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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
2:33 AM Fri, Sept. 21st

Jackson: Program helps farmers in undeveloped nations

In the business sales world of today, pursuit of the almighty dollar is the over-riding consideration aimed at maximum profit, which is fine. However, I’d like to touch on a program in which the focus is on benevolence that is helping farmers in undeveloped nations to compete in the marketplace. The cooperative program is called Equal Exchange (EE) that was founded and operates in the U.S. and — through Fair Trade practices utilizing such things as direct trade as opposed to the traditional process of buyers going through middlemen and offering higher-than-market prices to small farmers in undeveloped countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Sales benefiting the farmers originate in the U.S. through several thousand church congregations and community groups, one of which, the Prescott United Methodist Church, received a certificate of commitment from EE acknowledging its “deep commitment to Fair Trade” based on its 2017 sales putting it “in the top 5 percent of congregations and community groups we work with around the country. Together, we’re making big change for small farmers.”

Denny Mishler, who worked with the EE program in two Tulsa, Oklahoma, United Methodist churches before he and his wife Barb relocated to Prescott and joined the PUMC, is a veteran of 10 years of EE experience and has headed the Prescott project for the last three years, with the main products sold locally being coffee, tea and chocolate bars.

“At all three churches the objective has been the same,” Denny said, “to sell as much product as possible to help small farming communities in undeveloped countries, using the concept of Fair Trade, which attempts to put the producer first in the production and distribution chain. Producers are paid first and are guaranteed a fair price for their product. This enables small rural communities to improve their roads and water supply, build schools and improve their way of life. Although first developed in the Netherlands, it took hold in the United States when EE was formed in 1986 in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. EE is still the largest Fair Trade coffee company in the U.S.”

“With our little store at PUMC,” Denny noted, “we call in an order about once a month.”

Products ship from the West Coast warehouse in Portland, Oregon.

“We in turn sell the products at our cost in order to maximize the benefit to small farmers,” he said.

The chocolate bars, he enthuses, “are to die for. Everyone has their favorite — from the best seller, Extreme Dark, to Almond, to my favorites — Dark Caramel Crunch with sea salt and Lemon Ginger with a touch of black pepper. Chocolate bars are now out-selling coffee two-to-one. Our sales occur most every Saturday night following the 5 p.m. service and Sunday mornings between 10 and 10:30 a.m. in the church’s fellowship hall.”

Before he took over the EE program in 2015, Denny noted that Jan Lynne ran it for 10 years or so.

“We now have a quartet of volunteers working each quarter,” he added. “I work the first quarter, Lois Jucksch the second, Doug and Diane Iverson the third, and Bob and Jan Lynne the fourth.”

Now, remember my touching on benevolence in the opening paragraph? Well, those folks at EE are cushioned with such a trait. You see, Denny pointed out that the highest paid person at the Equal Exchange worker-owned cooperative in Massachusetts, made up of 126 employees, cannot make more than four times what the lowest paid worker receives, which he notes is “quite different than what many of our large corporations do, paying the CEO hundreds of times more than the average worker.”

So the highest marks go to those folks up there in West Bridgewater for such a benevolent approach. May their “tribe” increase!

Contact the columnist at editorial@prescottaz.com.