Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

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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In July, the Twin Cities Daily Planet published an article by Doug McGill about the exciting work our Minnesota office is doing to educate consumers about our small farmer co-operative partners. They’re also strengthening existing relationships and building new ones among local food co-operatives, consumers and the Oromian community in the Twin Cities area.

I asked Joe Riemann (pictured above with Scott Patterson) to write a bit about their endeavors and how it all got started:

“I came to Equal Exchange after working on Domestic Fair Trade issues with the Wedge Cooperative, Local Fair Trade Network. My experiences led me all over the Midwest, visiting small farmers and farmworkers and sharing their stories. Those relationships represented a cornerstone of fair trade that I really wanted to replicate in my new position with Equal Exchange. Of course, the majority of farmers we partner with live considerably further than a day’s drive away, and I felt dumbfounded by the lack of knowledge I had about any of the producers we purchase from.

I quickly started to ask questions of my coworkers and learned about the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, a more well-known coop thanks to the critically acclaimed documentary “Black Gold”. The part that isn’t well known is that Oromia, the coffee growing region and namesake of the co-op, is homeland to the Oromo people – the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. But it got really interesting once I discovered that Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Oromos living in diaspora. (more…)

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Twenty-two years ago, Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal, and Michael Rozyne founded the first Fair Trade coffee and tea organization in the United States. Soon thereafter, their first Fair Trade coffee line, Café Nica, was launched. At that time, the Sandinistas were governing Nicaragua and there was an embargo preventing Nicaraguan products from being exported to the United States. The specialty coffee craze hadn’t yet caught on like wildfire throughout the country. There was no Fair Trade seal. People thought these three guys were crazy.

The times have certainly changed since then. The Sandinistas were voted out of power (only to have been voted back in a few years ago.) Neighborhood coffee shops abound and many consumers can differentiate between a high quality, fairly grown cup of coffee and the majority of everything else being served out there. The Fair Trade seal is stamped on many lines of coffee, tea, fruit, flowers, and other products.

But what has been the overall impact? (more…)

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The following article, written by Patty Kupfer, was printed in the September/October 2008 issue of Sojourner’s Magazine. Patty used to work for Witness for Peace and co-organized some of Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Department’s delegation visits to Chiapas. During these trips, we visited our coffee farmer partners, CIRSA, an amazing organization of Tzotzil and Tzeltal -speaking indigenous farmers located in the highlands of Chiapas. Patty interviewed some members of the co-op for this article. You can also read more about CIRSA in the Viroqua Food Co-op’s May/June 2008 newsletter.


Ask the nearly 600 members of the CIRSA coffee cooperative in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, how things are going and they’ll tell you, “Little by little, we’re moving forward.” Considering that a couple of decades ago the parents of these indigenous farmers worked in slavery-like conditions on large coffee plantations in the region, and that their region has been ignored and marginalized throughout its history, their progress is tremendous.

The Indigenous Communities of the Simojovel de Allende Region (CIRSA in Spanish) shipped 235 tons of fair trade coffee last year to the United States and Europe. Through the fair trade certification system, the small farmers of CIRSA and similar cooperatives throughout Latin America are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee. This provides stability to small farmers, who live in some of the world’s poorest regions—and who are especially vulnerable to the volatile market that dictates world coffee prices. This is why, on our weekly trip to the grocery store, many of us fork over some extra change for fair trade coffee. (more…)

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