Archive for May, 2011

The following post was written by Tom Hanlon Wilde, West Coast Sales Manager, en route to Peru and is the second part in the series.

We’re waiting to board the LAN Peru flight from Los Angeles to Cuzco and I’ll confess I have butterflies in my stomach for all that we could learn on this reunion tour. Five of our retail partners and two of us from Equal Exchange are leaving to spend a week with the farmer owners of COCLA. Kim and Francesca from Marlene’s Market & Deli, Scott from PCC Natural Markets, Marnie from LifeSource Natural Foods, and Eric from Davis Food Co-op are joining Peter Mark and I to live and work with the farmer members of the Aguilayoc Co-op of COCLA in Cuzco.

For Eric and me, this a reunion trip to a village we visited and worked exactly 10 years ago. There is a lot to discover.

Does Enrique Mellado (pictured in white shirt) still harvest 2800 pounds of coffee on his 5 acre farm, or has he increased yields and landholdings and diversified crops in the last decade?

Is Frederio Victoria, one of the 12 farmers who founded the co-op in 1978 and, before that, worked as a sharecropper on the same land since the 1950s, still alive?  (Don Frederico is in the blue shirt in this photo from June 2001.)

Do Emilio and Julia Huillca still have 38 species of shade trees on their 8-acre farm?

Has Juana Pezo Suero passed ownership of her land to one of her children?  Did her son Miguel, who will now be 27 years old, succeed in studying to be a professor as he was planning to do in 2001?  Will Juana’s granddaughter Isacoset, who was an adorable 2-year old when I last visited, be an insufferable teenager now?

This week, our coffee farmer partners in Peru face two very important decisions, one of which will affect their personal income and their co-operative’s financial health, and the second of which will affect their country’s future.

Each of the farmer owners of COCLA are members of a village-level co-operative.  This co-op, often called the primary co-op, provides members an advance payment when members deliver coffee to the warehouse.  For instance, after Enrique picks the days’ harvest, he can take that to the warehouse of the Aguilayoc co-op and receive an advance in cash.  Later in the year, after the coffee is sold, Enrique will receive a final payment based on the average price for which the co-op has sold the coffee to Equal Exchange or another importer.  Typically, the primary co-operative would offer about 70% of the going world price upon delivery, and another final payment at the year’s end.

This year, the high and wildly fluctuating world prices of coffee make determining the amount of the advance very tricky.  If the co-op offers a generous advance to the farmer, but then must sell the coffee based on a falling world price, the farmer ends up owing the co-op.  (Imagine buying canned beans at your local co-op store and then, three months later, have the co-op tell you that they undercharged you for the beans and you owe an extra 25 cents per can!)  Alternatively, if the co-op offers too stingy of an advance, members might only bring some of their crop and sell the other part to the corporate coffee buyers roaming the countryside.  So for the primary co-operative, this is an important time when they must decide what level of advance payment to offer members.

Our farmer partners also will make a choice of national importance this week.  On June 5th, Peruvian voters will go to the polls to vote in the run-off election between two presidential candidates.  Keiko Fujimori is the more centrist and technocratic candidate and is attractive to voters tired of the persistent corruption within the Peruvian political system.  That her father had to resign the presidency due to corruption is not lost on the voters of Peru, but more speaks to how endemic the problem is and that government services improved during the first Fujimori presidency.  The second candidate is Ollanta Humala, a populist military leader from Peru’s highlands.  Formerly an army officer involved in what may have been a failed coup attempt, he has distanced himself from leftist leaders such as Hugo Chaves and Evo Morales to attract more centrist voters without losing all of his fiery rhetoric on the need for dramatic political and economic change.

Peruvian voters have become savvy over the last few elections, and they have generally swept in a large number of new politicians with each election.  However, they have typically rewarded the candidate who lost in the previous election and has, since losing, maintained consistency in his or her message and has become more serious in his or her approach to politics.  In the humble opionion of this blogger, that will bring a June 5th election victory to Humala, with our farmer partners at COCLA and CECOVASA being among the voters most heavily voting in his favor.

As these important events in coffee growing country unfold, keep in mind that your coffee choices are fueling family farmers in the ability to deal with these events.  The same democratic decision-making that farmers make in their co-ops to determine pricing and to make sound, transparent financial decisions ripple out to local, state, and federal governments.  Democracy takes practice, and coffee growers in Peru can practice democracy everyday because YOU vote with your dollars to buy from them.

Tomorrow we’ll have coffee at COCLA’s coffee shop in the city of Cuzco, then take the drive through the harrowing Malaga Pass to Quillabamba, where the adventure begins.  Stay tuned!


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Big Tree Organic Farms Co-operative

The following letter from Wells Neal, West Coast Sales Manager, was sent to all Equal Exchange staff today. I thought that others might find it interesting as it tells part of the story about the work we are doing to support small farmers and co-operative supply chains. In this case, the story is about our organic tamari-roasted almonds, and the trail they take from our small farmer co-op partner Big Tree Organic Farms (BTOF) to the shelves of our natural food and consumer co-op retail partners, ending with a delicious, healthy product in the hands (and mouths) of consumers.

Value-added and transparent supply chains might not sound like a sexy topic for a slow Friday afternoon… but keep reading; I think you’ll end up sharing our excitement!

Let us know!

Greetings all,

It’s been a long, challenging road working to keep fairly traded small farmer almonds alive as an Equal Exchange product.

As much as we all want to support small, organic almond growers and supply delicious, healthy, roasted organic almonds to consumers, it has been really tricky to find the way to do this so that we are both providing farmers with a price that works for them and consumers with a price that they can afford and is competitive.

But, there is good news! There should be two pallets arriving in West Bridgewater tomorrow, Friday! We have retooled the path from the almond farms to Equal Exchange in a way that we believe will work well going forward. I will explain some of the changes enabling us to try again in a new way that we hope will be more successful for everyone.

Please know that what has NOT changed is our grower partner– The 24 farm families that make up the Big Tree Organic Farm Cooperative remain our only supplier.      They are thoroughly committed to helping us find a path to success that works.  And we continue to be inspired by their co-operative model, the care by which they grow their almonds, and the way they care for their land and natural resources.

Tom Nakashima Turlock

What HAS changed– Where the almonds get roasted and flavored now that Once Again Nut Butter isn’t doing that work. Almonds from BTOF are shipped from Turlock, CA to another almond company, Maisie Jane’s Sunshine Products in Chico, CA.  Maisie Jane grows and processes almonds too.  They have a commercial production kitchen where our almonds get dry-roasted and flavored with the same tamari as in the past, same recipe also.  That tamari, by the way, is organic and gluten-free.

Maisie Jane and her husband Isidro, also small farmers, run the operation and sell a variety of their almonds to retail outlets and through their store.  After Maisie Jane roasts the almonds, they pack them in 25 lb bulk boxes, ship them back to BTOF who then either ships the finished bulk product to us or repacks them into our 5 oz packages for us to sell to natural food stores, food co-ops, and other retailers.

It should be said that Once Again Nut Butter (OANB) moved on from this particular type of hand packing because they needed the floor space (literally!) to accommodate growth in their core business which is nut butter production.  They gave us unbelievable support during our transition and access to any information that would help us understand how to do the work. They have been and remain a steadfast partner and have been super supportive of the work we are trying to do and our efforts to build small farmer supply chains. OANB also continues to do great work connecting small farmers to consumers.

The 24 farm families that make up BTOF get paid when companies like us purchase an order of almonds, 2,000 lb bags of raw, pasteurized, organic almonds.

A two thousand pound bag of almonds

That’s the only time they get paid; it’s the same situation as with coffee farmers who only get paid when their coffee is sold (usually once a year).  Once the annual crop comes in, in September- October, that’s their bank account, waiting for the Equal Exchanges of the world to draw it down so they can finance their farming operations. BTOF’s annual pound volume is around 1.5 million pounds of organic almonds.  Keeping their co-operative strong is an everyday task for the farmer members of BTOF.

While at Expo West earlier this year, working with the Organic Valley folks, one of the BTOF farmers, Rose Marie Burroughs, also an Organic Valley dairy farmer, sought me out to say thank you.  She went on at length to say how important Equal Exchange was to BTOF and how much they appreciated our efforts trying to tell their story, sell their almonds and contribute to their success as small family farmers.  I was speechless but managed to say that I hoped we could do a better job than we had been doing.

We’re still learning and so is BTOF and the almonds are fantastic!

In cooperation,


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We got a few more photos today from Song who works with the organization Fair Trade Korea (see the previous blog post).  The photos were great so I couldn’t resisting sharing them along with Song’s note.  Enjoy!

Hello Lisa!

Great to hear from you!

I am very glad that you all liked the pics and even posted it on your blog!

Thanks for that!

Please find the attached pics taken at the show.  You can find our representative in one of those pics;  she is the lady in the middle with the show hosts. 

Have fun!



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As many of you know, the Free Trade Agreement with Korea is about to be approved (despite many protests from labor, religious, farmer and other groups).   Amidst the FTA propaganda and protests, Equal Exchange received a note the other day from a Fair Trade Organization in South Korea that apparently is thrilled to be promoting Fair Trade chocolates from Equal Exchange!  We thought we should share it with all of you…

Dear Lisa,

It’s been long time since we’ve talked last time!

Hope all’s well with you.

Sorry that I didn’t send you the pics and video clips of your chocolate promotional event on the Valentine’s Day till now.

We were on TV show with Equal exchange chocolates!

It was a sales promotion on one of the famous shopping channels in Korea, and 350 sets were all sold out in less than 20 minutes though it was showing at 1:00 in the morning!

Click on this link and click <play> button in the picture on the page.

It’s part of news program reporting the show and the Fair trade chocolates.

Hope you could get on it fine. I would like to send you better pictures other than the one attached. I’ve not received the pics of the event from our sales dept. yet. Once I get them, I will update you with nicer pictures.

Hope you enjoy it!



Here’s a  little more about this exciting new Fair Trade Company (from a correspondence dated June 2009 in which they introduce themselves to Equal Exchange):

“…Our company, Fair Trade Korea, Inc., is interested in knowing more about the chocolate products your firm offers. Fair Trade Korea, Inc., being a social enterprise, is the first fair trade company in South Korea  that has been built up by ordinary citizen stockholders and their active participation. It is our desire to offer our customers the widest selection possible of fair trade chocolates, and we are therefore always interested in new products that fall within that area…”

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For the full article, featuring the newest innovations by co-ops (including Equal Exchange’s latest Principle Six Co-operative Trade Movement, click here.

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Last night the Boston Channel’s Evening Chronicle did a two minute segment featuring the latest news from Equal Exchange.

Check it out here:

Start the video at 2:42 and watch the articulate and charming Meghan Hubbs and Jesse Myszka on the newly conceived, designed, and now functioning free range trike.

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By Tom Hanlon Wilde, West Coast Sales Manager

We didn’t get lost physically, but 10 years ago our delegation of store managers from the Western U.S. spent a week with the farmer members of Aguilayoc, a village-level co-operatives that is part of COCLA. After two nights staying in the homes of our host families, harvesting coffee in the day and sharing meals at night, our groups was overwhelmed with hospitality and kindness.

We came back from that trip, but part of our hearts stayed lost in Peru. Even now when I go out each morning to feed the chickens, I call to them with the “tuk-tuk-tuk” that host Juana Pezo Suero used to call her birds. Sparrow Johnson, the manager of the New Leaf Market, in Santa Cruz, California, insists that “crema de licheroga”, given to her by her hosts Emilio and Julia Huillca, is the best remedy for bug bites. “I’m actually a bit nervous about going back,” explains Sparrow, “because the first trip was so magical that nothing could live up to it. I’m glad Emilio is doing well.”

“Has it really been 10 years already?” asked Eric Stromberg, the General Manager of the Davis Food Co-op. Since travelling with the first delegation in 2001, Eric and the staff at the Davis Food Co-op have taken a leading role in building co-op to co-op relationships, including offering fair trade bananas at the store and becoming a founding member of P6 Co-operative Trade Movement. Eric’s host on the first trip, Enrique Mellardo, is co-ordinating the anniversary visit in June 10th Anniversary Tour to the village level co-operative called Aguilayoc, which means Place of the Eagles.

Joining the delegation will be managers from Marlene’s Market & Deli of Tacoma, Washington, and from Lifesource Natural Foods in Salem, Oregon.

We are looking forward to going and seeing how much has changed in the past 10 years.

How has your relationship with family farmers changed over the last decade? Share your experience here, and we’ll send you some of the fabulous organic coffee we bring back from our trip.

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