Equal Exchange started with an idea: what if food could be traded in a way that is honest and fair, a way that empowers both farmers and consumers? Our founders – Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal and Michael Rozyne – asked this question as they envisioned a trade model that values each part of the supply chain. So they took a big risk and plunged full-force into changing a broken food system. In 1986, they started with fairly traded coffee from Nicaragua and didn’t look back.
Three decades later (and with several product lines in the mix), we still face vast challenges. Consumers have been overloaded with labels and certifications, while the Fair Trade movement has been watered down in favor of corporate interests. The whole food industry has continued to consolidate into the hands of just a few big players, allowing concentrated power and deception of choice.
Fair Trade is a voluntary program utilized by coffee importers and food companies to create an alternative market for traditionally disadvantaged producers in developing countries, usually small scale farmers. The components include:
Your purchase of fairly traded coffee helps build pride, independence and community empowerment for small farmers and their families. A coffee processing plant in El Salvador, community stores in Colombia, the training of doctors in Mexico, new schools in Peru – these are examples of initiatives co-ops have taken in their own communities with the income from Fair Trade.
All of Equal Exchange’s organic coffee is certified by Oregon Tilth. Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) is an internationally recognized symbol of organic integrity. The purpose of organic certification is to ensure that the agreed upon conventions of organic agricultural systems are being practiced not only by growers, but also by all the people who handle and process organic food on its journey to the final consumer. To accomplish this, OTCO provides a system which combines strict production standards, verifiable third party inspections and legally binding affidavits to protect the producers and buyers of organic products.
Our concern for the quality of farmers’ lives is matched by our concern for the quality of our coffee. Through our long-term relationships with the farmers and yearly visits to the co-ops, we maintain an intimate knowledge of the coffee harvest and the quality of the beans.
We have a rigorous system for quality control from bean to cup. Each pre-shipment sample is evaluated to meet our standards. When the approved shipment arrives, it is evaluated again for consistency and preparation. After each coffee is roasted, it is individually “cupped” to ensure consistency in the roast and the flavor profile needed for that particular coffee.
Most teas come from large plantations where workers have little say. Our delicious organic, Fair Trade teas are sourced from small-scale farmer co-ops in India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. We are helping to build a different system that values the voice of small farmers, their products, and democracy in trade.
Equal Exchange tea, bag, tag and string are compostable. Or if tea leaves are removed, the bag, string and tag can be recycled. No glue or staples are used in our tea bags.
Our Fair Trade chocolate bars are rich in flavor with a smooth, creamy texture that melts in your mouth. Our organic cacao and sugar are sourced directly from small-scale farmers co-ops in Latin America.
At Equal Exchange we believe that we should expect no less from ourselves and each other than we demand of our farmer partners. For that reason we have organized ourselves as a democratic worker cooperative, now one of the largest in the country.
A worker cooperative is an alternative for-profit structure based upon standard democratic principles. It is not designed to maximize profits, nor returns to investors, but rather to bring to the workplace many of the rights and responsibilities that we hold as citizens in our communities.
It all started in 1988. We were a handful of Midwest family farmers fed up with the state of American agriculture. Family farms were going extinct. Our friends and neighbors were discarded by a bankrupt agricultural system, and we were told to “get big, or get out!” Industrial, chemical farming was the only existing option for survival; never mind its effects on our health, our animals, and our environment.
But we didn’t want to be industrial, chemical farmers, and we didn’t want to be at the mercy of corporate agriculture. We had to do something. So one farmer, George Siemon, put up posters calling us to band together, and we did. Family farmers filled the county courthouse (photo below) and we all agreed: there had to be a better way—a more sustainable way—to continue farming in a way that protects the land, animals, economy and people’s health. And that’s how our farmer-owned cooperative was born, with George as CEIEIO.
Before a year had passed, we started selling organic dairy, and people could tell the difference. Our local communities began choosing our premium, organic milk over other options, and we realized that we were certainly right about one thing—people wanted quality food.
Organic Prairie meats are produced by our independent cooperative of organic family farms. We are pioneers of the organic meat industry. We began producing our delicious meats—without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides—back in 1996. We insisted on third-party organic meat certification long before federal organic standards were established. We were the first in the industry to ban animal by-products from our cattle’s diet, and we played a vital role in shaping federal organic meat certification standards—the strictest in the industry.
When you spend your milk money on Organic Valley, we give you fresh food you can trust. It all comes from the family farms of our cooperative. With your support, we make real changes in the world one small step—and farm—at a time.
At Organic Valley, we like to keep things honest and simple. Like dairy produced with no added hormones, antibiotics or toxic pesticides. Produce grown the organic way, with none of the toxins or synthetic fertilizers. And cheese made by farmers and artisans who care about the environment, the animals and you—our customers.
Organic Prairie farmers are committed to providing your family with the healthiest, most wholesome meat, raised humanely in accordance with organic principles and practices—respecting the dignity and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil and global life. We know that meat produced organically is the safest, best choice for our families, and we’re proud to make it available for yours to enjoy!
Many thanks to Siete Family Foods founder, Veronica Garza for answering our questions about their business.
Siete was formed when my family and I embarked on a health journey that included exercising together and adopting a low-inflammation, grain free diet, to help alleviate the autoimmune conditions I had been experiencing. As a Mexican-American, I grew up eating tortillas on a daily basis, and I have many wonderful memories of visiting my grandmother, always being welcomed with a batch of homemade flour tortillas. Eating gluten free and grain free meant that all tortillas were literally off the table for my family and me. While this may seem trivial, it wasn’t for us. In a way it felt like we were excluded from a part of our culture that we loved, being able to partake in delicious Mexican food. To fill this “tortilla void,” I experimented in the kitchen and developed a tortilla that we could eat. Over the next few years I modified the recipe numerous times, producing the first product we put to market, a grain free, gluten free, almond flour tortilla. I made them on weekends for many years, sharing them with my family and friends. In 2014 my family and I decided that we wanted to share our tortillas with more people outside of our circle of family and friends, so we found a buyer (Wheatsville!) for our products and started a business.
We make grain free Mexican-American food, utilizing nutrient dense, real food ingredients as much as possible. Our tortillas are currently made with ingredients such as almonds, coconut flour, cassava, chia seeds, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Our tortilla chips are made with cassava and coconut flour and cooked in avocado oil. All of our products have been created because they filled a void either in our own diets or for our core consumers. We sell products that we love to eat and hope that our customers feel the same way.
At Siete we try to make products that are as inclusive as possible. We’ve designed our products to allow people with a variety of diets, dietary restrictions, and backgrounds to gather around the table to enjoy Mexican-American foods. Currently, all of our products are gluten free, grain free, vegan-friendly, paleo-friendly and verified by the non-GMO Project.
With all of our products, taste and quality are paramount. We care about what we put in our bodies and, because of that, we’ve gone to great lengths to scrutinize and carefully select every ingredient that goes into our products. I personally oversee all of our product development and spend the majority of my time testing the perfect combination of ingredients and finding the best partners to source ingredients from, all to offer our customers products we can be extremely proud of.
After years of making an almond flour tortilla for friends and family out of my kitchen in Laredo, Texas, we decided to turn a recipe into a business. In 2014, I made a batch of tortillas, put them in a ziplock bag, and drive from Laredo to Austin to approach the buyer at Wheatsville Food Co-op. The grocery buyer loved them and asked how soon they could start selling them. We had no business, no brand name, and no idea how to start a food business. My mother, brother (Miguel), and I joined forces and within a couple of months had our first product on the shelves. We started off by renting space at a commercial kitchen in Austin, driving up from Laredo every weekend to make tortillas by hand and then deliver them to Wheatsville. Since then the rest of my family members have come onboard to help move Siete along on its mission to becoming a healthy Mexican American food brand.
Before starting Siete Family Foods we had zero experience in the food industry. Wheatsville was instrumental in helping us get our start. Knowing we were just getting started as a business, the buyer provided guidance on many of the steps we had to take to get our products on the shelf. We love the warm, welcoming feel we get when walking into Wheatsville as customers and now as vendors/partners that have the privilege of selling our products to their customers.
Many thanks to Jessica Holten for answering our questions!
Jacques Holten and his daughter Jessica started Sjaak's Organic Chocolates in 2003, after discussing their passion for organic foods, they both felt like it was the right direction to go. They wanted to create a delicious chocolate that was also organic, thus being healthier for the consumer, farm workers and the earth.
Jacques has been creating culinary confections since the age of 12, when he began trade school in his native country of Holland. We joke that he has been making chocolate forever, which is somewhat true. He has been in the confectionery and culinary industry most of his life; either working for himself in various businesses or for chocolate houses throughout Europe.
The Sjaak’s logo is rooted deep in family history. Jacques, the owner and creator of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates, was born in the Netherlands and grew up next door to the family grain mill. The original wind mill that is represented in the Sjaak’s logo was named Antonius Mollen, a family name to this day. This mill was destroyed in World War II, but it was replaced by a mechanical mill. The tulip in the forefront is iconic of Holland, the largest producers of tulips in the world.
Most importantly, what sets Sjaak's Organic Chocolates aside is taste. We pride ourselves on creating incredibly delicious chocolates. Sjaak's is also completely organic, vegan, kosher and is a small family owned and operated business.
All of Sjaak's ingredients are organic, therefore non-GMO. We use Fair trade cocoa and sugar. Sjaak's Organic Chocolates aims to create the highest quality gourmet organic chocolates possible while simultaneously supporting a positive work environment, fair trade practices and encouraging sustainable agriculture through the use of organic, non-GMO ingredients. It is also the goal of Sjaak's Organic Chocolates to build a socially responsible, profitable business that can be carried on for generations to come.
All of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates are vegan products, including chocolate bars, gift boxes and Holiday treats. This means they contain no animal ingredients, such as milk, butter, eggs, and gelatin. We have created a vegan 'Melk' chocolate that that is completely dairy free and is delicious! Even the sugar that we use is non bone char. Our products are certified Kosher by Earth Kosher.
Big Swig balances thirst-quenching bubbles and fresh flavor for a crushable beverage enjoyed any time of day. The can is bold but the bubbles are refreshing, not overwhelming. It’s perfect for hydrating during a weekend at Zilker Park, a weekday lunch, a night out, and everything in between. Anywhere around Austin, Big Swig sparkling water brings a bubbly zip and burst of flavor, delivering Texas-Sized refreshment. Crack one open!
Big Swig Sparkling Water is available in 12-packs of 12oz can.
Original Sparkling Water — A timeless classic. Like a good pair of blue jeans, our Original Sparkling Water always feels right and goes with just about anything.
Key Lime — Sparkling water with a refreshing zip to get you up and running. Light, bubbly, and delicious without any calories, sugar, or worries.
Ruby Red Grapefruit — A sparkling citrus explosion, with a hint of sweetness. Made with no sweeteners, no calories, and no bull—but plenty of love and care.
Mike McKim started roasting coffee as a hobby in 1998 and immediately knew
that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Cuvée Coffee pioneered the specialty coffee movement in Texas and is considered one of the best roasters in the country.
The business has gone from a part time, garage enterprise to a coffee roastery, cold brewery and coffee bar. It has also become a place where passionate coffee people have an opportunity to build a career in the coffee industry.
Cuvée pioneered specialty coffee in Texas, was part of the Direct Trade coffee sourcing movement and introduced the world to nitro cold brew, so it’s safe to say that the company is constantly considering what’s next.
That you carry Cuvée Coffee, of course :)
SEEKING OUT EXCELLENCE
Through diligent tasting, communication, and good old fashioned searching, Cuvée has sought out the very best in quality coffees. Beyond just the beans, we’re honored to have surrounded ourselves with grower-partners who see the same in us, and strive to be the very best.
Through open discussion, and mutually fair agreements, we ensure that the people behind our coffees are able to sustain themselves, their families, and grow their businesses. Allowing for their return year after year, producing your favorite coffees!
BUSINESS THROUGH CONTINUED TRUST
With such amazing partners working alongside Cuvée, and the trust in our continued connection, growers have the confidence and assurance to improve, test, experiment, and evolve themselves to produce unique coffees, which we proudly share unto you.
As part of Wheatsville’s BIG Direction, we work to grow relationships with local farmers, creating good local jobs and providing more local, sustainably grown food for our shoppers with the end result a happier, healthier Austin. One of our key partners in this endeavor is Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Owner Brenton Johnson started this farm in his tiny Holly Street backyard back in 2004. Now the farm sits on 186 acres just east of downtown right along the Colorado River. JBG vegetables are 100% organic, meaning no toxic compounds for you or your family. During the height of the growing season, literally dozens of vegetables from JBG are available at Wheatsville seven days a week: sweet carrots, deep green heads of broccoli, bundles of greens of all kinds, beautiful, glossy zucchini and mounds of root vegetables are a treat for the eye and the taste buds. You can even pickup your CSA share at either of the Wheatsville locations, making a one-stop shopping experience.
1. Why did you decide to farm in Austin?
I didn’t really decide to farm in Austin... it kind of happened by accident! While working for the government in Wyoming, I came to Austin on a business trip and immediately feel in love with the culture. When I was looking for a place to move, Austin seemed like the great fit! I moved to Austin, and so naturally my hobby moved with me--gardening. When I moved into a house on Holly Street, I started a garden and slowly started bringing my produce to the Downtown Farmers’ market to make a few extra bucks. This hobby got a little out of control, and over the course of a few years, gardening turned into farming, and our CSA was born.
2. What new produce items are you growing or planning to grow?
We love to try and grow new varieties.. it helps keep things interesting around here! This year, we planted over 100 pecan trees at the farm, over 100 Asian persimmons, as well as a lot of pears, figs, and pomegranates.We also planted some Muscadines– a grape variety that is native to the Southern U.S. In the Southeast (where I’m from), Muscadines are used to make wine, preserves, and even fresh juice. Because they’re a native species, they are really resilient and pest resistant. This year we also planted lots of new pepper varieties. This past summer season, we also tried a lot of new tomato varieties (and planted over 50,000 plants!), many of which made their way onto the Wheatsville shelves as well as the deli. We had a lot of success with some of the new cherry and slicing tomato varieties we tried out, and they will make their way into our crop plans for years to come.
3. What is your favorite produce that is in season in October?
Some of my October favorites include sweet potatoes, collards, okra, hot peppers.. maybe you can see a theme? I really like all the produce that lends itself well to Southern cooking. Right now, I’m battling a hot pepper addiction. This year, we went a little crazy with peppers and planted a ton of new varieties, many of which are Arc of Taste varieties that Slow Food International is working to promote and preserve for future generations. Some of these include Hinklehatz, Cherry Bomb, Beaver Dam, Jimmy Nardello (Anaheim), Wenk’s Yellow Hot, Sheepnose Pimento, and Texas Bird’s Eye Pequin.
4. What are your biggest crops?
Our biggest crops are kale and carrots.
5. What are your favorite things about Wheatsville Co-op?
This is a hard one! We love Wheatsville for so many reasons, all stemming from the fact that you guys are one of our best customers. Your commitment to buying locally is like a huge hug from the Austin community—even in the hardest seasons, we know that you guys will be there to buy our produce and help get seasonal produce into hungry Austin mouths. We love that you guys are able to provide such a unique grocery-store experience on the store-front side (with amazing customer service), and then also provide such an enjoyable experience working with your produce buyers from the “back-end”. You are always willing to listen to our needs as farmers, and are always there as a reliable outlet for our produce--even helping us push produce that isn’t the most popular. We love that when we make deliveries or even stop in the store as customers, we always end up getting to sample fresh fruit. We also love that local agriculture makes the list of local causes you guys support (like your support of Farmshare Austin).. you truly put your money where your mouth is, and are constantly giving back to the Austin community. Last but certainly not least, we love that you guys host a CSA Pickup for us on Thursdays and Fridays.
Thanks to Ada Broussard, JBG’s CSA and Marketing Manager, who facilitated getting answers to our questions. Photos by David Scott Gordon.