natural food movement, people cared about what I thought and that was interesting to me too, that um, you know, I could be part of this and you know, there were meetings, there were all sorts of discussions about what kinds of food to bring in and it felt very, very different than the world that I had been part of in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Kate:7:30Yeah, definitely. Do you feel like there was a learning curve for you at all or like you were this person, you’d been eating iceberg lettuce and now you’re exposed to burdock root were you an immediate convert or … what was that like?
Susan:7:44No, it wasn’t an immediate convert, you know, I was 18 and there are many, many years of um, um, conformist eating that had taken place. But, um, I, I would, I started experimenting and actually, um, I had, I was part of the food plan at the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I was going to school and I would go in and see all of this really, you know, institutional food and didn’t like it very much. So I started actually cooking, um, at the end of my, um, dormitory there was one little room with a stove and I just started cooking brown rice and cooking fresh vegetables and sustaining things, eating Tofu, um, and actually I became a vegetarian, um, during those years. And so I started experimenting, but you know, when you’re going to school for the first time was the first time I was living away from home. Um, you know, there’s all these new things hitting you, so I just didn’t have that much time to devote to planning meals and cooking and um, and all of that and working at the food co op. But it happened gradually, but it really, you know, there was a seed planted and it really started growing from that point and it really, it really changed who I was. So it’s very, very important for me.
Kate:9:09Were the work shifts you talked about always fun or where are they ever kind of a drag? Was there any drama? You’re describing a perfect utopia!
Susan:9:17It was no, no, it was, it was not utopia and there were, there were still people with disagreements and different ways of doing things, but um, it was just nice to be able to talk to people openly and to, um, for, for there not to be as much of a hierarchy as I saw in other places. Um, I remember a conversation which I thought, which I still think back to, um, which was pretty humorous, which was um, a group of, there was a meeting called to talk about whether we should thank people who shopped at the co op. So when somebody, if you were a cashier and you were taking a turn as a cashier rather than bagging something, um, should you actually thank the person who shop there because it was their co op too and why should you be thianking them for shopping at the co op? So we had a very earnest, serious conversation. Everybody was really very, very intense about this, talking about whether to thank someone when they shopped and they know they were checking out at the co op. So I think at the time I was definitely, I don’t know if I was smiling during the meeting, but I was smiling to myself because I thought, wow, this is intense.
Kate:10:36What was the role of the consumer? This cooperative — you’re talking about people, they don’t need to be thanked because they have ownership too. Can you talk about that?
Susan:10:46Yeah. Um, I mean you couldn’t buy natural foods, organic foods anywhere at the time in the seventies. There were some small natural food stores opening up that were, they were called health food stores, but really if you wanted to start thinking about and start using this kind of food, you had to go to a coffee shop, which is what made them so, um, interesting at the time. And so people would come and they would be looking for certain things, you know, they, maybe they were just becoming vegetarians and they were looking for non meat alternatives and they would ask for things. And there were, there was a bulletin board and so you could put up what you were looking for and you could ask for the people who were ordering things to order certain types of foods. I mean, this is all something that now we’re more used to at this point, but back then it was, it was quite different.
Kate:11:40Yeah, it’s interesting. My experience at co ops today is that not everyone who shops at them as necessarily an owner or a member. So I think of the person ringing people up and the customer is being a different category. But you’re saying literally every single person who shopped there was also a member. Is that correct?
Susan:12:00At that time? That was true. And I think today there’s a mixture. I mean, I think most co ops who have gone the way of you can just pay your dues. You don’t have to work. Um, and because people are so busy and people don’t, don’t, um, participate, um, directly with work shifts. But, um, there was something very, very nice about that. And there was a deeper connection between people and their food and people participating in this store. And people thinking more about farmers and people coming up with suggestions about where to get food. Um, and that again, that was very democratic because people could make different kinds of choices and could influence the whole shopping scene.
Danielle:12:57Susan, can you talk a little bit more about the culture of democracy within the cooperative and was there a voting structure? Um, did people get voted in as a consumer, as a part of the cooperative or…?
Susan:13:09No, there was, there was no, um, there was a voting in um, because it was, again, it was very open. It was inclusive. So if you were in the community and you wanted to be part of this endeavor, you could be part of it. So yes, there were definitely meetings, meetings about how long to work and when to work and scheduling. And um, there were definitely, you know, managers, um, when people who coordinated different things, um, but it, yeah, people were involved, they were welcomed in and um, they didn’t have to be voted in.
Danielle:13:57What are your thoughts on kind of the evolution of that from your experience in your food cooperative and kind of the experiences that are typical of someone who is part of a consumer cooperative now? And what are your thoughts on that?
Susan:14:14Yeah, I mean, again, we’re all so busy. We’re running around, you know, we’re texting and we’re doing so many — trying to do so many different things and we’re commuting and um, there’s not a lot of time. So people have opted out of that direct participation and um, I think there’s, there’s something that’s lost with that. It becomes much more of a, uh, just your basic shopping experience. So when I moved to Providence, like over 20 years ago, um, I guess the last food co ops, and this is Providence, Rhode Island, had they had, they had just ended and so we were stuck shopping as you know, regular old supermarkets. Um, it was really hard to get natural foods and I, I’m, I’m no longer a vegetarian, but it turns out my daughter is now a vegetarian and um, it was hard to get those special foods that she, she liked to eat and then also that we’d like to eat. So, um, you know, it was hard to find those foods and we were actually quite pleased when — at least I was — when Whole Foods moved into the area and it was like eight blocks from our house because it was very, very convenient to go there.
Kate:15:35When was this?
Susan:15:35That Whole Foods moved in, I would say probably about 10 years ago. Um, you know, so then you could get all the specialty seitan and all the, you know —
Susan:15:49Yep. All the specialty items, um, and nuts, um, that you were looking for and all the frozen natural foods, you know, all that stuff. So all that was all. That was great. But it didn’t really replace a food co op because it was more like a big, you know, grocery store. I can, I guess the main thing that was, I mean, in addition to having natural foods and organic foods, the main thing that was really different is as soon as you walked through the door, you were hit with the big fruit and Veggie section, you know, all those beautiful stacked fruits and veggies. So that was, that was, um, very nice. But, um, you know, it’s expensive shopping there. And um, and then over the years I began to notice that Whole Foods was replacing a lot of the brands and the smaller brands with their own brand, the 365 brand and they were working with economy of scale and just producing these cheaper products that actually shut other people out. Um, so that was distressing. And um, I think for me, you know, I turned a corner when Amazon bought Whole Foods just recently and it really started to have a much more corporate feel and for me it feels like, um, Amazon is taking over the world and that people are not going to have that direct connection with their food the way they used to in co-ops. But the good news is that for about 10 years, people in Providence have been working on putting together a new co op, a new food co op, and, and after many years and after thinking that it was never going to happen, um, it’s actually opening up this November, so I’m very about that. Um, I became an investor, um, and as soon as they open up in November, I am totally leaving Amazon-Whole Foods and switching over to, um, to the new co op. So I’m very, very happy to be getting back to my roots.
Kate:18:08Yeah, that’s good news. Should I talk about cost, now just a little bit? I know Whole Foods people call it Whole Paycheck. It’s got this reputation as this elite, expensive store, which it deserves. A lot of things are priced high there. Uh, but people that reputation carries over to the co ops that exists today. I think. I feel like a lot of folks think of co ops is elite and expensive. Was that your experience at this co op and Pittsburgh?
Susan:18:34No, I mean it was just the opposite actually. I think one of the reasons that food co ops were formed was to, um, cut down on expenses and encourage people to buy things in bulk, actually cut down on packaging, you know, to, you know, for environmental reasons. People came with their jars and their cloth bags to carry things home in a, you were encouraged not to use paper bags or not to use plastic but grocery bags. So, um, it was something very, um, economic about shopping at co-ops. I think that some of the cops today have to jack their prices up and that’s unfortunate. I really don’t know what it’s gonna look like at the this new co op. But um, yeah, they kind of have, um, generated this image of elitism and I think that’s really not how they started. They were really a store for, for people. Um, they were like buying clubs in the beginning and um, so I think there’s some part of the population that is moving back towards buying clubs, um, and trying to buy things more economically and trying to make choices about purchasing organic food and local food. And I think that partly comes from a food consolidation that’s going on out there. There’s, um, all of these large corporations that are buying up smaller brands and changing the ingredients, eliminating them, jacking up the prices again. Uh, so I think it’s interesting. I feel like we’re moving back to the time of people thinking about these issues again, from an environmental point of view and from an economical point of view and even from a community point of view and trying to get more of a sense of connection with other people.
Danielle:20:37What’s been your involvement in the new food cooperative in Providence and what kind of structure are they taking on? Is it that you buy into the providence cooperative and do you have to put in the hours or work at all to be a part of it or…?
Susan:20:53So because I’m one of those extremely busy people that commutes to work and actually work at Equal Exchange, which is a cooperative. Um, and I’m super busy. I have not. And also I was also one of the people who lost hope that the cop was actually going to be built there because it takes so long. I haven’t been that involved. I was approached. I actually called them and told them I wanted more information. Then I was approached and asked to be an investor and I became one and actually somebody here at Equal Exchange who works here is on the board and so I keep asking that person what’s going on for updates, but I am not really as informed as I should be. However, I’m going to get involved! Much more involved as soon as I can switch over and there’s a place for me to buy food and I can start planning on what I’m going to buy and start stocking up. I will know more. But right now I don’t know that know that much.
Kate:21:48That’s fair. Yeah. I think it’s interesting. I’ve heard that the Park Slope Food Co op in New York still requires members to work and that’s become less common. All members at Park Slope have to work and that itself seems to me sort of democratic because whether you’re an investment banker or a, you know, a dog walker, you have to put it in the same hours, your time, even though you may feel like your time is more valuable than someone else’s, you have to put in x hours per week in order to maintain your membership at the Co op.
Susan:22:22Yeah. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I, I do feel like there are people who have incredible time constraints on them. Um, and they shouldn’t be allowed to maybe pay a, a fee, a big fee and not have to work directly. I think that might shut a lot of people out, particularly people with families and with, with young children.
Kate:22:46Right. In fact, low-income people, people working multiple jobs maybe don’t have time to ever go to the co op.
Susan:22:52Exactly. Exactly. So I think there is, but then again, if you’re low income, you’re not going to be able to pay a big fee to become a member of the co op. So, I mean, that might argue for some sort of sliding scale, um, membership as well, and that’s something if you’re part of the Co op you can talk about with other people and you can advocate for it because there’s room for people to talk to each other, which is very much the point. Yeah. So, you know, it’s, it’s no accident that I moved from the world of food co ops, um, to housing co ops. I lived in houses over the years and participated in meetings and shared the cooking. And then, um, I ended up working at Equal Exchange, which is a cooperative and we meet and we vote on things like change of location, change of production, we vote new members in. We have a much less hierarchical style here. And um, that’s part of who I am. It’s actually an essential part of who I am. And it all started with the Semple Street food co op in Pittsburgh.
Kate:24:06Do you think that’s a personality thing or do you think that you developed a set of skills or a set of interests because of this?
Susan:24:15I think I was influenced by the Co op movement because I came from a pretty, I came from a nuclear family, Jewish American nuclear family, pretty standard, pretty top down now with my father being the picture and all of that. Um, and my mother being the cook, she cooked every meal and no, this really influenced me a lot. I mean, you could also say that it was part of the seventies too. There was a whole alternative lifestyle being developed. People were changing, people were acting different, people were exploring different ways of interacting and being democratic and I’m buying things and eating their food and, and, you know, politics. Um, so I think I was influenced by everything that was going on in the seventies and I think the food co ops, we’re part of that. Um, and it was just a different way of interacting with people and the world. And after living in the nuclear family for 18 years, I was ready for that. I really, really liked it. I have to say probably to the feminist movement was part of that as well because I was pretty traditional. Good little girl. And so it just allowed me to branch out more, do more things, take more leadership roles, and um, have more fun.
Kate:25:41Is the world moving in that direction in your opinion since the seventies or has there been a sort of backswing? How can we get that feeling back?
Susan:25:49That’s a great question. I do think with the over corporatization of the world and you know, it’s all just living in these very tight bottom line types of structures, living with them. Um, there is a move back to getting more of a sense of community being more directly involved. Um, even, you know, in, in politics with the Bernie Sanders campaign, people getting much more involved in directly engaged. Um, it is almost a, I think a reaction and it’s really frightening when you look at all the, you know, in terms of food and frightening in many ways, but when you look at food, um, and you just see that there are no pen, large mega companies that own all the small brands and are controlling what we eat and how it’s sold. Um, it doesn’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling. I think that it’s great that people are getting more involved and I’m not, I don’t think it’s everybody, but I do think there is some movement in that direction and I’m really happy about that.
Kate:27:12Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and taking us back somewhere we haven’t been. We hope that the Providence Co op, this everything you hope it will be in that you can take an active part in.
Susan:27:23Thank you very much. This. This was great. Thanks for having me.
We collected some of our favorite creative, yet simple display ideas for holiday sales during Christmas, Hanukkah and beyond! Check out our Pinterest Board>> for even more ideas!
A sparkling, lighted display draws in shoppers, using wooden crates to add height and extra shelving. We also offer chocolate and tea racks for purchase. You can bring greenery and pine cones indoors for a gorgeous, natural and economical display. Burlap coffee bags make an eye-catching table cloth or backdrop that couldn’t be more relevant to the products you’re featuring! Order authentic burlap bags that were used to transport coffee beans to Equal Exchange for $2 each.
Order some free promotional materials like posters, pamphlets, stickers and comic books for your table. We recommend promoting your sale early to drum up excitement. Putting up our holiday sale poster with your event details and getting the word out using our e-newsletter template is a great way to do this. We’ve also created a shareable photo collection. Download holiday images to make your own promo materials.
Pre-assemble gift baskets full of fairly traded goodies for people who want gifts to grab and go. Offer a variety of price points to fit many budgets.
Move over, wine! A bottle of organic, fairly traded Palestinian Olive Oil makes a unique & meaningful gift. Tea-towels or silk scarves from the thrift store make beautiful and reusable gift wrap.
Order free gift tags that can be attached to the bottles to give the gift recipients more information about this very special olive oil!
Our chocolate minis packaging kit contains 35 acrylic bags that can be filled with 25 dark chocolate minis. Add holiday stickers and voila! We find that $8 a bag is a fair price that covers your costs with a bit extra left as profit.
Or, package milk or dark chocolate minis in small festive pouches and sell them for a set price. Recommend them to shoppers as the perfect “little something” for a teacher, mail-person or neighbor.
Serving trays, coffee mugs, and cup cozies from the Fair Trade organization Ten Thousand Villages complement coffee, tea and cocoa and make perfect add-ons at your sale table. If you want to include more crafts at your sale, Ten Thousand Villages has an extensive selection of Fair Trade garlands, ornaments and nativities that can be purchased at discounted prices for groups who want to offer crafts for sale at events on consignment.
Break up a chocolate bar into bite-sized pieces and offer samples of flavors people may not have tried, like our wildly popular Lemon, Ginger and Black Pepper, Panama Extra Dark 80% or Milk Chocolate with Caramel Crunch and Sea Salt. They won’t be able to resist picking up a few bars for themselves as well as for gifts!
Brew up a carafe of coffee or hot cocoa for samples. Equal Exchange has airpot labels so folks know what they’re tasting and can buy it from your table. If samples aren’t in your budget, charge just enough to cover your costs (about $0.15 per cup on average ). You could even charge a little more and sell customized cups of cocoa as a fundraiser.
Our best seller, Organic Breakfast Blend, is the perfect coffee to feature at your sale. It’s not only most popular… it’s also our lowest-priced coffee! Your group can still make a profit by charging $7 a bag while offering a high-quality, fairly traded coffee. And buying Equal Exchange coffee helps small-scale farmers stay on their land, supports your own organization and members get delicious coffee at a great price. What shopper could pass that up?
Tie chocolate bars with ribbon and sell them as a bundle with a price incentive like 5 for $15.
Try your hand at creating a bunch of “tea-trees” with green and peppermint tea bags for fun gifts that also double as display! Or pre-assemble the ingredients needed to make Fair Trade brownies or cookies in mason jars and include the recipe.
Offer treats made with Equal Exchange products for sale. Browse recipes made with fairly traded, organic ingredients like chocolate caramel pecan pie!
Share your displays with us!