Think about what’s in your pantry right now. Any coffee? Tea? Chocolate? Do you know where it came from? And I don’t mean which Birmingham grocery store. How was it made? Who’s hands touched it before yours? How much time was spent growing, cultivating and preparing that singular product for you to enjoy? And what benefits did the farmer whose energy, time and hard work went into making it get?
These are questions Equal Exchange wants to help answer by bridging the gap between producers and consumers—making sure more benefits get back to farmers who are growing the food we eat.
So, I sat down at Forge with Dary Goodrich, the Equal Exchange Chocolate Products Manager, to learn more about their mission and find out how Birminghamians can get involved.
Who is Equal Exchange? 🤝
Equal exchange is a fair trade for-profit worker-owned, cooperative based in Massachusetts. So, let’s break that down:
- Fair trade = a way of doing business with developing countries to ensure fair prices are paid to producers for their products. Learn more about that here.
- Worker owned co-op = “An alternative for-profit structure based upon standard democratic principles.” All of the employees own an equal portion of the company and receive equal share of any profits or losses. The “worker-owners” elect and serve as 6 of the 9 board of directors who hire/supervise management.
- Other aspects to the co-op = They believe in one-person/one-vote equality at the governance level; open access to information/open-book management; free speech; and the equal distribution of resources/income.
Dary Goodrich: “It’s an organization doing development but in a very different way…we’re going to change the business structure so that more is getting back to people who need it the most.”
As one of the largest and earliest formed worker co-ops in the United States, Equal Exchange is comprised of roughly 130 worker-owners located all across the country. They got their start in coffee, pioneering the fair trade of that product in the U.S. Since their start over 30 years ago, they’ve expanded into tea, sugar, bananas, avocados, cocoa and chocolate. Which brings us to Dary.
Meet Equal Exchange’s Chocolate Products Manager 👋
Side Note: I mean, let’s take a moment to appreciate this job title… *rethinks entire career path*
Dary first studied environmental policy at Colby College in Maine—a new program at the school that combined science classes, economics and political classes.
DG: “I was interested in the intersection between the environment and social justice, and food as a way those pieces come together.”
After graduating, Equal Exchange had an opening—the perfect fit for Dary. And now, 17 years later, he’s running their chocolate program which includes cocoa products and chocolate bars.
DG: “I’ve been able to grow this program. It’s very entrepreneurial—just figuring out what’s next? What are the right products? How do we think about where we should be going? And that’s always very exciting work.”
With 100+ worker-owners, it’s not always easy—but it’s definitely worth it.
“It’s making sure everyone is feeling educated enough and up to speed on the issues so that you as a group can make a big decision. Sometimes it can be slow to change, but it’s something we’re always trying to practice, learn and do better.”
The Rewarding Part Isn’t Just the Chocolate ✈️
Travelling 3-4 times a year to visit farmer partners all over the world is another exciting part of Dary’s job.
DG: “I feel so lucky that I get to actually go and visit farmers who grow this crop. I think people are very disconnected from where their food comes from. For me to see the reality of the work and struggles they have just to make a livelihood and build a community—especially with this crop (cocoa/chocolate) that’s often defined by the international market and depersonalized or commoditized—is an exciting piece of the job.”
Where’s Home Base? 💻
When he’s not travelling, you can find Dary at Forge—the coworking space above the Pizitz Food Hall. But this isn’t his first coworking experience. Before moving to Birmingham, he worked in a co-working space in Atlanta, and before Forge, he worked at Innovation Depot downtown.
DG: “A friend of mine connected me with Kim, and I talked to her about this idea… we kept in touch as she was still in the business development phase of this. When she launched I was like, yeah I’m in. Sign me up.”
The best part of working at Forge, according to Dary, has been the community.
DG: “I really enjoy being able to come to Forge to be around other people doing a wide range of work. It’s great to learn what other members are doing and to take advantage of their expertise through some of the educational events hosted at Forge.”
Now, Back to the Important Stuff… Chocolate 🍫🍫🍫
What’s Dary’s current favorite? The new 92% Total Eclipse bar.
DG: “It’s a really approachable and well-balanced bar for such a dark bar and I am excited that we are using beans for the first time from farmers in West Africa, specifically from Togo.”
They’re brand new and not in stores yet, so we’ll keep you updated! And you can find Equal Exchange chocolate products in Birmingham at Sojourns Fair Trade, Whole Foods and Target, or shop all products online here!
Get Involved 👏
Feeling inspired and want to invest in a good cause? Get involved with Equal Exchange—they need your support. Who knows… you might end up at Forge working beside Dary. Bonus: lots of chocolate would be involved.