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Equal Exchange Fair Trade Avocados Pragor Co-op Michoacan, Mexico

In September of 2013, Equal Exchange imported their first container of Fair Frade organic avocados from PRAGOR, a producer coop in Michoacan, Mexico. Equal Exchange visited them that summer and saw the challenges they were facing as small-scale producers, despite the increase in demand for avocados from Mexico. The stories they shared demonstrated the need for a trade model that is drastically different from the way conventional Mexican avocados are grown and exported.

PRAGOR is a cooperative of 20 producer members who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. Many of the members transitioned to organic 15 or more years ago, a revolutionary move at the time. At Equal Exchange, we have seen that when farmers own their own land, they are more likely to take measures to ensure the environmental sustainability of the land. Owning land is inherently more empowering than working as a laborer on a plantation and provides producers with greater economic security and opportunity.

Equal Exchange believes that a truly transformative model includes:

1. Farmers owning their own land.
2. Small-scale farmers having access to the global marketplace.
3. Having the real cost of food reflected in consumer prices.
4. Connecting consumers with producers around transparent supply chains.

Alfredo Huerto Pragor Cooperative

Alfredo Huerto Avocado Grower and member of the Pragor Cooperative. Alfredo owns 8 hectares of land and lives on the land with this 3 children, wife, brothers and father. The land has been passed down through his family for many generations. They originally farmed maize(corn) on the land, and transitioned to avocados 20 years ago.  He and another Pragor member Ruben, transitioned their farms to grow organically 17 years ago, a very progressive decision at the time in Mexico. His decision to transition to organic production was inspired by the birth of his first daughter, as well as the wish for the family and community to live in a less toxic environment. Alfredo manages the farm for this family. It is a lush and beautiful farm in the mountains near Uruapan.

Bright Orange Persimmons

Fall is in the air and bright orange Fuyu persimmons have arrived and the Hachiya variety is just around the corner. There are several species of persimmons but the most common is the Japanese or Oriental persimmon, also called the D. Kaki species.  In Japan they are the national fruit and called Kaki.  There are at least six varieties of the Asian persimmon but the Fuyu and the Hachiya are the most commonly grown in the United States.

The harvest usually starts around the beginning of October and goes through December. It can extend into January if there is no winter freeze. California grows almost 100% of the persimmon crop in the United States followed by Florida, Texas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri. In California over half of the persimmons are grown in Tulare and Fresno counties.  The other main areas are Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties and a very small amount are grown in Sutter and Placer counties north of Sacramento.

Fuyu Persimmons are short, squat and non-astrigent and when ripe they have a sweet flavor with a hint of cinnamon and apricot.  You can eat them raw when they are firm or soft and they do not need to be peeled.  Fuyu’s can be eaten like an apple, cut up and eaten on their own. You may sometimes find a few seeds inside but they are easy to eat around.

Fuyu Persimmons

The Hachiya Persimmon is tapered like an acorn and has a bright reddish orange skin. It is extremely astringent and bitter when firm.  If eaten when still firm it will leave a fuzzy unpleasant feeling in your mouth. The Hachiya needs to be jelly soft before it becomes edible. When the fruit has become very soft scoop out the flesh and use it in cakes, cookies, muffins and smoothies.  An Earl’s favorite is the James Beard moist persimmon bread using soft Hachiyas. 

Ripening and Storage Tips: Persimmons unlike many fruits will keep longer if left at room temperature.  Once they are in the refrigerator, they will go soft faster and will need to be eaten quickly. Look for persimmons with smooth skin and no bruising. Persimmons are an excellent source of Vitamin A, C and fiber and full of antioxidants

Equal Exchange Fair Trade Bananas

Earl’s Organic bananas are Fair Trade Certified 365 Days A YEAR.

Equal Exchange Bananas are grown in Ecuador by small farmers under the AsoGuabo Cooperative.  Farmer cooperatives are groups of small farmers that have come together to collectively operate their businesses at a larger scale. They share resources, capital, and knowledge, democratically electing leadership and collectively making decisions. In addition to being small farmer cooperative-led, all of Equal Exchange farmer partners are certified organic and Fairtrade.


AsoGuabo is considered a pioneer in the Fairtrade banana movement. For over 20 years, this cooperative based in el Guabo, el Oro, Ecuador has produced top-quality bananas while blazing a trail for democratic organizations, locally-led community development work, and advocacy for rural communities.

Fair Trade Premium Project Highlights: Improvement of farms: adding cables, cemented lines, packhouses, bridges, biofábrica: creating “bioles” using microorganism for soil health, grants made to local educational foundations, healthcare expansion.

The story of AsoGuabo, one of Equal Exchange’s farmer partners, is a success story in grassroots organizing. In 1998, 14 small-scale banana farmers in southwest Ecuador decided to take the tremendous risk of sending one container (about 38,400 lbs) of bananas to Europe with the hope of selling it directly to a supermarket. By cutting out the middleman, they took the power back into their own hands. With the sale of this first container, the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers was born. The entrepreneurs transformed themselves from individual, marginalized growers into a democratically run organization with access to the international market.

Today, AsoGuabo is a farmer-run co-operative with 350 small-scale banana farmers. Each farmer is committed to improving quality of life for themselves and their communities. In addition to earning a fair price for their bananas, the co-op receives an additional $1 per case (approx. 40 lbs of bananas) as a Fair Trade social premium. AsoGuabo’s members voted to spend the premium on education, health care, retirement, environmental projects and infrastructure improvements. Additionally, AsoGuabo is giving back to the local and global community by sharing their highly successful cooperative model with other producer groups in Ecuador and throughout the world.

In 2019 Jonathan and Spencer from Earl’s Banana Team traveled to Ecuador as part of Equal Exchange’s annual banana delegation. The delegation consisted of Equal Exchange employees, sales members from east coast distributors and a smattering of produce managers and buyers of grocery co-ops from the Northeast states.  The delegation visited the AsoGuabo banana cooperative that supplies Equal Exchange’s banana program.  They also visited several growers including an agroforestry producer in the mountains.  They saw all operations from growing and cultivation though harvest and packing.  It was truly an educational experience. 

AsoGuabo also manages the Fair Trade funded projects which includes; school infrastructural support, water treatment, women’s vocational training, drug rehab, and much more.  Jonathan and Spencer visited an elementary school that had a new roof installed from Fair Trade funds, a small neighborhood water filtration plant and a women’s culinary school.  Lastly, they toured the Port of Bolivar, an historic banana shipping port undergoing major upgrades to allow for large shipping container vessels to load volume.

2019 Delegation visit to Asoguabo. Jonathan Kitchens, Earl’s Organic Banana Buyer,  is pictured 2 from the left

Sumano Mushroom Tour

Edhi and his brother Luis have not been farming mushrooms for very long, but their fast-growing business reveals their dedication to the craft. Formerly operating under the name Ortiz Mushrooms, Edhi left the trucking business to join his brother and rebrand the farm Sumano Mushrooms, after their family bakery in Wastonsville. The property already had some basic buildings they could use, but it took a twenty-thousand-dollar investment to create the properly insulated environment to grow mushrooms. They now have 9 year-round employees and plan to continue expanding upon their success.

While your crimini and portabella have easily accessible and industry-wide growing practices, oysters, shiitakes, and lion’s mane require a little creativity. Edhi shared that many growers are somewhat secretive with their operations, leaving the pair with the difficult task of figuring out much of their operation on their own… And it’s quite the operation!

Lions Mane Mushrooms
Oysters Mushrooms

Essentially, the task at hand is to simulate the cool, wet forest environment where mushrooms usually grow on trees, on logs, and from the soil. (Mind you, they do this in the middle of very warm San Juan Bautista). Lots of growers buy prepared mushroom-growing logs, but Edhi and Luis decided to cut costs by learning to make their own.

Starting with organic inputs, they use a machine to compress local sawdust, nutrients such as rye or wheat bran, and calcium into logs. These are then put into bags with filters, and steam-sterilized for 4 hours through a giant high-pressure autoclave. Each day, over 1900 of these bags pass into a controlled lab environment to protect from bacteria, where each is inoculated with mushroom mycelium (Edhi also grows his own inoculation spores from the best-looking mushrooms of each batch).  

Sumano makes their own mushroom logs

From there, it’s essentially a game of rotation and waiting. While each mushroom is different, the long-incubating shiitake takes 12 weeks for the mycelium to fully saturate the log. Oysters and Lion’s Mane are quicker, at around 5 weeks. This long waiting period explains the higher price, along with the difficulty of controlling potential contamination: small bag punctures, exposure to bacteria, along with fluctuations of humidity and temperature can lead to contamination in the bags, which will spread to other bags if not removed from the racks. Growing mushrooms is a very intricate process, and costly mistakes may not materialize until weeks later, leading to a loss.

The magic happens fairly quickly in the fruiting room. Once the mycelium have populated the entire bag and begun to turn a soil-like shade of brown, the bags are moved into their final rotation. Small cuts in the bag (or entire bag removal for shiitakes) allow the oxygen to penetrate, and overhead mist simulates the wet conditions of a forest ripe with fruit. The mushrooms grow in just a few days, where they are picked to order by Edhi and his crew. The logs become compost for local farms, and the mushrooms go on to feed all of us in the Bay Area.

It was a great visit, we learned a lot, and to cap it all off they fed us a delicious snack: shiitakes and oysters sautéed with loads of garlic, tomato and basil, atop toasted Sumano sourdough! Next time you eat a Sumano mushroom, make sure to think about all the hard work of Edhi and his mastermind crew.

October is Fair Trade Month

Earl’s Organic carries Fair Trade Product 365 days a year. Equal Exchange and Coliman Fair Trade Organic Bananas are available year round as well as Dole Fair Trade Organic Pineapples. Equal Exchange Fair Trade Avocados are now staring up out of Mexico and we can look forward to Covilli Fair Trade Organic vegetables starting out of Mexico in November.

Buying ANY Fair Trade products is an easy way to support the hard-working people who harvest the products that we all love.

Fair Trade principles include:

Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy sustainable wages, safe working conditions, access to healthcare, regulated working hours, rest and sick days, as well as freedom of association. Forced child and slave labor are strictly prohibited and access to education for workers’ children is verified.

Fair Trade Premium: A few extra cents paid by the consumer – the Fair Trade Premium –will allow for democratically chosen projects to become a reality in farm worker communities.

Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and workers decide democratically how to invest the Fair Trade premiums. These are funds specifically designed for community development.

Community development: Workers invest the Fair Trade Premium in social and business development projects like scholarships, schools, improving their quality of life and leadership training.

Environmental sustainability: Fair Trade promotes environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect workers’ health, preserve valuable ecosystems and safeguard the livelihoods of local communities now and in the future.

What is the Fair Trade Premium and how does it work?

How exactly does Fair Trade benefit the workers?

A few extra cents paid by the consumer – the Fair Trade Premium – will allow for democratically chosen projects to become a reality in farm worker communities; whether it’s a bus for the High School students, dental services or a multipurpose room, this benefit will bring empowerment through decision making and project execution.

The Premium that is added to the cost of produce goes directly in its entirety to the bank account of the Workers Association.

How can the workers use the Fair Trade Premium?

One of the most important aspects of Fair Trade is: funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects.

The workers are the ones who know what’s best for their own community and Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade International have enabled a democratic system for the community to decide how and when the Premium will be invested.

Can the grower use part of the Premiums?

Absolutely NOT. The funds CANNOT be used to invest in the company’s property or cover company’s expenses (wages, operation, supplies, etc.). Benefits are exclusively for the workers, by the workers. The grower IS responsible for covering all Fair Trade Certification and promotional expenses.

How often is the Premium paid to the Workers Association?

Through a transparent process that is traceable and audited by Fair Trade USA or Fair Trade International the grower has assumed the responsibility of paying on a monthly basis, the correct amount of Fair Trade Premium to the Workers Association bank account. Being able to track and verify the correct movements of the Premium from the moment a sale takes place until the deposit is made is a critical audit criteria.

Choosing Fairtrade means supporting standards and actions that put more power in the hands of workers themselves.

Who is in charge of developing/overseeing the Community Projects?

Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade International provide the guidelines to democratically elect the Fair Trade Committee, in a way that is balanced (gender and place of origin). All projects are proposed and approved by the General Assembly (entire workforce), and implemented by the Fair Trade Committee, who has to inform and present reports to the Assembly.

Are Fair Trade Certified products also certified organic?

Not necessarily, but Fair Trade promotes sustainable farming in order to improve living and working conditions for farmers and workers, their environment must also be clean and healthy.

Environmental standards are integral to Fair Trade criteria:

Protecting water resources and natural vegetation areas; promoting agricultural diversification, erosion control and no slash and burn; restricting the use of pesticides and fertilizers; banning use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); requiring proper management of waste, water and energy.

Earl’s Organic Buyer’s Notes September 27, 2021

California avocado season is winding down fast. Rincon(Carpinteria) should be wrapping up in the next week or so.  Traceland(Morro Bay) will have a few more picks and we may see a smattering from Marsalisi(Corralitos). Avocados out of Mexico have started up with smaller sizes 60/70ct. Large sized fruit 40/48ct sizes won’t be available until mid-October.  Fall is here! New varieties of apples and pears out of California and the Pacific Northwest are landing weekly. It is time to make an apple pie! Tutti Frutti (Buellton) had 2 hot days that burned some of the Heirloom Tomatoes. We will see a gap until the middle of the week when they begin to harvest in a new field.  La Granjita(Hollister) Mixed Heirlooms have excellent flavor and will help to cover the gap. Don’t miss the La Granjita Farm Tour blog. Download this week’s Buyer’s Notes.

Kiwi Berries Are A Nutritional Powerhouse!

It is Kiwi Berry time again! The season is very short, mid September through the beginning of October, so you don’t want to miss out. Kiwi berries are a member of the Actinidia genus family, the same as a regular kiwi and have been described as a cousin of the kiwi we all know.  Kiwi berries are also known by the name hardy kiwi, arctic kiwi or baby kiwi. They taste exactly like a kiwi but they are about the size of a grape, fuzzless, with edible seeds and you just pop them whole into your mouth. Like kiwis, they are acidic until ripe.


Kiwi berries are native to China, Korea, and Russian Siberia, much like the kiwifruit.  It is a fast-growing, hardy, perennial vine, in need of a frost-free season of 150 days. Each vine can grow up to 20 feet in a single season! Because of their seasonal requirements, they are well suited for areas of the North East and North West, and in fact, have become somewhat of an invasive weed in certain areas because of their rapid growth. Earl’s kiwi berries are now coming out of Wilsonville, Oregon about 30 minutes south of Portland. In October they will transition south to Oakland, Oregon about an hour south of Eugene.

Kiwi Berries are a nutritional powerhouse and a healthy food source containing over 20 nutrients. Each 6 oz portion contains twice the amount of Vitamin E of an avocado but with only 60% of the calories, 5 times the Vitamin C of an orange and more potassium than bananas.  Kiwi Berries are also high in fiber and rich in folic acid.


Kiwis Berries are picked hard and ripened off the vine. They ripen at room temperature and are ready to eat when the skin turns a darker green, wrinkles and gently yields to touch. Similar to a kiwi they will be slightly acidic until ripe when they will be very sweet. You can store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks but we doubt that will last that long.

Kiwi Berries can be used in a variety of ways, from being preserved as jam to being used as a marinade (kiwi berries are an excellent meat tenderizer). Try them in a salad, on a tart or cake, muddle them in a cocktail or just pop them in your mouth as a delicious sweet snack!

Rock Front Ranch Jujubes

Just Jujubes from Rock Front Ranch are California Grown! Located just 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Barbara County near Santa Maria, Rock Front Jujubes are grown on 320-acres, which sits at the gateway of the Cuyama Valley, surrounded by miles of chaparral and oak forests. This unique landscape is strewn with wildflowers, coastal plants, and towering desert rock formations.

Famous for its rich soil, the Cuyama Valley is heated by the sun each day and cooled by the western sea breeze each evening. These swings in temperature are important for your taste buds, as they encourage the maximum production of sugars for optimum flavor of the tree-ripened fruit.  Rock Front Ranch jujubes are extremely drought resistant, sipping—rather than gulping—precious water. This zero-waste crop thrives in their sandy, loam soil, which is enhanced with their own compost deliberately cultivated to sequester carbon from the air and encourage the growth of good fungi and bacteria.

Alisha Taff Grower Rock Front Ranch

Crisp and refreshing, with a delicate fig-and-caramel flavor, fresh jujubes provide more vitamin C than your average citrus fruit. Toss into a weeknight salad, swap out added sugar in baked goods for the subtle sweetness, or simply remove the pit and whir into a healthy fruit smoothie to go. Jujubes are refreshingly versatile—Tuck a handful of the fruit into a variety of recipes from breakfast to dessert and see how they transform any dish into a nutrient-packed meal.

Fresh Jujubes are now available in 6/clamshell pints and dried jujubes in 12/2.5oz pouches

La Granjita Organica Farm Tour

On the morning of August 25th, a small group from Earl’s Organic headed out to San Benito County, into Hollister for a visit to La Granjita Organica! Translated to English it means, “The Little Organic Farm”.

This visit starts with an outline of our partners’ background: La Granjita is a small farm run by couple Victor Cortez and Veronica Ceja, from Michoacan, Mexico consisting of 2.5 acres, owned by Victor’s brother-in-law in Hollister, CA. Victor has a lengthy thread of experience in the agriculture industry prior to starting on his own partnership with his wife. Their origin in the farming industry together started in the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) in Salinas, CA, where they were taught to farm organically, sell, and structure themselves to become a sustainable grower, in 2013. After a quick start of their determined relationship with our Purchasing Director, Robert Lichtenberg, Victor and Veronica became an exclusive partner of Earl’s Organic in 2017. Their first land to Earl’s Organic was actually a bit rocky due to tomatoes riddled with cracks, which in turn we could not sell. Victor apologetically expressed his concerns and thankfully after a second chance, the hard-earned trust came to blossom between Robert and La Granjita. La Granjita’s selection started with cherry tomatoes and hot peppers (jalapeños, serrano, poblanos and Anaheim peppers) then ignited a forward-goal spark and motivated the couple to try more options. Victor implemented his creative innovation and excitement in his new land, into a diverse layout. Through much trial and error, the fruits of La Granjita led to additional items: their watermelon gherkins in 100% recyclable packaging (which make a lovely agua fresca!) and upcoming heirloom tomatoes we have seen in our warehouse this season. They are now looking forward to implementing new straight-pack tomato varieties and reinforcing their current crops, as they have a wonderful, organized display in their cases that come to us, for you! As Robert states, “A musician knows when they hear someone play, how good they are. With my farming background, opening a box of produce tells me how good a grower is”.

Robert Lichtenberg and Victor Cortez La Granjita Organica

On the morning of the 25th, we were welcomed to a path of beautiful, stalky heirloom corn on our left-hand side, on our drive to meet up with Victor and Veronica at their packing area with refreshing shade from the sunny weather.  After Robert, Ethan, Jarod, Vianney and I gathered, Victor and Veronica warmly welcomed us with smiles and waves. After a quick catch up with Robert and the couple, we proceeded to walk through their patch of land filled with green cherry tomatoes, shishitos, bell peppers, varietal hot peppers, watermelon gherkins, cape gooseberries and green chickpeas. The samples we sifted through with Veronica and Victor were delicate and gave you a swirl of flavor that beautifully portrayed the effort the family incorporated into their land. Our initial steps were received with the golden cape gooseberries! Each bite from a gooseberry popped in your mouth like a sweet/savory jelly bomb. Veronica stayed behind with Vianney and I and gave us some small husk cherries that look like a smaller version of a tomatillo, which yielded a burst of sweet, meaty flavor.  Skipping forward, we eventually caught up to Robert, Victor and the rest of the group to the end of the row full of chilies, where we munched on some vine ripe red shishitos. Those were juicy, with a smoky, earthy aftertaste, but their sweetness being the main attribute. They were almost double the size of the shishitos we see in the warehouse. We started our walk back to the beginning by passing by some green chickpeas! The taste was watery and fresh, imagine being able to taste the color light green? We had never tasted chickpeas in their initial stages. A result of their experimentations with soil and weather management, the family keeps these for personal use.

Cape Gooseberries

We then picked at the famous and refreshing watermelon gherkins. They are super tiny and close to the ground, if we would have kept moving forward, I wouldn’t have spotted them! The texture of a mini cucumber gave us the cooling we needed under the sun. Meanwhile, our Earl’s group kept our ears perked for what Victor had to say on explaining the situation going on in the field. He mentioned the process of pruning for his cherry tomatoes, giving them a chance to grow without the fungus and eliminating a possibility of becoming infected with plague, although it’s a time-consuming task. Ethan also brought up thoughtful questions about how the field is measured and spread out, and how funnily enough, our perspective plays with how we perceive things in front of us. Between the rows of tomatoes and chiles, they are spread out more than what they appear, since they have added volume from soil and protection. The couple learned how to manage aspects of their farm through the experiences they have hustled through, from that they learned how to run the production of the crops.

They are looking to add tomatillos, habaneros and cherry bombs to their mix to produce a bigger signature crop, with Robert as their asset to bring them to their envisioned goal. As Victor and Veronica work their way through testing the waters in their new land, they like to raise crops they can personally use, such as the heirloom corn (which in Mexico we use for our posole recipes, in English they are called Hominy) and the garbanzos, or what doesn’t make it to our warehouse. We each got our own ear of roasted corn to snack on while we browsed the packing area with shade to wait for Victor. The couple treated us to a lovely carne asada (barbeque in English) and we continued to listen to Victor’s origin in the farming industry and how Veronica was inspired to work in the farm after her career as a hairdresser.

Their teamwork and partnership with Earl’s have enabled them to pay off their bank loans, after giving up their previous land, closer to Salinas. As they expressed their gratitude for our visit when we headed out for the day, we appreciated the amount of passion and attention to detail our partners bring from their land to us, to ultimately our customers who bring the fruits of their labor to their home.  

Top Row: Marilyn, Jarod, Robert and Veronica. Bottom Row: Ethan and Victor

Traceland Avocados Morro Bay

We are into our second week of delicious California avocados from Traceland in Morro Bay.  Traceland is located in Cayucos near the ocean on the central coast and about 20 miles northwest of San Luis Obispo where the unique geography and climate allows year round growing conditions without high heat or killing frosts.  Cayucos sits in a small area of coastal land defined by the Santa Lucia mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The ocean cools the hot summers and warms the cold winters.  The land is bisected at various places along its length by wild creeks that flow unimpeded from the coast range to the ocean providing the copious amounts of water avocado trees need to fruit.       

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Ron Trace-In the middle, Jesse Trace-On the right

Ron, Gail and their twin sons moved to Cayucos in 1998 from Chicago.  In 2005 they planted their 6 acre avocado orchard with a goal to grow organic avocados as sustainably as possible.  The avocado trees are planted on natural slopes and not man made terraces, which affects the drainage.  He also puts down composted manures, organic minerals and wood chip mulches to fertilize the trees.  Cover crops of native grasses are used to produce natural nitrogen, honey bees are used for fruit production and predator insects for biological disease control.  Weeds are pulled by hand and they even trap gophers by hand.

Traceland is also unique because they hand pick all of the avocados and deliver them to Earl’s within 24 hours of picking! The flavor is very creamy and rich in oil content. We feel it is the best eating avocado of the season.

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Jesse from Traceland Avocados

Remember that a California avocado will be very mature, high in oil and needs to be eaten firm. Mexican avocados are now starting to show up in your grocery store. Buyer beware! Mexican avocados are the first of the season and will eat differently. They will not be as flavorful as a California avocado and can ripen unevenly.


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