Posts Tagged ‘co-operative economy’

Victor Hugo Garcia Lopez relaxing with his children after offering me a tour of his organic coffee farm.

Victor Hugo Garcia Lopez relaxing with his children after offering me a tour of his organic coffee farm.

Co-operatives Supporting Co-operatives!

Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire has a strong commitment to supporting family farmers, sustainable agriculture, and what we like to call the “cooperative supply chain” which basically means, co-operatives supporting other co-operatives.  In the case of Co-op Food Stores, we have created a very special relationship between CIRSA, one of my favorite coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico, Equal Exchange, and Co-op Food Stores.  This “sister co-op relationship” is part of the Co-op brand coffee program that we have created, whereby for every pound of Co-op brand coffee sold, Co-op Food Stores and Equal Exchange each invest 20 cents into the Sister Co-op Partner Fund.  Money from this fund goes directly to CIRSA to support their efforts to build resiliency in the face of dramatically changing weather patterns.  In Simojovel, Chiapas, where these communities of indigenous small-scale farmers make their living exclusively from the production and sale of their coffee, unseasonably long rainy seasons and the “roya” (coffee rust disease) has reduced their overall yields by 70% in the past two years.  Co-op Food Stores and Equal Exchange have raised enough money to help CIRSA build solar dryers which keep the coffee dry even under relentless rains, in two of their thirteen member communities.  We are now trying to raise money for additional dryers in the remaining communities.

Below is an article written by Amanda Charland, Director of Outreach and Member Services for Co-op Food Stores.  For more information about this partnership please go here.  To learn more about how you can support Equal Exchange’s Climate Justice Fund, where 100% of the donations go directly to support our farmer partners in their efforts to build resiliency in the face of climate change, please call Phyllis Robinson, Education & Campaigns Manager, at 774-776-7390. To make a donation to our Fund, you can also send a tax deductible donation to our NGO partner, Hesperian Health Guides, 1919 Addison Street, Suite 304, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Be sure to write Equal Exchange Climate Justice Fund on the check.

Coffee, Coops, and Climate Change

When I left New Hampshire, bound for Mexico, it was three in the morning and snowing. In the rush, I barely stopped to think about the routine filling of my coffee mug, except for the momentary relief the hot beverage provided from the cold.

As I trudged through the snow, grasping my warm beverage, carrying all my belongings for the week on my back, I never realized that I was about to say goodbye to something. After this trip, my relationship with coffee would never be the same.

Mexico or Bust
The minute my feet hit solid ground after a very long day of flights, my appreciation for coffee had already grown tenfold. The sheer distance we had traveled was exhausting, and we still weren’t at the coffee farms! Our mission in Mexico seemed simple enough: meet with our sister cooperative—a partnership project set up by Equal Exchange—and learn about the process of coffee. I thought, “I know what to expect. I’ve seen videos and pictures of coffee being harvested.” In a very small way, I was right. The physical processing of the coffee is pretty straightforward—very labor intensive, but straightforward.

I was very wrong about the rest of the story. Coffee farming is complicated and surrounded by a web of influence that pictures and videos can’t describe.

Read more here.

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The following article, written by Scott Patterson, Director of Equal Exchange’s Minnesota Regional Office, first appeared in many of our food co-operative partner’s October newsletters.

If you work for a food co-operative, are a member or shopper of one, or quite simply are just plain interested in what a co-operative economy means, I think you’ll be inspired by some of the ideas Scott discusses below. Let us know what you think!

A co-owner of mine recently shared an interesting interaction. A woman came up to her at a co-op event that we were sponsoring and said that she had been a passionate Equal Exchange supporter in our early days, but assumed that after nearly 25 years we had sold out to grow or survive.


Given the current climate of corporate bailouts and the long list of disappointments from Green & Black’s, Tom’s, Burt’s, Kashi, Dagoba, Honest Tea and more, it’s easy to arrive at that conclusion. When we shared that Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-operative and that, like at her food co-op, the values of transparency and democracy are the rules by which we govern – and, aren’t just pretty words – the landscape shifted.


There is some grey area here; it is, of course, possible for co-ops to be broken, sold or poorly managed. But when done well, the one member, one vote and profit sharing backbone of co-ops protects against greed and promotes ethical entrepreneurialism better than any business model I have seen to date. In the case of Equal Exchange, imagine 91 people who have a genuine financial stake in seeing their work succeed. Our recent jump into bananas exemplifies this spirit.


Last December, the worker-owners at Equal Exchange voted to take on a daunting challenge. The banana industry is totally dominated by Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte. Who in their right mind would try this? But remember we aren’t just talking about one company. The origins and success of Fair Trade coffee can almost exclusively be traced to a powerful chain of cooperators. Picture it: small farmers Û Equal Exchange Û natural foods co-ops around the country Û you.


Together, both with international and local farmers, our collective work is one of creating food chains that stand for our values. The beauty of co-ops and these supply chains is that they are transparent; you can get to know something real about the 80 farmers who are growing your bananas. And with shared ownership and decision making, when you as a shopper support cooperatively owned companies on the shelves of your store, you are sharing your power and creating authentic change.


Traditionally, October’s co-op month has been about celebration and we have many successes to enjoy. At the same time, we have a lot of work ahead. While we’ve seen copycats repackage our work and call it things like “direct trade,” we do need to reinvigorate and step up our game when Frito Lay and Wal-Mart tout their “relationships” with farmers. No wonder most shoppers are skeptical. And the risk is that when we can no longer distinguish between real efforts and marketing, we lose our ability to create true change.


So, how do we move forward together? Well, for Equal Exchange’s part, in addition to jumping into the banana industry, we are committing to doing a better job of sharing both why small-scale farmer organizations are valuable and to letting you all get to know us. I suggest that natural foods co-ops embrace the debate about who owns the companies on your shelves share this with your member-owners and do even more to actively promote cooperatively owned companies.


Don’t get me wrong, I know some of you are here already and we feel extremely well represented. But in addition to local, organic and Fair Trade labeling, let’s identify and be proud of our business models. On the part of shoppers, hang in there! I know you are stretched for time and money but if you’ve read this far you must see value in building these connections! I ask for your amazing, continued loyalty to your co-op and to Equal Exchange, and that you join us in holding our collective feet to the fire. Remember, your grocery store has been an innovator and is able to carry the products you want because it is a co-op! Why not look for more of the same in all the companies your dollars support – and in this way remove the incentive for companies to sell out.

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Equal Exchange was founded 22 years ago to change the way business is carried out and trade is conducted; to expand and deepen the opportunities for consumers and producers to relate to each other; and to change an anonymous, corporate-controlled food system to one in which each participant is treated with respect and dignity, and whose contribution is recognized and valued. Integral to this vision is an economic model that builds vibrant, healthy businesses and communities.

Together, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount and have successfully paved the way for each of these goals to be realized. Through our co-operative structure, and by supporting other co-operative business models, we are building an alternative network of democratic, mission-driven businesses that place relationships above the bottom line. Fair Trade has entered the mainstream; consumers are increasingly demanding information about where their food comes from, insisting that conditions are fair for those who grow it, and increasingly see themselves as advocates for a just food system and a healthier planet.

We’ve made enormous strides. And we’re proud. We hope those of you who have walked this path alongside us share in this pride as well. But, despite tremendous efforts and accomplishments, sadly we are still swimming upstream. The world around us continues to be dominated by corporate interests and greed. Trade agreements favor the interests of multi-national corporations and treat workers and producers as objects (and their products as commodities) to be discarded when they no longer serve. Climate change is wreaking havoc on poor communities and small-scale farmers are being disproportionately affected. Taken together, these agricultural and trade policies and changing weather patterns are threatening entire communities, the quality, quantity, and price of our food, and the planet itself. We can’t really afford to rest on our laurels. (more…)

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