October is Co-op Month, and we’re proud to partner with a number of cooperative partners to celebrate what makes co-ops so special! Co-ops are alternative business structures that are created to meet the needs of their Members and are owned and governed by their members. Want to make sure you’re a part of a business that lets your voice be heard? Join a co-op! At City Market, we’re guided by our mission statement, which we call our Global Ends; these missions include strengthening our local food system and larger community.
We’re always excited to welcome new Members and during October, you can receive a gift from one of our fantastic co-op partners. One option is a bar of chocolate from Equal Exchange Cooperative, a grower co-op focused on worker ownership and Fair Trade practices. This month, I took a dive into learning more about Equal Exchange and how their co-op model has been utilized in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Here at City Market, we’ve had the chance to partner closely with Equal Exchange in the past, collaborating to offer Fair Trade cooking classes, staff trainings, and even staff trips to farm partners! Callie Twiss, Grocery Manager at the South End store, had the chance to go on a trip with Equal Exchange to the San Martin region of Peru last September. She told me how Equal Exchange partnered with a local cocoa farmer co-op in the region, Acopagro, to grow the cocoa used in their delicious chocolate products—double the cooperation!
Callie shared how she learned that being part of this collective meant that “not only are they helping the farmers to have a better product, but they also help farmers through education and through small business loans so they can get the proper equipment that they need. They also help set up health services in the communities, schools, and information about healthcare.” The focus on the community as a whole rather than just as a group of producers meant that the whole town was strengthened by the actions and reach of the co-op.
Callie revealed that one of her favorite memories was how welcoming the farming community Dos de Mayo was when they arrived. After a four-hour boat ride to reach the location where the group would be staying with their homestay families, they were welcomed by the whole town with a giant celebration of music, drums, dancing, and flower crowns, and a similar party was held the night before they left.
Co-op resiliency during the COVID-19 crisis
Agriculture can be a difficult business during the best of times, and the sweeping changes of the COVID-19 crisis have been felt widely across the sector. In these turbulent times, the strong support systems offered by a co-op model can increase feelings of security for farmers and producers. As a part of the Co-op, farmers have been able to rely on the structures and resources provided and feel like their voices are being heard, especially in such a time where engagement and cooperation is crucial.
One of the main themes that this pandemic has revealed across multiple spheres is the idea of connection, and Equal Exchange is no different. Because of the strength of the connections between the farmers and their worker co-ops, their needs are heard, understood, and met more easily than in traditional supply chain structures.
The Acopagro co-op in Peru, where Callie’s travels took her last year, used recent advanced Fair Trade payments from Equal Exchange to provide food, masks and cleaning supplies to co-op members in local communities. Many producers also shared how the equitable co-op structure and the flow of COVID-19 information from field staff to geographically isolated farmers and families was a valuable information source at the start of the pandemic. When we all can work together on the equal footing provided by a cooperative model, everyone benefits!
There’s a lot to love about co-ops, and it’s hard to fit everything into just one blog post, or even a whole month of celebrations! To learn more about Equal Exchange, follow this link to their website, and come visit us in store to Join the Co-op and learn how to support other local co-ops in Vermont.