The following post was written by Andrew Kessel, Natural Foods Sales Representative, and originally posted in The Exchange
I recently had the chance to attend the Fair Trade Futures Conference in Quincy, MA (Sept. 10-12) and found myself renewed with energy and new insight into what we are trying to accomplish with our work in Fair Trade. One of my revelations from the conference was how amazing it was that we could have meaningful discussions about Fair Trade with most of the representatives of the supply chain present.
Karen Clarke-Griswald, a buyer that I work with in Delaware at Harvest Market, a natural food store (as well as a friend at this point) remarked that she was so honored to have shared a car ride with Santiago Paz, the co-manager at CEPICAFE in Peru, on our way to the train station. We had just finished the three-day conference and Santiago had been one of the most visible and memorable speakers due to his outspokenness and critiques of the Fair Trade movement. When I thought about why we were there and what we were doing in our respective roles as producer representatives., manufacturer and sales folks, and retail buyers, it helped me understand what a mutually co-operative community looks like.
Upon further reflection, I realized that it was not just the conference that brought us together – this is what we do all the time. I talk to my retail buyers on the phone (and occasionally visit) just as much as I talk to people around the Equal Exchange office. It was touching when Karen referenced me as a co-worker on the Equal Exchange roaster tour in her introduction to the rest of group (Equal Exchange hosted two roaster tours during the first day of conference). While I don’t get the chance to talk to producers quite as much (after all some of these folks are thousands of miles from us living in remote villages with little or no electricity), producer representatives do come around our neck of the woods on a surprisingly regular basis.
Even at Equal Exchange we have an interestingly diverse group of people. Every Wednesday, we have a Spanish lunch table that I attend whenever I can. Sitting at “la Mesa de Espanol” the week of the conference with a few Peruvians who work at Equal Exchange, Gladys, Marco and Sandra, as well as the Peruvians we had visiting from coffee co-ops: Rudalfo (CEPICAFE), Henry (COCLA), Tibed (CECOVASA), really made me happy as I realized who, in the broadest of senses, my co-workers really are and the feeling of interconnectivity I think we share. I was surprised that none of the coffee cuppers from Peru had actually met each other before this visit, and that besides helping build capacity and quality amongst our producer partners, another thing Equal Exchange does is bring folks together to share knowledge and better understand the specialty coffee market. It truly is a global community here.