All posts by: coop-admin

It’s Board Election Season Here at the Co-op!

Any day now, Co-op member-owners will receive a Board of Directors Election Info packet in the mail. Inside this packet, you’ll find information about our Board, the election process, candidate biographies, and instructions to help you cast YOUR vote for our Board of Directors.  

This year there are 6 member-owners seeking election to 4 seats on the MNFC Board.

You can find a sneak peek of our Election Info Packet by clicking on this link. Voting does not open until May 1st.

 

Feeling confused about the election? Check out these answers to three of the most commonly asked questions:

I don’t know a lot about the Co-op…should I still vote?

Yes! You don’t need to have any prior experience or expertise to vote. If you’ve been inside the store, then you have the experience needed to vote.

We recommend you look for candidates who demonstrate a commitment to strategic leadership—leadership that supports the best interests of our Co-op as a whole. 

Why should I vote?

It’s very rare that you have the opportunity to make decisions about the leadership of a business, particularly one that plays such a significant role in our daily lives, such as a grocery store. When you vote, you have a direct impact on our community and local economy. 

We literally own our co-op grocery store together, as member-owners. Big-name grocery stores are owned by shareholders that do not live in our community–profits from these stores are extracted from communities. 

MNFC is different because we own the Co-op together–profits recirculate in our community, and all decisions are made locally by the Board of Directors and the Co-op Management Team.

Does my vote matter?

YES! Our elections are frequently very close races. Directors are often elected by a margin of only a few votes, and we occasionally have ties that result in run-off elections. Your vote really, truly matters!

Many thanks for your time! Please reach out if you have any questions. 

In Cooperation,

Your MNFC Board of Directors, 

board@middlebury.coop

(802) 388-7276 ext 377

Spotlight on Alaffia

 

Alaffia was founded in 2004 with Fair Trade as the fundamental foundation of their organization, which is comprised of the Alaffia Village in Sokodé, Togo; the Alaffia Coconut Cooperative in Klouvi-Donnou, Togo; and the Alaffia headquarters in Olympia, Washington. Their cooperatives handcraft indigenous raw ingredients, and the Alaffia team in Olympia creates the finished products. Proceeds from the sales of these products are then returned to communities in Togo, West Africa through Alaffia’s nonprofit arm, the Alaffia Foundation, helping to alleviate poverty and advance gender equity through the Fair Trade of Indigenous resources and community empowerment projects. With every purchase, you directly support Alaffia’s social empowerment projects.

 

What impact have your Alaffia purchases had in these communities thus far?

 

 

Each year in sub-Saharan West Africa, 160,000 women die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Over her lifetime, a woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to 1 in 4,000 in developed countries (UNICEF, 2015). There are several reasons for the high maternal mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa, including extreme poverty and inadequate infrastructure.  It is possible to save lives with basic health care and gender equality.

Alaffia’s Maternal Health Project has two parts; The first is a direct approach by which Alaffia provides funding for full pre-and postnatal care, including special and urgent needs, to women in rural Togo. Alaffia product sales have paid for the births of 5,597 babies in rural Togolese communities through the Togo Health Clinic system!

The Alaffia Women’s Clinic Project is the second part of their women’s health efforts. In 2007, they formed partnerships with local Togo clinics to provide information and training on all women’s health issues, including nutrition, preventing female genital mutilation, and much more. They believe that saving mothers is a necessary step in reducing poverty. When a mother dies, her surviving children’s nutrition & health suffer, and they are more likely to drop out of school, reducing their ability to rise out of poverty.

 

 

The future of African communities depends on the education and empowerment of young people. Since Alaffia founded their shea butter cooperative in 2003, they’ve provided school uniforms, books, and writing supplies to children in Togolese communities to offset the financial burden these items have on families. They also donate desks and install new roofs on schools to make learning a more enjoyable experience. Since 2011, Alaffia product sales have funded the construction of 16 schools throughout Togo and provided school supplies to 37,521 recipients.

 

In rural areas of Togo, students walk up to 10 miles a day to attend school. There are no buses, and families cannot afford private transportation. As a result, school becomes very time-consuming, and most students decide to quit school in order to fulfill their family obligations. In rural areas, less than 10% of high school-aged girls and only 16% of boys attend school (UNICEF). In 2004, Alaffia began collecting and sending used bicycles to Togolese students to encourage them to stay in and complete school through their Bicycles for Education Project. Now, with over 10,817 bicycles sent and distributed, they are seeing a real impact on exam scores and retention in rural schools. 95% of Bicycles For Education recipients graduate secondary school.

Alaffia collects used bicycles in and around their communities in Washington and Oregon, with the help of their retailers, volunteers, and staff. All costs of this project – from collecting, repairing, and shipping bicycles, to customs duties, distribution costs, ongoing maintenance, and follow-up – are paid for through the sales of Alaffia products. This project brings communities in the US and Togo together. Bicycles that would otherwise be destined for the landfill are encouraging students in Togo to stay in school so they can lead their communities out of poverty. To find out how you can be involved, visit their web page or email foundation@alaffia.com

 

 

Deforestation and climate change have had a devastating impact on West African farming communities. Alaffia product sales fund the planting of trees by Togolese farmers to help mitigate soil erosion and improve food security for their families. 99,964 trees have been planted through this project! Allafia also conducts trainings to discourage the cutting of shea trees for firewood and charcoal to preserve this important indigenous resource for future generations. Additionally, they are investigating sustainable fuel alternatives, such as bio-gas and bio-oils, to reduce the demand for wood and charcoal.

 

In Togo, it is extremely difficult for visually impaired people to obtain eyeglasses. An eye exam costs as much as one month’s wage and a pair of eyeglasses can cost up to four months of wages. Alaffia collects used eyeglasses at retail locations throughout the US and employs an optometrist in Togo to correctly fit and distribute the glasses. A pair of eyeglasses is life-changing for a child struggling in school, the elderly with failing vision, and adults who have never been able to see clearly. To date, Alaffia has collected over 30,852 pairs of glasses.

 

 

Social Enterprise Model

Alaffia’s Social Enterprise Model is a comprehensive approach to providing safe, efficacious hair, face, and body care while alleviating poverty in West Africa through the preservation of traditional skills and knowledge in the global market. The following principles guide Alaffia’s Social Enterprise Model:

  • EMPOWERMENT PROJECTS
    Targeted areas of development (Maternal Care, Education, Environmental Sustainability, Eyeglasses) as mentioned above that safeguard basic needs for sustainable communities.

 

  • INDIGENOUS INGREDIENTS
    Local resources and traditional handcrafting knowledge celebrate cultural diversity in the global market and ensure Alaffia’s safe, nutrient-rich, and efficacious products.

 

  • WOMEN’S CO-OP’S & COLLECTIVES
    Alaffia’s women’s cooperatives and collectives promote gender equality through fair wages and by celebrating the traditional skills and knowledge of West African women.

 

  • ETHICAL, SAFE, EFFICACIOUS PRODUCTS
    Alaffia’s products are safe and effective alternatives for your health and wellness. They are both ethnobotanist and pharmacognosist informed. Third-party verification also ensures that Alafffia’s products are held to the highest industry standards.

 

  • SUSTAINABLE & TRANSPARENT PACKAGING
    Clear communication and third-party certification showcase Alaffia’s high product standards. They are proudly certified For Life (by ECOCERT), and are Good Manufacturing Practices/GMP certified.

 

  • PRODUCT SALE FOR REINVESTMENT
    Alaffia’s primary goal is to reinvest a portion of product sales into our Empowerment Projects in West Africa. Your purchase helps improve living conditions and supports an end to poverty.

 

Business of the Month: Middlebury Fitness

We invite you to check out this month’s featured Co-op Connection Business — Middlebury Fitness! Flash your Co-op member-owner card and you’ll receive 50% off the enrollment fee and your first class or workout is FREE! Read on to learn more about what this community wellness center has to offer:

 

 

Middlebury Fitness is a community health and wellness center founded in 1997 that puts its members’ needs first. Their facility features a wide variety of the most current strength and cardio equipment by the leading brands in the industry. Is group fitness your thing? They offer a variety of live and remote programs and group fitness classes to meet the diverse and ever-changing needs of their member base, ranging from ages 13 to 93. Click here for their class calendar and descriptions. Other services and amenities include personal training, sport-specific athletic performance training, nutrition consultations with Registered Dietician Amy Rice of Champlain Nutrition Solutions, and more!

The crew at Middlebury Fitness is incredibly proud to be so active in this great community and annually receives recognition and awards for various initiatives. For the past four consecutive years, they have received the United Way of Addison County’s “Partner Award” for an annual event that has raised $60,000 for our local friends and families in need since 2014. Wow!! They were also the 2018 recipients of the prestigious BOB (Best of Business) award in the Health Club category by Vermont Business Magazine. 

At Middlebury Fitness they understand that you have options when it comes to your health and fitness needs. They aim to meet and exceed their members’ expectations every day and believe they have some of the most attentive, caring, professional, and knowledgeable instructors, personal trainers, and staff you will find. Their ultimate goal at Midd Fit is to ensure that each of their members achieves their personal fitness goals while experiencing exceptional customer service in a supportive atmosphere of fun and camaraderie.

If you are a current member, they’d like to extend a sincere THANK YOU for being a part of the Midd Fit family! If you are not yet a member, please visit and let Middlebury Fitness guide you through your fitness journey today! And don’t forget to mention that you’re a Co-op member-owner!

Co-op Connection Business of the Month — FLORA

FLŌRA offers our community a comfortable, clean, relaxing place to purchase high-quality, lab-tested, premium cannabis products from Vermont growers and they offer a 10% discount to card-carrying Co-op member-owners. Read on to learn more about this relatively new local business and the duo who brought it to life:

 

Act 164, a law passed in 2020 which allowed adult Vermonters to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature cannabis plants, and four immature plants, also signaled the green light for retail sales of recreational cannabis beginning on Oct. 1, 2022. FLŌRA, located in the heart of downtown Middlebury, became one of only three fully licensed and permitted cannabis retail shops statewide to open for business on that historic October day. Blazing the trail to make this possible were FLŌRA co-founders Dave Silberman and Mike Sims. As a Middlebury attorney and longtime advocate for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Vermont, Silberman was well-positioned to navigate the permitting process to make the retail store possible, having provided input for Act 164, and being well-versed in its requirements.

An estimated crowd of 1,000 people visited the store on its opening day at 2 Park Street, the line stretching almost to the Cross Street bridge roundabout with visitors eager to peruse and purchase cannabis flower and an assortment of related products. FLŌRA’s product lineup currently includes dozens of strains of premium Vermont-grown cannabis flower, many from right here in Addison County, plus pre-rolled joints, vaping cartridges, topicals, and a wide range of edibles ranging from gummies to chocolates and even pure maple candy infused with THC. FLŌRA also carries a wide assortment of CBD products, pipes, grinders, herbal vaporizers, and more.     

The FLORA team on opening day, October 2022

In an article in the Addison Independent, Silberman shared that he’s particularly proud to do business with a Bristol-based grower who had previously been sentenced to federal prison for selling cannabis around a decade ago. “Now he is doing it legally,” he said of the Bristol grower. “To me, that’s one small way we can help right the wrongs of the War on Drugs, and it’s the path we need to travel on now. It’s not enough to just legalize and open stores, no matter how beautiful and well-received they are.”

Those who haven’t yet visited FLŌRA might be surprised by the experience, which creates a spa-like atmosphere. FLŌRA staff have undergone state-mandated training and are well-versed in store protocols and legal requirements. Patrons are greeted at a check-in counter upon arrival, where they must show a valid picture ID to verify they are at least 21. Once inside, a store “bud-tender” is available to help customers explore the product lineup, and answer questions. A recent addition to the services provided by FLŌRA is an online ordering system where customers can make their selection in advance of their visit, show up at the store with a valid ID and proof of purchase, then leave with their order.  You can even pre-pay right online!

FLORA has received strong support from residents, the local business community, and town officials alike.  For his part, Sims said he believes FLŌRA will be a boon to the community and is quoted in the Addison Independent shortly after opening day expressing that “It felt really great to open our doors to the community…downtown has been packed. All the other stores have been crushing their numbers. It felt great to see people on both sides of the sidewalk shopping at all the stores. I was proud of that.”

Spotlight on Farmhouse Chocolates

We’re shining a bright Member Deals Spotlight on Farmhouse Chocolates this week! Member-owners can enjoy a 20% discount on all of the delightfully decadent treats from this local Bristol-based chocolatier from April 18th through the 24th! Read on to learn more about the local couple who brings these swoon-worthy chocolates to our Co-op shelves and their deep commitment to ethical sourcing:

 

Having grown up in a dairy-farming family here in Vermont, co-owner and head chocolatier Erlé LaBounty is described on the Farmhouse Chocolates website as always being more concerned with lunchtime than recess, so it’s no small wonder that he gravitated toward the world of fine food. He’s been crafting delicately balanced, old-world chocolate confections since the tender age of 16! No stranger to epicurean adventures in her own right, his partner and co-owner Eliza LaRocca came to Vermont in 2010 after spending time in Florence, Italy’s specialty food market, Il Mercato Centrale, and leading food and wine tours in Italy, France, and Vermont. 

Farmhouse Chocolates co-owners Eliza LaRocca and Erlé LaBounty

Since meeting, the couple has been hard at work hand-crafting chocolates while building a business and a life together. The business has evolved over the years, having started with a focus on hand-rolled truffles, then expanding to include chocolate-covered, burnt-butter salted caramels, and six different varieties of chocolate bars. While the product lineup has evolved, one thing that has remained constant from the onset was their commitment to procuring high-quality, ethically-sourced ingredients. All Farmhouse Chocolates are crafted with certified organic, fair trade, soy-free 70% and 85% chocolates. The majority of their remaining ingredients are certified organic, and the few that are not are thoroughly vetted and certified non-GMO, as well as being soy- and corn syrup-free; and sourced locally as often as possible.

Moreover, while co-packing (choosing to have products packaged at another, larger facility not owned or operated by the company) is something of a food industry standard, Farmhouse Chocolates proudly produces everything in-house in their Bristol, VT facility.

According to the chocolatiers, “our company’s ethos centers on the meeting of responsibility and pleasure. Sourcing organic, fair trade, and local ingredients, we carefully craft dark chocolate confections that emphasize taste, texture, and aesthetics as much as they do sustainability and purity of ingredients; ethics reflected in our environmentally friendly packaging and small batch production.”

 

 

 

Business of the Month: Middlebury Sweets

Our March Featured Business will truly excite your inner child! We invite you to visit our featured Co-op Connection Business – Middlebury Sweets! They offer card-carrying Co-op members a 10% discount on their dizzying array of confections. Read on to learn more about Vermont’s largest candy store and find out why Yankee Magazine crowned them as 2016’s “Best Sweet Shop in Vermont”:

First established in 2007 under the name “Sweet Surprises Down Candy Lane”, Middlebury Sweets has evolved and expanded over the years, now offering over 1,300 different products that are sure to excite your inner child. Founder and Owner Blanca Jenne and her husband Brad have owned and operated ABC Self Storage and UHAUL in East Middlebury since 1998. In 2006 they expanded that business to include a retail space for Blanca’s scrapbook supply store, which was previously run from her home. The scrapbook store offered a small candy selection and, by 2010, candy sales were outpacing scrapbooking supplies, prompting Jenne to convert the space completely to its current iteration as Middlebury Sweets.

By the beginning of 2011, the candy store transformation was complete and Jenne could now boast that they were the largest candy store in the state! She also began making her own chocolates that Spring, adding to the lineup that already included 72 flavors of Jelly Belly beans, 21 different colors of My M&M’s, 21 different colors of Sixlets, Vermont maple candies, gummies, taffy, licorice, old-fashioned candies, and so much more! They truly have something to satisfy every sweet tooth!

The latest evolution of the store came in December of 2017 when they purchased the former Greystone Motel on Route 7 South in Middlebury. They breathed new life into the motel with a major renovation, complete with candy-themed rooms and a large candy shop! If you haven’t yet visited their store, you’re quite literally in for a treat. You’ll find all of the candies you remember from your childhood in a stunning array of flavors and colors, along with over 100 varieties of handmade chocolates! Seasonally, you’ll find a dazzling array of special holiday-themed treats!

 

 

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!

Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op has partnered with the National Co-operative Grocers (NCG) to highlight diversity throughout our 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.”

Our Co-op celebrates inclusive trade and features a lineup of hand-made meals from Inclusive Trade businesses including:

Of course, this is just a small sampling of the Inclusive Trade producers that our Co-op is proud to work with, so remember to look for the logo throughout the store! 

Spotlight on Siete Foods

This week’s Member Deals Spotlight casts a bright beacon on a family-owned, Inclusive Trade business that brings authentic Mexican flavor with an allergen-friendly twist — Siete Foods! Read on to learn more about the Siete story and the family who is committed to offering authentic heritage food with a healthy spin:

 

When Siete Foods co-founder and president Veronica Garza was diagnosed as a teenager with multiple debilitating autoimmune conditions, she turned to her close-knit family of seven (Siete!) for support. They began exercising in the family’s backyard in South Texas, eventually opening their own CrossFit gym, and began learning about the healing power of food. In solidarity, the entire family joined Veronica on her journey to adopt a low-inflammation elimination diet. Healing began, but as a Mexican-American family, eating their beloved fajitas and tacos on a lettuce leaf simply lacked the usual appeal. Determined to reclaim the cultural foods so important to her family, Veronica began experimenting with grain-free tortillas and knew she’d landed on a winning recipe when her grandma Campos told her that they tasted better than the homemade flour tortillas she’d been making for decades. 

 

The offerings have since expanded beyond tortillas to include a full line of grain-free tortilla chips, savory sauces, cookies, and more! What hasn’t changed has been the family’s dedication to their mission and values. Siete Family Foods is a mission-based company, and they’re passionate about making and sharing real food, gathering together in authentic community, and advocating for healthier lifestyles among Latinx families. The entire family remains involved with the operation of the business in various capacities and they make a concerted effort to prioritize diversity in hiring within the organization. 

 

Their mission is to:

  • Boldly build the leading better-for-you Mexican-American food brand,
  • Embody a juntos es mejor culture: value humility, foster diversity, love people always.
  • Operate with a family first, family second, business third attitude.
  • Positively impact the lives of underserved communities through education, entrepreneurship, and wellness.

With their mission in mind, they created the Siete Juntos Fund, which aims to uplift and celebrate taco culture by awarding funding to Latinx-owned taco businesses across the nation. In 2022, the Juntos Fund provided $40,000 to three taquerias who showed not only a passion for making delicious food, but also a passion for building authentic community and sharing pieces of their culture and their story with others. Click here to learn more. 

If you’re looking for tasty inspiration in the form of grain-free recipes that incorporate Siete products, click here

Spotlight on Krin’s Bakery

Looking for a sweet treat to share with your Valentine or Pal-entine? How about something from Krin’s Bakery?! We’re shining our Member Deals Spotlight on Krin’s Bakery from February 8th – 14th and member-owners can enjoy 20% off Krin’s full line of local confections! Read on to learn more about this wonderful woman-owned bakery nestled in the mountains of Huntington, VT.

 

 

Krin’s Bakery is the home of artisan baker Krin Barberi. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, then exploring and working for others, Krin opened her own bakery in 2005. Krin’s Bakery makes delicious cookies, cupcakes, and other treats using time-honored recipes and simple, fresh ingredients. Whether in a lunchbox, enjoyed over coffee, or served at a special occasion, Krin’s baked goods celebrate her twin passions for baking and for building community.

Krin’s bakes the treats you love and remember—chocolate cupcakes with a thick frosting; chewy cookies in classic flavors and festive shapes; classic Italian biscotti and moist chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, all baked in their small Huntington, Vermont bakery by a dedicated crew of skilled bakers, using thoughtfully-sourced ingredients from neighboring farms, orchards, and businesses. Their treats are available in local grocery stores and co-ops throughout central and Northern Vermont, and if you’re not lucky enough to live in VT, they ship!

Krin is a passionate local foods activist supporting the cause by working with local distributors, markets, producers, and farmers. She takes her inspiration from her rural New England family’s tradition of supporting and participating in the life of her community. She believes that where our food comes from is important and takes pride in using local Vermont ingredients whenever possible.

It is from this deep sense of community and place that Krin continues to bake love and care into each and every treat.

 

Equal Exchange Avocados, a Better Choice

Guacamole is always a crowd pleaser, and on a particular Sunday in February it is a gameday staple. While rooting for your favorite team, gathering with your friends or just watching the spectacle take a moment to consider the impacts of your dip and learn more about Equal Exchange and their Organic and Fair Trade Avocados.  Equal Exchange is a cooperative that is revolutionizing the fair trade of organic, non-GMO  avocados, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, tea, and bananas from small farmers. You can find their co-op-produced, Certified Organic, Fairtrade Certified avocados in our produce department! Read on to learn more about the ways that this cooperative is creating powerful change in industries dominated by profound social, environmental, and economic exploitation:

History:

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

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

 

 

Mission:

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

Authentic Fair Trade:

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

 

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

 

Avocados:

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

Equal Exchange visiting the farmers from the PROFOSMI avocado cooperative

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

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

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

 

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

 

Bananas:

According to the USDA, the average American eats 27 pounds of bananas per year. That’s a whole lot of bananas – and a big opportunity for impact. The banana industry is infamous for unfair labor practices, dangerous working conditions, and perpetuation of global inequalities. 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.

 

Coffee:

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

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

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

 

Chocolate:

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

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