In July, the Twin Cities Daily Planet published an article by Doug McGill about the exciting work our Minnesota office is doing to educate consumers about our small farmer co-operative partners. They’re also strengthening existing relationships and building new ones among local food co-operatives, consumers and the Oromian community in the Twin Cities area.
I asked Joe Riemann (pictured above with Scott Patterson) to write a bit about their endeavors and how it all got started:
“I came to Equal Exchange after working on Domestic Fair Trade issues with the Wedge Cooperative, Local Fair Trade Network. My experiences led me all over the Midwest, visiting small farmers and farmworkers and sharing their stories. Those relationships represented a cornerstone of fair trade that I really wanted to replicate in my new position with Equal Exchange. Of course, the majority of farmers we partner with live considerably further than a day’s drive away, and I felt dumbfounded by the lack of knowledge I had about any of the producers we purchase from.
I quickly started to ask questions of my coworkers and learned about the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, a more well-known coop thanks to the critically acclaimed documentary “Black Gold”. The part that isn’t well known is that Oromia, the coffee growing region and namesake of the co-op, is homeland to the Oromo people – the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. But it got really interesting once I discovered that Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Oromos living in diaspora.
For as long as I had lived in Minneapolis, I didn’t know much about the immigrant and refugee community that populated so much of my residential and commercial stomping grounds. After surfing everything on the web, from Wikipedia to Human Rights Watch, I was most struck by the similarities with other coffee growing regions: Socio-political turmoil, corrupt and oppressive governments, underlying dominance of agrarian societies being volleyed back and forth between the U.S. and the Soviet Bloc – the story is the same, told in different languages and in different ways.
It wasn’t until an Equal Exchange showing of Black Gold, co-hosted by the Oromia Student Union, that the story quickly unfolded into a global Oromo community organizing effort to change the way we talk about coffee, and give consumers an even deeper understanding of where their coffee comes from. This experience has highlighted the true beauty of Fair Trade. It’s not just about North – South relationships, never just about a label, and always about democracy, social justice, and respect.”
Check out the full article and the many comments posted there. Photo courtesy of the TC Daily Planet.