October 2022

Co-op Connection Business of the Month – County Tire

Winter weather is just around the corner, so it’s a great time to start thinking about winter tires.  We invite you to check out our Co-op Connection Business of the Month – County Tire! Not only can they fix you up with new tires, but they also offer a wide range of automotive services and they have a special deal for Co-op member-owners! Present your member card to receive 10% off parts and 5% off tires! Read on to learn more about the oldest locally-owned tire shop in Addison County:

If you need tire or automotive care, trust County Tire Center, Inc! Located at 33 Seymour Street Middlebury, VT 05753, County Tire Center, Inc. is your trusted source for all of your automotive and tire needs. Owners Steve and Lisa are there to ensure that your visit to County Tire Center, Inc. will not only solve all of your automotive needs but will be one that you will be sure to share with others. They take pride in quality service and the ability to meet customers’ needs in a timely manner.

Servicing customers in the greater Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York, County Tire Center, Inc. has the automotive expertise and friendly, reliable service you need to get you back on the road fast! From tire sales and batteries to shocks, struts, brake, and transmission services, they can handle all of your vehicle needs to keep you running in top shape.

With their years of experience, they offer quality parts and services at the best prices possible. They take pride in their work and strive for great customer satisfaction on each visit. Their goal is to keep your vehicle running in the best possible condition and they will not settle for “good enough.” They went into business in order to bring a higher quality to automotive work in the Middlebury area and intend to have each customer leave happy while offering the most competitive prices in the area.

With their excellent selection of Bridgestone, Firestone, and Nokian tires, they can fit any vehicle make and model. They strive to ensure customer satisfaction and vehicle safety and will do whatever it takes to make sure that you and your vehicle only receive top-quality tires and equipment. They understand that your vehicle is a large investment and they welcome your business in protecting that investment.

If you need general automotive services, computerized tire balancing, general tire service, oil changes, brake service, custom auto detailing or performance tires, consider County Tire Center, Inc. Do you have an electric or hybrid vehicle? County Tire Center, Inc. is an authorized Hybrid/EV repair center offering a wide range of services to keep your hybrid or electric vehicle in top condition. Please feel free to contact them at 802-388-7620 or online to discuss the many options and services offered.

How do they stay small and sell big? It’s simple: years of experience. County Tire Center, Inc. has been in business since 1982. Their mission is to offer you the latest in parts and products, at the best prices with unparalleled service. They pledge their best efforts to make your experience both beneficial and enjoyable. Once you try County Tire, we’re sure you’ll be back for more!


Your Board, Getting Involved In Co-op Governance

After attending our Co-op’s Annual Meeting in September, I wanted to take the opportunity as Board Development Chair to share with all of our member-owners more about how our board works, what we do, and how you can get involved. Of course, it’s never too early to consider running for the board so I hope you will take this as an open invitation to learn more!

The board is composed of 11 members who are elected to serve three-year terms. In May 2023, four positions will be up for election. We anticipate that we will have a mix of incumbents running as well as open spots. The board is made up of board members who live all over Addison County and hail from around the world. We have a blend of backgrounds including teachers and professors, farmers, community engagement specialists, artists, parents, nonprofit directors, and folks working in public service. This diversity of backgrounds and skills makes our board stronger. Further, we all have in common a passion for the Co-op and our democratic principles.

You may wonder: what does the board even do? The board has three primary roles: 1) to represent the 5000+ member-owners of the Co-op, 2) to oversee and support the general manager, and 3) to provide strategic and financial oversight for the Co-op. Board members craft and monitor policies that ensure our Co-op is meeting our mission and our ends. As you know, the Co-op recently underwent a big leadership transition, with Glenn Lower retiring in March after 28 years at the Co-op and Greg Prescott starting as our new General Manager on April 1st. Our role, more than ever, is focused on ensuring a smooth transition and the continued strong financial and community-focused position of the Co-op.

Each year, we are committed to recruiting new board members to make sure we have fresh voices to bring diverse perspectives to the boardroom. We see that both institutional knowledge from longer-serving board members and fresh perspectives from newer board members are equally valuable. As a board, we are committed to JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) work, not just in board recruitment but in holding these values central across all of our work. We are working hard to ensure our Co-op is increasingly a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive space for all member-owners, and we believe that diversity among board members is essential to our work.

I love serving on the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board. I believe that Co-ops are integral partners in a sustainable food system and our Co-op is a key partner to this vision locally. I have been honored to participate in the democratic processes of our Co-op and am excited to be able to support others in keeping more dollars and decisions local!

If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to reach out —we always love to hear from our fellow members. If you have thoughts or questions to share with the board, please let us know: board@middlebury.coop. And if you want to run for the board, you can learn more here. Applications are due March 12, 2023.

Erin Buckwalter is Chair of the Board’s Board Development Committee.

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 27th – November 2nd, 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


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 its 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. 


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.


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. To learn more about tours, tastings, and workshops, click here.

Spotlight on Frontier Co-op Brands

As our celebration of Co-op Month rolls on, 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 20th – 26th!  Read on to learn more about this trio of cooperative brands and their commitment to the well-being 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 have 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 Dion’s Chicago Dream, Emergency Food Network, HASER, Matthew 25, Project Worthmore, and Working Theory Farm. 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!

Fair Trade: Making Sense of the Labels

October is Fair Trade Month! Throughout this month-long celebration, we’ll feature fun store promotions on many of our favorite Fairtrade Certified items. Look for them in our Weekly Sales and Member Deals displays, and be sure to find the coupon in this week’s Addison Independent for $3 off any Fairtrade Certified item. We also want to take this opportunity to spread the word about the importance of supporting Fair Trade and we want to help shoppers navigate the various Fairtrade Certification labels. These labels exist to help shoppers identify items that have been ethically sourced, but the fact that so many of these labels exist leads to questions about the meanings behind each label and the standards that they represent. 

First of all, what is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade is a way of doing business that ultimately aims to keep small farmers an active part of the world marketplace, and aims to empower consumers to make purchases that support their values. Fair Trade commerce relies on a 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


Do all the logos mean the same thing?

In the U.S. there are 5 widely recognized labels: Fair Trade International, Fair Trade U.S.A., Fair for Life, the World Fair Trade Organization, and the Fair Trade Federation. The first three are certifiers and the last two are membership groups. There are differences between each, which we’ll try to break down below:

Fairtrade International:

Fairtrade International is probably the most recognized fair trade label, representing nearly 2 million farmers globally. Their stated mission is “to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives.” The international Fairtrade system certifies ingredients from the Global South, meaning that not all ingredients can be Fairtrade certified using their label. Since their mission is focused on justice for the most vulnerable workers around the globe, their focus remains on certifying products like cocoa, bananas, and coffee, which typically come from these regions. Seeing this logo means that the product is fully traceable (kept separate from non-certified products) from farm to shelf. It also signifies that a fair cost has been paid to small farmers and also a Fairtrade premium above the fair price, which goes towards the social, environmental, or economic development of the local community. Groups selling Fairtrade products are regularly audited by Fairtrade International’s third-party inspector, FLOCERT. Depending on a brand’s packaging, the original Fairtrade Mark may be green and blue or black and white.


When you see the Fairtrade International logo with an arrow, this indicates to look on the back of the packaging to learn more about the ingredients and sourcing. This Mark is used on products with multiple ingredients, such as chocolate bars or granola. All the ingredients that are available under Fairtrade conditions have to be Fairtrade sourced (e.g., all the cocoa, sugar and vanilla) in order to display this label. The minimum total Fairtrade content of the finished product must be at least 20 percent. For full transparency to consumers, the percentages of each ingredient are displayed on the back of the product package.

The Fairtrade Mark with an arrow is also used on single-ingredient products that have been sourced using “mass balance.” Mass balance is only applicable to cocoa, cane sugar, and tea mixed traceability. It means these ingredients are generally supplied in bulk and mixed during the shipping and manufacturing process, however, the actual volumes of sales on Fairtrade terms are tracked and audited through the supply chain. The amount sold as Fairtrade must match the amount purchased. This way, the farmers and workers receive the full benefits from fair trading terms for selling that amount of product. This video helps break it down:

You may also see these ingredient-specific logos on a product’s packaging. The white Fairtrade Mark indicates that the ingredient named on the tab has been sourced as Fairtrade, such as Fairtrade cocoa in a breakfast cereal. The other ingredients in the product have been sourced with other methods.

Up to two Fairtrade Sourced Ingredient Marks (FSI) can be used on the front of the packaging. If the mark also has an arrow, that indicates that the ingredient was sourced using “mass balance” and points to more information on the back of the package.

Here’s a video from Fairtrade International that helps break this down:



Fair Trade USA


Fair Trade USA envisions a world where conscious consumers can achieve a “Fair Trade Lifestyle” and be able to shop ethically in all product categories. Products certified by Fair Trade USA include everything from coffee, cocoa, fruits, grains, seafood, and veggies to apparel, home goods, body care products, and sports equipment. These products are produced according to rigorous standards that protect farmers, workers, fishermen, and the environment. More than $931 million in financial benefit has been delivered to producer communities between 1999-2021 alone under this label. Their certification process requires producing organizations to comply with a set of minimum standards, which are the way they help brands meet their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals, and fulfill their mission to deliver benefits to producers, businesses, and consumers. Because their label covers so many different types of products, they have different standards to address the specific circumstances of those particular supply chains.


As with Fairtrade International, Fair Trade USA logos can differ depending on which aspects of the product are being certified. Sometimes the entire product is certified, other times specific ingredients are certified, and often a particular labor aspect of the product, such the sewing or the factory is certified. In some instances, like with tea, it will even have the percentage of the product that is fair trade.




Fair for Life

Fair for Life’s certification system is based on a non-product-specified standard. Every step of production can be certified, including producers, manufacturers, traders, and entire companies, whereas most other certifiers simply certify the finished product or only a few steps of the production process. This more holistic model allows for a shift toward responsible supply chains and corporate social responsibility. Fair for Life Certification assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions, and smallholder farmers receive a fair share. All certified companies must also comply with a comprehensive set of environmental criteria including important aspects of water conservation, energy management and climate change, ecosystem management, and waste management. Certified companies must not be engaged in habitat destruction and should work on continuous improvement of their energy use. All operations have to be certified according to an acknowledged organic or ecological minimum standard. Today, Fair for Life brings together a community of more than 700 certified companies and organizations in over 70 countries. Their commitment to Fair for Life directly impacts 235,000 producers and workers and generates nearly $1 billion in certified product sales.


The Fair Trade Federation

The Fair Trade Federation is a force in the global fair trade movement’s efforts to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable and equitable trading partnerships. Their mission is to create a just and sustainable global economic system in which purchasing and production choices are made with concern for the well-being of people and the environment, creating a world where all people have viable economic options to meet their own needs. They seek to alleviate poverty by continually and significantly expanding the practice of trade that values the labor and dignity of all people. Membership organizations like the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Federation are an important part of the fair trade movement. They host events, conferences, and campaigns and advocate for fair trade. Organizations from all parts of the fair trade supply chain can apply to become members. In return for membership dues, each organization gains credibility, showing that they follow the fair trade principles in all they do. Click here to read more about their defining principles.



The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)

The WFTO  is the global community and verifier of social enterprises that fully practice Fair Trade. The interest of producers, especially small farmers, and artisans, is the main focus in all the policies, governance, structures, and decision-making within the WFTO. Spread across 76 countries, members are verified as social enterprises that practice Fair Trade. To be a WFTO member, an enterprise or organization must demonstrate they put people and planet first in everything they do. Click here to see their standards document. The organization is democratically run by its members, who are part of a broader community of over 1,000 social enterprises and 1,500 shops. Their direct impact includes 965,700 livelihoods supported through the operations and supply chains of these enterprises. 74% of these workers, farmers, and artisans are women and women make up the majority of the leadership. They pioneer upcycling and social enterprise, refugee livelihoods, and women’s leadership. They operate based on the 10 Principles of Fair Trade (see graphic below). Click here to learn more about their collective impact.


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 13th – 19th! 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:


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.




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?


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. 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.


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. 


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.



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 the child labor, 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 healthcare 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

Waiting for WIC – Connections for Co-ops at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

Healthy Food Access…that’s the objective, right? Making better food available and affordable for more people. For us at Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, it is ever on our minds. We are always researching and reaching out to find the healthiest food and wellness products that are available. We are constantly seeking to push the envelope to offer competitive prices on what we feel are the healthiest food and wellness products available.

Healthy Food Access is what was most on our minds as representatives from our Co-op, Brattleboro Co-op, and The Co-op Food Stores flew to D.C. to attend the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on September 23. We three were nominated as conference delegates by leadership at the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) and the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). We were so grateful for this opportunity and hoped to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear and be heard in a national arena dedicated to fighting hunger and promoting healthy food access. 

When we first received an invite to the Conference, there was a collective wave of elation. Then came a wave of concern – how could we best use this amazing opportunity to serve co-ops and our goals for improved healthy food access? Luckily, one concern rose quickly to the top of the pile for Middlebury Co-op – WIC accessibility.

The WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program is defined by the Vermont Department of Health in this way:

WIC is the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. WIC provides food benefits, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, counseling, and programs for pregnant Vermonters, parents, and caregivers with children under 5.

There are many wonderful aspects of the WIC program, not the least of which is that it focuses on a specific subset of the population who is particularly vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity. At our Co-op, bringing the healthiest food possible to the population that qualifies for WIC is a priority. Expectant parents often find their way to Co-ops during this unique time in their lives, as their concern over personal health and well-being intensifies. Unfortunately, the current constraints of the WIC program make it impossible for some Co-ops to meet their needs.

The current WIC program is based on a list of foods deemed to be particularly beneficial for WIC recipients. At our Co-op (and at many others), we operate under a set of Buying Criteria – a kind of list of “dos and don’ts” that help us decide how “healthy” is defined for us (one very important criterion is that we focus on local and organic products). Unfortunately, some of the products on the WIC food list do not mesh with these criteria. Much of the list requires that participants look for specific brands and sizes to redeem WIC benefits. Some entire categories (like peanut butter and fruit juice) restrict access to any organic brand.

Brand and size restrictions are barriers to Healthy Food Access (as exemplified by the shortages of WIC-approved products like baby formula during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic). Concerning natural food Co-ops like ours, another aspect of the program presents a greater barrier. To participate in the WIC program as a retailer, a store MUST carry a certain number of products that fit into every category, including conventional products and sizes which are only available through a handful of brands, many of which are restricted by our buying criteria. Through this system, our co-op cannot accept WIC cards as payment for any products, even the ones on the list that we can carry on our shelves. In fact, as of the 2021-2023 WIC Product List, only a small handful of products are keeping us from being able to serve as a WIC participating store.

We brought this issue with us to the Conference on September 28th. When a colleague pointed out someone with a USDA nametag passing us, we literally leaped at the chance for a meeting, catching them none-too-gracefully by the shoulder! The shoulder belonged to Stacey Dean, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. After a quick introduction, we asked who she thought would be the appropriate contact to speak with about WIC implementation issues, and very graciously, she replied, “well, me!”. She heard us out, took our contact information, and promised to contact our regional WIC office. We were left with the assurance that we would be hearing from them, and the promise that “although they may not immediately solve the problem, there will be a thoughtful and intelligent conversation aimed at working through the issue”.

We are so grateful to have been a part of this conference and to have had the ear of someone so clearly connected to our WIC conundrum. This year, at Middlebury Co-op, we plan, once again, to try to apply for our Co-op to be approved as a WIC participating retailer. And we’ll be waiting by the phone for that call from our regional WIC office.

Celebrating Inclusive Trade

Looking for ways to support BIPOC farmers and producers? Woman-owned businesses? LGBTQIA+ businesses? Veteran-owned businesses? Businesses owned by persons with disabilities? Look for the Inclusive Trade logo! Curious to know more about this logo and why inclusive trade matters? Read on!

National Co-op Grocers (NCG) has launched the Inclusive Trade logo to highlight diversity throughout the supply chain. 

“NCG believes supply chains should include a seat at the table for systemically underrepresented populations. Supplier diversity promotes greater innovation, a healthier competitive environment, and more equitably distributed benefits among all community members. NCG is committed to doing our part to create a more just society by cultivating partnerships with businesses owned by people who identify as women, Black, indigenous, people of color (POC), LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and veterans.”

As a member of NCG, your Co-op celebrates this new initiative and seeks to find ways to highlight diversity in the supply chain so that you can easily find products from diverse suppliers. With this in mind, we’ll run promotions throughout the year to highlight the many Inclusive Trade producers we offer here at the Co-op. In fact, our Member Deals Spotlight from October 6th – 12th shines brightly on Singing Cedars Apiary, which was started by native Abenaki Roland Smith and his wife Deborah in 1971. 

Of course, Singing Cedars is just one of the Inclusive Trade producers that our Co-op is proud to work with, so remember to look for the logo throughout the store!

To learn more about inclusive trade and why it matters, we love this post from our friends at Oryana Co-op and are excited to share it with their permission:

National Cooperative Grocers (NCG), of which Oryana [and the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op] is a member, is developing an Inclusive Trade Program designed to identify suppliers that meet the definition for “diverse suppliers” and ultimately increase the representation of these suppliers in purchasing programs and supply chain. To jumpstart these efforts, NCG has worked with UNFI’s (UNFI is our main distributor) supplier diversity team to apply its classification of diverse suppliers.


As a purchasing cooperative NCG has been effective at aggregating demand to create benefits for co-ops, consumer-owners, and shoppers. By adding a focus on supplier diversity to purchasing program they can increase impact: use enterprise as a lever in anti-racist efforts, do more to ensure that they have greater representation within the supply chain, and provide consumers with more diverse options and better information about the people behind the products they purchase. With the influence co-ops have through NCG, they can take a unique leadership role in championing diversity in our industry; intentionally and actively contributing to the equity and justice of our supply chain.  

NCG started integrating supplier diversity into its business plan last year. Shortly after initiating this work and following the murder of George Floyd, they saw a marked uptick in the level of interest expressed by co-ops in identifying BIPOC-owned brands (and Black-owned brands in particular). They were disappointed however that the major distributors were not able to assist at that time with reliably and comprehensively identifying diverse ownership among consumer brands. 

On the basis of this challenge, they spent the next few months conducting research on supplier diversity initiatives in our industry, drew on that research to establish NCG’s working definition of “diverse supplier,” and started planning to build out a supplier diversity program to serve co-ops. 

Supplier diversity at NCG 

Supplier diversity is a proactive business strategy that drives the inclusion of diverse-owned businesses in the procurement of goods and services. Most supplier diversity programs encourage the use within the business of suppliers that are minority-owned*, women-owned, veteran-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned, or owned by persons with disabilities in keeping with the  Small Business Administration (SBA) defined small business concerns. 

Supplier diversity programs seek to upend the reality for historically under-utilized, diverse-owned suppliers by sourcing products and services from them. This process transforms a company’s supply chain to reflect the demographics of the community it serves and quantifies the total value of the transactions with diverse suppliers. Most supplier diversity programs span all areas of “spend” for a business, including not just goods purchased for resale but also supplies, services, etc.   

*Though the term “minority” is appropriately falling out of use, it is still commonly used among supplier diversity professionals. This is in large part due to the reality that businesses seeking formal recognition as a minority-owned enterprise pursue certification through the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSCDC). NCG uses this term only in this context.

While supplier diversity programs are not new and are common practice among large enterprises and in government contracting, research indicates that most companies in the natural products industry are at best in the formative stages of any supplier diversity work. 

With no established, standardized, industry-wide definition of “diverse suppliers” or means of identifying which brands/companies have diverse ownership, NCG has adopted the following preliminary definition of supplier diversity:    

A diverse supplier is defined as a business that is at least 51% owned and operated by an individual or group that is part of a systemically underrepresented or underserved group; including businesses that are women-owned, BIPOC-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned, veteran/service-disabled veteran-owned, or owned by persons with disabilities. As with most supplier diversity programs NCG will request that suppliers self-identify as a diverse supplier.” 

NCG is committed to Inclusive Trade and believes supply chains should include a seat at the table for systemically underrepresented suppliers. They believe that supplier diversity promotes greater innovation, a healthier competitive environment, and more equitably distributes benefits among all community members. They are committed to doing their part to create a more just society by cultivating partnerships with businesses owned by people who identify as women, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and veterans. They will share more updates with you as this important work progresses.

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 6th – 12th, 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.

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, 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 spearheaded most of Green Pepper’s social media from California 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!