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Revolutionize the Food System with P6!
By Abby Rae LaCombe, EFC Member, P6 Coordinator and Produce Shift Lead
Cooperatives have long led the way in developing a fairer, more just food economy. For generations, conscious citizens have banded together through consumer co-ops like Eastside to build an economy that supports sustainable, environmentally sound food production, fair prices and safe work conditions for growers, and the ingenuity of independent producers form. Through co-ops, we've made much progress in the last fifty years by bringing to the front of the food dialogue the importance of organics, the value of buying local, and the impact of a fair trade economy. Yet with these successes has come the awareness of how much we have yet to accomplish. Government policies favor agribusiness and large multinationals who then borrow, steal and water down co-op initiatives, turning "organic," "local," "fair trade," and recently "co-op" into marketing ruses that leave good intentioned consumers feeling deceived and disenfranchised, not knowing what initiatives, labels and brands they should trust. As consumers, we are the most powerful link in the chain of our economy. Every dollar we spend is a vote for social justice, for sustainable agriculture, for independent producers, and for the belief that together we accomplish more. We should ask ourselves “who is benefiting from my purchases? Is this a vote that I can be proud of today, tomorrow, a generation from now?" But it can be exhausting to be the educated consumer. Who has the spare hours necessary to decide which yogurt or which peanut butter best reflects the food values we are attempting to support? At the pace our market moves it is a lifelong, full-time job to keep encouraging the companies you love to remain companies your grandchildren will love. ”Dear Favorite Local and Independent Company, please don't sell out!” This stress is felt not just by consumers, but by the farmers and producers who are growing organics, purchasing fair trade ingredients, and working hard to sustain an economy that promotes honest, fair production. In response to these difficult challenges Equal Exchange (a worker-owned cooperative that assists in the development of and creates a market place for independent farmer
co-ops) partnered with six US food cooperatives to develop what is termed “P6”. P6, named for the 6th Rochdale Principle, cooperation amongst co-ops, is an exciting initiative that seeks to leverage the power of co-ops by highlighting the products and companies that meet our highest values: local, independent, cooperative or non-profit.
The aim of P6 is to educate and engage our members and customers about the food you purchase and the impact of your purchasing choice; ultimately, we hope to watch our purchasing decisions strengthen and create new small producer and cooperative supply chains. Simply put, our goal is to revolutionize the food system by making it easier for you, our members and customers, to vote for the equitability for all!
Eastside is honored and excited to join this initiative, which we will launch in February with a handful of our strongest P6 brands. We will continue to research the companies and foods that fill our shelves and will add new P6 items for months to come, with the hope that as P6 grows we can use the prestige associated with that title to encourage more companies to make the changes necessary to become P6 as well. P6 QUALIFICATIONS AT EASTSIDE FOOD CO-OP The guidelines set forth by P6 state that a qualifying company must meet two of the three requirements: local, independent, and cooperative or non-profit. But Eastside is adding a fourth quality that all P6 companies must meet: equity at every step of production; we want to know that each P6 brand is doing all it can to help build a fair food economy. Additionally, we are reassessing what the terms “local, independent, and co-operative” mean to us, working to ensure that we are doing due diligence to promote and protect the integrity of these terms in our selection of P6 products.
LOCAL A local P6 product at Eastside Food Co-op means a product that is from Minnesota or within a 200 mile radius of Eastside. Local brands must aim to source ingredients regionally or from equitable sources, such as co-operatives from outside of the Upper Midwest. Products like coffees, teas, or chocolates that must be sourced of out the United States, must be fair trade certified by a reputable fair trade organization. Additionally, all animal products must be sourced from humanely treated animals. INDEPENDENT An independent producer or farmer is one whose business is independently owned and operated and whose goods are sold directly to Eastside or through one of our locally owned warehouses. An independent producer must aim to source their ingredients regionally, from a fair trade source, or from a producer co-op when able and all animal products must be humanely sourced. COOPERATIVE or NONPROFIT Eastside will research all cooperatives and non-profit food companies to ensure that those organizations are doing their best to support a fair food system and to represent their members in an equitable and democratic manner. It is all well and good to attempt to define these standards, but perhaps the best way to illustrate the values we are attempting to highlight is to introduce you to a few of our P6 companies that embody these ethics.
- Equal Exchange: Independent, Cooperative. Equal Exchange is a worker owned cooperative based in Massachusetts that formed in 1986 in response to the question "what if food could be traded in a way that is honest and fair, a way that empowers both farmers and consumers?" Their crusade began in Nicaragua and now includes farmers on four continents and in 19 countries. Their efforts to create an equitable marketplace have redefined many US trade policies and they've helped to create enough market pressure to demand consistent Fair Trade certification standards, and ultimately their efforts help to empower independent farmers around the globe. Twenty-five years years since their foundation, Equal Exchange offers high quality, fair trade coffees, teas, bananas, cocoa and chocolate, sugar, almonds and olive oil and they intend to keep going! They actively educate retailers and consumers about pressing issues facing farmers around the globe and work hard to forge strong partnerships that will redefine our food system. www.equalexchange.coop
- Organic Valley: Local, Independent, Cooperative. Organic Valley Co-op was formed in 1988 in Southwestern Wisconsin and has grown to include 1,658 independent, small, family farms in at least twenty states. Their website includes biographies of many of the Organic Valley farm families who raise the laying hens, dairy cows, and fresh fruits and vegetables that stock Eastside's shelves. They are passionate about sustainability in all realms: water, soil, independent farms, employee well-being, and on and on. Organic Valley is also a great information hub and grassroots lobbying group, putting many resources into sharing information about pertinent issues facing the food industry. www.organicvalley.coop
- 1000 Hills Cattle Co.: Local, Independent. Todd Churchill of Cannon Falls, MN and founder of 1000 Hills, thought after years of underwhelming beef-eating experiences that he would never enjoy steak again. An article on the modern beef industry written by Michael Pollan prompted Churchill to meet with grass-fed cattle ranchers around the world and bring what he had learned home to Minnesota. Thousand Hills is now a leader in the natural food movement, sharing information about the environmental and dietary benefits of naturally raised, grass-fed cattle. Thousand Hills assists independent farmers across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa in restoring their land to natural pastures that prevent erosion and provide a delicious grazing experience. Their pastures have a diverse array of grasses and legumes and no exposure to pesticides or herbicides; winter feeds are strictly regulated to reflect the natural dietary needs of the cattle. Thousand Hills encourages farmers to now wean calves nine months, and expects that cattle be kept in open fields for their entire 16-24 month life. Thousand Hills cattle are slaughtered at Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, the only meat packing plant in the country with viewing windows of the kill-floor so consumers can personally insure humane animal handling and safe worker conditions. Both Thousand Hills and Lorentz encourage consumer awareness about the food system by hosting free open-houses. www.thousandhillscattleco.com
- Wisconsin Growers: Local, Independent, Cooperative Wisconsin Growers is a cooperative of twenty Amish family farms in central and southwestern Wisconsin formed in 2006. All of their farms are either certified organic or raised chemical free. Eastside sells Wisconsin Grower eggs, which are absolutely delicious, and boat loads of Wisconsin Grower produce. Their industrious work ethic and high regard for the soil enables them to sell us produce nearly every month of the year. They are always one of the first to have spinach, lettuce, and other spring crops available, and much of the squash, onion and root selection available throughout the winter is from the Wisconsin Growers. They use no fossil fuels in their farming practices, utilizing real horse power and illustrating the strength of human-scale production techniques.