Category: Equal Exchange

Update from the Grow Together Fund

IMG_20151201_114003In 2014, Equal Exchange convened six grocery co-ops, including Seward Co-op and Eastside Food Co-op, to create the Grow Together Fund to support a cashew growing co-op in El Salvador called Aprainores. These co-ops donated approximately $5,000 each to Aprainores in a special coop-to-coop development fund project.  The money was used to help them start a Revolving Loan Fund to give low-interest credit to their members to tide them over until the harvest. Because much of Central America experienced a severe drought last summer which destroyed their corn and other subsistence crops, farmers were particularly hard hit.  This fund helped the farmers buy food for their families and work on their own farms, rather than have to hire themselves out as day laborers on other farms. Equal Exchange also donated funds to help improve productivity through the planting of additional trees, and technical assistance enabling 15 new farmers to join the coop, and additional acreage to be converted to organic production.

Here’s a report from the farm on their progress, thanks to the Grow Together Fund:

We would like to briefly mention how Equal Exchange has helped us to improve our cooperative!!

We started working with Equal Exchange in 2013. Since then, we have been so blessed with their support and we have increased our technical and productive capabilities.

  • Before Equal Exchange started working with us, we were only processing 2800 quintales (100 pound bags) of raw cashew nuts because our land certified as organic was only 163 Manzanas (113 Hectares) (280 acres). This last year we hired an agriculture technician to give follow up to a new group of cashew farmers. These farmers were already producing cashew nuts, but were not organically certified, so we put our efforts toward giving them technical assistance in organic agriculture and we got them certified.IMG_20151201_123255
  • We increased our production of organic cashew nuts from 3000 to 3500 quintales.
  • We increased our annual sales from $350,000 to $425,000; this was because we had more organic cashews available.
  • We increased labor in our factory one month longer than usual (80 people at the processing plant) providing badly needed jobs for women in the area.
  • We added 15 new members in the department of Usulután. We now have 62 members.
  • We have planted 700 new trees (in new areas that represents 10 new hectares) (25 acres).
  • 700 old trees were cut and new seedlings were created by grafting new shoots onto the old trees.IMG_20151201_122537
  • We have created a Revolving Loan Fund to make credit available for farmers. We have available a credit line for small cashew farmers who receive pre-finance to do maintenance work on their cashew farms before the harvest time. This helps them increase productivity of their farm and feed their families while they are waiting for the harvest.


On behalf of our cashew farmers, and workers, we thank you and wish that you keep growing and supporting small farmers, not only us, but also all the small producers who really need support to produce the food of the world.

Congratulations to Aprainores on their progress!



Equal Exchange Launches New Climate Justice Initiative

This post comes from Equal Exchange’s website.


As Vandana Shiva explains in her new book, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, the solution to climate change lies not only in our ability to exercise our collective will to immediately reduce the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that we emit INTO the air, but in our willingness to support, and thereby benefit from, the regenerative capacity of small-scale, organic agriculture to actually pull existing CO2 out of the air – back into the soil.

Equal Exchange now joins an emerging movement of farmers, scientists, researchers, and activists who advocate this new perspective to combat climate change.

To this end, we have joined the growing global Divest-Invest movement of universities, religious organizations, foundations, businesses, NGOs and individuals taking the Divest-Invest pledge to reduce their financial ties to the top 200 fossil fuel companies within the next five years and instead invest their money in climate solutions like the solidarity economy, where our money meets our values.  It is imperative that we demonstrate our numbers before the COP21 UN Climate Talks happening in Paris this December.

Secondly, we are committed to raising $100,000 in the next 12 months to support climate change solutions that also build resilience, on the ground at our partner cooperatives. Small farmers are already working to reverse the impacts of climate change, despite suffering most from the damage that has already incurred.

We in the North owe it to them, to ourselves, and to the planet to stand up and take action!

Please join us to create a more just and sustainable food system, economic model, and planet.

Global warming, while a threat to all mankind, is already undermining the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable populations in the Global South. Our farmer partners are feeling the impact of erratic weather patterns, record-breaking temperatures, and new challenges to agriculture caused by changes in the climate.

  • At CECOVASA, in Peru, and the Chajul Co-operative in Guatemala, coffee farmers have seen catastrophic losses- up to 75% on some farms – due to “La Roya” (coffee rust); a fungus previously unknown in the highland coffee regions, which has recently migrated to higher elevations due to warmer temperatures and high humidity.
  • At APRAINORES cashew co-operative in El Salvador, 3 days of relentless hurricane-like winds caused farmers to lose 70% of their harvest; subsequent unusually high tides destroyed 100 acres of cashew trees on the Island of Montecristo; the resulting salinity of the soil makes future replanting impossible.
  • At the Potong Tea Garden, a worker-owned, collectively managed tea garden in Darjeeling, extremely low rainfall during the last monsoon season crippled soil rehabilitation and planting projects, and led to losses of nearly five tons on first and second-flush tea.

We, in the developed countries of the North, are among the greatest culprits responsible for climate change. Our societies contribute the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, enjoy the benefits of mass consumption and the behemoth fossil fuel industries that drive CO2 emissions from factories, cars, and industrial agriculture. The disparity between those who most benefit from the industries deepening the climate emergency and those who most suffer from the impacts of climate change, and ultimately pay the highest costs, is one of the greatest social injustices on the planet today.

On the bright side, there is increasing evidence that real solutions exist that can not only mitigate climate change by pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing (sequestering) it in the soil, but simultaneously help vulnerable farming communities adapt to a changing climate and strengthen their resilience. The solutions lie in the basics of photosynthesis (a product of which is returning CO2 to the soil, when it isn’t accompanied by petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides), and in organic agriculture and traditional methods of land management. The very act of growing food organically can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, build healthier soil, and provide sustainable livelihoods for millions.

Small-scale farmers, our partners among them, are already implementing these techniques and proving their viability; but they fight an uphill battle, for their own survival and for the world’s. We in the North must now step up and find ways to take meaningful action.

The first step in creating lasting solutions to climate change is to stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere; that responsibility lies squarely on northern consumers who account for the vast majority of global emissions. That means ending our reliance on fossil fuels, non-renewable energy, and industrial agriculture.


Divest-Invest Individual is counting pledges from people across the globe, building commitments along the road to Paris and inviting you to take action today.  Join Divest-Invest and help Equal Exchange participate in a powerful and determined global grassroots movement demanding an end to the fossil fuel companies’ hold over our economy, our politicians, and our planet. Rather than sign a petition to ask someone else to do something, this pledge invites you to recognize your own personal power to fuel change. Together, thousands of our personal pledges inform and influence the broader power holders, structures, and systems.

The second step is to support the farmers on the frontlines of climate change. They need our support, to develop new strategies to cope with changing weather and climate patterns, to explore and invest in soil rehabilitation strategies that reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and to strengthen their own resilience and livelihoods. At the same time, they need us to take a stand against non-renewable energy, and those who profit from it.

Please help us to reverse climate change, support small farmers, and build an alternative, solidarity economy by taking action today!




Support small-scale organic farmers and regenerative agriculture by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Small Farmer Resiliency Fund. To donate, click here. You will be redirected to the secure donation page of the website of Hesperian Health Guides (a fiscal sponsor of Equal Exchange’s Climate Justice Initiative.) Please choose the amount of your donation, and then choose the Climate Justice Initiative (Equal Exchange) in the ‘Project Designation’ list.



Seward Co-op’s P6 Month Kick-Off

This blog post is by Laura Larson, Demo Coordinator at Seward Co-op. Photos by Nick Littlefield.

Seward P6 Month SignSeward Co-op goes big for P6 month! We start the month off with our P6 Kick-Off Event, held annually (and in our 4th year!) on the first Saturday in August. It’s a full store of sales, samples, raffles, information tables, and social media giveaways. We continue this energy throughout the month, focusing heavily on booking demos with P6 vendors every weekend in August. These vendors communicate with our buyers to ensure specials on their products, which make for great sales and happy customers. Many of our vendors choose to have sales that last the entire month, and others choose to just focus on a specific sales cycle. Either way, we strive to align their sales with their sampling days.

During the Kick-off event, we have a staff person, in this case our amazing Demo Specialist, Amy, greeting customers as they walk in the door with samples of Equal Exchange chocolates and a raffle to win one of two $25 gift cards to the Seward Co-op. Demos throughout the store showcase a number of different vendors representing all three aspects of the P6 program.

Gerhards Brats Seward KickoffWe were proud to feature Gerhard’s Brats, a local, small producer that use a traditional German bratwurst recipe from Gerhard’s family in Austria. Their infamous t-shirts read “Friends Don’t Let Friends Put Ketchup On Brats”. We typically sell maybe 6 packages of Gerhard’s on an average Saturday. During our P6 Kick-off Event, we sold a whopping 112! Customers love his personality and being able to share in something deeper than just heating up a sample to make a sale.

Punk Rawk Lab Seward KickoffAnother vendor we featured was Punk Rawk Labs, who create raw food, artisanal vegan cheeses made from cashews and macadamias. Their interactions while demoing usually involve convincing a customer that yes, vegan cheese can be amazing, and when the customer gives it a try they are blown away. Being able to sample the different flavors (Original, Smoked, Nacho, Herbed) really gives the customer an interactive experience while our awesome PRL representative and employee, Kim, talks about the benefits of raw cuisine and the many ways to enjoy nutmilk cheeses. As far as sales go? Nearly as impressive as Gerhard’s- a normal Saturday sees sales of maybe 3 or 4 packages of cheese. Kim sold nearly 35 packages during her demo during the event! Due to the handmade, quality nature, these cheeses have a bit of a high price point and it’s great to give customers an opportunity to sample before making an investment.

We also had the privilege of having Ruby from P6 staff a P6 information table where she talked about P6 and handed out P6 stickers and samples of Maple Valley maple syrup lemonade.

rsz_nl_5676Coinciding with Kick-off was the continuation of our annual Know Our Grower program. Through this program, we invite farmers into the tore during the height of their growing season to sample their produce in creative ways and to engage with customers about the season and the farm. This is an incredible opportunity to ask questions and try new recipes, and we were lucky that Eduardo Rivera from Sin Fronteras Farm and Food was able to participate. Eduardo made a big batch of pineapple tomatillo salsa using tomatillos and hot peppers grown on his farm in Stillwater, Minn. Seward Co-op employees stopped by the classroom, where he was preparing all morning, wondering what the incredible smell was!

In addition to the raffles the day of our Kick-off event, we have a raffle box to give away two $25 gift cards every weekend throughout August. The raffle tickets contain a line for writing your favorite P6 vendor or item, and it’s always fun to see what our customers write down (“St. Paul Bagelry Cream Cheese (yum)” “Right now? Fresh squeezed lemonade @the deli counter!” And lots of smiley faces and cute drawings.) We keep the raffle box on a large display in a main thoroughfare of the store dedicated to highlighting seasonal merchandising themes. Of course, in August we focus on P6 so the table display is chock-full of shelf-stable P6 treats, wellness items, and general merchandise.

Seward P6Plate Twitter contest entryWe also employ the use of social media to generate excitement for P6. In the past we’ve done a P6 Selfie Contest, where customers can tweet or post a photo of themselves and a favorite P6 item. This year our social media coordinator created #p6plate, where customers could upload photos of their deli meal (artistically rendered or not), for a chance to win P6 prizes.

Another way we connect customers with P6 vendors is through our Staff Picks- handwritten note cards posted near items written by staff showcasing their love of that pLone Grazer staff pick on the shelfroduct. These are great for increasing sales and really draw the eye to a product. This method goes over particularly well in the produce department, where people are a little more tentative with the unfamiliar. Staff picks allow staff to communicate not only about the source of the item but ideas on how to prepare it.

During August and throughout the year, one of the things I hear over and over again from our P6 vendors is how much they love sampling and selling their products at Seward. Aside from the fantastic customer base and engaged staff, they feel taken care of and find the support of the P6 program is vital to their wellbeing as small, local, and co-operative producers.

Small Business Week P6 Profile: Aprainores Co-op

This post draws on materials from Equal Exchange’s Phyllis Robinson. P6 will be posting producer profiles every day this week in honor of Small Business Week.

Tomorrow is World Fair Trade Day, so we wanted to highlight an international small business being supported by fair trade policies.

Aprainores farmersP6 founding member Equal Exchange launched the Grow Together program in 2014 to support Aprainores Co-op, a cooperative of small cashew farmers in El Salvador. Six participating retail co-ops, including P6 members Seward Co-op and Eastside Co-op, are matching Equal Exchange’s commitment to donate $0.50 per pound of cashews sold to support Aprainores. That $1 per pound is adding up! In 2014, the project raised $22,000 for the cooperative. This seed money allows the cooperative to make small loans to its members to support their growth.

Aprainores FarmersThis year, Aprainores was able to incorporate 15 new members from a surrounding area.  We visited the group (they were part of another coop but decided to join Aprainores instead as their fair trade status and relationship with us creates better opportunities) along with the local mayor who was particularly excited about this relationship.  They also were busy planting new cashew trees in anticipation of their “new found market” in the U.S.

Equal Exchange’s work is a great example of how we can support small businesses in other countries. The relationship-building and direct support that they offer is crucial to helping small businesses international to survive.


Equal Exchange Beyond the Peel: Avocados

A version of this post by Jennie Msall originally appeared in three parts in the Equal Exchange Beyond the Peel newsletter. 

The Need for Transformative Trade

Fact: 120 million pounds of avocados were sold in the United States in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

That’s about 5 million cases.

At Equal Exchange, we’re also asking ourselves how our work importing Mexican avocados relates to issues illustrated in the LA Times piece about the Mexican produce industry. Reporter Richard Marosi traveled across nine Mexican states over 18 months, meeting with workers at the giant farms that export much of the produce sold in the United States. The result was a four-part series released in December that exposed the hardships that Mexican laborers endure, including poor living conditions and work without pay.

Many people have responded to the article, calling for reforms to current trade policies and practices. As we reflect on our broken food system, we want to push the conversation beyond calls for reform. Instead of just reforming the existing policies and practices, we want to talk about what it would look like to truly transform the way Mexican produce is grown and exported to the United States.

What do we mean when we talk about building a transformative trade model?  Reform means taking what already exists, and then tweaking it. It means making amendments and revisions until it is better. But when we transform something, we start from scratch, moving beyond what has worked in the past and completely reconstructing the system.  Reform is easier, safer, and faster; transformation is harder, riskier, and happens over time. 

This e-mail is the first of a three-part series that digs deeper into this topic. Over the next few days, we’ll highlight our ideas for a transformative trade model and the role that our distributors, stores, and customers play in making this vision a reality. (more…)

P6 Month News from Equal Exchange

The following is a blog post from P6 member and founder Equal Exchange. A version of this post appeared on Equal Exchange’s website.

Equal Exchange continues to stay true to our mission; and the original mission of Fair Trade: to support small farmer co-operatives by providing them market access and building co-operative supply chains; educating consumers about where their food comes from and who grows it; connecting farmers and consumers; and building an alternative, more just system of trade. Our most recent efforts to push the envelope on Authentic Fair Trade (AFT) is through:

• the introduction of our new category of Fair Foods;

• support for, and participation in, a new farmer-led, farmer-owned Fair Trade certification system (the SPP);

• and continued efforts to build an alternative, more just system of trade by building cooperation among co-ops across farmer co-ops, consumer co-ops, and Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) in Canada and Europe.

1. Fair Foods: Building new small farmer supply chains

As you all know, our most recent attempt to expand AFT is to bring small farmer co-ops working with dried fruits and nuts into food co-ops and natural food stores. In order to launch this category, we have been working with Fullwell Mill and TraidCraft, two ATOs in the UK. These ATOs have done the initial hard work of building dried fruit supply chains in Europe. By working directly with them, we are now not only supporting progressive, like-minded alternative traders (of which there are too few), but are also helping provide market access to tens of thousands of small farmers in Pakistan (apricots), Uganda (pineapples), Burkina Faso (mangoes and cashews), and Chile (raisins).

In addition, thanks to the tremendous support from our food co-operative partners, we have been able to build direct relationships with our cashew producers in India, El Salvador, and for the first time this year, Honduras. Through all this work, we are forming new relationships, learning more about these particular supply chains, and beginning to inform and educate consumers about these products and the farmers who grow them. Our dream is that one day (hopefully not 20 years), Fair Trade in the nuts and dried fruit category will be as common an idea, and the impacts as great, as what we have together all made possible for Fair Trade coffee and small coffee farmers.

2. Fair Trade vs. Authentic Fair Trade: Supporting the SPP certification system & educating consumers about the threat to small farmers in mainstream fair trade

The work of building supply chains is hard work. Sadly, it has been made even more difficult by the very certification systems that were created to support small farmers. In coffee, years of frustration over the certifiers’ emphasis on large corporations and privately owned plantations, and lack of farmer voice and vote in the system, has led to the farmers’ decision to create their own certification system, the Small Producer Symbol (SPP for its Spanish acronym). Last fall, Equal Exchange proudly launched our first 8 skus of SPP-certified bulk coffee. In addition to requiring the highest minimum prices, the SPP has attempted to build an entirely new certification system which truly reflects the Authentic Fair Trade mission and practices.

For years, Equal Exchange has tried to build an alternative small farmer tea supply chain and for just as much time, has critiqued Fair Trade plantation tea for being nothing more than a sham which sadly has served to deceive consumers, provide benefits to large tea companies, and compete with small farmers and ATOS that are attempting to create an alternative model. Now a number of different studies, articles, and books are being circulated by researchers who claim that not only is Fair Trade tea from plantations a marketing scam, but that it is actually “making things worse on plantations”: corruption, union busting, child trafficking, etc., as well as coverup by the certification systems. Equal Exchange will soon be launching an education and consumer awareness campaign about this topic.

3. Building an Alternative Trade System

Last year, Equal Exchange integrated with our sister co-operative in the UK. While always having been legally separate, EE UK has shared our name, our mission, and our approach since both organizations were founded in the mid 1980s. This “integration” will now allow us to support a like-minded co-operative selling small farmer products in Europe. We are all excited about joining with our “overseas cousins” and about the opportunities this presents for working on future projects together.

Similarly, we are now partnering with La Siembra, a worker-owned co-operative in Canada with whom we initially worked to launch our first chocolate bars and cocoa products in the U.S. La Siembra has seen some hard times and Equal Exchange will be working to support them and to help ensure the viability of another like-minded, mission-driven co-operative. We are very excited to see what potential exists through this newly rejuvenated partnership.

The Future of Authentic Fair Trade Bananas: A Conference

Equal Exchange founded P6 in 2009 with a group of six committed consumer co-ops. The vision for P6 sprouted out of Equal Exchange’s deep commitments to creating an alternative, more equitable and just food system and years of leadership in building authentic fair trade supply chains. Equal Exchange has worked for over two decades to transform the coffee, tea, and chocolate industries, and more recently, Equal Exchange has expanded work into one of the most historically exploitative international food industries- bananas. Many P6 member stores are now proud to offer their customers Equal Exchange bananas. This past weekend, Equal Exchange created an opportunity for retail co-ops to meet face to face with leaders from the farmer co-ops that produce the bananas that arrive in our produce departments, and with other industry experts from across the world working to change the face of the banana industry. (more…)

P6 now based at Seward Coop

In 2010, Seward Co-op launched the Principle Six (P6) Cooperative Trade Movement to highlight products that meet two out of three criteria: local, cooperative/nonprofit, and small farmer/producer. Last summer, Seward took its support for the program a step further by offering to host the national P6 program, now based out of our co-op. We recently sat down with the P6 Central Coordinator, Aaron Reser, to hear an update.

What does it mean that Seward is part of a larger P6 Movement?

P6 was developed to embody Principle Six of the International Cooperative Principles: “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.” All P6 members are cooperatives. Nationally, we all use the P6 logo and share resources and best practices. By working together, we’re able to leverage our purchasing power to strengthen supply chains for small producers and cooperatives, both locally to our respective stores and internationally.

How did the national P6 organization end up at Seward?

Equal Exchange (a worker-owned cooperative bringing us familiar products such as fair-trade coffee and bananas) did amazing work leading the P6 initiative for the first several years, and they were really the visionaries behind P6. As the program evolved, it became apparent that P6 plays out mostly in the cooperative retail stores. There was a natural transition of leadership from Equal Exchange to the cooperative grocery stores. Equal Exchange is still a P6 member and a key player, but the P6 national “office” needed a new home, and Seward stepped up to house the program.

What drew you to P6?

I have worked in the local foods world for the past decade, including many years farming, working in Seward’s Produce department at the old store, and managing the Mill City Farmers Market. In that time I’ve noticed a tremendous surge in the popularity of local, organic, and fair-trade foods; but an unfortunate reality is that this doesn’t always translate to benefits for the source of that food: the farmers and producers. P6 really opens this conversation about ownership and who profits from our purchases.

As a consumer, the more directly we understand the source of our product, including all steps of its journey to us, the more control we can exercise over our purchasing decisions. It is important to me to know that when I buy a product, whether it’s local produce or coffee from afar, a fair percentage of my dollar goes back to the small producers. P6 covers these bases.

Take, for example, the breakfast I had this morning: Birchwood granola with an Equal Exchange banana and Rochdale Farms yogurt and a cup of fair-trade coffee. My dollar makes a difference for these producers, but when you think of my dollar multiplied by all the other customers who bought these products at Seward, the numbers become impressive. When you think of the jobs created and small producers supported, you see the larger impact of my breakfast choices. When you consider the many P6 co-ops involved in the P6 movement, we begin to see systemic change.

I encourage customers to look for the P6 logo on products and use the profiles of featured P6 producers in store and in the “Sprout!” as a way to connect to the sources of their food. P6 is about celebrating the farmers and producers who are creating the type of economy and world in which we believe.