Dear MNFC Member-Owners, shoppers, and community members,
Have you ever wondered how to communicate with the Board of Directors, and why you would contact the Board? Meaningful conversation between community members and their elected representatives at the Co-op is one of the many reasons the cooperative business model is unique and powerful. However, with over 6,000 Member-Owners, it can be confusing to know how to start a conversation, or where to turn with a question, concern, or feedback about the Co-op.
It may be helpful to understand some unique features of how MNFC works. The Board uses a model of governance in which the Board guides the fundamental direction of the Co-op by creating policies that set the purpose (the Ends) of the Co-op. The Board is also responsible for creating and monitoring policies that oversee the General Manager’s work. The General Manager is directly accountable to the Board for all of these policies, which are monitored year round according to a schedule; however, the policies are broad enough to allow the General Manager and Staff the greatest possible operational freedom to achieve the purpose set by the Board. Board policies are available on our website.
Here are some ways to bring any kinds of questions, concerns, or feedback to the Board:
Email: You can email us at email@example.com. This email address is checked regularly, and exclusively by Board members, typically Board President, Amanda Warren.
Phone: You can call us at (802) 388-7276 ext 377. This phone number is exclusively answered by Board members, again, typically the Board President, Amanda.
Open Board Meetings: All Member-Owners are welcome to attend monthly Board meetings, which are usually held on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 6-8pm. The schedule is posted on the website. The first five minutes are always reserved for “Member-Owner Business,” and then Member-Owners are welcome to attend the rest of the meeting to observe the Board’s work. Meeting agendas are available at the customer service desk by register 6, and are published the week preceding the meeting. If you plan to attend, please email the Board ahead of time, so we know to expect you firstname.lastname@example.org. Our next meeting is on December 20, 2023.
Talk to a Board Member: You are always welcome to talk to any Board member and share your thoughts. Board members will then bring your questions to the Board as a whole. You can see who is on the Board by visiting our website. The Board takes all feedback seriously. You might wonder: who can talk to the Board of Directors? Anyone! Anyone who has a question, concern, or feedback about the Co-op can bring it to the Board–you don’t have to be a Member-Owner.
Run for the Board: If you’d like to get even more involved, Board elections happen every May. Applications are due mid-March of each year. For more information, visit the website, or get in touch with the Board using any of the methods listed above.
If you’d like to learn more, or read any of our Board meeting minutes, you can visit our website. We look forward to hearing from you.
Amanda Warren (she/her) on behalf of the MNFC Board of Directors
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, before now, the current constraints of the WIC program made it impossible for our Co-op to meet the participation requirements.
The 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. Until recently, some of the products on the WIC food list did not meet our buying criteria. Much of the WIC list requires that retailers carry specific brands and sizes to qualify for WIC participation. Some entire categories (like peanut butter and fruit juice) did not allow any organic brand or product. 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. The way this system operated, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op could not accept WIC cards as payment for any products, even the ones on the list that we can carry on our shelves.
Back in 2022, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Brattleboro Co-op, and The Co-op Food Stores brought this issue to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. It was there our co-ops were able to meet and talk with Stacey Dean, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services about WIC implementation issues. Stacey Dean listened, took our contact information, and promised to contact the regional VT 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”.
A few weeks later Andrea Miller, WIC Vendor Manager for the VT Department of Health, contacted our Co-op and began to work with us to add brands and products that Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op carried, or met our buying criteria. This was not the easiest of tasks. However, Andrea and Taylor Murray, WIC Nutrition Assistant, took the time to work with us, add the products we carried, help us find products that met our buying criteria and qualified for WIC already, and provide us with the training needed to become a WIC approved retail grocer. After more than a year of work, on Wednesday November 15, 2023, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op received final approval and became a qualified WIC retailer. This is an amazing win for our community, for our Co-op, and for healthy food access!
If you or anyone you know qualifies for WIC benefits, you also qualify for our Food For All program. Our Food For All program provides an everyday 10% discount on all purchases (excluding beer and wine by law). Apply Here.
With the fast approaching holidays, we’re excited to shine a bright light on Addison West! This shop nestled in the heart of downtown Middlebury offers a skillfully curated lineup of new and vintage items intended to excite and inspire, and they offer a sweet deal for card-carrying Co-op member-owners! Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind this new venture and the folks who bring it to life:
What began as a holiday pop-up in the space at 44 Main Street previously occupied by Community Barn Ventures has since evolved into a full-fledged home design, décor, and lifestyle shop featuring an enticing lineup of gifts, furniture, jewelry, lighting, artwork, and other kitchen and home décor. By November of 2022, Community Barn Ventures had relocated to the Old Stone Mill in Frog Hollow, and Monique Bonner seized the opportunity to change course from a decades-long career as a tech marketing executive to fulfill a lifelong dream of running a retail shop. Bonner officially launched Addison West on her 50th birthday, drawing on her previous experience redesigning and renovating countless bathrooms, kitchens, condos, and homes and fulfilling a passion for connecting people with the spaces and things they love.
Bonner particularly enjoys showcasing the work of local makers, artists, and artisans, so you’ll find among her skillfully curated collection many locally-crafted items and artwork. She also has a particular passion for bringing together things both old and new, sharing in an Addison Independent article her love of “mixing new with vintage, things that have history. That’s a huge part of my philosophy on home design and decorating. I also love that buying vintage or antique items and furniture for your home is another way for us to think and act sustainably.”
As for the name Addison West, Bonner shares on her website that, “well, most simply, we live on West Street in Addison County in Vermont. Addison County is a remarkable area. It’s an area grounded in the earth and landscape. It’s surrounded by mountains, full of farms and dairy cows and amazing, resilient, people. And the idea of the West has always seemed to inspire exploration, new places, the undiscovered. So our ethos is all about the grounded, the historical, the foundational, and at the same time inhabiting the magic of what’s new and what’s possible.”
The overarching goal for Addison West, according to their website is “to have people feel grounded and great. Great about their spaces. Great about their homes, their lives, and their gifts – both what they give to themselves and what they give to others. We really want to inspire people to embrace the best of what they have, while at the same time encouraging them to try new, to mix things up.” As part of their participation in the Co-op Connection program, they generously offer a 10% discount to Co-op member-owners, so consider this your formal invitation to visit Addison West and explore all that they have to offer! Whether you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift, or simply looking for fresh inspiration for your own home, we think you’ll find what you’re looking for at Addison West!
It’s baking season! What a perfect time to stock up on local baking supplies from King Arthur Baking Company! They’re featured in our Member Deals Spotlight from November 24th – 29th, so member-owners can enjoy a 20% discount on their full line of baking products! Read on to learn more about America’s oldest flour company and its mission to create and deliver superior products and knowledge so that consumers experience the joy and passion of baking, all informed by their values as a 100% employee-owned Benefit Corporation:
King Arthur is an employee-owned company on a mission to be the ultimate resource and inspiration in the kitchen, to inspire connections and community through baking, and to use their business as a force for good. They were first founded over 230 years ago and while much has changed over the years (including a recent name change from King Arthur Flour to King Arthur Baking Company), they remain committed to the principles upon which they were founded. They believe in the power of baking to make a difference — for people and the planet. They work to build stronger communities and increase access and connection to real foods. They take pride in their responsible sourcing and their “never bleached” guarantee. And they work closely with farmers, millers, and suppliers in a continued commitment toward sustainability.
King Arthur Baking Company is a certified B-Corporation and they measure their progress with a triple bottom line — people, planet, and profit. Their products are non-GMO Verified by the third-party Non-GMO project and they source their wheat from American farms, helping grow a strong, sustainable agricultural economy. In partnership with their farmers, they’re working to limit pesticide exposure while increasing sustainable yields in a changing climate; promoting our planet’s health for many years to come. They carry on their centuries-old heritage of stewardship through the quality of their brand, and the steps they take to preserve the vitality of the community and the earth on which we live. Click here to view their Mission & Impact documented through the annual B Impact assessment.
At King Arthur Baking, they have always believed that everyone deserves equal access to the joy of baking. They strive to ensure that their values are reflected in all that they do. To maintain and extend a history of putting community, their employee-owners, and the planet first, they recognize that they must also address the social injustices that challenge those very values. They have committed themselves to this work not out of obligation, but because it’s ingrained in who they are as a company. They recognize that the work of fostering an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion will never end; there will always be more humbling, difficult, and meaningful work to do. And they commit to rising to the challenge time and time again — because of a strong sense of responsibility to break down barriers that hinder access to baking, a universal craft that has the power to unite people from all walks of life. Click here to read more about their ongoing work towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Whether you’re a brand new baker or a seasoned professional, King Arthur Baking is there for you with an incredible volume of resources to help you bake your best. There are handy tips for what to do when your bread falls flat and your cookies crumble, excellent instructional videos to help you understand everything from bulk fermentation to baking the perfect pie crust, and recipes for anything you could ever dream to bake. And if you’re a professional baker, King Arthur Baking offers a library of reference materials and information that will be helpful in bakeries, restaurants, and production facilities. They also offer live and virtual classes for every type of baker at every skill level. Classes range from introductory demonstrations for beginners to intensive week-long professional courses, with a wide variety of hands-on classes for adults and children. Let them be your ultimate go-to resource for all things baking.
Searching for healthful options for treating disease and pain that focus on restoring health rather than merely treating symptoms? We invite you to check out our featured Co-op Connection Business for November, Natural Medicine of Vermont! Card-carrying Co-op member-owners can enjoy 10% off their 1st visit and 2% off subsequent visits!
Natural Medicine of Vermont (NMV) is an integrative naturopathic medical facility whose goal is to provide comprehensive and expert health care services. Natural Medicine of Vermont, located in Middlebury, Vermont, is owned and operated by Dr. Karen Miller-Lane, a licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist. Dr. Miller-Lane’s office is located on Court St. (Rte. 7 in Middlebury) across the street from Mary Hogan Elementary School in a white building with blue shutters in the Somaworks Wellness Building.
According to their website, Dr. Miller-Lane shares that “many of us are exploring healthful options to treating disease and pain that restore health rather than merely treat symptoms and involve few side effects. Naturopathic medicine and Acupuncture stand at the forefront of providing informed, thorough, and gentle ways of achieving this approach to health. As a Naturopathic Physician licensed in Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture and trained in Craniosacral Therapy, I am able to unite many different complementary practices into one visit. This integrative approach provides the best possible treatment and outcomes natural medicine has to offer. I look forward to working with you.
Dr. Miller-Lane’s personal mission statement: “As a physician may I always listen with compassion, see with an open heart, and work in the service of others. May I always be in awe of the vast potential of the human body, spirit, and mind. May I continually strive to learn new things, understand old things better, teach what I know And have the wisdom to appreciate my limitations. May I serve with grace, assist in partnership, and participate with integrity. May I always be present with others as I listen to their stories, unravel their pain and confusion, and support their truths and wisdom. May I always strive to cultivate the healer within myself and within others.”
Dr. Karen Miller-Lane is a Naturopathic Physician and Licensed Acupuncturist. She has a practice in Middlebury, VT. Her expertise lies in providing an integrative, compassionate and individualized approach to women’s health, endocrine, gut and immune support, and to the challenges of chronic disease. She received a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine (2001) and a Masters of Acupuncture (2002) from Bastyr University. She received certification in Craniosacral therapies in 2000. In addition, she spent four years (2008-2010, 2012-2014) studying advanced Chinese medicine and pulse diagnosis with the acupuncturist and scholar Lonnie Jarrett. She also trained with Eileen McKusick, and was certified as a Biofield Tuning practitioner in 2016. These multi-cultural, multi-modal teachings provide a rich foundation for her practice of medicine. Prior to becoming a Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Karen worked in the field of international development and education with a focus on women’s healthcare issues. Currently, she is particularly interested in the developing field of epigenetics and nutrigenomics, as she continues to embody a commitment to being an innovator in the ever emergent field of healthcare in the 21st century. She finds joy in her family, friends, the patients she works with, and finding the humor and wonder in everyday situations.
Thanks to her diverse clinical background, Dr. Karen MIller-Lane is able to unite many different complementary practices into one visit. This integrative approach provides the best possible treatment and outcomes natural medicine has to offer. Her specialties include:
Immune and Cancer Support
The dance between body, mind, and spirit
What Is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct profession of physicians trained in primary health care who are oriented towards prevention, education, and promotion of optimal health rather than just treatment of disease. Naturopathic doctors (ND’s) integrate centuries-old knowledge of traditional, non-toxic therapies with the best of modern medical diagnostic science and standards of care. ND’s complete pre-med education followed by a 4-5 year residential curriculum with 4,500 – 5,000 hours of instruction and extensive, supervised clinical training. ND’s must also pass rigorous state and national board examinations.
Foundation and Guidance for Naturopathic physicians are based on the following principles:
First, Do No Harm
The Healing Power of Nature
Treatment of the Whole Person
Treat the Cause
Doctor as Teacher
Dr. Karen Miller Lane utilizes naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and oriental medicine to design individual preventative treatment plans that will assist in achieving your optimum wellness and provide effective complementary health care to meet your specific needs.
November 11th is Veterans’ Day, so it feels timely to send out a reminder to all who are recipients of Veterans Affairs Benefits. Possession of a valid VA Card is proof of eligibility for the Co-op’s Food For All Program. Food For All members enjoy a 10% discount on their groceries, co-op-sponsored member share purchases, and all the benefits of Co-op member ownership. Next time you are in the Co-op, stop by and pick up a Food For All Brochure and find out what Food for All can do for you. Or, find out more HERE.
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, and Co-op Deals, and shop our Bulk Department. 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 375 Households participate in 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, receive Member Deals, and have a voice in Co-op Elections.
Hope and CVOEO each received a check on behalf of our member-owners for $22,652!!
When your Co-op makes a profit at the end of a fiscal year, the Board of Directors votes on how much of those earnings to retain and how much to refund back to our member-owners. Patronage dividends are a traditional way for co-ops to share profits back to the members. As member-owners of this Co-op, you also own the profits, and a patronage dividend system allows us to share and reinvest those profits to benefit our Co-op community.
Since patronage refunds are based on how much a person spent at the Co-op during the previous fiscal year, every member-owner’s check will vary. If a refund check is below $5, the cost of issuing the check exceeds the refund amount. In this instance, the Co-op will not issue a check and instead donate all checks under $5 to our local food shelves HOPE and CVOEO. All member-owners have 90 days to cash their patronage refund checks, the amount of any uncashed checks is also donated to HOPE and CVOEO.
At the end of October, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op was able to donate all uncashed patronage checks and total patronage set aside for the 2022 and 2023 Fiscal Year. The total donation was more than $45k! Thank you to all of member-owners for allowing your Co-op to make such a contribution. And an enormous thank you to the wonderful people at CVOEO and HOPE for showing up each day to provide for our community.
For more information about how our patronage refund system works, click here.
Thank you so much for making the Co-op a successful part of our vibrant local community!!!
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 26th – November 1st, 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:
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.
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 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.
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 19th – 25th! 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.