Fair Trade Month

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.


Can Fair Trade Help Address Climate Change?

October is Fair Trade Month! We all know that Fair Trade Certified products have deep social and economic impacts, but is it possible that they could also be part of the solution in addressing a changing climate? According to this article from our friends at NCG, Fair Trade has a key role to play and cooperatives are doing their part to support the effort:

When the fair trade story is told, people often focus on the social and economic benefits fair trade provides producers, which are significant. But the market stability that fair trade certification creates also empowers farmers to invest in farming methods such as regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and tropical reforestation projects that help to slow climate change.

Equal Exchange Cooperative Coffee Farmers. Photo courtesy of Equal Exchange

In May of 2018, food co-ops across the country partnered with Fair World Project to raise awareness about the inspiring environmental projects many fair trade producers have undertaken in tropical areas all over the world. In addition to selling over one million dollars of fair trade certified products, directly benefitting producer communities within our supply chain, collectively we raised $8,000 for Fair World Project’s Grow Ahead initiative, a grassroots effort to fund reforestation projects at Cooperative Norandino in Peru.

The cooperative is owned by 7,000 small-scale, fair trade and organic cacao, coffee, sugar and fruit farmers in northern Peru who will be using the funds to plant 69,000 native tree seedlings and build two plant nurseries. This is part of a larger farmer-led reforestation project covering 136 acres in total. Tropical reforestation remains a powerful and well-known method of drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making Project Drawdown’s top ten list of potential climate change solutions.

Food co-ops continue to pursue and support projects like Cooperative Norandino’s because tropical areas of our world are critical parts of our supply chain, growing an enormous variety of agricultural products from staple grains like rice and quinoa, to widely used tropical oils like palm and coconut, to beloved treats like bananas, coffee, and chocolate. Many of the methods used to farm these products quickly and cheaply have taken an enormous toll on the people, local economies and the environment. We believe that working together, people and businesses can do better.

Shea Butter Cooperative. Photo courtesy of Alaffia.

Partnering with fair trade companies, farmer and producer cooperatives is one way of ensuring that the people involved throughout our supply chain are properly empowered economically and legally. Because tropical areas are also critical to the protection and improvement of Earth’s atmosphere, food co-ops collectively have chosen to invest in projects that are focused on protecting, growing and sustainably managing tropical rainforests, like the one our colleagues at Cooperative Norandino are pursuing, or our own carbon offset program, Co+op Forest.

We are honored to partner with inspiring organizations like Fair World Project, Cooperative Norandino and fair trade cooperatives all over the world to bring our customers the very best food the world has to offer in a more sustainable way. Look for fair trade products when you shop at the co-op, your purchase makes a difference.


*cover photo shows members of Cooperative Norandino. Photo credit to Fair World Project.

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

A Fair Deal

October is Fair Trade Month! Throughout this month-long celebration, we’ll feature many fun store promotions on Fair Trade Certified items. Look for them in our weekly sales, weekly Member Deals, and a coupon in the Addison Independent. We also want to spread the word about the meaning behind the Fair Trade Certified label. Read on to learn about this important certification and the impact that fair trade is having around the globe:


We all want to feel good about our food choices, and buying produce from a local farmer makes it easy. But what about food that comes from afar? In some communities around the world, impoverished workers are paid low wages while their land is depleted by industrial agriculture. Luckily, the Fair Trade Certified label can help us steer clear of foods grown under such conditions.

When a product sports a Fair Trade Certified label, it means producers were paid wages that allow them to support their families and contribute to the betterment of their communities. Fair Trade farmers deal one-on-one with importers (rather than middlemen), and Fair Trade encourages democratic decision-making, transparency, gender equity, and independence.

By choosing Fair Trade, we can support the environment, too. Since Fair Trade supports small-scale farmers, it encourages biodiversity (think shade-grown coffee and cocoa, which protect wildlife habitats) and sustainable practices like organic farming. There’s no need to sacrifice quality with Fair Trade either; one emphasis of Fair Trade is supporting farmers in improving the quality of their crops.

Click here to check out the 2014-2015 Global Fair Trade Impact Report

Fair Trade Certification is not yet available for every kind of food, but it’s a growing trend; you’ll spot the label on coffees, teas, spices, chocolates, sugar, vanilla, fruits, wines and other foods. Fair Trade Certified non-food items like clothing and accessories, body care items and home and garden products are also available. There are more than 1,100 different Fair Trade products available in the United States. Fair Trade goods benefit over 1.5 million farmers and workers in 74 countries!


On your next trip to the co-op, try looking for the Fair Trade Certified versions of your favorite products—and feel great about helping to improve the lives of farmers and conserve the environment. Here’s a list of some of the brands & products to look for in our Co-op offering Fair Trade Certified products:

  • Alaffia body care
  • Alter Eco quinoa
  • Bud’s Beans coffee
  • Frontier bulk black pepper
  • Bulk organic rainbow quinoa
  • Choice Tea
  • Dean’s Beans coffee
  • Divine chocolate
  • Dr. Bronner’s body care
  • Eco Lips
  • Eco Teas
  • Endangered Species chocolate
  • Equal Exchange coffee, chocolate, bananas, & avocados
  • Farmhouse Chocolates
  • Green & Black’s chocolate
  • Lake Champlain Chocolates
  • La Riojana wine
  • Lily’s chocolate
  • Love & Tea Co. tea
  • Mount Hagen instant coffee
  • Nutiva
  • Pascha chocolate
  • Runa Tea
  • Sunspire chocolate
  • Theo chocolate
  • Tierra Farm chocolate
  • Traditional Medicinals tea
  • Vermont Tea & Trading tea
  • Wholesome sweeteners


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