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The World’s Largest Fair Trade Produce Display

by Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director

Yep, you read that right—from October 11 through the 13, in celebration of both Fair Trade Month and Owner Appreciation week, Willy Street Co-op staff will be setting up the world’s largest display of Fair Trade produce. It’s not every day you get to witness a world record— especially one with such a great cause, so come check it out!

So... why are we doing this exactly? 

First, because it’s fun! For those of us who work in the Produce department, this kind of display-building opportunity represents an exciting challenge that goes beyond our everyday fruit stacking. We don’t often get to contemplate the detailed logistics of piling bananas and avocados to the ceiling! 

Second, we’re doing this because we want to draw attention to the Fair Trade system, and we’re hopeful that this event will do just that. In the rush of everyday life, it can be hard for any of us to stop and contemplate how our purchase of seemingly mundane items like bananas and avocados affects the lives of people across the world; but when you’re confronted with the world’s largest Fair Trade produce display, it’s tough to ignore!

Lastly, we are using this event to announce a new purchasing commitment: going forward, we plan to source Fair Trade-certified avocados as our primary supply. As many of our Owners know, we’ve been selling Fair Trade bananas for years now. Fair Trade bananas were unique for a long time in their availability and consistency, making it possible for us to carry them almost all the time. In the past few years, Fair Trade avocados have become more available, and we are now ready to make the switch! Though we can’t promise that we’ll have supply 100% of the time (even avocados are a seasonal fruit in the places that they grow!), we expect to be able to offer them as the majority of the avocados we sell year-round. 

Why Fair Trade? 

We believe that Fair Trade products extend the same intention that we have when we offer local products from our local area to communities around the world. We will never have local bananas and avocados, but our customers buy lots of them. By purchasing Fair Trade at your Co-op, you can be sure that your purchase is helping preserve and maintain healthy farming communities worldwide, not just locally.

Fair Trade System

The Fair Trade system has four main components. Though the specifics differ for each commodity, there are standards for all Fair Trade commodities (coffee, chocolate, bananas, avocados, etc.) that fall within each of these four areas:

Minimum Price: This is the most foundational part of the Fair Trade system. For all Fair Trade products, farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for the products they grow, regardless of the whims of the global market. 

Environmental Standards: Fair Trade standards include an emphasis on maintaining the health of the ecosystems and communities where Fair Trade products are grown. Soil health, water conservation, resilience to climate change, and habitat preservation are all included.

Working Conditions: Unlike organic certification, Fair Trade goes beyond the way food is grown, and takes into account the health and well-being of the people who grow it. These standards include things like gender equality, adequate facilities for workers, paid maternity leave, and the right of association of workers.

Premium: Fair Trade products all have a monetary premium that is paid to the growers above and beyond the minimum price. This amount varies by country and commodity. For example, Certified Organic bananas from Peru and Ecuador have a $1.00 per 40lb box premium attached. Organic Avocados from Mexico have a 12¢/kilo premium, which works out to roughly $1.36 per box of 60 avocados. 

This premium money is given back to farmers and farm workers to be used democratically, with the dictate that it be spent on community projects that better the farmers and farmworkers, their families, and their communities. 

Willy Street Co-op’s Impact

All of this is well and good, but what does it mean for us here at Willy Street Co-op? In short, you may be surprised by how much collective good we are accomplishing with the Fair Trade products that are already sold through our three stores. 

Take bananas as an example. In 2018, our three locations sold a total of 10,182 boxes of Fair Trade bananas, a little more than 400,000 pounds. Not only did those purchases support farmers and workers via the Fair Trade minimum price and other standards, but they generated $10,182 in Fair Trade premium money that went directly back to the farming communities that grew those bananas. Multiply this by the bananas we’ve sold in the 10-plus years we’ve been carrying Fair Trade and you can see that our impact is not insignificant. And, as our banana sales grow, so does the amount of Fair Trade premium that we’re giving back. 

When we think about adding Fair Trade avocados, our impact grows even farther. Last year, the Willy Street Co-op Produce departments sold 5,600 boxes of avocados (that’s more than 336,000 individual avocados)! This translates to $7,616 that we could have generated in Fair Trade premium money —and that we will be generating in future years with the switch to Fair Trade. 

So all together, we’re looking at close to $20,000 in Fair Trade premium dollars flowing directly from Willy Street Co-op customers to farmers and farmworkers in one year alone just with bananas and avocados. When you add other Fair Trade commodities like coffee, chocolate, sugar, and others, and when you consider the impact over many years, the impact grows dramatically.

The best part? None of this is charity, or something that any of us has to remember to do outside of our normal routine. It’s wrapped into our everyday grocery purchases when we choose to buy Fair Trade products.

I will leave you with a few examples of how one small banana farmer  Co-op in Ecuador, AsoGuabo, chose to use their premium dollars in 2018. AsoGuabo has 130 farmer members, growing Fair Trade-certified bananas that are ultimately packaged under the Equal Exchange label. These are the same Equal Exchange bananas you will find in our stores. Remember that $10,182 in banana premium we generated in 2018? This is where it went! 

AsoGrabo built a health clinic near their offices that is open to farmers, farm workers, and community members several days per week. 

Premium money paid the salary of a physical therapist to work with kids with disabilities in the community. 

Construction of a roof for a community school. AsoGuabo members plan to use some of next year’s premium money to build a playground for this same school. 

Support for the Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Cooking School—AsoGuabo purchased a fridge and an oven to support this women’s incubator catering business. 

Construction of a potable water plant to bring safe water to an impoverished community in the area.