Archive for November, 2009

The Banana Land Campaign

In Coordination with: International Rights Advocates, La Isla Foundation, The Affected Film Seriesand Law Offices of Conrad and Scherer:

“My men were contacted on a regular basis by Chiquita or Dole administrators to respond to a criminal act or address some other problems. We would also get calls from the Chiquita and Dole plantations identifying specific people as “security problems” or just “problems.” Everyone knew that this meant we were to execute the identified person. In most cases, those executed were union leaders or members or individuals seeking to hold or reclaim land that Dole or Chiquita wanted for banana cultivation, and the Dole or Chiquita administrators would report to the AUC that these individuals were suspected guerillas or criminals.” –Carlos Tijeras, 2009

For Immediate Release: (New York City, NY)

December 6th, 2009 will mark the launch of the Banana Land Campaign at the Harlem School of The Arts on Sunday, December 6th, 2009 at 6:30 pm. This event will provide new details regarding payments made to a Colombian terrorist organization by Chiquita and Dole. Speakers will include leaders from the Colombian community in NYC, filmmaker Jason Glaser, lawyer Terry Collingsworth and special guest Dan Koeppel, author of the book Banana.

The world’s largest producers of bananas, Chiquita (formerly United Fruit Company) and Dole, are in US courts defending themselves against allegations of payments made to AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) paramilitaries who murdered, displaced and maimed their workers in the interest of global business. The AUC was officially designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2001.

Copies of a breakthrough declaration by former AUC Commander Carlos Tijeras will be available at the event. This affidavit provides definitive proof that Chiquita and Dole used the AUC, a designated terrorist organization, as a mercenary force that murdered thousands of innocent people in and around the banana plantations.

We are launching the Banana Land Campaign to build a bridge between the consumer and the Colombian communities affected by this continuing tragedy. By linking mothers with mothers and workers with workers the campaign will provide concrete information that will educate banana consumers in both their hearts and minds, inspiring them to make sure that justice is served in both US and Colombian courts and that meaningful reparations are made.

Watch the movie trailer here: (more…)

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This Thanksgiving holiday, take a break from the big meals, football, and family time to enjoy this very fun, one-minute video about our tasty dried organic cranberries (fresh from the Mann Farm in southeastern Massachusetts).

The video was produced by Ashley Symons, Equal Exchange marketing writer,  following our trip last month to visit the Manns and their organic cranberry farms.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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Visit to Mondragon, Part 2

By Aaron Dawson, Equal Exchange Interfaith Customer Service Manager


For my second post about Mondragon, I would like to talk about the 6th co-operative principle: cooperation among co-operatives. Mondragon has done amazing work with cooperating amongst the different co-ops within their network, but they’ve also faced challenges.

I was blown away by Mondragon’s network of various co-ops. As noted in my previous post, there were worker-owned home appliance and auto parts factories, worker/consumer-owned credit unions, worker/consumer-owned grocery stores, worker-owned universities, to name a few, and they are all working together. The ways that they work together is just as impressive as the variety and types of worker co-ops themselves.

The first and most basic way in which the Mondragon co-operatives cooperate with each other is through the divvying up of each co-op. Below is a chart of how each co-op puts their profits towards the general Mondragon network:


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Well folks,

We’ve just completed a very fun and information-packed 10-day visit to India where four of us from Equal Exchange had the opportunity to visit our partners, Tea Promoters of India (TPI). We spent a week visiting a handful of the tea gardens, small farmer co-operatives and factories in Darjeeling and Dooars that are growing and processing our line of teas from this exquisitely beautiful region.

I’m still away on vacation, so the full story – and best photos and short videos – are yet to come. For now, I just wanted to share a few random photos to give you an idea of some of our activities.

We arrived at Putharjhora Tea Gardens in Dooars after our long flight to Delhi and then another to Bagdroga (West Bengal). Our first meeting was held late in the evening and began with a ceremony in which we were officially greeted with rice, scarves, and garlands. We then watched a variety of dance performances… soon we will have short video clips for you all to see as well.

The following morning we walked the gardens and got a full tour and explanation of their impressive organic and bio-dynamic practices which include planting with the moon’s cycles, using a wide variety of herbs (and other inputs) to control for pests and improve soil nutrition. Putharjhora is the only organic, Fair Trade tea garden in Dooars and is also certified bio-dynamic. (more on this later)

Above, Jodi Anderson, Sales Manager, Rink Dickinson, Co-Director, and Danielle LaFond, Quality Control Technician don masks, hair nets, and other protective gear to tour the tea processing factory at Putharjhora Tea Gardens. This is where the tea leaves are dried, rolled, sorted, and packed.

A tea worker is removing the stalks and stems from the tea leaves.

Danielle tries her hand at sorting.

Jodi Anderson and Rink Dickinson get out of the car and walk the last few kilometers into the Potong Tea Garden in Darjeeling, the foothills of the Himalayas. This is the first tea garden where ownership was turned over to the workers. In a meeting with the worker-owners, we were told the long history of events leading to the decision of the workers to buy the garden and take over the management. An incredible story which we will tell soon.

We ended our trip in Calcutta, where TPI’s offices are located. Above, Smeeta Ray did a tea tasting with us and Danielle, Rink and Jodi chose the finest quality and best tasting teas to purchase in our next shipment. It was probably no coincidence that all of the teas they chose came from TPI’s small farmer projects.

Following our meeting in Potong, we took a group photo and then were invited to someone’s house for one of the most delicious meals we had on the trip… and there were many, many of those!

Most importantly, we learned an incredible amount about the tea we purchase, the cutting-edge company we are working with and the people who are working incredibly hard to produce this tea. TPI is working with a number of tea gardens and they are on the forefront of the movement to organize small farmers into co-operatives and to organize former plantation workers into co-operatively run enterprises. We were able to see a wide range of these projects and look forward to sharing more in the weeks to come!

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The Food Safety Action legislation currently being considered by Congress will have a profound impact on our farmer partners here and abroad. Equal Exchange is a member of the National Organic Coalition mentioned below, and we have been working hard to keep the most onerous provisions out of the bill. (more…)

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The following article was written by Andrew Kessel, Equal Exchange Sales Representative


“…Something will grow, but it might be weeds. I’ve put so much money into this it’s daunting; definitely not a shoe-in…you throw your heart out there and hope for the best.” Monica Mann

Growing up in Vermont I was fortunate (although at the time I was too young to understand why) to have field trips to local farms integrated into our school curriculum. Back then it was mostly fun and games – learning how to milk cows, playing with small furry animals, and going on horse rides. Until my recent visit with Equal Exchange to the Mann Cranberry bog in Plymouth, MA, I hadn’t been on a farm in a number of years and while I’ve learned later in life that there are some major risks to working with agriculture, seeing it first hand last week had a much bigger impact on me. Farming is a risky business and everything from growing sustainably, getting loans from the bank, and being able to develop your farm (both metaphorically and physically speaking) depends on, amongst other things, how well your crop does every year.

Farmers invest their time, their money and inheritance (often quite a substantial portion of what is in their name), and their whole lives in their agricultural enterprise. The undertaking is more than just about running a business; it’s about having a livelihood and for those who choose to grow organic it’s even tougher. The monetary premium for growing organic is barely worth it but the Mann family will not give up because as Keith Mann said, “You forget that it’s food when it’s not organic.”


For the dry harvested cranberries, workers must spend several hours a day sorting berry by berry to ensure the highest quality yield possible.

It takes a tremendous amount of work to farm exclusively with organic fertilizers like fish, blood meal, and feather meal, and to be limited to weeding mostly by hand. According to Keith Mann, what you can harvest in one day with organic cranberries yields the equivalent of a year’s supply of conventional cranberries.  It also takes 5 years to grow a new cranberry bog so converting to organic is not easy but the Mann’s hope to continue to grow this part of their business.

Growing any type of cranberry presents many challenges and risks: regular cranberry-related weather hazards in New England include extreme cold and frost, hail storms, desiccation, and rain drenching. Aside from weather related risks, there are plant diseases and fungi, pests, and no guarantees on price. Organic cranberry farming presents a greater risk with higher growing costs (both in time and money) and lower yields.


Mike Allen & Terry Bosclair of the Equal Exchange DSD program get a first hand look inside the Mann family’s production facility in Plymouth, MA.

Our visit to the Mann farm was enjoyable and eye-opening in a very serious, real way. While there’s much I don’t know about cranberry cultivation, I can certainly appreciate the task ahead for these farmers much better now. Along with Monica, I hope for the best.

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Last week, the Fair Trade world was all a-buzz from an interview with Franz Van der Hoff , one of the original founders of the movement. The interview sparked many discussions about the difference between a poverty alleviation model of Fair Trade and one which has economic transformation at its core.

A few days later, I received a tweet from El Dragon over at Fair Food Fight, about this awesome new one-minute video where Sean Doyle of the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, one of the country’s most visionary (and beautiful) food co-ops, shares his views about how locally-owned businesses impact their communities and how co-op members have a real stake in shaping this impact. Another one-minute video from Just Food Co-op in Northfield talks about the role of a co-op as an alternative economic model; built and owned by members of the community itself.

Check them out; they’re really inspiring!

And then I got it in a new way: Inherent in poverty alleviation strategies is an intrinsic sense of US and THEM. WE have money and power. WE donate and WE purchase. THEY benefit. The more WE buy, the more THEY benefit. And, no one can really argue with that, can they? Well-off consumers change their purchasing practices and poor farmers benefit.

Go Fair Trade.

But, there is an alternative. If the goal of a movement is economic transformation, US and THEM can actually become WE – considerably more complex and nuanced an approach, but at the end of the day, a much more inspiring and worthwhile goal. And imagine the difference, when people feel ownership in a business model: farmers, workers, members all have a different relationship to their work when they own the decisions… and the results of those decisions.

Not only are co-operatives a more empowering model in and of themselves, but in a co-operative economy, the entire system can be transformative. Supply chains are carefully and thoughtfully built so that while each party has their role to fill, a true partnership is formed – people are not reduced to mere “producer” or “consumer”, but instead, all parties along the supply chain become actors, more fully developed and invested in the entire supply chain, the product and the partnerships: quality, integrity, respect and transparency occur throughout the chain.

Once, when visiting our farmer partners in Sri Lanka, I met a businessman who asked me why Equal Exchange doesn’t buy from plantations. “There are plenty of “good” plantations in our country,” he told me, “and they deserve to be certified Fair Trade just as much as small farmer co-ops.” It’s great, absolutely and undeniably, that the plantation owners he referred to want to do the right thing and treat their workers well; and they deserve respect for their practices, but Fair Trade isn’t about rewards.

It’s about economic transformation. And change. And as we all know, change doesn’t come about easily. Higher prices and decent working conditions are absolutely, critically important; but these criteria are only a part of the puzzle. And like any equation, if you have only partial factors, you won’t get the desired solution.

Recently, I’ve begun working more closely with some of our food co-op partners and have been learning more about their principles and practices. These are folks who have been steadily and tirelessly walking the walk… bringing economic development to their communities; supporting local farmers, Fair Trade, and sustainable agriculture; and creating democratic ownership models. Not only are they bringing us healthy food, but through their buying practices and their ownership structures, co-operatives are transforming relationships every day.

Unfortunately, food co-operatives (like farmer co-operatives and worker-owned co-operatives) aren’t always the best at tooting their own horns. They don’t have the marketing budgets, probably because they are busy running businesses. And yet, because co-operatives don’t excel at self-promotion, their mission – nothing short of transformation – can often get lost. What kind of marketing budget do you suppose Walmart and Whole Foods have to spend?

It’s time for co-operatives to start highlighting their values and principles, to promote their vision and impact. These videos make a great contribution toward that end. Because the world doesn’t have time anymore for poverty alleviation… we need new economic models.  And we need them now!  


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Manning the Farm

Photos and Story by Ashley Symons, Equal Exchange

One of the cranberry bogs on Mann Farms. This one is flooded for wet picking.

One of the cranberry bogs on Mann Farms. This one is flooded for wet picking.

On Oct. 27, a group of us from Equal Exchange visited Mann Farms, the supplier for our organic cranberries in Wareham, Mass. They were kind enough to show us around their bogs and facilities during the busy harvesting season, which only lasts 3-4 weeks and is extremely hard work, especially for the harvesting of organic cranberries since it requires hand weeding, alternative fertilizers, and innovative pest control.

Monika Mann

Monika Mann

“We were told organic can’t be done,” said Monika Mann, co-owner of Mann Farms. “It’s a lot harder, a lot more labor intensive … so not many are doing it, but it can be done.” The Manns are carefully watching their youngest bog, which is the first to be completely organic from the start. “I’m a little concerned, because the plants are behind and this has been a huge investment,” Monika said. “We won’t really know for five years, when the plants reach full production. You throw your heart out there sometimes and we’re doing it here.” Their other organic bogs were converted from conventional bogs; about 20% of the total farm is now organic acreage.

Keith Mann

Keith Mann

Monika got involved in cranberry farming shortly after she married Keith Mann, but she had always had an interest in organic agriculture. “Personally, my mission was to keep this land in agriculture and not developed,” Monika said. She and Keith started leasing 3.5 acres to experiment with organic cultivation in 1994 from Keith’s father, a second generation and lifelong cranberry farmer.

For Keith, cranberry farming is part of his earliest memories. “I clearly remember my father asking me when I was five years old if I wanted to take over the farm someday, or else he was going to sell it. So, I felt a lot of pressure at a young age to take on the family business, and I took it seriously,” Keith said. “I don’t even know if he remembers that but I always have.”

Keith eventually took over managing all 150 acres, and it hasn’t been easy. For a few years of crashing cranberry prices, Keith had no salary and few options, but couldn’t just abandon his family bogs. But they kept at it, and have had growing success. Their farming methods involve beautiful antique wooden sorting equipment mixed with new computerized technologies for water pumps that have helped reduce the work load, improve yield and let the Manns sleep better at night.

Harvesting cranberries using the wet picking method.

Harvesting cranberries using the wet picking method.

They’re excited to be working with Equal Exchange in building the market for small organic farmers in the United States. “If you can do what you’ve done for international farmers and repeat that for small, local, family farmers, that would be quite impressive,” Monika said.

We are certainly working on it – and we invite you to join us in supporting small, family farmers like the Manns.


Related resources:
-Read about our Domestic Fair Trade Program.

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There’s a lot going on in the industry right now… and if it weren’t so tragic, it could almost be entertaining.

  • Dole goes Fair Trade while at the same time advertising the World’s Largest Banana Display selling bananas for 20 cents/pound.  That’s right, 20 cents a pound… and that leaves… how many pennies for the banana farmer?  One hand promotes Fair Trade while the other slashes prices promoting a race to the bottom for banana farmers?  Hmmm, that sounds Fair.
  • Chiquita is the target of lawsuits and investigations of their financing of right-wing para-military death squads in Colombia.  More recently, questions have been raised about possible links to the military coup in Honduras… After all, deposed President Zelaya had received flak from Chiquita and Dole after he raised the minimum  wage of farmworkers by 60% shortly before he was forced to leave the country at gunpoint.
  • Now, we learn of price wars throughout Europe (joined on our shores by Walmart/Sam’s Club) slashing the prices of bananas in grocery stores.  How can a 39 cent banana be good for the farmer or the environment?

Fortunately, our friends at www.Fairfoodfight have been covering all this news.  Check out their latest blog posts chock-full of articles, videos, current news, and provocative discussion.  Add your voice; it’s time for a Banana Revolution!

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The following article was written by Aaron Dawson, Equal Exchange Customer Service Manager and former Worker-Owner Coordinator.

Humanity @ Work 

It seems somewhat ironic that exactly a week after I return from my St. Mary’s Master of Management – Cooperatives and Credit Unions study tour of Mondragon, Spain, where the world’s largest formalized network of worker co-ops lives, the United Steelworkers announced their collaboration with Mondragon to develop and grow manufacturing worker co-ops in the U.S. & Canada (click here to visit that announcement from the United Steelworkers Union). Had I known this announcement was coming, maybe I could have just waited a couple years and visited a Mondragon co-op somewhere in the U.S.

But let’s back up a little and ask: Why is the fact that some Spanish company is opening manufacturing plants here in the U.S. so exciting? Well, for one, we could certainly use more manufacturing jobs, but that’s just the beginning. Mondragon is exciting because it is such a large and complex network of worker-owned businesses, ranging from worker-owned auto parts manufacturing plants, worker-owned kitchen appliance manufacturing plants, worker-owned and consumer-owned grocery stores, worker-owned credit unions and even a worker-owned University where professors and university workers own the University. (more…)

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