Co-op Month

Spotlight on Equal Exchange

October is Co-op Month, Fair Trade Month, and Non-GMO month, so it seemed 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, fair trade certified goods are 20% off for member-owners from October 15th – 21st! 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.

 

Equal Exchange – Who We Are. from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Mission:

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

Authentic Fair Trade:

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

 

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

Bananas:

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

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

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

 

Avocados:

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

Equal Exchange visiting the farmers from the PROFOSMI avocado cooperative

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

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

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

 

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

 

Coffee:

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

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

Since inception in 2011, the Congo Coffee Project has raised more than $80,000 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 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. You can read more about that here and you can support Dr. Mukwege’s work by purchasing the Congo Project coffee in our Bulk Department.

 

 

Chocolate:

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

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

Supporting Small Cooperative Farmers During the Pandemic:

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

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

Celebrating Fair Trade Month AND Non-GMO Month!

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

What is “Non-GMO Project Verified”?

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

GMOs are present in over 70% of processed foods, and without a requirement for clear on-package labeling, thanks to the DARK Act, most consumers are unaware and unable to make an informed choice. Thanks to the third-party certification provided by the Non-GMO Project, we now have a way to determine with confidence which products are free from genetically modified organisms. A Non-GMO Project verification means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes stringent provisions for ingredient testing, traceability, and segregation.

 

What is “Fairtrade Certified”?

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

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

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

Why do we need such labels on food at all?

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

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

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

Vineyard workers from the La Riojana co-operative in , Argentina

How do Fairtrade and the Non-GMO Project overlap?

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

What you can do?

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

A few of our favorite local Non-GMO Verified products

Want to learn more?

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

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

 

Quick Mediterranean Dip

Looking to whip up a quick dip for those local veggies? As part of our celebration of Co-op Month, we’re featuring a handful of our favorite co-op-made products in the Weekly Sale from October 1st – 7th, including Organic Valley sour cream and Simply Organic dip mixes. Toss in a few other simple ingredients and you’ve got a fantastic dip!

Spotlight on Aura Cacia

To kick off our celebration of Co-op Month, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on Aura Cacia this week to highlight all of the wonderful things this cooperative does to source and provide quality products while also giving back to their community. All of their products are 30% off for member-owners from October 1st – 7th.  Read on to learn more about what makes this company worthy of the Spotlight:

 

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 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. Through this project recently, they’ve been able to serve the following organizations:

  • Climb Wyoming:  At Climb Wyoming, single mothers and their children experience the highest rates of poverty among families in Wyoming. The women served are living in crisis: unemployed or working low-wage jobs that don’t provide financial stability, dealing with stress that is toxic for the brain, and struggling to cover basic needs like food and housing. By working intentionally in groups, the program allows women to build relationships, learn conflict resolution and self-regulation, accelerate their job skills, and find success at work and at home.
  • Calvary Women’s Services:   This important organization ensures that women have access to the proper trauma-informed healthcare and educational support they need to take positive steps toward independence. These programs include transitional and permanent housing, personalized case management, life skills, and education opportunities, job training, health and wellness services, on-site therapy, and daily addiction recovery meetings. At Calvary, they believe every woman has the strengths and gifts she needs to be successful. Each woman in their program identifies and builds on her strengths, meeting her goals for safe housing, good health, and financial independence.
  • Resonance Center:  Resonance promotes and supports the well-being and self-sufficiency of women and their families challenged by the criminal justice system. Their goal is to help female offenders succeed. Since 1977, Resonance has been a special place for women … a place where hope and motivation replace shame as women learn to create a new life for themselves and their children. The women who walk through the doors of Resonance do so for one reason … they have decided to CHANGE. They realize they cannot move forward in leading a productive life without help. Through outpatient substance abuse counseling, case management, and mentoring services, Resonance helps women challenged by the criminal justice system become self-sufficient, healthy, and productive community members once again. 
  • Catherine McAuley Center:  Catherine McAuley Center’s Transitional Housing Program is a program specifically designed for women and their unique needs in overcoming poverty and homelessness. The program offers safe housing, basic needs assistance, individualized case management, mental health/substance abuse counseling, and support services to homeless, unaccompanied women over the age of 18. The women range in age from 18 to over 65, with an average age of 40. The women served through the program have had diagnoses of mental health or substance abuse disorders, or both, and are usually dealing with severe childhood traumas. The program provides the women with a supportive community environment to help them achieve stability, regain medical and mental wellness, heal from trauma, and set and work towards individualized goals. All activities, even Catherine McAuley Center’s yoga instruction, are trauma-informed — meaning special care is taken to make the practice useful and accessible to women who have experienced past trauma. The Catherine McAuley Center was founded in 1989 and has grown from serving 15 people in its first year to serving nearly 450 people annually today with a wide variety of programs and services.
Ylang-Ylang fields in Madagascar

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!

Celebrating Co-op Month!

This October, we’re joining co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year’s theme, “Co-ops Commit: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) to promote how co-ops and their members are working together to build more inclusive businesses and more resilient communities.

Our Co-op is celebrating this special month in a number of ways. Throughout the month, we’ll be promoting some of our favorite Co-op-made products and brands. Check out our Weekly Sale and Member Deals displays all month long to find great deals on co-op-made products by Equal Exchange, Aura Cacia, Blue Diamond, Alter Eco, Organic Valley, La Riojana, and more. Be sure to check out the Addison Independent each week for coupons that will offer even deeper discounts on these great products. We’ve also dedicated the latest edition of our Under The Sun newsletter to our local co-operative food system and all of the people who make it shine. Finally, we invite you to check out a free screening of Food For Changea fantastic documentary by filmmaker Steve Alves, which traces the history of food cooperatives in the United States. We hosted a screening of this film here at our Co-op a few years back and it’s a treat to be able to offer a link for a free virtual screening in celebration of Co-op Month!

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical components of our work here at the Co-op and we remain dedicated to centering these issues so that we’re able to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and participatory atmosphere at our Co-op. After all, people have historically used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger, more inclusive communities and this valuable work must continue.  Most co-op grocery stores got their start during times of social and economic change, enabling people to access healthy food, support local producers, and provide good jobs.  More recently, a new wave of startups has been growing, representing a renewed interest in food security, and racial and economic justice. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes 40 food co-ops and startups, jointly owned by more than 150,000 members and employing over 2,350 people.  Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of nearly $347 million, with local products representing close to a third of total sales. 

“Our vision for a more inclusive economy is one of shared prosperity and well-being, of empowering people to work together to build a better future for themselves and their families,” said Erbin Crowell, NFCA executive director and chair of the NCBA CLUSA board of directors. “And as co-operatives, we have to acknowledge that this vision cannot be achieved without also confronting the racism, inequality, and injustice in our society and its institutions.”

Our staff is actively engaged in the necessary work of better understanding how we can be a part of dismantling the systems of oppression in our country. One of the ways that we’re diving deeply into this critical issue is through a series of staff book clubs. Staff members selected one of three titles to engage with, including So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, and My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem, then joined the corresponding book group so that we could engage in honest conversations about racism and the way it impacts all aspects of American life. Our Board of Directors is doing similarly engaging work, which you can read more about in this blog post by Board Member Erin Buckwalter.  We believe in the transformative power of this work and understand that it is necessary if we are to create the diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment that we envision for our Co-op and beyond.

Books that Co-op Staff Members are Reading and Discussing

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more inclusive and resilient local communities.  From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, co-operative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 350 million people are co-op members.  Nationwide, co-ops generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages, according to NCBA CLUSA.  And because they are member-owned, co-operatives are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs, rather than outside investors.

Stop into the Co-op during Co-op Month to learn more about what makes co-operatives different.  And while you’re there, look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves that identify products that were “co-op made”.  You may be surprised by what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley, fresh produce from Deep Root Organic Co-op, fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate from Equal Exchange, beverages from Katalyst Kombucha and La Riojana wines, seeds and bulbs from FEDCO, naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles, Northeast Grown frozen fruits and vegetables from your Neighboring Food Co-ops — and many others. Visit www.nfca.coop/co-opproducts for a more comprehensive list.

To learn more about the food cooperatives in your region and their collective impact, please visit www.nfca.coop.

Spotlight on Organic Valley Co-op

October is Co-op Month and we’re shining our Member Deals Spotlight this week on America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers – Organic Valley!  All Organic Valley products are 20% off for member-owners from October 3rd – 9th! Read on to learn more about Organic Valley’s rich history, their commitment to their farmer-owners, and to the environment:

Their Story

Friends and neighbors around the Coulee region were discarded by a bankrupt agricultural system, and were told to “get big, or get out!” Industrial, chemical farming was the only existing option for survival. Never mind its effects on our health, our animals, and our environment.

But they didn’t want to be industrial, chemical farmers. And they didn’t want to be at the mercy of corporate agriculture. They knew something had to be done. So one farmer, George Siemon, put up posters calling his fellow farmers to band together. And they did. Family farmers filled the county courthouse and all agreed: There had to be a better way—a more sustainable way—to continue farming like they always had. In a way that protects the land, animals, economy and people’s health. And that’s how their farmer-owned cooperative was born, with George as CEO.

This pioneering group of farmers set high organic standards, which eventually served as the framework for the USDA’s organic rules. The cooperative first focused on organic vegetables, calling themselves the CROPP (Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool) Cooperative, and within a year they expanded to include organic dairy. Demand for their organic products grew, as did farmers’ interest in joining the thriving cooperative. Interest came from farmers and consumers all over the country, and it became clear that they needed a new name to represent their broader base. With that, the CROPP cooperative became Organic Valley. 

 

Now, almost 30 years later, Organic Valley continues to produce some of the highest quality organic dairy, vegetables, soy, and eggs. They remain farmer-owned and remain true to the powerful working model that puts the environment, wholesome quality food, and the farmer first. Their CEO is a farmer, one of the original founding farmers of Organic Valley. Even after all these years, George is pretty stubborn about the whole idea of giving consumers better food for their families while helping other small family farmers earn a fair wage for a quality product. Click here to read more about George, the “reluctant CEO”.

Why Grass Matters:

While most dairy cows spend their lives confined to dirt feedlots, all Organic Valley cows are free to roam pasture, eat green grass, and do what cows are supposed to do. Forgoing chemicals in their fields and raising cows on pasture keeps everyone healthier, reduces harmful runoff and builds living soil that actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s how cows were meant to live. 

 

 

Click HERE to read more about the family of farmers that make up the Organic Valley Co-op and find out if there are any near you!

Click HERE for the top 5 reasons to choose organic.

Click HERE for fabulous recipes.

Celebrate Co-op Month!

Every October, cooperatives across the United States join the National Cooperative Business Association in celebrating Co-op Month. The theme for 2019, “Co-ops:  By the Community, for the Community,” is a celebration of how co-ops enable people to work together to meet their needs and build stronger communities.

Across the Northeast, people have used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food. While most of these grocery stores got their start more than 30 years ago some began in the 1930s and ’40s, and a new wave of start-ups have opened their doors in the past ten years, representing a renewed interest in food security and community ownership. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes over 35 food co-ops and start-ups, locally owned by more than 150,000 members and employing over 2,300 people. Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of $340 million, including sales of $93 million in local products. 

 

Our Co-op, founded over 40 years ago, is proud to work with more than 300 local farmers and producers to keep our shelves well-stocked with local foods. Last year, 34% of our store sales represented purchases of local products. This means that the hardworking local farmers and producers in our community have a stable retail market for their wares and your purchases ensure that they can continue to thrive doing the work that they love. But the impact goes well beyond that. Vermont’s dynamic local food system is made up of a diverse range of farmers and food producers including dairy farmers, farmers of fruits & vegetables, livestock, hay, maple products, and specialty crops like hemp; and it also includes thousands of entrepreneurs creating a variety of value-added products (e.g., cured meats, baked goods, beer, chocolate); sophisticated distribution networks; and dozens of organizations that provide business planning, technical assistance, education, and outreach services for these local farmers and producers. So when you’re buying local products, your hard-earned food dollars are supporting so much more than the individual farmer or producer, plus you’re keeping your money circulating within your own community in an impactful way. 

 

 

Another exciting way that our Co-op is able to cultivate community is by giving back. Last year, our Co-op donated over 7 tons of food to our local food shelves, representing a dollar value of $96,527. Thanks to your patronage and willingness to round-up your purchases during our quarterly Rally For Change events, we passed along over $12,818 dollars to Addison County-based non-profit organizations that serve at-risk populations. Last year’s Empty Bowl dinner raised $2,244 for local food shelves, HOPE and CVOEO, and the September Share the Harvest partnership with NOFA-VT allowed us to pass along $1,844 to purchase local farm shares for community members in need. We were also able to donate gift cards to each and every Addison County-based non-profit that reached out to us seeking support for various raffles, fundraisers, and community events, totaling over $20,000. Being a community-owned, not-for-profit grocery store allows us to share our profits back to the community in a meaningful way that benefits all. 

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more resilient local communities. From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to artist co-ops, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, cooperative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 350 million people are co-op members. Nationwide, cooperatives generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. And because they are member-owned, co-ops are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs.

Throughout Co-op Month, we’ll be featuring special sales and promotions on many of our favorite co-op-made products. Just look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves that identify products that were made by our Co-op or other cooperatives. You may be surprised what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley; fairly traded fresh produce, chocolate, and coffee from Equal Exchange; fairly traded quinoa and chocolates from Alter Eco; naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles; body care products from Alaffia;  and wine from La Riojana! You’ll also find that many of these products are part of our Co-op Basics program at everyday low prices that keep them within reach for any budget. 

To learn more about the history of the cooperative movement and the impact that co-ops have in their communities, visit nfca.coop. And thank you for supporting your locally-owned, locally-grown Co-op!

Spotlight on Organic Valley Co-op

October is Co-op Month and we’re shining our Member Deals Spotlight this week on America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers – Organic Valley!  All Organic Valley products are 20% off for member-owners from October 4th – 10th! Read on to learn more about Organic Valley’s rich history, their commitment to their farmer-owners, and to the environment:

Their Story

Friends and neighbors around the Coulee region were discarded by a bankrupt agricultural system, and were told to “get big, or get out!” Industrial, chemical farming was the only existing option for survival. Never mind its effects on our health, our animals, and our environment.

But they didn’t want to be industrial, chemical farmers. And they didn’t want to be at the mercy of corporate agriculture. They knew something had to be done. So one farmer, George Siemon, put up posters calling his fellow farmers to band together. And they did. Family farmers filled the county courthouse and all agreed: There had to be a better way—a more sustainable way—to continue farming like they always had. In a way that protects the land, animals, economy and people’s health. And that’s how their farmer-owned cooperative was born, with George as CEO.

This pioneering group of farmers set high organic standards, which eventually served as the framework for the USDA’s organic rules. The cooperative first focused on organic vegetables, calling themselves the CROPP (Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool) Cooperative, and within a year they expanded to include organic dairy. Demand for their organic products grew, as did farmers’ interest in joining the thriving cooperative. Interest came from farmers and consumers all over the country, and it became clear that they needed a new name to represent their broader base. With that, the CROPP cooperative became Organic Valley. 

 

Now, almost 30 years later, Organic Valley continues to produce some of the highest quality organic dairy, vegetables, soy, and eggs. They remain farmer-owned and remain true to the powerful working model that puts the environment, wholesome quality food, and the farmer first. Their CEO is a farmer, one of the original founding farmers of Organic Valley. Even after all these years, George is pretty stubborn about the whole idea of giving consumers better food for their families while helping other small family farmers earn a fair wage for a quality product. Click here to read more about George, the “reluctant CEO”.

Why Grass Matters:

While most dairy cows spend their lives confined to dirt feedlots, all Organic Valley cows are free to roam pasture, eat green grass, and do what cows are supposed to do. Forgoing chemicals in their fields and raising cows on pasture keeps everyone healthier, reduces harmful runoff and builds living soil that actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s how cows were meant to live. 

 

 

Click HERE to read more about the family of farmers that make up the Organic Valley Co-op and find out if there are any near you!

Click HERE for the top 5 reasons to choose organic.

Click HERE to read about sustainability initiatives at Organic Valley.

Click HERE for fabulous recipes.

Celebrating Co-op Month

“…Twenty-eight working people founded the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society A store was opened that only offered five items for sale, and though the shop lacked inventory, it was filled with hope. What they lacked in experience, the members made up with enthusiasm. From the mutual efforts of those humble workers grew an idea that today serves (over 1 billion) members worldwide. The year 1844, therefore, represents the birth of the modern cooperative movement.”

-from Weavers of Dreams, a book about the history of cooperatives by David Thompson

 

This October, our Co-op is joining over 40,000 co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year, the National Cooperative Business Association has chosen “Co-operatives See the Future” as the theme for the month, inviting co-op members to work together to make the world a better place, now and for future generations.

“From healthy food to organic agriculture, Fair Trade to building stronger local economies, good jobs to alternative energy, food co-ops have been pioneers, empowering people to work together to make the world a better place,” said Erbin Crowell, Executive Director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA).  “And as our co-ops look to the future, we are working to build a more fair, sustainable, and inclusive economy that works for everyone.”

A little over a decade ago, the co-ops that would later form the NFCA began envisioning how the future might be different if they worked together.  As a first step, they commissioned a study to better understand their shared impact.  At the time, few would have guessed that these 17 co-ops had a combined membership of 64,000 people and annual revenue exceeding $161 million. They also had a dramatic impact on local economies, including sales of more than $52 million in local products and jobs for over 1,200 people. Taken together, food co-ops in Vermont were among the top 25 employers in the state!

This year, the NFCA surveyed the same co-ops to see what changed over the past decade.  Though one co-op from the original study closed its doors, the others have continued to grow, with overall membership expanding 38% to more than 88,000 people who, together, own their local grocery store.  Shared revenue has also increased 39% to over $224 million, with sales of local products growing to $64.7 million.  Employment grew 20% to 1,485, while and wages grew 69%, from $28.6 million to almost $48.3 million, reflecting the commitment of food co-ops to more sustainable jobs.

During the same time, the NFCA as a whole has grown, and now includes over 35 food co-ops and start-ups, locally owned by more than 144,000 members and employing over 2,300 people.  Together, these food co-ops generate shared annual revenue of $330 million, including sales of $90 million in local products. 

And food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more resilient local communities.  From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, co-operative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 1 in 3 people are members of at least one co-op or credit union.  Nationwide, co-operatives create 2.1 million jobs and generate more than $650 billion in sales and other revenue annually. Because they are member-owned, co-ops are driven by the needs of the people who work there or use their products and services, rather than maximizing profit.

In celebration of Co-op Month, we’ll feature many co-op made products in our weekly sales and be sure to clip the coupon from the Addison Independent which will save you $3 on any co-op made product.  Look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves (see image above) that identify products that were made by other co-operatives. You may be surprised by what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley, fairly traded bananas, avocados, coffee, and chocolate from Equal Exchange, naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles, Northeast Grown frozen fruits and vegetables from your Neighboring Food Co-ops — and many others. 

Reflections on a Coffee Field Trip

This September, I had the privilege of representing our co-op at the Vermont Partners Gathering at Equal Exchange. The two-day event, held at their national headquarters in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, brought together managers and staff from three Vermont food co-ops with an aim on learning about the work and products of Equal Exchange—a worker-owned co-op of over 30 years—and collaborating with our peers from the Green Mountain state. MNFC carries many of Equal Exchange’s fairly-traded and organic products, including whole bean and ground coffee, chocolate, bananas, and avocados.

Photo Credit Equal Exchange

The Gathering was jam-packed with fascinating people and presentations. We toured their roasting facility where they roast coffee cherries from 26 different small-farmer co-ops in 12 countries. They buy 99% of their coffee directly from the farmers, which number 20,000 in Latin America alone! We learned about their rigorous screening process from “seed to cup, ” or from the farm all the way to the cupping lab where 30-40 cups are tested every day to ensure quality and consistency (I know a few folks who would LOVE that gig.) We engaged with the Co-Executive Directors, Coffee Quality Manager, Head Roaster, Action Forum community organizers, and many more of their smart, hard-working team. Overall, I had a lot of fun and learned much from the hosts and fellow co-opers that will help me make more informed decisions when buying—be it products for our store or my family.

Photo Credit: Equal Exchange

It’s clear this is a great company. From their mission which focuses on building “long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound,” to their “No Buy-Out” clause (it’s against their organizational by-laws to sell out to a larger corporation) I feel great about having Equal Exchange products in my home and helping to sell them in our store.

Along with delicious, seemingly infinite helpings of coffee, we sampled their organic and fair trade chocolates, tea, dried fruit and nuts, bananas, and even a brand new offering: Palestinian olive oil. This was a treat in and of itself, but when complemented by the stories of the people and work abroad, and even photos of the farmers who grew each product, this experience left me with both a full heart and full belly—and at least a fleeting thought about maybe, possibly, becoming a regular coffee drinker (this was what my wife was hoping I’d come home with: a new habit.) I’m grateful to our co-op—especially our busy bulk department!—for giving me this opportunity to learn more about our food system and to network with like-minded people.

Photo Credit: Equal Exchange

Although I didn’t come back with a new addiction, I did gain a powerful insight on my Willy Wonka-esque trip south of Boston. Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I’ve always struggled with buying food from halfway across the world—bananas, cashews, and chocolate, for example. Fair-trade, organic, or not, the harsh reality is that these products demand a lot of energy to get to me in Middlebury, and I often find myself wondering why I can’t simply let go of exotic fruits and find myself more local nutrition. However, during my time at Equal Exchange, I realized that the same philosophy that leads me to support Vermont berry growers can pretty easily be applied to these Tropical-belt products: where banana trees grow, there are farmers who make their living growing them, and I can actually support their livelihood. On day two of the event, instead of looking at the bunch of bananas in the bowl on the breakfast table as a source of guilt, I began to see all the honest hands that produced it, and moved it, into the bowl. That felt good.

Thanks to Alternative Trade Organizations, I can enjoy all the food benefits of these plants while also feeling good about more of my dollar supporting modest, hard-working people who are doing their part to feed the world while also taking care of the planet. In this global world, that instills a sense of community for me, and it’s a community to which I want to belong. It isn’t perfect—there’s still the problem of carbon emissions—but it’s laying a good foundation for the food system for when we figure out large-scale, sustainable transportation. I have to believe we’ll get there…without polluting our home along the way.

-Larry Montague

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