- Banana Talk
- May 20th, 2013
Earlier this spring, the Co-op invited the faces behind Equal Exchange bananas to give our staff training on the story behind their bananas. They had such amazing information about bananas, Fair Trade, and how great working cooperatives can make a difference that we just couldn’t keep it to ourselves!
I talked with Jessica Jones-Hughes, one of the amazing people behind the scenes at Equal Exchange bananas – here is the result of that conversation.
Tell me a little about what Equal Exchange bananas does?
Equal Exchange is an importer of Fair Trade, organic bananas (and coffee, chocolate, tea, almonds, olive oil….etc.). In bananas, we work with small scale, worker-owned co-ops to bring their fruit to the US, connecting the consumer directly with small scale producers. Equal Exchange is an example that small producers can have a share of the global market. By organizing into co-ops, small scale producers can have enough volume to export and have greater market access.
We ask ourselves that a lot. Bananas are the riskiest product that Equal Exchange works with and there needs to be a lot of organized logistics to make it work. Equal Exchange started working with bananas 6 years ago because of the poor history of the banana industry – 80 percent of the banana market is owned by 5 multi-national companies, creating a bottle neck where the power has shifted away from the hands of the producers. Further, the majority of banana production is large scale mono-culture production – environmentally taxing and exposing producers and workers to harmful chemicals. Six years ago, all Equal Exchange worker owners voted yes to devoting energy and resources toward building an alternative market for small scale, organic producers in bananas.
I have heard from several people here at the Co-op that what you’re doing might be a little crazy – why would they say such things?!
It is! I have learned that saying that something is difficult is very different than living it. Living and breathing the banana reality for the past 4 years, has made me realize what a difficult thing it is to do every day. Bananas are imported 52 weeks a year. If anything happens to delay even just one container, as often happens, we get a backlog in fruit and, because bananas are perishable, there is a lot of room for high losses. It can take a long time to recover from just a few lost cases of bananas due to the low margin on bananas. Even after several years in operation, our goal is to break even – not to make money, but to have an alternative to corporate bananas. The reason we continue is because we have a commitment to our producers and the support of other Equal Exchange departments.
In the traditional model, producers are growing products, but they lack ownership of those products because they don’t have the knowledge of markets or fair prices and there is little business development, outside of growing the commodity, for those producers. In our model, Equal Exchange only works with producers who own their land and are part of a producer-owned co-op. The co-op model allows them to have a second tier of ownership by having people involved in coordination, agricultural technical support, and direct relations with exporters (like Equal Exchange). Therefore, the co-op workers and producers have a lot more say in the supply chain and more money and jobs stay within the community. By working with these co-ops, Equal Exchange has an open dialogue and a close business relationship to troubleshoot problems and build long-term relationships. Equal Exchange isn’t going to stop working with our producers for not meeting quotas or having lower quality produce, we are going to work together to fix those problems.
How are Equal Exchange bananas beneficial for the consumer?
Equal Exchange helps consumers know the story behind their food. We have been successful because in addition to showing that alternative business models can work, the work we do is transparent and consumers have a lot of trust in our products. Equal Exchange has been doing this challenging work for 27 years, before fair trade was even a certification. Some of our customers have bought coffee from the same co-ops through Equal Exchange for the entire 27 year history. That is a powerful long term relationship. Consumers can feel confident buying Equal Exchange bananas because they can see the story and know they are buying fairly traded goods from a company committed to going above and beyond even the fair trade standards.
Equal Exchange bananas are available at St. Peter Food Co-op, along with other Equal Exchange Fair Trade products.
You can learn more about Equal Exchange bananas here: http://www.beyondthepeel.com/
- World Fair Trade Day
- May 10th, 2013
Saturday, May 11 is World Fair Trade Day – a day to celebrate the greatness that is Fair Trade. Before you put your party hats on let’s talk about what Fair Trade is, why we should celebrate it, and how the Co-op participates in the Fair Trade movement.
Fair Trade is a lot of things all rolled into one. It is an equitable business practice that guarantees producers and workers earn their fair share of the profit and giving them greater independence and more control of their markets. It is good for individuals as it protects producers and workers from exploitation, unsafe and unethical working conditions, and prevents child labor. At a community level, Fair Trade encourages greater environmental stewardship and community development.
So, why should you care about and buy local and Fair Trade? Great questions! As a consumer, it means that you are empowered to make choices that have a positive influence on the local and global community. When buying Fair Trade and local products, you know your money is being distributed fairly and you are supporting a system designed for positive change. It is a system to make you feel confident in your purchasing choices and to easily effect change on a regular basis – just by buying the products you know and love!
Fair Trade at the Co-op
Here at St. Peter Food Co-op, we understand the importance of Fair Trade and the impact it can have on our community and beyond. This is why we strive to stock our shelves wit Fair Trade certified good and local products.
The Co-op participates in the Fair Trade community by selling Fair Trade Certified goods and by buying from vendors that follow Fair Trade principals. You can find certified goods by looking for this symbol, found in many parts of the store. And good news! You can find the Fair Trade label on more than just coffee and chocolate (although, really, what else do you need?). Look for the Fair Trade labels throughout the store – produce, grocery , wellness, general merchandise – they are everywhere (see a list of examples below)!
Another way the Co-op embodies the principals of Fair Trade is by buying directly from our local producers, thus the Co-op ensures a fair and equitable price and a reliable market for these producers. It is also a way for you as a consumer to have a positive effect on the local economy by keeping hard-earned money here in the community, creating growth and bettering lives. Look for the local sticker and know that your purchase is making a difference!
So, when you’re doing your shopping at the Co-op, remember that you are supporting a community, right here and globally, and that your purchase matters. You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’ve done something great? Yeah, go ahead and feel that, every time you shop with us! Community, equitable human rights, warm fuzzy feelings? Now that is something to celebrate.
A few examples of Fair Trade Certified or local products you can find at the Co-op (if the season is right):
Produce – Equal Exchange Bananas, vine tomatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, select mushrooms
Grocery – Fashion Farms biscuits, maple syrup, Mom’s Best cereals, Alter Eco Quinoa, Lotus Foods Rice, Numi Tea, select Frontier spices/teas/vanilla extract
Dairy –Alemar Cheese Company and Nature Valley cheese, Cedar Summit Farms milk, Schroeder butter
Wellness – Alaffia products, Dr. Bronner’s products, Worker B lip cream
General merchandise – Overseas Connection African market baskets, Ande’s Gifts winter wear
Meats – Healthy Pork, Prairie Pride Farm (sausages and snack sticks), Beeler’s hams
Bulk – rolled oats, spelt flour, whole wheat bread flour, 8 grain hot cereal
For more information on Fair Trade, here are a few websites to check out: