Archive for March, 2010

L-R: Phyllis Robinson, Equal Exchange Education & Campaigns Manager, interprets for Ramon and Basilio during a presentation at Brattleboro Food Co-op.

An event at Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont.

By Kelsie Evans, Chocolate Products Coordinator

As you may have heard, we were fortunate to have two visitors from CONACADO cacao co-op in the Dominican Republic visiting for almost a week: Basilio Almonte de los Santos, an agronomist at CONACADO, and Ramon Matias Frias Gonzalez, a cacao farmer, member of CONACADO’s Bloque 9, and Secretary on CONACADO’s Board of Directors. We’ll definitely be sharing more about this visit in the weeks and months to come (like the upcoming issue of Equal Exchange’s newsletter), but here’s just a quick summary of the trip.

While Equal Exchange worker-owners have the opportunity to visit our farmer partners, our customers rarely have the chance to travel and meet the farmers behind their coffee, tea or, in this case, chocolate and cocoa. Organizing tours, like this one with Basilio and Ramon from the Dominican Republic, helps provide that personal, direct connection between our customers and the people behind their food.

So what did we do while they were here? Basilio and Ramon arrived late last Thursday. Avid baseball fans, they were excited to visit Fenway Park and get “Big Papi” burgers at a nearby restaurant. That evening, we took them to another Boston institution for dinner – Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain.

Friday began with a visit to the new Equal Exchange Café near North Station T Stop in Boston. Basilio and Ramon were just as excited about being at the Café as customers were to meet them; Basilio and Ramon were touched to hear how much people value the chocolate and all the ways people support Equal Exchange, from selling at church to frequently visiting the EE Café. Later that day we visited another café and store, City Feed & Supply in Jamaica Plain. People don’t often associate chocolate with farming, so were really interested to hear about the work of Basilio and Ramon to produce the cacao in Equal Exchange’s chocolate and cocoa. That evening ended with a great presentation to about 80 people at the JP Forum. Basilio appreciated how engaged audience members were, and that people had so many questions!

No matter how many times you hear it (and by the end of the trip, we

L-R: Basilio Almonte de los Santos, an agronomist at CONACADO, and Ramon Matias Frias Gonzalez, a cacao farmer, member of CONACADO’s Bloque 9, and Secretary on CONACADO’s Board of Directors.

heard it a lot), the story of CONACADO’s success is inspiring. The work of CONACADO has not only transformed the lives of members of CONCACDO, but also improved the situation for people in the surrounding communities and cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic in general. As Basilio said, “While we didn’t know about Equal Exchange when we were founded, we are in agreement with their slogan: Small Farmers. Big Change.”

The visitors from CONACADO toured Lilac Ridge, a member of Organic Valley dairy co-operative.

Over the weekend we traveled to Brattleboro, VT and Albany, NY. In Brattleboro, Basilio and Ramon gave a presentation at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, followed by a tour of a local dairy and maple syrup farm. The farm, Lilac Ridge, is a member of Organic Valley Co-operative. We discovered that making maple syrup is complicated, and at one point Basilio asked, “So, why do you do this?” They marveled at the scale of the farm, noting that a “small farm” in the U.S. is a large farm in the Dominican Republic.

From there we headed for Albany, NY. Sunday morning we visited Honest Weight Food Co-op, where Ramon and Basilio shared their stories and met with shoppers. After seeing both Brattleboro and Honest Weight, they were really impressed with the consumer co-op model, noting that people seemed like engaged and conscientious shoppers. In the afternoon, Basilio and Ramon gave another presentation at St. Michael’s church in Troy, NY. This event featured a chocolate fountain and ended up being a favorite of Ramon and Basilio because there were so many enthusiastic people. We were fortunate to spend Sunday evening with Anne Kelly from the Labor-Religion Coalition, part of New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT), and some students at the Emma Willard school that are working to make Emma Willard a Fair Trade school.

Natural Foods Sales Rep. Pfeif samples chocolate from CONACADO at Honest Weight Food Co-op in New York.

Monday we spent the day at Equal Exchange, seeing the coffee roaster, giving yet another presentation, and meeting with many worker-owners. Ramon commented that our two organizations were “founded in similar situations, and the work we are trying to achieve has a lot in common.” Basilio agreed, noting we are both “espousing the same values.” He went on to add that “supporting co-ops is the way you can actually make change and improve communities.”

On their last day, Tuesday, Basilio and Ramon traveled around Boston visiting four schools with our Fundraising Program reps. At the end of the day, they were very excited to show us letters from the students, which were very sweet!

We dropped them off at the airport Wednesday morning and it was sad to see them go. It was a very motivating trip, for all involved. We will continue to share our experiences, reminding people why it is so important to support CONACADO’s work. Asked what message he would send to consumers, Ramon said, “there are two paths for people to demonstrate their support – one, for people already consuming Fair Trade chocolate to increase that total, and two, to introduce Fair Trade chocolate to new people because increased consumption is how they are able to change communities and increase the services they [CONACADO] can provide.”

Photos by Ashley Symons

Check out this video clip from Brattleboro Food Co-op, with Basilio talking about what Fair Trade has meant for small farmer communities in the Dominican Republic:

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Last week, a group of us visited one of Equal Exchange’s coffee farmer partners in Chajul, Guatemala in the Department of Quiche.    The following 6-minute video was made by Jeanie Wells, Co-operative Trade Specialist, following the trip. 

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Equal Exchange is proud to sponsor two visitors from CONACADO co-operative in the Dominican Republic, the farmers who grow the cacao in your Equal Exchange chocolate bars and cocoa.

See our schedule below for events in your neighborhood:

Friday March 19

Equal Exchange Café
226 Causeway St
(by the North Station T Stop)
Boston, MA
9 am–10 am
FREE hot cocoa samples

City Feed and Supply
672 Centre St
Jamaica Plain, MA
4–6 pm
FREE chocolate tasting

JP Forum
First Church in Jamaica Plain
Unitarian Universalist
6 Eliot St
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
7–9 pm
Community Forum: two visitors from CONACADO cacao co-operative share the impact of the co-operative and Fair Trade in their community.

Saturday March 20

Brattleboro Food Co-op
2 Main St
Brattleboro, VT 05301
11–12 pm Community Forum: two visitors from CONACADO cacao co-operative share the impact of the co-operative and Fair Trade in their community.
1–2 pm FREE chocolate tasting

Sunday March 21

Honest Weight Food Co-op
484 Central Ave
Albany, NY 12206
10–11 am Community Forum: two visitors from CONACADO cacao co-operative share the impact of the co-operative and Fair Trade in their community.
11–12 pm FREE chocolate tasting

St. Michael the Archangel
175 Williams Road
Troy, NY 12180
2–4 pm Community Forum: two visitors from CONACADO cacao co-operative share the impact of the co-operative and Fair Trade in their community.
Also featuring an Equal Exchange Fair Trade chocolate fountain with Fair Trade bananas for dipping!

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By Thomas Lussier, Lead Coffee Roaster


Hundreds of people hike to the site of the mudslides.

My name is Thomas Lussier and I am the Lead Coffee Roaster at Equal Exchange. Last week Beth Ann Caspersen (Quality Control Manager) and I went to Uganda to visit the Gumutindo Co-operative. Since my years as a barista I have had a love for African coffees, so it was with great excitement that I prepared for this trip. Part of the trip was to include visiting a couple of primary societies and our farmer partners in the districts around Mt Elgon. When you visit producers, you expect to learn quite a bit. Perhaps it’s about how difficult it is to make a living as a farmer. Perhaps you’ll hear about climate change affecting weather patterns, growing seasons and rainy seasons. You might even learn about soil erosion. Working to change these things is part of the greater mission at Equal Exchange.

Some of the mudslides can be seen on the side of this mountain.

What you don’t expect is a tragic mudslide to happen the very week you are there. You don’t expect to visit the slide area that buried a health clinic and a church, several villages, men, women and children. You don’t expect to attend the wake of the Chairman for the Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (the SACCO is basically the farmers’ bank). It’s not unusual to witness hardship when visiting producers. During this trip, however, we witnessed utter tragedy and sadness.

By the end of the week, there was reason to feel encouraged. Gumutindo is very engaged with its farmers. There are agronomists and field officers in the primary societies every day. They give trainings to the farmers about a wide range of ways to farm more sustainably. The trainings focus on everything from intercropping for sustenance and added income, to organic conversion, to techniques for increased soil fertility and avoiding erosion.

People gather at the site of one of the mudslides. There are still people missing beneath them.

From what we are told, the trainings work. Farmers are receptive tothe ideas, and increased yields and higher quality coffee leads to increased incomes, savings accounts, and increased quality of life. Also understood is how better land stewardship will increase the quality of life for future generations. These are life and death incentives. I know that sounds dramatic, but soil conservation takes time and mudslides happen in an instant. This work needs to continue and be supported whole heartedly.

My thoughts continue to be with the people affected by the mudslide in the Bududa District and particularly the societies of Bumayoga, Bukalasi, Nasufwa, and Buginyanya.

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Remembering Nicaragua

By Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager

My first experience in coffee was on an Equal Exchange delegation to visit coffee farmers in El Salvador in 1994.  That trip changed my life and little did I know then, at the age of 20, the impact it would have on me and how it would shape my future in coffee.

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Beth Ann Caspersen, and I have been with Equal Exchange for 13 years.  I am the Quality Control Manager – this basically means I manage the quality for all of our products – for coffee, from the point of origin through to the finished product.  I admit, it’s a wonderful job and I love it.  But to find the best tasting coffee, you can’t sit in an office; you have to go get it.  So, I get on the road and fly to wherever the coffee harvest takes me.  I meet with producers and export managers, and spend a lot of time cupping coffee.  It’s hard to describe what I do and who I work with, so here is the first of many blog posts to come.

Nicaragua is such a special place for me; I first participated as a judge for the Cup of Excellence in 2003, and each year I return to cup the coffees we will buy from the Nicaraguan harvest.

I recently took my eighth trip to Nicaragua and each time I go back I feel like I am returning home to see old friends. I want to share a few highlights from this year’s trip and give a few shout outs, too.   If you’ve traveled with Equal Exchange to Nicaragua, you are probably curious about the people you met there.  You probably remember some of the funny things that happened during your trip and how it all impacted you. So, if you’ve been to Nicaragua – or not – I hope you enjoy this look into the world of Nicaraguan small farmer coffee.


We always start in the lab to see what the coffee harvest has to present on the cupping table.  Here Alex and I are going through a table of 10 coffees; we did about 24 that day and picked out some of our favorites.


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La Via Campesina North America

Inauguration of “Transgenic contamination of maize: crime against humanity?”

First public hearing to prepare the presentation of the GM Maize case before international courts

La Via Campesina North America Region

Red en Defensa del Maíz (Network in Defense of Maize, Mexico)

Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales (Assembly of People Displaced by Environmental Impacts, Mexico)

Guadalajara, March 2, 2010. Faced with the international “technical” conference of the FAO in Guadalajara, “Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries,” which is little more than just the promotion of GM crops – today we inaugurated the “First public hearing to prepare the presentation of the GM Maize case before international courts,” organized by La Via Campesina North America Region, Red en Defensa del Maíz (Network in Defense of Maize, Mexico), and Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales (Assembly of People Displaced by Environmental Impacts, Mexico), with the participation of 276 people, mostly members and leaders of peasant, family farm , and indigenous peoples’ organizations from 19 Mexican states, the USA, and Canada.

The hearing was inaugurated by Alberto Gómez Flores of La Via Campesina, Eutimio Díaz of the Wixarika People (in the name of the Network for the Defense of Maize), and Octavio Rosas of the Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales.  Alberto Gómez said that the peasant and indigenous people of Mexico feel it is an act of aggression for the FAO to come here to promote GMOs, called the GM contamination of maize “a crime against humanity.”  He was followed by Pat Mooney of the ETC Group (Canada), who denounced that “GMO contaminated and transnational corporations (TNCs) have now contaminated the FAO and the UN, which is another crime against humanity.”  He noted that “what is a crisis for people – hunger – is cynically seen by TNCs as an opportunity, to push new products, like GM crops.”

Camila Montecinos of GRAIN in Chile sent her regrets that the terrible recent earthquake in her country made it impossible for her to travel.  But in her document, which was read to the audience, she stated that “GMO contamination is an intentional strategy by TNCs to open new markets for their seeds,” using the argument that once local crops are already contaminated, there is no longer any reason to maintain bans on legal GMO plantings.  George Naylor, ex-president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) in the USA, told an anecdote from his neighbors, who found that their cows refuse to eat GM maize, and he argued that this exposes the lie by industry when they claim there are no negative health effects of GMOs.

Ernesto Ladrón de Guevara of UNORCA, reviewed the history of neoliberal laws in Mexico, on seeds, biosafety, etc., and noted that they have given “poor or negative results.”  Similarly, attorney Evangelina Robles of the Coas Collective, explain how, with the signing of NAFTA, a process of modifying nationals was initiated in Mexico, with the objective of “disarticulating and privatizing of the elements of the territories of indigenous and peasant peoples; the land, air, forests, water, biodiversity, etc.,” paving the way for GMOs, among other evil things.

The afternoon saw testimonies and indigenous, peasant and family farmers.  A Mixtec man and women from Oaxaca told how their native maize varieties had been contaminated with as many as three different transgenes, but also that they have been developing local techniques for decontamination, such as pulling up deformed plants, or cutting off their tassels. Eutimio Díaz, of the Wixarika people in Jalisco, described how, “for indigenous people, maize is first, maize is ours, and we are part of her.”  He noted that his communities have made a firm decision to defend their maize, and therefore, “we will not accept any seeds from the government, because we don’t know what they are, or for what real purpose they are giving them to us.” Sergio Bautista, of the Nahua people in the Huasteca region of Hidalgo, agreed, stating that, “we will not plant any seed from SAGARPA (the Ministry of Agriculture).” He also said that “maize is very sacred to us, it is our life.” (more…)

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Dear Friends,

On February 19th, we asked you to please let the USDA know that you oppose the deregulation of genetically engineered pasture which could result in the permanent contamination of organic grazing fields, thereby allowing GMO alfalfa into the country’s food supply. (more…)

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