Monadnock Food Co-op Explores the Equal Exchange Co-op

Coffee, chocolate, bananas, avocados, olive oil, and tea. Yes, that is a list of my favorites things, but it’s also just a smattering of the organic and Fair Trade products that Equal Exchange Co-operative imports.

Members of our grocery team had the unique opportunity to tour Equal Exchange’s facility and learn more about their products and mission. Walking into the building in West Bridgewater, MA you immediately struck by the rich smells of coffee roasting. Luckily, for us, coffee and tea were available as soon as we walked in the doors.

Equal Exchange isn’t just a normal company. Founded in 1986 as an alternative to the conventional coffee model, Equal Exchange began to import coffee from Nicaragua. As a Fair Trade pioneer, Equal Exchange focused on transparency in the food system. They ensured that not only were coffee farmers getting a fair price for their products but that there was also a social premium going back to the farmers, usually organized as cooperatives, so it could better their communities.

Equal Exchange works with a variety of farmer cooperatives, but they themselves are also a worker-owned cooperative with over 125 worker-owners. Like the Monadnock Food Co-op, one owner equals one vote and the owners determine the board of directors and the future of the company through their votes.

Equal Exchange’s role as an importer and coffee roaster is extremely important. Equal Exchange works to minimize the links in the supply chain by buying directly from cooperatives of small farmers and roasting the coffee themselves to go straight to stores or cafes. The journey from bean to cup can be a long one with exploitative measures, but Equal Exchange works to create collaborations that a beneficial for all along the supply chain.

After our Equal Exchange history and coffee production session, we went on a Roaster Tour. The processing facility had that familiar smell of a local coffee shop and was bustling with activity as pallets were being loaded, coffee was being roasted, and taste tests were conducted. The Roaster and Quality Control Lab are essential for ensuring that we get the highest quality products.

Equal Exchange isn’t solely coffee. We went on a whirlwind “tour” of their products: chocolate, tea, dried fruits, nuts, olive oil, bananas, and avocados. A bizarre combination of products to some, but carefully chosen in an attempt to improve conditions within those supply chains.

After a quick game of cornhole, we went in to our last session: the Action Forum. The Action Forum is a newer organization within Equal Exchange. Their vision is of “a vibrant community of citizen-consumers working together to deepen our collective understanding of issues in our food system and taking action where strategic” and was created as a way to create a connection with consumers and farmers in a way that is meaningful and can result in positive change within our global food system.

We left with a deeper understanding of how Equal Exchange improves the life of their partners, the process their products go through to get to our store and your tables, and a slight coffee buzz. Thanks for hosting us Equal Exchange!