Co-op

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

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!

Being my Best Self in 2020 by Working at the Co-op

Do you have a new year’s resolution for 2020? 

A common goal you could promise yourself is making food choices that are healthier for you. You might decide that this is the year you reduce plastic waste. Maybe 2019’s resolution didn’t stick, so you give yourself a daily goal such as I will do cardio exercise once a day, every day. Finally, there’s the perennial career-related resolution, I want to be happy at my job.

The Co-op is a wonderful place to work if you are interested in setting self-improvement goals and sticking to them. In addition to offering wellness benefits such as dental, vision, and group health insurance, the Co-op provides its employees with abundant opportunities to bring their best selves to work. Allow me to share my experience: I was hired halfway through 2019 as the HR Assistant, mostly tasked with benefits administration (check out our benefits!) and recruitment details (keep reading this blog post!). All four of those resolutions listed above? Working at the Co-op helped me achieve all of them! 

When it comes to making healthy food choices, could there be a better resource than the Co-op? An encyclopedic knowledge about natural foods is not a requirement to be hired here; a willingness to engage with the Co-op community will set you up for success. For instance, I have collected from customers countless recipes for produce that was unknown to me until just a few months ago, and speaking with my more knowledgeable colleagues (familiar faces if you’ve shopped here for years) has sharpened my perspective when I read the label on wellness products as a customer. If you’re interested in deepening your understanding about food systems, agriculture, and production, then you are in the right place to grow your awareness as you develop relationships with vendors, farmers, and producers. Moreover, sometimes we have packaged food that is no longer okay to sell due to an imminent expiration date or squishy produce that staff can take home free of charge; combined with a generous staff discount at the registers, Co-op employees can make healthy choices on a budget.

I had never seen fresh ginger before! The Produce department taught me that it’s milder when it’s fresher, and wow, is it delicious!

 

Reducing plastic waste is a struggle as we face a cultural shift in our communities. I find that pausing my consumption of single-use plastic involves logistical swaps – for instance, carrying reusable bags to the store or remembering my mug means planning my day better. Fortunately, working at the Co-op means being a part of a culture of sustainability. My colleagues have taught me so much about the nuances of composting! Reducing packaging and other generators of plastic waste is easy because the bulk department innovates creative alternatives to encourage sustainable shopping; thanks to the enthusiasm of folks in the bulk department, I have developed the habit of carrying cute spice jars and funky vinegar bottles in my reusable shopping bag, and my wallet is very happy that I made that change.

It’s fun being green at the Co-op!

 

Let’s talk about “staying in shape”, which means something different to everyone. Full disclosure: most of my job takes place at a desk behind a computer, though I am not in the majority. Most Co-op staff spend their days on the floor, lifting at least fifty pounds repeatedly and frequently. It takes quite a symphony of devoted bodies strategically coming together to put in the physical work needed to make the Co-op the well-stocked and smoothly-operated community hub customers know and love; if you want a job that will keep you moving throughout the day, you could check out our current openings and apply online. I keep my New Year’s resolution by working up a sweat pushing in carts from the parking lot, though I recently heard about a time when some staff wore step counters at work and their step count regularly reached the tens of thousands!

 

So, if you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, you’re probably wondering about that pesky career-driven resolution: am I happy in my job? At the beginning of 2019, I had made an extra promise to myself: I wanted to reduce stress in my life so that I could be kinder to myself and others. Keeping those resolutions for the first half of the year was incredibly challenging for me. Then, I started working at the Co-op, whose influence made those lifestyle changes dramatically easier. With fun workshops offered throughout the year, we have plenty of professional development opportunities. If you shop at the Co-op during some of its busiest times, you might not think of it as a particularly stress-free environment; however, managers empower staff to provide excellent customer service with independence and to resolve conflicts in constructive terms. Working closely with folks who share values of generosity and reliability has transformed how I engage with other parts of my life, including how I communicate with others and handle stress. I feel very lucky that my job at the Co-op helped me to keep these promises I made to myself for 2019. I look forward to keeping true to these resolutions in 2020, though some may say you can resolve to be a better version of yourself at any time of the year. Who knows what new things I’ll learn from the Co-op next year. Of one thing I am absolutely certain: after a day’s work with great people, I leave the store as a  happier version of myself.

Our workshops have themes that range from mushroom identification to implicit bias trainings.

So what about you? Do you have a new year’s resolution? Will 2020 bring a change in your career? Check out our current openings here and submit your application today!

 

Kindly,

 

Your Co-op Human Resources Assistant, Emma

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 17th – 23rd!

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.

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 our 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, farm workers, 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 lot of bananas – and a big opportunity for impact. The banana industry is notorious for low wages and heavy chemical use, causing major health problems across banana producing regions. You can read more about that here. Together, Equal Exchange and their banana partners are creating a trade model that respects farmers, builds communities, and supports the environment. By buying Equal Exchange bananas, 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.
Here’s a look at the impact of your Equal Exchange banana purchases in 2018:

 

 

 

 

 

Avocados:

Equal Exchange partners with PRAGOR, a progressive group of small-scale avocado farmers in Michoacán Mexico. PRAGOR is composed of 18 producer members who each own an average of 10-15 acres of land, all 100% organic. This region of Mexico is called “the avocado capital of the world.” However, powerful corporate interests have made it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete. In response, PRAGOR courageously organized and decided they would collectively control the entire process from growing to exporting. PRAGOR’s strength and perseverance is a lesson for anyone committed to working for change in the world!

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. 

Here’s a look at the impact of your Equal Exchange avocado purchases in 2018:

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, Colombian Solstice, 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.

 

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.

Spotlight on Alaffia

We’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on Alaffia this week and Co-op member-owners can enjoy 20% off of their full line of Fair Trade Certified, Co-op-made body care products from July 18th – 24th! Many Alaffia products are already featured in our Co-op Basics program, so this Member Deals discount will be in addition to the everyday low price on those items! It’s a great time to stock up and save! Read on to learn more about Alaffia and their efforts to alleviate poverty and empower communities in West Africa through the fair trade of shea butter, coconut, and other indigenous resources:

 

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, to fund community empowerment and gender equality projects.

 

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

 

 

Each year in 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 5,115 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 poor 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 14 schools throughout Togo and provided school supplies to 37,426 recipients. They now partner with retail stores to collect school supplies – if you would like to help collect pens and pencils for this project, please contact their office at 1-800-664-8005.

 

 

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 9,592 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 communications@alaffia.com

 

 

Deforestation and climate change have had a devastating impact on West African farming communities. Alaffia product sales have funded the planting of 81,073 trees by Togolese farmers to help mitigate erosion and improve food security for their families. They also conduct trainings to discourage the cutting of shea trees for firewood and charcoal to preserve this important indigenous resource for future generations. Through their Alternative Fuels Project, they investigate 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 27,463 pairs of glasses.

 

 

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 18th – 24th!

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.

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 our 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, farm workers, 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 lot of bananas – and a big opportunity for impact. The banana industry is notorious for low wages and heavy chemical use, causing major health problems across banana producing regions. You can read more about that here. Together, Equal Exchange and their banana partners are creating a trade model that respects farmers, builds communities, and supports the environment. By buying Equal Exchange bananas, 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.
Here’s a look at the impact of your Equal Exchange banana purchases in 2017:

 

 

 

 

Avocados:

Equal Exchange partners with PRAGOR, a progressive group of small-scale avocado farmers in Michoacán Mexico. PRAGOR is composed of 18 producer members who each own an average of 10-15 acres of land, all 100% organic. This region of Mexico is called “the avocado capital of the world.” However, powerful corporate interests have made it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete. In response, PRAGOR courageously organized and decided they would collectively control the entire process from growing to exporting. PRAGOR’s strength and perseverance is a lesson for anyone committed to working for change in the world!
Here’s a look at the impact of your Equal Exchange avocado purchases in 2016:

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, Colombian Solstice, 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 $60,000 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 just 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.

 

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.

Spotlight on Alaffia

We’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on Alaffia this weekand all of their Fair Trade Certified, Co-op-made body care products are 20% off for member-owners from July 19th – 25th! Many Alaffia products are already featured in our Co-op Basics program, so this Member Deals discount will be in addition to the everyday low price on those items! It’s a great time to stock up and save! Read on to learn more about Alaffia and their efforts to alleviate poverty and empower communities in West Africa through the fair trade of shea butter, coconut, and other indigenous resources:

 

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, to fund community empowerment and gender equality projects.

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

 

 

Each year in 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 4,832 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 poor 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 twelve schools throughout Togo and provided school supplies to 34,640 recipients. They now partner with retail stores to collect school supplies – if you would like to help collect pens and pencils for this project, please contact their office at 1-800-664-8005.

 

 

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 8,253 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 communications@alaffia.com

 

 

Deforestation and climate change have had a devastating impact on West African farming communities. Alaffia product sales have funded the planting of 59,775 trees by Togolese farmers to help mitigate erosion and improve food security for their families. They also conduct trainings to discourage the cutting of shea trees for firewood and charcoal to preserve this important indigenous resource for future generations. Through their Alternative Fuels Project, they investigate 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 retailer 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 25,588 pairs of glasses.

 

 

As part of their Maternal Health Initiatives, Alaffia aims to educate women about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or excision. FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The procedure can result in severe bleeding, infections, life-threatening complications in childbirth, and increased risk of newborn deaths (World Health Organization).

Abidé Awesso is the Maternal Health & FGM Eradication Coordinator in the Bassar region of Togo and has been working with Alaffia since 2012. Hodalo Katakouna was one of Abidé’s first patients and one of the first women to be supported as part of our Maternal Health and FGM Eradication project. Click here to read Abidé’s account of Hodalo’s story.

 

Do Food Co-operatives Have a Role in the Era of Big Organic?

Most of the grocery world from giants like Kroger and Walmart to community-owned food coops and privately held natural food stores are trying to anticipate and prepare for the effects of the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods Markets. The Amazon purchase is one of many examples of increasing centralization of the organic and natural food system that includes producers, distributors and especially retailers.

The Whole Foods purchase brought to mind a book I recently read titled Organizing Organic. The author, Michael A. Haedicke, recounts the history of organics in the food economy.  From my vantage point (I was born the same year Paul Keene started Walnut Acres one of the first commercial organic farms) many of the people interviewed for the book were familiar to me and several were Vermonters.  Haedicke believes that from its beginnings as a movement (to counter “conventional” agriculture) after World War II organic agriculture contained both a transformative sector and expansionary sector. The transformative sector held decentralization, social justice, and local control as core values. While the expansionary sector also held these values it also saw the expansion of organics to larger markets as key to a successful movement.  As I read Haedicke’s analysis, he suggests that organic food market expansion through consolidation, centralization, and efficiency has become the primary driver in the organic sector and transformation relegated to the sidelines.  Haedicke interviewed several administrators of large organic retailers. Consistently they expressed the rationale that bigger meant more organic food which created more organic farms. What could be bad about that?  Haedicke doesn’t come to any conclusion as to the good or bad coming from the primacy of expansionism. What I have seen is that big organic can cut some prices for consumers and get more product to more places. But I have questions: What are the social costs of consolidation and centralization? Can the consumer cooperative movement expand organic (and local) and retain the commitment to community?

Haedicke also came to the conclusion that consumer food cooperatives attempted to balance transformative values and expansionary competition better than any other sector of organics. Why did this happen? Many of the “third wave” (MNFC is one of them) of consumer cooperatives originated with the blossoming of the organic movement in the 1970’s. Their values mirrored the values of the transformative sector of organic agriculture. Another possible reason is in the very structure of consumer cooperatives. Consumer cooperatives are “enterprises owned by consumers and managed democratically which aim at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their members. They operate within the market system, independently of the state, as a form of mutual aid, oriented toward service rather than pecuniary profit”. To me, the phrases “managed democratically” and “oriented to service” most clearly differentiates cooperative food stores from big organic retailers.

In today’s world of increasing “big” organic (either large corporations or the state as in China) and centralization of power, operating within the market system and at the same time being oriented to service rather than profit is a quite a challenge. Our member-owners, as those of most consumer cooperatives, have differing needs and aspirations.

How does a democratically managed cooperative integrate those needs and aspirations into a market economy business? One key way is by member/owner participation. Participation can be running for the Board of Directors of the cooperative or choosing to vote in the election for directors. It can take the form of voting for policy (as in the case of the MNFC member/owners voting in favor of patronage dividends two years ago).  It can be sharing viewpoints with Directors at a Board meeting or in community forums like our Co-op Conversations that predated the expansion. It can be putting suggestions in the suggestion box in the store or talking with friends and neighbors about co-op issues. It certainly can be shopping at the store as those everyday decisions affect the products we carry.

So my answer to the question “do food cooperatives have a role in the era of big organic” is rather a request. Continue to participate and we will all help to arrive at the answer.

Jay Leshinsky is a long-serving member of our Board of Directors

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