October 2021

Considering Supply Chains

Until recently, many of us never thought about supply chains… but suddenly we’re seeing empty shelves in markets again and getting worried.  Supplies of rental cars in some cities are so low that renting a car will cost more than your airline ticket, and some schools are having so much trouble securing food for students that they are discontinuing lunch service.  Even at the Co-op, we’re seeing empty shelves and can’t find goods that are usually in stock.  What’s behind the difficulties, and why are they happening now?

The large-scale issue is that the pandemic revealed the unsustainability of just-in-time manufacturing systems and persistent inequities in labor— including low wages and poor working conditions.  Labor shortages upstream have impeded the delivery of products to the end-user (us), and a glitch in the system can cascade down to affect many products and supply chains.  The food system hasn’t been designed with buffers that would help overcome shortages.  All incentives for business point toward keeping just enough stock on hand to deal with current demand, to avoid costs of storage.

During the pandemic, people shifted from buying services (including restaurant meals) to buying goods.  Thus demand increased, especially for imported goods; but freight deliveries backed up because there aren’t enough workers to load containers or drive and unload trucks.  In some cases, it’s an issue of wages that aren’t high enough to hold workers on the job; but workers also get called out to take care of kids who are sick or quarantined, and anybody with a respiratory illness has to quarantine until results come back from COVID tests.

What does this mean for us and our Co-op?  First, department managers haven’t been able to order the quantities of food they normally would.  The number of cases of product that can be ordered from our major supplier has been cut down to about 70% of pre-pandemic levels.  Then when deliveries arrive, we often discover that something ordered wasn’t available or can’t be supplied in the quantity ordered.  Special orders were discontinued because they cut into the case limit but only served individual member-owners.  This management decision was made to try to serve as many customers as possible.

What can you do, as a member-owner?  Not much!  This is a problem that needs to be worked out at the food distribution system level.  That will happen eventually, although the experts tell us that problems are likely to last through 2022.  President Biden recently ordered Los Angeles docks to begin working 24/7 to relieve the bottleneck of freight that is waiting to unload.  But California’s dock bottlenecks are just part of the problem with the supply chain.  And of course, with vaccine apartheid* continuing (which increases the risk of new and more deadly variants of COVID emerging), there’s no guarantee of a return to “normal”.   What we can do is be patient and recognize that Co-op staff are working hard to try to meet your needs.  And remember that all food supply chains rest on a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem.  So, protect pollinators in your yards and don’t cut down trees!  Pollinators are endangered, and trees are sequestering carbon.

*what the U.S. is doing with vaccines is just like food apartheid or racial apartheid.  Wealthy nations are gobbling up the vaccines and now moving to booster shots, while poor black and brown nations are less than 5% vaccinated.

Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Spotlight on Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea

Our Member Deals Spotlight shines brightly this week on a local business that keeps our Co-op shelves stocked with fresh-roasted artisan coffees and teas. From October 28th – November 3rd, member-owners can enjoy a 20% discount on all of the offerings from Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea! Read on to learn more about this local importer and roaster of single-source, organic, and fairly traded coffee and tea and their dedication to the craft:

 

The Team

Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea was founded by Mané Alves, a native of Lisbon, Portugal, who has been in the specialty coffee industry for over 20 years.  His wife, Holly, came to the business with more than 20 years of experience with branding and marketing and now handles strategy and marketing for Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea. Together with their General Manager, Renee Adams, and the rest of the team, they possess a shared passion for great coffee and a vision of delivering the highest quality coffee and tea products to their customers, week in and week out.

Mané & Holly Alves

Sourcing

Thanks to his extensive travels, Mané has been able to develop direct relationships with many of the farmers from which his coffees and teas are sourced. Many of the coffees in the lineup are single-sourced, farm direct, organically grown, and Fair Trade certified. 

 

The Roastery

The workhorse of the company is their state-of-the-art Roastery where they transform green coffee beans from around the world into some of the finest roasted beans around. 

If you find yourself passing through Waterbury, VT, be sure to drop by their coffee bar and see for yourself why Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea has earned a coveted Seven Daysie award for “Best Coffee Roaster in Vermont” and “Best Coffee Shop Outside of Chittenden County.” They offer delicious drinks and treats to-go, plus whole bean and ground coffees and teas by the bag. 

Sustainability

Mané and the rest of his team understand the importance of sustainable business practices. They collaborate with the farmers who grow the products they offer to explore climate-friendly growing practices and they are committed to offering eco-friendly packaging. Click here to learn more about the balance between sustainability and quality in coffee packaging and the environmentally friendly Biotré 2 bag used for Vermont Artisan Coffees, which is made from 100% renewable materials and is 60% compostable.

Education

In addition to offering high-quality coffee and tea to retail outlets, Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea is also host to the School of Coffee — a professional coffee training center offering CQI accredited courses on brewing and roasting coffee in a Specialty Coffee Association Certified Premier training facility. Their cupping classes, roasting classes, and barista classes are geared toward the coffee professional, while their tastings and workshops are for folks who just want to learn more about the world of specialty coffee. Tours, tastings, and workshops are on hold during the pandemic, but they look forward to resuming these opportunities once it’s safe to do so.

Spotlight on Frontier Co-op Brands

As part of our celebration of Co-op Month, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight this week on the Frontier Co-op family of brands, which includes Aura Cacia and Simply Organic, in an effort to highlight the wonderful things this cooperative does to source and provide quality organic and earth-friendly products while also giving back to the communities they serve. All Frontier, Aura Cacia, and Simply Organic products are 20% off for member-owners from October 21st – 27th.  Read on to learn more about this trio of cooperative brands and their commitment to the wellbeing of people and planet:

First founded in 1976 in a riverside cabin in Iowa with only two employees, Frontier has been a member-owned, democratically-controlled co-op dedicated to supporting and advocating the values of the cooperative community from the very beginning. Their 40,000 member-owners are wholesale retailers, distributors, and buying clubs like our Co-op, who purchase products from Frontier for retail sale. Despite their growth and evolution since those early days in the cabin, Frontier remains firmly committed to its founding values of integrity, openness, social responsibility, and respect for the environment. They’re driven by a simple purpose: to do good by people and planet. And to create a stronger company built on a commitment to quality and sustainability.

Each year, Frontier Co-op gives back 4% of its pre-tax profits to causes and organizations around the world that inspire wellness in communities where their products are produced. Each of the co-op’s three brands has an established fund for social giving.

Frontier was an early adopter of progressive workplace programs such as on-site childcare, establishing a subsidized on-site childcare center and cafeteria at their headquarters in Norway, Iowa in the 1980s. They were also early and influential advocates of the organic, fair trade, and non-GMO movements, introducing the first Fairtrade Certified spice line and the first Non-GMO Verified vanilla extracts in the United States. 

They’re also deeply committed to their grower communities abroad where many of their premium organic products are sourced. To ensure a healthy, meaningful, mutually beneficial partnership, Frontier established the Well Earth™ sustainable sourcing program. This program promotes the sustainable production of natural and organic products and creates partnerships built upon mutual respect for quality botanicals and sound social and environmental principles. It is part of a multi-faceted effort to provide customers with high-quality, socially responsible products that include commitments to product quality, Fair Trade standards, Organic standards, integrity, social responsibility, and sustainable operations. By bringing high-quality, socially responsible products to the marketplace, the program gives consumers the opportunity to use their purchases to influence the way the world does business.

Organic ylang ylang harvest

Proceeds from the fair trade of their products has allowed for the development of critical infrastructure in the growing communities from which Frontier sources many of their raw ingredients, including a preschool in Madagascar, a dental clinic in Fedecovera, and the construction of 49 wells in 38 of the farming communities from whom Frontier sources its vanilla.

Students stand outside the preschool constructed in the growers’ community in Madagascar where Frontier and Aura Cacia source their raw ingredients

Aura Cacia

In the late 1990s, Frontier decided to expand its lineup to include body care products and essential oils by purchasing Aura Cacia. As part of Frontier Co-op, Aura Cacia shares the cooperative values of nourishing people and planet. They care for the small grower communities at the source of their products, openly share product information, show their customers how to improve their lives with aromatherapy, and give back to help those in need.

Aura Cacia is committed to both quality products and quality of life. They offer outstanding products made from simple and pure botanical ingredients that improve the well-being of those who use them. They test every shipment of essential oil they receive to verify its purity and quality.

Aura Cacia’s Lavender Fields

As they travel the world to find top-quality essential oils, they encourage sustainable growing practices that preserve and improve land and resources for the future. Click here to learn more about Frontier Co-op’s sourcing.

As part of Frontier Co-op’s far-reaching sustainable sourcing initiatives, they support the growers’ communities with charitable projects that fundamentally improve people’s lives. They’ve created the Positive Change Project to give back a portion of each Aura Cacia purchase to organizations that help women bring positive change to their lives.

 

Be sure to check out Aura Cacia’s impressive collection of recipes to unleash the full potential of their essential oils. Whether you’re looking for DIY recipes for facial care, body care, or home cleaning products, they’ve got something for you!

Simply Organic

In the early 2000s, Frontier launched the Simply Organic line of products as a means to offer a 100% organic line of culinary products to deliver big flavor to your meals while also supporting climate-friendly growing practices. Simply Organic is known for real, pure spices that really make a meal. Always 100% certified organic. Always sourced responsibly, and delivered with ethics and integrity. In keeping with their commitments to their growing communities, Frontier works closely with its growers to ensure goodness all around. Pure, premium spices for you. Sustainable farming practices and steady businesses for farming communities around the world. It’s a win-win!

Simply Organic is committed to helping nourish the millions of food insecure in the United States and Canada through the Simply Organic Giving Fund. Since 2001, they’ve given back more than $2 million to support organic agricultural development and grower communities, including:

  • Helping growers in developing countries produce and market certified organic products.
  • Building training centers that teach organic agriculture methods and wells that bring fresh water to villages; supporting schools, meal programs and other social projects in grower communities.
  • Supporting U.S. organic research and education projects, scholarships in sustainable agriculture, and organic-growing-based social organizations such as urban gardens and community food banks.

In 2018, Frontier committed to focusing the Simply Organic Giving Fund Grant Program on addressing an issue that’s especially persistent and critical, but that is often overlooked or misunderstood: food insecurity. They’re working to help organizations across the United States and Canada to nourish the millions of food insecure in our communities by supporting organizations that provide access to healthy, organic food options.

Grant recipients for this year include the Emergency Food Network, Feed Iowa First, Matthew 25, Project Worthmore, and MEANS Database. Click here to learn more about the impact of these projects and to apply for a Simply Organic Giving Fund Grant.

Also, be sure to check out the Simply Organic recipe database for delicious inspiration!

Celebrate Co-op Month!

This October, your Co-op is joining over 65,000 co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year’s theme, “Build Back for IMPACT,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) to promote how co-ops and their members are working together to build stronger, more inclusive, and resilient communities in the wake of the pandemic.

 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical components of our work here at the Co-op and we remain dedicated to centering these issues so that we’re able to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and participatory atmosphere at our Co-op. After all, people have historically used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger, more inclusive communities and this valuable work must continue. Most co-op grocery stores got their start during times of social and economic change, enabling people to access healthy food, support local producers, and provide good jobs. More recently, a new wave of startups has been growing, representing a renewed interest in food security, and racial and economic justice. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes 40 food co-ops and start-ups, locally owned by more than 164,000 members and employing over 2,460 people.  Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of over $382 million, with local products representing close to a third of total sales. 

“Despite the challenges of the past year, food co-ops across our region continued to grow in 2020, sustaining local producers, providing good jobs, and working to keep shoppers healthy and safe, during the pandemic,” said Erbin Crowell, NFCA Executive Director. For example, NFCA member co-ops grew their revenue by 10% over the previous year, with sales of local products topping $100 million. “And as we look forward, our co-ops are building on this foundation to build more resilient communities, a more sustainable food system, and a more inclusive economy that works for everyone,” added Crowell.

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more inclusive and resilient local communities.  From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, co-operative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 1 in three people are co-op members.  Around the world, around 1 billion people are members of about 3 million co-operatives, and 10% of the world’s population, or around 280 million people, are employed by co-ops.  And because they are member-owned, co-operatives are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs.

A few of our favorite co-op-made products

Our Co-op is celebrating this special month in a number of ways. Throughout the month, we’ll be promoting some of our favorite Co-op-made products so that you can vote with your food dollars for businesses that are actively growing a more inclusive economy. Check out our Weekly Sale and Member Deals displays all month long to find great deals on co-op-made products by Equal Exchange, Frontier, Blue Diamond, La Riojana, and more. Be sure to check out the Addison Independent each week for coupons that will offer even deeper discounts on these great products. 

To find co-op-made products throughout the store, look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves. You may be surprised by what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley, fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate from Equal Exchange and Alter Eco, La Riojana wines, orange juice from Flordia’s Natural, body care products from Alaffia, bagels from Alvarado Street Bakery, naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles — and many others!

To find food co-ops all over the Northeast, and for more examples of how co-ops are building back for impact, please visit www.nfca.coop.

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Equal Exchange

October is Co-op Month, Fair Trade Month, and Non-GMO month, so it seems like the perfect time to shine our Member Deals Spotlight on Equal Exchange – a cooperative that is revolutionizing the fair trade of organic, non-GMO coffee, chocolate, cocoa, tea, bananas, and avocados from small farmers. All of their co-op-produced, Certified Organic, and Fairtrade Certified goods are 20% off for member-owners from October 14th – 20th! Read on to learn more about the ways that this cooperative is creating powerful change in industries dominated by profound social, environmental, and economic exploitation:

History:

Equal Exchange was started over 30 years ago to create an alternative trade paradigm where small farmers could have a seat at the trading table. The existing predominant trade model favors large plantations, agri-business, and multi-national corporations. Equal Exchange seeks to challenge that model in favor of one that supports & respects small farmers, builds communities, supports the environment, and connects consumers and producers through information, education, and the exchange of products in the marketplace.

Today, Equal Exchange is a thriving model of Fair Trade that has exceeded its founders’ original vision. With over 30 years of experience — a history replete with successes, failures, innovative partnerships, exciting new products, and inspiring stories — they are nevertheless humbled by just how far they still need to go. Over the next few decades, Equal Exchange seeks to engage and collaborate with like-minded partners and stakeholders throughout the Fair Trade system in an effort to continue to transform how business is done. Their vision includes breaking new ground by bringing Fair Trade home—by fostering direct relationships with family farmers here in the United States. Their collective achievements of the past 30 years prove that they can create change beyond their wildest dreams. To read more about their history, click here.

 

 

Mission:

Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers, and to demonstrate, through their success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic, and sustainable world.

Authentic Fair Trade:

Authentic fair trade is central to their mission at Equal Exchange. The fair trade model gives small-scale farmers collective power and financial stability while improving farming communities and protecting the environment. To do so, it utilizes a particular set of business practices voluntarily adopted by the producers and buyers of agricultural commodities and hand-made crafts that are designed to advance many economic, social and environmental goals, including:
• Raising and stabilizing the incomes of small-scale farmers, farmworkers, and artisans
• More equitably distributing the economic gains, opportunities, and risks associated with the production and sale of these goods
• Increasing the organizational and commercial capacities of producer groups
• Supporting democratically owned and controlled producer organizations
• Promoting labor rights and the right of workers to organize
• Promoting safe and sustainable farming methods and working conditions
• Connecting consumers and producers
• Increasing consumer awareness and engagement with issues affecting producers

 

What Impact is Fair Trade Having on Farmers & Their Communities?

Bananas:

According to the USDA, the average American eats 27 pounds of bananas per year. That’s a whole lot of bananas – and a big opportunity for impact. The banana industry is infamous for unfair labor practices, dangerous working conditions, and perpetuation of global inequalities. You can read more about that here. Equal Exchange envisioned a total departure from this system when it first ventured into fresh produce in 2006 with bananas. Equal Exchange works directly with three small farmer cooperatives in Peru and Ecuador: AsoGuabo, CEPIBO, and APOQ. Through these democratically organized co-ops, farmers leverage collective resources and obtain access to global markets – maintaining agency over their business, land, and livelihoods. 

Community members of Asoguabo Co-op and Equal Exchange Worker Owners in Ecuador

Together, Equal Exchange and their banana partners are creating a trade model that respects farmers, builds communities, and supports the environment. Buying Equal Exchange bananas from your local food co-op not only keeps money cycling through our community but also ensures that communities of farmers in Ecuador and Peru are receiving a fair price for their products, which then keeps money flowing through their communities, as well. In a way, eating fair trade bananas gives you a two-for-one, as you are able to support both your community and the cooperative community of farmers that grew the fruit. It may not have been grown physically close to our Co-op, but it creates an interconnected network of solidarity between communities. You are choosing to connect yourself to these courageous banana farmers who are making history for themselves, and quite possibly, for the entire banana industry. Click here to read more about the progressive small farmer banana cooperatives that partner with Equal Exchange.

Avocados:

In 2013, Equal Exchange partnered with pioneering farmer cooperatives in Mexico to establish a supply chain for Fairtrade, organic avocados. Their farmer partners are located in Michoacán, Mexico, considered the ‘avocado capital of the world’. Working together, they circumvent a largely consolidated and volatile industry to provide U.S. avo-lovers with the popular fruit.

Equal Exchange visiting the farmers from the PROFOSMI avocado cooperative

These two small-farmer cooperatives, PRAGOR and PROFOSMI, export directly to Equal Exchange. PRAGOR is composed of 20 producer members who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. Many of the members transitioned to organic 10 or more years ago, a revolutionary move at the time. On several of these farms reside the oldest Hass Avocado trees in the region, now 60 years old, still producing avocados. Despite the excitement each producer has for the future, a major challenge is finding trading partners who believe in their mission and will engage in the respectful and fair business relationship their members deserve. As you can imagine, there are not many organizations like Equal Exchange. PRAGOR’s strength and perseverance is a lesson for anyone committed to working for change in the world.

Farmer cooperatives increasingly recognize that production through industrialized agriculture methods has placed pressure on the natural environment, and have elected to weave environmental sustainability into their missions, vision, and goals. One such initiative is Las Mujeres Polinizadoras de Tingambato, a women’s apiculturist cooperative that was established by Equal Exchange’s partner cooperative, PROFOSMI. The initiative seeks to offer entrepreneurial skills to economically disadvantaged women through beekeeping. PROFOSMI used fair trade premium dollars to offset the cost of materials and technical training, and the women soon had the tools they needed to become an autonomous and independent cooperative. 

Equal Exchange’s Ravdeep Jaidka and Meghan Bodo with farmer-partner Alfredo stand beside rows of hives from the women’s beekeeping cooperative

 

In an effort to maintain a year-round supply of organic, fairtrade avocados, Equal Exchange began a partnership in 2018 with LaGrama, a Peruvian company providing essential services to small-scale farmers in Peru. A major advantage for Peruvian avocados lies in their seasonality for exports, which roughly extends from May to August. This serves as a good complement to the Mexican export season, which lasts from August to May. After extensive research with industry partners and a sourcing trip to Peru,  Equal Exchange was thrilled to find partners like LaGrama that align with their mission and vision for change in the avocado industry. 

Coffee:

This is where it all began! Way back In 1986, the founders of Equal Exchange started their journey with a Nicaraguan coffee — which they called Café Nica — and they haven’t looked back. The impact over the years has been incredible and your purchases of fairly traded coffee have helped build pride, independence, and community empowerment for hundreds of small farmers and their families. One of their latest projects, the Women in Coffee series, highlights women leaders across the Equal Exchange coffee supply chain and represents an opportunity to spark community discussions around Fair Trade, gender empowerment, and relationships across food supply chains. You can find the featured Women In Coffee Series coffee, Congo Rising, in our bulk department.

Another fantastic project brewing at Equal Exchange is their Congo Coffee Project. Equal Exchange founded the Congo Coffee Project with the Panzi Foundation as a means to bring Congolese coffee to market in the United States and raise awareness about the alarming rate of sexual violence that takes place every day. Sexual violence has affected thousands of people in the Congo over the last two decades, and for women, men, and children in need of medical attention there are not many options; they are sometimes ostracized, abandoned, or ignored with nowhere to go.  Survivors of sexual violence seek refuge and assistance at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, a bustling place with more than 360 staff and thousands of visitors each year.  The hospital treats patients with various ailments but has become known as a safe place for survivors of sexual violence to seek treatment and heal from their trauma.   

Since its inception in 2011, the Congo Coffee Project has raised more than $100,000 for survivors of sexual violence, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the physician responsible for treating survivors of sexual violence and raising awareness of their plight, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. You can read more about that here and you can support Dr. Mukwege’s work by purchasing the Congo Project coffee in our Bulk Department.

 

Chocolate:

The global cocoa and chocolate industries are riddled with profound social and economic problems. Workers on cocoa farms are often subject to unacceptable forms of exploitation, including debt bondage, trafficking, and the worst forms of child labor. The standard models for global cocoa trade have left farmers impoverished, economically vulnerable, and powerless to advocate for better conditions.  The small farmer-grown cacao sourced by Equal Exchange demonstrates the power of alternative trade in an industry built on exploitation and forced labor. Under Fair Trade standards, the farmers and co-operatives must abide by key covenants of the International Labor Organization, including those forbidding inappropriate child labor, and forced labor. All Equal Exchange cocoa is sourced from Fair Trade, organic small farmer co-operatives in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Even the sugar in their chocolate bars is fairly traded and sourced from a small farmer co-op in Paraguay. To read more about child labor in the cocoa industry and the efforts made by Equal Exchange thus far to eradicate this issue, click here

Laura Bechard of Equal Exchange and Orfith Satalaya Tapullima of Oro Verde cacao co-op

Supporting Small Cooperative Farmers During the Pandemic:

Equal Exchange works with farmer co-ops in over 20 countries, and their model is to actively seek and partner with marginalized farming communities. These remote communities face significant challenges during the best of times. During
a pandemic, the challenges become more acute. Equal Exchange intentionally works with farmers who have organized themselves into democratically-run cooperatives. They believe this structure helps change the balance of power long-term. They’re seeing that during the pandemic, the co-op systems have provided lifelines to farmers, helping them in ways that would not have existed were it not for the existence of the co-op.

Here are a few of the ways that these democratic farmer co-ops realized and responded to their members’ needs, in ways that their national governments or health care systems could not:
  • Cocoa co-op Acopagro in Peru used recent advanced Fair Trade premium payments from Equal Exchange to provide food, masks, and cleaning supplies to co-op members in 2 different communities where they work. 
  • Coffee co-op members from San Fernando in Peru focused on the fact that they had productive land at a time when many of their children were living or studying in the city without reliable access to healthy food; they collectively filled a truck with their homegrown produce and delivered the food to their children. 
  • Banana co-op AsoGuabo in Ecuador used Fair Trade premium funds to purchase PPE for medical workers in the community and mobilized its logistics operations to transport medicines and supplies to local hospitals. This was critical support at a time when transportation was significantly restricted as a result of curfew measures.
  • Sugar Co-op Manduvira in Paraguay donated money to local health clinics, intentionally directing part of their limited resources to other trusted organizations that in turn help their members.
Manduvira-Co-op in Paraguay

Celebrating Fair Trade Month AND Non-GMO Month!

In October, we celebrate both Fair Trade Month and Non-GMO Month — highlighting two labels you may have seen on food packaging and want to know a bit more about. We believe that transparency in food production and labeling is essential. Shoppers have a right to know if the products they purchase exploit people and planet. Shoppers also have the right to clear on-package labeling, allowing them to find products that align more closely with their values. 

What is “Non-GMO Project Verified”?

GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and/or virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional breeding methods. Farmers were sold on the promise that GMOs would allow them to increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, neither of these promises has proven true. Pesticide and herbicide use are at record highs and continue to climb.  In fact, 150 million additional pounds of herbicides are sprayed in the US each year in order to control the superweeds and superbugs that have developed resistance to the previous year’s chemical cocktails. Farmers have been forced to scale up to industrial levels of mono-crop production in order to remain profitable, squeezing out small diversified family farms. This has led to the collapse of many rural communities, while also diminishing biodiversity, destroying the health of our soil microbiome, causing significant loss of precious topsoil, sending pollinator health into serious decline, and destroying water quality. These factors all have a significant impact on human health and the health of our planet. 

Are Genetically Modified Foods Labeled?

GMOs are present in over 70% of processed foods, and without a requirement for clear on-package labeling, thanks to the DARK Act, most consumers are unaware and unable to make an informed choice. In the coming months, you might see a new label at the grocery store: the Bioengineered (BE) Food label. A BE Food disclosure will be displayed on some — though not all — products containing GMOs.

  • Most products of new GMO techniques like CRISPR gene editing won’t require a BE disclosure. That’s because the law focuses on foods containing detectable modified genetic material in the final product. Products that contain GMOs made with new techniques are currently untestable.
  • Foods that are heavily processed contain little or no intact genetic material for accurate testing, so they also fall outside of BE disclosure. That includes very common products like sugar and cooking oil, as well as packaged goods that contain such ingredients.
  • The BE labeling law only applies to food intended for direct human consumption. GMO crops for livestock feed take up millions of acres of agricultural land and ultimately support the human food supply — but the BE labeling law does not look at it. Because of the sheer volume of GMO commodity crops grown for livestock feed, choosing Verified meat, dairy, and eggs is the key to building a non-GMO future.
  • There are also complexities in the new law that prevent GMOs in multi-ingredient products from being disclosed. For example, a canned soup containing GMO corn would not require disclosure if the formulation lists meat as the first ingredient. Under the BE labeling law, it doesn’t matter that the corn is prevalent and plainly visible in the product or that 92% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. It doesn’t even matter that the corn might have detectable modified genetic material. With meat as the first ingredient, the product is not subject to disclosure. Even if water, broth, or stock is the first ingredient and meat is the second, the loophole still applies because those kinds of liquids don’t count.

The BE labeling law allows several options for how the Bioengineered disclosure appears on product packaging. Brands might display the BE symbol or include a line of text. They might opt for a digital code or a contact phone number that would provide the inquisitive shopper with more information. These options offer flexibility to the manufacturer, but they also make information less accessible to people in stores. Electronic disclosures exclude people who face barriers to technological access, such as residents of rural areas or people who come from a low-income background. Anyone who isn’t comfortable with pocket-sized tech or who is shopping with small children could also be impacted.

With each step away from clear and equally accessible labeling, the average shopper gets less information, compromising the very purpose of an effective labeling program.

How Can A Shopper Identify Non-GMO Foods?

Thanks to the third-party certification provided by the Non-GMO Project, we now have a way to determine with confidence which products are free from genetically modified organisms. A Non-GMO Project verification  means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes stringent provisions for ingredient testing, traceability, and segregation.

Since 2007, the Butterfly label has helped millions of people find Non-GMO Project Verified products quickly and easily. The Butterfly is the leading third-party certification for GMO avoidance. To be Verified, each product is thoroughly reviewed. Its major and minor ingredients are traced back through the supply chain — giving us (and you!) the most accurate information about the food you eat.

Over the years, the Butterfly has grown with the times. The Non-GMO Project Standard is continually evolving to respond to new GMO techniques. With a dedicated research team monitoring biotech development around the globe, the Non-GMO Project knows more about GMOs, old and new — about products already on the shelves and what we might see in the coming years — than any other organization. We rely on their expertise so we can deliver a product that meets your standards.

You can also feel confident that products that are Certified Organic, Real Organic Project Certified, and Regenerative Organic Certified are also non-GMO since the use of GMOs is prohibited in all forms of organic production. For example, organic farmers cannot plant GMO seeds, organic livestock cannot eat GMO feed, and organic food manufacturers cannot use GMO ingredients. Organic producers are also required by law to protect their crops and products from unintentional contact with GMOs. Processors must separate organic ingredients from non-organic ingredients during receiving, processing, storage, and shipping, preventing GMO contamination throughout the supply chain.

A few of our favorite local Non-GMO Project Verified products

What is “Fairtrade Certified”?

When we buy products from local farmers and producers, it’s relatively easy to ensure that they are produced in a way that supports the health of our environment and the wellbeing of people who labor to produce the food. When we’re purchasing products from afar, particularly those that simply don’t grow in our climate, like coffee, chocolate, and bananas, it can be more challenging to feel confident that these products reflect your values. These industries are typically dominated by profound social, environmental, and economic exploitation. These farmers and workers often live on less than $2 per day and lack access to essentials such as clean water, adequate shelter, and nutritious food. They must often endure unsafe working conditions and forced child labor.

When you see the Fairtrade Mark on a product, you know that farmers were paid at least the cost of production as well as an added Fairtrade Premium to invest in their businesses and communities. You know that child labor was banned and that measures were in place to protect the local environment and water supply. This label also ensures that workers’ rights were upheld and they have the choice to organize and advocate for themselves and their communities. You may notice that there are several different Fairtrade labels. If you’d like to learn more about the various Fairtrade certifications, click here. 

Joisy Tuanama Lumba, a member of the Huingoyacu community of ACOPAGRO Co-op, who grow the Fairtrade cacao in Equal Exchange chocolate chips

 

Why do we need such labels on food at all?

“Natural” food and “fair” food are big business these days and “greenwashing” has become a serious problem. By making unverified or uncertified claims about how their food is grown or processed (“self-made marketing claims”), some unscrupulous companies capitalize on shoppers’ willingness to pay a bit more for high-quality food that supports both people and planet. In response, there is a sea of different labels popping up with claims that sound really good, but have little backing them up.

So how does an informed shopper know what’s backed up and what’s empty words? Choosing well-recognized, independent, third-party seals on products is the best place to start. Seals like Non-GMO Project Verified and Fairtrade Certified are rigorous standards with meaningful rules that must be followed in order to receive the seal. This may actually require laboratory testing and supply chain transparency that allows for “identity preservation.” That typically requires the strict segregation of ingredients that are compliant with the standards from ingredients that are not.

Both the Non-GMO Project and Fairtrade America are nonprofits driven by their missions to change how food is made in order to better serve people and planet. The Non-GMO Project has been verifying products since 2010 and Fairtrade has been operating internationally since 1989. Both nonprofits publish their Standards on their websites to give shoppers transparency, first and foremost. It also helps to check which brands are using these labels: Brands both large and small voluntarily showcase this compliance by including either the Fairtrade or Non-GMO Project seal on their packaging (and in some cases, both seals). This provides further assurance to shoppers that it’s not a new fad but a sustainability tool used by brands to have a positive impact on people and planet.

Vineyard workers from the La Riojana co-operative in Argentina

 

How do Fairtrade and the Non-GMO Project overlap?

The rigorous Fairtrade Standards ban the use of GMO seeds. This is partly because farmers may get stuck in an exploitative cycle when they rely on big agribusinesses for genetically modified seeds, rather than buying seeds from a variety of sources. Furthermore, Fairtrade and others in the field are not yet sure of the impact GMOs may have on the environment, which farmers rely on for their livelihoods.

What you can do?

Shop the labels! All month long, our Co-op will be highlighting products that are Fairtrade Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified. See the Weekly Sales display and the Member Deals display to find many of these items featured at a great price. Also, be sure to check out page 2 of the Addison Independent to find coupons to help take those discounts even deeper.  Support brands working towards a more sustainable future, and try something new!

Want to learn more?

Get the scoop on Fairtrade. Sign up to receive Fairtrade America’s newsletter and follow them on social media — @FairtradeMarkUS

Follow the Butterfly with the Non-GMO Project. Check out their recipes and like them on social media — @NonGMOProject.

We’ve Begun the Search for our Next General Manager!

Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, a community-owned grocery store, is seeking a new leader as our beloved general manager of 28 years retires. Founded in 1976, our store serves an active—and continuously growing—community of nearly 6,000 member-owners, employs over 100 people, and has sales of over $20 million a year. The general manager reports to a local, eleven-member Board of Directors that is elected by the cooperative’s members.  

A college town with a vibrant agricultural community and easy access to the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, Middlebury offers unique access to recreation, arts, culture, and entertainment. The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op is a community resource and a destination for purchasing locally produced food.

 Our ideal candidate will have extensive experience in financial and retail management, business planning, building, and leading teams, and will share our strong commitment to cooperative values and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The salary range is $95,000 to $130,000 with generous benefits.

 If you are excited about this opportunity, you are invited to submit a cover letter and resume to gmsearch@middlebury.coop. In your cover letter, let us know what attracts you to leading a cooperative business.

To view the Job Summary for this position, please click on the following link:  GM Job Summary.

Spotlight on Singing Cedars Apiaries

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October and offers a time to honor the historic and cultural significance of the Indigenous Peoples here in Vermont and beyond, with the recognition that our country was founded and built upon unceded lands that they have inhabited and stewarded since time immemorial. The Western Abenaki are the traditional caretakers of these Vermont lands and waters, which they call Ndakinna. With this in mind, we wanted to shine an extra bright Member Deals Spotlight on Singing Cedars Apiaries, which, according to their website, was started by native Abenaki Roland Smith and his wife Deborah in the basement of their teepee in 1971. From October 7th – 13th, Co-op member-owners can enjoy a 20% discount on all of Singing Cedars Apiaries’ glorious honey products! Read on to learn more about this family-owned business and their commitment to providing you the best honey the Champlain Valley has to offer:

 

Singing Cedars Apiaries is a family operation started by native Abenaki Roland (Wants To Be Chief) and his wife Deborah (Little Cloud Big Storm) in the basement of their teepee in 1971. According to their website, they specialize in producing pure raw honey for retail sale, and nucleus colonies and queens both for their own enterprise and to sell to other beekeepers. A feature in American Bee Journal also points out that they sell their beeswax to candle makers and crafters, maximizing the use of every material their bees produce. In true family fashion, Roland, Deborah, and their four children developed this apiary which now manages over 1100 colonies with their grandchildren and Son-in-Laws Christopher (Hates to Bee Sticky) and Tim (Aboriginee) doing much of the work. Deborah was heavily involved with the beekeeping in the beginning, though now she has her hands full managing the office handling all of the orders of honey, queens, and nucs. 

Over the years they’ve established authentic relationships with each of the local retail outlets that offer their honey. Roland points out that the customers they’ve served for 20 plus years, with whom they have developed strong working relationships are the foundation of their stable business. Their bees are spread out over both sides of Lake Champlain in both Vermont and New York. Their forage primarily consists of white Dutch clover, honeysuckle, basswood, goldenrod, and asters. In a good year, they’re able to produce 100 – 150 pounds of honey per hive!

Singing Cedars offers a variety of honey products, including creamed honey flavored with natural oils. Their honey is unpasteurized to retain all the natural goodness nature provided in its enzymes and pollen, and unfiltered yet strained to remove any wax and propolis sometimes associated with raw honey to provide a rich smooth product for your enjoyment.

Think You Can’t Afford to Shop at the Co-op? Find Out What Food For All Can Do for YOU.

Next time you’re waiting in the check-out line at the Co-op, let your eyes roam to the stretch of pale yellow wall above the street-facing windows.  You may never have noticed the statement posted there: The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op is dedicated to the health and well-being of the whole community, but it’s a statement that we return to continually, to help guide the decisions we make about how the Co-op grows. 

For many of us, choosing to buy healthy food is not just about preference but price.  At the Co-op, there are many ways to shop affordably to bring home products you trust – check out Co-op Basics, Co-op Deals, shop our Bulk Department, and use our Special Order system to get case discounts.  But if purchasing healthy foods is still a challenge for your budget, Food For All is here to help.

Who is eligible for Food For All?

Food For All is a Member Assistance Program for participants in SNAP, WIC, and Home Heating Assistance, and for clients of CVOEO, HOPE, WomenSafe, and the Open Door Clinic.   Currently, around 260 Households take advantage of this program.  We are always hoping to grow this number!

What do you “get” from Food For All?

  • You get a 10% Discount on all purchases, every day (excludes alcohol, by law)
  • You become a Member-Owner of the Co-op – your $20 share is paid by MNFC, allowing you to build equity, accrue a patronage dividend and have a voice in Co-op Elections

All Food for All member benefits are shared with the people in your household (children, domestic partners, parents living with you, etc..)

How do you sign up?

  • Fill out an application online, or pick one up at the Co-op Customer Service Desk.
  • Show us your current EBT or WIC benefits card, your Home Heating Assistance statement, or your VA Benefits Card (we’ll make a copy when you come in).

OR

  • Bring us a letter of eligibility from one of our partner organizations (CVOEO, HOPE, WomenSafe, Open Door Clinic, and Free and Reduced Lunch Programs). They’ll know what to do!

If you are not eligible for Food For All but know someone who might be, please spread the word.  This Co-op belongs to its member-owners and its community…the WHOLE community.  Help us serve you better.

 

Co-op Connection Business of the Month – Green Peppers!

Have a hankering for a mouth-watering slice of pizza? Or how about a calzone, some pasta or a fresh, beautiful salad? Check out Green Peppers Restaurant! They’re our featured Co-op Connection Business this Month, so we’re reminding member-owners that you can enjoy 10% off your meal at Green Peppers! Green Peppers, owned by Mark and Donna Perrin, has been serving up delicious food in Middlebury since 1982.

As with all restaurants and food service operations, Green Peppers was not immune to the intense pandemic-related challenges of the past few years. In a true display of resilience, they viewed these challenges as an opportunity to rebrand their business to an online order/curbside pickup model to better serve the community. Complete with a fresh new website with an easy-to-use online ordering platform that will go live this month, they’re striving to keep it simple for their customers by providing convenient and efficient services 7 days a week. Hungry customers may place their order hours or even days in advance. Trying to feed a large crowd? They can help you do that too, with pizza, pasta, subs, salads, and more!

 

Since they first opened their doors nearly 40 years ago, Green Peppers has been a family-owned and family-operated business. After living in Los Angeles for 8 years, their youngest daughter Leslie has moved home to help support the family business. She had been spearheading most of Green Pepper’s social media from California for the past two years but has stepped into a bigger role since returning home.   In addition to being a great chef, family man, and successful small business owner, Mark is also very involved in serving his community. He participates in Hunger Free Vermont’s local chapter of the Addison County Hunger Council, which aims to alleviate food insecurity for members of our community. He has also been actively involved in the community by serving on the Chamber of Commerce Board, Workforce Investment Board, and Middlebury Business Association Board. Governor Shumlin appointed Perrin to the State Board of Education on April 12, 2013, to serve a six-year term (2013-2019) with a focus on policy concerning the education of Vermont students and assuring equal access for all Vermont students to a quality education.

We’re proud to know Mark and his family and we’re grateful to have such a wonderful local restaurant as our neighbor. Green Peppers is open daily from 10:30 am – 7 pm and they look forward to serving you. Choose from a mouth-watering list of soups, calzones, salads, pasta, pizzas, subs, and more! Gluten-free? They’ve got you covered! Just don’t forget to mention that you’re a Co-op member!

 

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