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March/April 2016


6 Introducingnewproducemanagers inRochesterandLaCrosse 8 Localfarmerprofile:DaveMiles 10 Internationalorganiccertification &thelongjourneyofyourbanana 13 Internationalfarmerprofile: VicenteNima





Details on page 13



The voyage of the banana

Equal Exchange bananas: do you know where your banana’s been? erification is a big part of the organic story at People’s Food Co-op. When it comes to locally produced items, verifying the organic quality is fairly straightforward. We know the producer personally and may even have visited the farm where the items are grown —or the facilities where the processing is done. But what about international organic produce? What sort of certification and safeguards are in place for international trade in organics? In this issue of the newsletter we look at the mechanism of international organic certification and tell the story of the long journey of one of our organic products.


Vicente’s bananas, now sealed in a numbered and internationally registered shipping container, left Peru from the port of Paita on December 18. The ship sailed through the Panama Canal to New York, arriving on December 29—a journey of 11 days.


In New York, after U.S. customs officials checked the containers for tampering or contamination, J & J Trucking picked up the shipment and drove it to St. Paul, Minnesota. Dylan Beardall of J & J confirms that Vicente’s bananas were in St. Paul on New Year’s Day. J & J specializes in produce shipping and has several organic-certified, temperature-controlled rooms to ensure timely ripening of the many boxes of bananas it transports.

This is a case study of the journey of an organic banana to People’s Food Co-op from a farmers’ cooperative in northern Peru. While clearly it’s impractical to send your newsletter team to South America, we were able to track a good deal of information about our tropical banana without leaving wintry Wisconsin and Minnesota.

After three days ripening in St. Paul, J & J delivered the bananas to the Co-op Partners Warehouse in St. Paul, a certified organic distributor. At Co-op Partners, Vicente’s case of bananas was loaded on a truck with four other cases, and other organic produce items and delivered to PFC on January 6.

In mid-January, Roger Bertsch, of PFC La Crosse’s produce department, pulled a packing label from a case of Equal Exchange bananas for me and I called Equal Exchange with the numbers from the label. Within a day our supplier had gotten back to me with the information that the bananas in our store on had been picked by a small farmer, Vicente Laureano Nima, in Northern Peru on December 15 [see Mr. Nima’s story on page 13]. Vicente is a member of AMPROBOSH, a small-farmers’ cooperative in Peru. Workers at the co-op washed, packed, and labeled the bananas for Equal Exchange in preparation for the journey to the U.S.

At PFC, the bananas were stored in the cooler or at room temperature, allowing them to ripen as sales required. Roger Bertsch reports that he’ll go through four 40-pound cases of Equal Exchange bananas in one day. The day Roger handed me the packing label from the case of bananas was January 12, less than one month from the day that Vicente picked those bananas in the Huangala area of Peru.


January ➏ LaCros

Vicente Nim Food Co-op

Vicen te packin Nima’s g labe l.

We spoke with Jessica Jones-Hughes from Equal Exchange about how the farmers’ cooperatives the company works with maintain organic standards. Jessica explained that there are many people at the farmers’ cooperatives involved in ensuring that organic standards are met— besides administrators, the co-ops also have ‘tecnicos’ on staff to watch for quality control problems and best practices. “There are also outside certification people who check throughout the year,” Jessica said. “We’ve had only one or two cases of noncompliance with organic standards, and those were cases of pesticide drift from neighboring farms. The valleys are full of banana farms right next to each other. It’s very unfortunate for the organic farmer to lose Continued next page.


The bananas go to Co-op P St. Paul, where they are load with other organic produce


Equal Exchange works only with small organic farms that are organized into cooperatives. In any given week Equal Exchange may ask for a shipping container (about 40,000 pounds of bananas) or more from one of these co-ops. The co-ops in turn parcel out the order to the small organic farmers, who harvest the fruit and bring it to the washing and packing station. The bananas are washed, boxed, and stickered at the growers’ co-op. Every step is certified and monitored for organic practice.


January 5: ➎ St.Paul,Minnesota.

201 6

18 December: ➋ Paita,Peru.

Vicente’s bananas a shipping container, sealed and loaded courtesy of Equal E

continued from previous page. certification, after all the effort and investment put into going organic.”

First week of January: ➍ St.Paul,Minnesota.

St.Paul, Minnesota

Partners Warehouse in ded on a delivery truck bound for PFC.

Vicente Nima’s bananas arrive in St. Paul on 1 January and are kept for several days in this temperature-controlled ripening room. Photo courtesy of J & J Trucking.




➌ NewyorkPort authority

“Roger [PFC’s organic produce clerk] is the last quality control player in the link,” Jessica said. “If the bananas show up too ripe, or gray, we can use that tracking information label and go back to the farmer and find out if there’s an issue with the water, or the packers, or if it’s a mold problem we need to address.”

December 29: NewyorkPortauthority. Vicente Nima’s bananas arrive in the U.S. The bananas go through customs and are loaded on a truck for shipment to St. Paul, a three-day trip.

6: se,wisconsin. ma’s bananas arrive at People’s p!

The history of the banana industry has been a tragic one for the people who actually grow and harvest the fruit. Besides being a model of organic transparency, Equal Exchange’s fair trade practice supports a better life for the farmers who grow the fruit—and healthy, pesticide-free food for the folks at People’s Food Co-op. If you want to learn more about the history of the banana, Equal Exchange recommends the documentary “Beyond the Seal” found here: —Kevin Ducey

15 December: ➊ Huangalaarea,Sullana,Peru. Vicente Nima (below) harvests and packs the bananas. Photo courtesy of Vicente Nima.

Huangalaarea, Sullana,Peru


are loaded into a , and the container is on a freighter. Photo Exchange. PEOPLE ’S FOOD CO-OP




International Organics

SMALL FARMERS IN A BIG WORLD FC visited with Jim Riddle, organic research grant program coordinator for Ceres Trust and founding president of the International Organic Inspectors Association, to discuss international organic certification systems. In the 1990s, Jim was coauthor of the International Organic Inspection Manual and was instrumental in development of the U.S. National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. Implementation of the NOP was a decade-long endeavor that ensured that growers and consumers of organic products can have confidence in the integrity of the organic label.


“Key to the integrity of the organic system was the need to be able to audit the product back to the farm,” Jim notes. Another key was the training of certification technicians around the world. “Empowering the local certification system ensures fundamental traceability throughout the industry.” Once a growers’ cooperative decides to seek certification, the operation has to implement an internal control system, which includes an internal inspector who visits each producer every year and an education program for group members to make sure that they

understand and follow organic requirements. Records are kept of training activities and these are reviewed annually by outside inspectors, who verify that the internal control systems and organic requirements are being followed. The co-op’s internal Jim Riddle. control people train, make field visits, and review records of the group’s farmers. Also, external inspectors competent in that system of agriculture make random site visits to ensure that the local implementation of organic practices is up to standards. Some targeted visits may also be made. If farmers do not meet the organic standards, they’re removed from the program—the farms may have been contaminated with wind drift from a neighboring farm spraying pesticide, for example. “As far as I know,” Jim says, “there isn’t fraudulent practice. Why would there be? The farmers see the real benefits of compliance to organic standards, and there’s peer pressure from the group to comply.” Organic certification extends beyond the farm, however. “It’s important that the rest of the supply chain remain transparent,” Jim notes. “There is a high motivation for fraud if you don’t audit throughout the supply chain.” You want to be sure that that organic product doesn’t mysteriously double in volume after it leaves the farm and makes its way to market. U.S. agriculture is somewhat behind in the development of organic farms compared to other industrialized nations. The U.S. has a fraction of the number of organic farms compared to, say, Germany. As organic agriculture increases around the world, maintaining the integrity of farm practices and transport logistics is becoming standard procedure.

organicandfreetrade The organic certification agreements between the U.S. and other countries are based on the strong language embedded in the USDA Organic Standards, so multilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), now working its way through Congress should probably not affect international organic certification, though Jim notes that such an agreement may undermine country-of-origin labeling (COOL) or GMO labeling practices.






Vicente Laureano Nima

BANANA FARMER FROM PERU hen PFC first contacted Equal Exchange with the packing label from our case of bananas, they were able to tell us where the bananas were grown, when they were harvested, and who was the farmer (Vicente Nima). We followed up, sending a list of questions to Mr. Nima about his farm and life in Peru. Not long after, we received the following letter from the farmers’ cooperative to which Mr. Nima belongs .— editor.


Vicente Laureano Nima is the oldest of nine siblings. He had just completed 6th grade when, at the age of 12, he started farming with his father. Today, his father is still alive and is 90 years old. As a child, Vicente worked hard to help his parents raise their nine children. In addition to farming, he worked as a street vendor selling candy. With that income, his family bought school supplies, food, and medicine. Later, he switched to selling nonfood items like cigarettes and newspapers, but that was never enough income for the family of eleven. Today, Vicente is a small-scale banana farmer and a member of AMPROBOSH (Asociación de Microproductores de Banano Orgánico Sector Huangala). He has been a

member of this co-op for 13 years. Vicente inherited his father’s land, a half hectare (approximately 1.2 acres), where he grows organic bananas. Vicente says: “This is ancestral land that was passed on to me by my father. This land allows me to feed my family and provide an education for my three children. Because of all this, the land is blessed for me.”

AMPROBOSH in 2002. In 2003, AMPROBOSH became a member of CEPIBO, the secondary co-op that exports fruit to Europe and the United States. Vicente learned that by working together as a co-op, it was possible to face many problems that plague small-scale farmers. Now, Vicente is a board member of AMPROBOSH and is working to improve the living conditions for his family and his community. Vicente’s dream is to build a hospital for the town and provide opportunities for young people to get an education. Vicente does not want his children to abandon the land because of a lack of opportunities.

In his early years, Vicente planted corn, cotton, and conventional bananas for the local markets. But these crops were not profitable. In 1999, a project initiated by the Peruvian Department of Agriculture introduced organic bananas to the valley in Chira. At the very beginning, the farmers in Chira sold bananas to Dole, who were paying the farmers less than their production costs. Vicente and other local farmers decided to create a co-op in order to access markets with better and fairer prices—or at least to earn what they had invested in their land. They heard that as a co-op, they could receive technical assistance, credit access, and fair buyers. Together, the farmers had a shared commitment to develop their land, Vicente Laureano Nima (far right), one of the their families, and their communities. With that in mind, Vicente and other small scale farmers created

banana growers working with Equal Exchange and PFC to bring you fairly traded, organic bananas. Photo courtesy of Vicente Nima.

Hey kids and adults! PFC Explorer Club in La Crosse and Rochester is up and running! The Explorer Club issues every kid 12 and under a passport, an official card, temporary tattoo, and a free banana every time s(he) comes in the store! Sign up at customer service, flash the card every time, get a sticker to wear in the store, and the free Equal Exchange banana will be in the produce department! PEOPLE ’S FOOD CO-OP




Profile for People's Food Co-op

People's food co op mar apr 2016 edit  

PFC newsletter of EE banana story only

People's food co op mar apr 2016 edit  

PFC newsletter of EE banana story only