Last October, we welcomed organic banana farmer Mariana Cobos to the Twin Cities to celebrate our 10 year anniversary importing bananas from AsoGuabo Cooperative in Ecuador. “I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to tell my story about the true history of small-scale banana farmers,” Mariana said during the visit. That story is filled with the difficulties, the challenges, and the inequity that small-scale farmers face.
Carly Kadlec is the Green Coffee Buyer at Equal Exchange, and one of the women that inspires me in our work toward trade justice. I’ve been fortunate to travel with Carly on visits to coffee farms in Honduras and Guatemala. Since March 8 is International Women’s Day, I wanted to sit down with Carly and talk about her work with coffee producers ... but, she’s on the road, as she often is, so we bring you this Q&A, across 2,500 miles.
Equal Exchange has worked in the tea industry for more than 20 years. Our tea program is still relatively small, but we have leveraged our limited volume to support and strengthen a number of small-scale farmer groups in India and Sri Lanka. Small farmer cooperatives are incredible rare in the tea industry which was built on colonial plantations from the ground up. When considering the larger industry context, it is remarkable that our small-scale tea co-op partners exist at all.
At Equal Exchange, we think about food every day. We think about the foods we sell, the farmers we purchase from, shipping logistics, the marketplace, and other day-to-day details. We are also deeply consumed in thinking about the broader food system: what is working, what is broken, how ownership and power are distributed, and how to develop alternative models. Ultimately, we are working to bridge the gap that exists between farmers and consumers.
For me, this Valentine’s Day feels different. Yes, I’ve got chocolate on the mind—as Chocolate Products Manager, I think about it all the time—but there are two other things I keep coming back to. First is the current state of U.S. politics and the division that seems to be the defining character of our country at this time.
Over the course of our first 30 years, Equal Exchange has set out to do essentially three things: Build supply chains that work for small-scale farmers and their democratic organizations. The manifestation of this work in the U.S. market is high quality products at prices that can compete with the corporate-controlled food system. But to arrive at that point, countless hours and dollars have been expended, and many failures have been experienced along the way.