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!
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.
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.
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!