Aaron Perry


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  • Episode 36 – Nicole Vitello, President – Produce Division, Equal Exchange


Nicole Vitello, President of the Produce Division of Equal Exchange, discusses this amazing company’s work to foster ecologically sustainable agricultural practices in the context of the empowering, equity-driven worker-owned cooperative model of this global food company. With over 30 years in business, Equal Exchange is one of the most notable world-wide leaders in progressive, sustainable business practices. This is an especially significant accomplishment given the structural and practical challenges of growing and distributing perishable produce like organic avocados and bananas, and growing, processing, and distributing hyper-competitive, commoditized products like organic coffee, tea, and chocolate. It is with 21st century leaders like Nicole Vitello that super-sustainable models like Equal Exchange are growing, thriving, and pointing the way for regenerative economics and dignity-driven conscious capitalism.

All of the Equal Exchange products are certified organic, certified fair trade, and produced in a global supply chain made up of and governed by its worker-owner stakeholders. In the Y on Earth Community’s recommended “Grow/Know/Show” framework for food and beverage products, it doesn’t get any better than Equal Exchange for those far-away tropical and sub-tropical products that are provided with utmost transparency and third party certification.

If the majority of our food system world-wide operated like Equal Exchange, we would be in a much better, healthier, safer, and saner world.

Visit equalexchange.coop for more information, and be sure to make Equal Exchange chocolate, tea, coffee, banana, and avocado products your regular go-to’s!


(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes - grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Welcome to the YonEarth Community's Stewardship and Sustainability podcast series.

Today we have the great joy and privilege of speaking with Nicole Vitello, Hi, Nicole.

Hi, Aaron.

Nicole is the president of the Produce Division of Equal Exchange, a 100% fair trade fruit

importer and a purveyor of a bunch of other wonderful products from all around the world.

Nicole started at Equal Exchange in 2008 as a sales representative, selling fair trade

coffee, tea, and chocolate.

And after studying international development at American University, Nicole founded her

own organic farm business, Manic Organic, I love that name, by the way, which she operated

successfully for 10 years.

Nicole came to Equal Exchange inspired by their economic model of trading directly with

small farmers internationally.

She is proud to be part of that model and fresh produce by promoting the connection between

small farmers in Latin America and consumers in the United States.

And Nicole, it is such a joy to have this opportunity to speak with you and welcome,

welcome to our show.

Thank you.

It's really a pleasure to be here.

So, as you know, food and the food system is something that is very near and dear to

my heart.

And I understand it as both a very challenging part of the industry to be working in and

also one just full of opportunity for us to be doing good and great work in the world.

And I'm curious if you would just to kick us off, describe what's different about the

work you're doing through Equal Exchange versus a lot of the other food system functions

and food companies out there.

Yeah, that's a great question.

And especially since there are so many choices now in labels and certifications and fields

and stickers.

So really, on the one hand, it's an amazing time to be an eater, especially of alternative

foods, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, but it's also really confusing landscape out


And it's hard to know what you are supporting sometimes when you found a company that

you think you like and then you find their own type of other company you didn't even


So I think that one of the refreshing parts about Equal Exchange is Equal Exchange is

that a worker owned co-op, it's been around for 30 years.

It is all of the products that we import and represent and manufacture are organic and

fair trade.

And part of our model specifically is we only buy from small farmers that are organized

into cooperatives.

So the whole idea is it's difficult for small farmers both domestically and globally to

be represented in the marketplace.

You know, it used to be everything came from a smaller, medium-sized farm, our own farm

history across the Midwest.

Now increasingly to support a growing population of people that are eating and a food system

that's challenged economically to become more and more affordable, that's really come

at the price often of consolidation or efficiencies or vertical integration.

And small farmers are still the backbone of a lot of local economies and local communities.

So when we sort of cut small farmers out of the game or don't give them a seat at the

table, the impact on those communities often leads to big disruptions, you know, migration,

you know, furthering climate change with industrial scale agriculture, cultural shifts that

are happening, and also just no one really representing the true cost of food.

So I think for equal exchange, it's really been about that connection to a small farmer

supply chain and really engaging in those economics and where we focus on getting the products

from point A to point B, we avoid the sort of the middleman mentality in any way.

So we buy it directly and we sell directly as much as possible and we try to do a very

small amount handling of the product.

So like we manufacture coffee, but it's like green beans, we roast the coffee and we sell

it, you know, so I think by focusing on those products in that model, it kind of keeps

it a little more transparent and also accessible for people who are looking for products that

are 100% fair trade, 100% organic, and also with the small farmer, ethos that allows

you to understand a little of the common sense behind those, you know, certifications and

those seals.

There's like a very basic model that I think would be easy for people to understand.

I absolutely love it and as many of our audience know in the book YonEarth and some of

those early chapters specifically one called Grow and One Called Eat, we discuss at length

the importance of how we're relating to our food as both a mechanism for stewardship

of our planet as well as treating people all over the world with care, with compassion,

with equity.

And I'm just so struck that in the framework that we discussed in the book, we have the

simple little way of thinking about food, grow, know, show, which is you can grow some

of your own.

It's great to know a farmer close by maybe through a CSA community supported agriculture,

some other mechanism to get some of your food and then when we're getting foods from farther

away, it's absolutely imperative really to purchase from those companies who are showing

through their transparency and communication and through third party certifications that

they are indeed having positive impacts throughout the world and I did bring some show and

tell because I'm so excited when it comes to things like chocolate, I'm in Colorado,

we don't have a lot of local chocolate in Colorado, nor do we have a lot of local coffee,

here's some equal exchange coffee and tea.

And to know I can get these kinds of delicious products from equal exchange and understand

that that means that there are hundreds, thousands of acres being treated well organically

regeneratively and that you've got hundreds of farmers, their families, their communities

that are being well cared for through the economics of the system, it to mean Nicole is

such an incredible way to really have relationships all around the planet.

Yeah, no, it's very true and I think sometimes with these concepts of, you know, care trade

is a very, maybe a more well-known concept in Europe and I think it's based on a lot

of the economic models there of a lot of the countries that are being supported through

fair trade in Europe are former colonies, right?

So there's this whole conception of like are we giving aid or charity or are we just honestly

trying to trade fairly in a way that people can be, have their economic needs met but

also the dignity of their own sort of power to negotiate and represent their part of the

spectrum because farmers are increasingly, you know, taking more and more risk as you

mentioned, climate change, extreme weather, you know, increasingly being disconnected from

the marketplace and these barriers to entry getting higher and higher, the disempowerment

I think that comes from that is really an important piece in the relationship building

because when you're offering someone a seat at the same table to negotiate as an equal,

it's amazing the things that you learn from each other, you know, and that the, I mean

I find farmers are some of the smartest people I know in some of the, you know, really

most advanced business people because it's their livelihood and if something, you know,

no one has a huge trust fund to look back on and say, oh, on my crop bail, I can just,

you know, use this money to get me through it's like you're really living your economics

and you really understand your economics and I think if more of us could engage in that,

we could learn a lot about our food system from the ground up.

Absolutely and you mentioned earlier this notion of the true cost of food and I know with

your background and experience having farmed as you did and of course you're working not only

in food supply chains generally but specifically you have deep expertise in the realm of the produce,

the perishables and I'm just curious from that perspective, what can we share with our audience

who maybe don't have that same direct experience, what you mean by the true cost of food?

Well, I think what starts to happen, I mean particularly in a product like bananas which I think

is like the perfect example, right? I mean bananas are tropical fruit that are, you know, grown

halfway around the world and yet today in 2019 they're cheaper than they were five years ago.

Like what did everything else get cheaper? I'm sorry, did I miss that? Like fuel got cheaper,

boxes got cheaper, labor got cheaper, the cost of living went down somewhere along the road and

we just decided that we could do that. No, I mean it's because grocery stores in general use bananas

as what they, what we refer to as a lost leader. So they're not even trying to reflect the true

cost of that product. They're making an assumption that a shopper is going to come into that store,

see a low price for bananas and assume that everything else in the store is affordable and want

to shop there. Now, is that really true? Now, I mean, I think it was true 100 years ago when

basically you had to sell an entire container of bananas that was a perishable fruit that was

competing with a local apple. You basically, there is a volume game there, right? But I mean bananas

are a genetic clone, they're a weak plant, they're under attack from all sorts of, you know, very

noxious diseases, they require more and more input. There's a human cost to that as well as an

environmental cost. I mean, conventional bananas are the second most toxic crop after cotton and

no one even knows this, right? Like no one thinks about it's a yellow banana and it's 39 cents or

whatever it is, you know, and we're sort of being trained to ignore it as an agricultural product.

So I think that's a perfect example of the gross resource isn't even reflecting their cost

for bananas. Then they're saying, oh, but we're just going to absorb that, but either intentionally

or unintentionally that message is getting passed back to their distributor who's passing that

back to the importer who's passing that back to the farmer. So whether that's Chiquita and Walmart

or whether that's, you know, a fair trade exclusive banana like we have, it's still here under

this market pressure that's decided based on not economics, right? Not supply and demand, not like

the very, very difficult conditions under which these fruits are grown, but some perception about

cost and value and an antiquated notion, I think, about bananas which everybody eats and is still

like the best deal around, you know? So equal exchange certainly got into the banana business

to challenge those assumptions, right? And to say, hey, we are doing an exclusively small farmer

fair trade organic banana that comes from Ecuador, Peru, we're negotiating direct youth growers,

we're trying to understand their cost and how to get to some economies of scale and efficiencies

that make this worthwhile, but we're not trying away from the message of these are bananas grown by

people under conditions that we should all know about and it's actually an agricultural product,

not a yellow plastic thing that we just sort of manufactured somewhere and put on the shelf.

So I think the more, you know, the real sort of, I think, downside and an issue with our current

food system, is that disconnect? And as you said, you know, you can go to a local farmer's market,

you can join a CSA, you can get connected to farmers and talk to them directly about what's going

on with them in a lot of products, that's a huge improvement in our food system in this last

period of time, but all these other products you're relying on, you know, as we said, a certification

which helps, a brand which also helps, but the story is very difficult. Someone's always telling

that for a party and I think we try as much as possible to bring farmers to the table to speak

in their own voice and to tell their own story and to engage and to actually reflect their

economics and negotiate with us around the marketplace. And I think that's a real difference,

but yet I'm hopeful because I see more of that and I see people that are eating and buying and

engaging with food, really asking more about where did this come from, you know, and who grew this

and how. And that's power, you know, in terms of I think consumers and choppers have power,

and I think they often don't feel that they do, but by asking those questions, you're starting a

dialogue. And then somebody has to go find that out if they don't know and then they better be able

to ask someone that knows where you're going to start unraveling the fact that no one knows where

any of this stuff comes from and you know, people are going to start coming up with some answers

pretty quickly. That's my job security right there, hopefully. Absolutely. Well, and you guys

at Equal Exchange at your website Equal Exchange dot co-op COOP. You guys do such a wonderful job

visually and through text of conveying the lives of the farmers. I get to see little video clips

on your website of real farmers on real plots where real produce is being harvested. And I feel

connected. I feel like, wow, I get what's going on through this whole supply chain from that

soil and that community all the way to my breakfast table, if you will. And, you know, one of the

things I'm struck by in our culture here is that although a growing number of us are becoming

aware of this, there's still a whole bunch of us who don't really understand that that sheet

banana is not only loaded with toxins that are disrupting your own health, well-being, immune

system, cognitive performance, etc. It has also been grown in a way that people all around the

world are being exposed to incredibly toxic, carcinogenic, lethal, agricultural chemicals.

And the extent to which we as consumers become aware of that reality, those facts, I think it only

makes us that more inclined and convinced to purchase from companies like Equal Exchange. And

Nicole, you guys, my gosh, are easy to find in my area. I know that with drop shipping folks can

probably get stuff sent directly to their homes in many cases and the barriers for us as

consumers to find these products have also come down substantially in recent years. And it's

wonderful that you guys are doing the hard work that you're doing to make this available to us.

Thank you for that. Well, thank you for having a platform to connect it, I think, to something

also larger. You know, I think that Equal Exchange has always, you know, has used sort of

business and trade as a platform to talk about, you know, small farmer economics and environment

and alternative business and cooperatives. You know, and I think that in terms of being an

alternative business, that's a grounding factor in our work is the economic part of it. But the more

sort of the ethical, spiritual, environmental, I mean, we have a large community, you know,

that engages in our work and helps to inform some of the trade models that we're engaged in.

And I think without that community, it's really lonely out there, you know, I mean, you're sort

of fighting to get into a grocery store and to go up against organic brands or people that are

are owned by larger corporations or it is an increasingly consolidated and appropriaged food

system. So I think it's good to think alternatively about who your community is, you know, we may be

approaching it from a more economic model. But even on the farmer level, you know, I don't think it's

I don't know if it's natural to people to like want to cooperate naturally, right? Like,

sure, I'd love to think that that's part of who we are. But I think to have the incentive

of like, hey, I'm one farmer, right? I can't still a container worth of bananas to get them to the

United States. So in fact, I need to band together with 150 of my neighbors and actually work together

to have the volume to run a business together. And by that sheer nature of that, now we have to

cooperate, right? So now like my organic integrity is your organic integrity. So I'm for a more

car more likely to call you out or you call me out on something we're not doing because we just

decided to own a business together. And now our business is actually going to employ our kids who

maybe went out to agricultural school or our accountants or technicians. And now all of a sudden,

we built a community business that's employing local people. And that's empowering. And now,

we know more about our economics or our certification or a warehouse or other things. And so it just

kind of builds in this sort of started with one farmer, started 150 farmers, a community business.

And it grows from there than other people in other communities see you doing this. And then they

so as much as there's negative change that I think we all see, there's also a lot of positive

change from people just trying to do something different and build a community around that. And it

may be one business model of the middle of that, but all the ancillary parts of that create this

alternative economy that I think we'd all like to see and be a part of. And your organization is

a part of that. Our organization is a part of that. People are at the base of that,

buying and eating food and growing food. And it's just there is something very inspiring, I think,

about that. Even when I look around at some smaller examples and some larger examples,

it's like all of that together has to create a more vibrant food economy. And I think people really

want that now. And we really desperately need it. Absolutely. You know, I'm picking up on a really

exciting symmetry here as you're describing how the farmers are coming together, collaborating

to get those containers filled at a high quality standard. There's also this opportunity for us as

consumers to get together in our communities and build our knowledge base, build our awareness

our resources. And what what I was so excited to see when I was doing a little research on the

equal exchange dot co-op website is that you all have three really great ways that we citizen

consumer activists can get involved. One is as a supporter activist, one is as a drinker eater,

a minimum of a hundred dollar a year spend. I saw which I'll tell you with chocolate coffee and tea

that's doable. And then the third way is that you're in a collaboration with Calvert,

the socially responsible investment fund vehicle. You have a community investment note that allows

people for as little as $20 to be financial stakeholders in the system that you all are growing,

creating, stewarding. My gosh, what an incredibly exciting way for us to come together and

do our part on the other end of this value chain. And I was hoping you could share with us a little

more about how people are getting together. It sounds like there's an event that you all are

hosting in the near future. Yes, there is an event local to us. We're located outside of

a box in Massachusetts and Westbridge Watermass. And there we're having an action summit forum

which is at Stonehill College on June 20 to the 22nd. And the idea here is this has been a

an idea that's been I think part of equal exchange from the very beginning is again connecting

people and farmers around products that are not available or grown locally. And so at the beginning,

I think being a worker owned co-op business in and of itself attracted workers to this idea where

you could work in the warehouse here or be manufacturing coffee and have the same boat as

the president of the company. You know, it's one worker, one boat. You all have shares of the

company. It's a very as much as farmers are co-ops. So are we and food co-ops are similar.

You join a food co-op. You become a member. You have some say in what products are carried there

and how they do business in some sense of their ethics. So I think with the citizen consumer and

the action forum, I think the idea was to kind of get back to our roots and really try to connect

people about the food system, educate each other, have some energy together around discussing

different aspects of the system that are happening, try to create some solidarity around wanting to

change those things. So that might be people that are going into their local grocery store and saying,

where do these bananas come from and do you know anything about them to like getting together

for different webinars and things and getting educated about what Equal Exchange does and then

also us being able to interact with people more on an equal footing in terms of what do you

care about in the food system and what's your experience? Maybe you're a farmer or a ranch or

a cheese maker or a local, you start a local buying club or whatever it is, right? Like that's

our community and I think as this system has gotten so separated from each other, it's really

brought renewed energy to the work we do. You know, so it's I think trying to connect more with

our base in a real way. You know and I think that that's sort of, I guess maybe it came down to

like sure you can join this by the amount of products that you buy or that you connect with us,

but I think it's not really that, right? It's like how can we connect around the philosophy

of the work that we're doing instead of just around the economics and there's some bar to entry,

which is like do you know who we are and are you connected with us over drinking coffee or eating

chocolate, but that's just the start, right? It's more like how can we connect and have and really

engage in a way that maybe through maybe the business portal is one way and maybe this is more

of a community building portal that's another way and they both not neither one is mutually exclusive,

but I think that's sort of what's behind this challenge to the way the food system is and the way

you know if companies are accessing you they're often asking you to buy something right or to support

something economically to sell more products and I think there's a whole generation of people that

aren't really into that you know like it's like sure I'm going to drink coffee but I really want to

it connect you know and educate myself and be part of something and feel useful and I think that

is a big part of this it's you know it's relatively new and I think like we're trying it out and

connecting with great people and you know I think it's sort of like a great experiment you know to

kind of see where this leads us and it's been really fun and I think it's engaged people in a way

that maybe we haven't done here in a long time. Absolutely beautiful well speaking of great

experiments you know this notion of everybody being equal on the level is such an important piece

in our culture and it seems that we have we have a lot of opportunity and work to do in that

regard and I would love to see the yonearth community be one of the hubs or nodes or catalysts

with the equal exchange gesture of community gathering here in the Colorado region and

want to make sure to mention that coming up May 17th through 19th we have a wonderful three-day

summit called massively mobilizing sustainability deep leadership for the 21st century and we're

bringing together experts authors organizational leaders dealing with these these questions and these

opportunities around stewardship regeneration sustainability how economics and ecology in our

social systems interact and the opportunities we have to cultivate culture from the inside out

from ourselves as individuals and leaders and we've got so many wonderful organizations helping

to make this event happen as sponsors which include Equal Exchange Patagonia the association

of Waldorf schools of North America the International Society of Sustainability Professionals

Earth Coase Productions Purium and Wailay Waters and want to make sure if any of you in the audience

want to join us for this event again May 17 to 19 go to yonearth.org right on the homepage you'll

see a link with all kinds of information we do have some scholarships available for educator

students and non-profit folks so be sure to check all that out and with Equal Exchange there's so

much wonderful information to call on your main website Equal Exchange dot co-op COOP and in there

I found links to all kinds of video resources and ways to really kind of understand and visualize

what you guys are doing all all around the planet with these relationships and these linkages

and I want to be sure to ask you because of your expertise with the avocados and the bananas in

particular share with us what what is it like working with these these produce products that

can spoil it can go bad and getting those to travel across hundreds if not thousands of miles to

your end customers in a way that they're excited to eat them how how hard is that anyway

well I think you may know a little bit from your past history as well it is not for the faint of

heart for sure I think that what I really like about produce is it's an incredibly

these are relationships really built on trust you know everybody's a little until all the time

you know like your phone is ringing decisions have to be paid like you can't just wait until one day

you know so produce people really are I think produce people for a reason again like farmers

amazing problem solvers really have their heart and soul I think in food and produce and tremendously

adept at making very quick economic decisions you know because at the end of the day you can get

a great price you can sell your product you know sometimes like it's not going to sit around and

wait so you're really like with the avocado market being so volatile and up and down it can go up

twenty dollars in one week it can go down twenty dollars and when we part of fair trade is trying

to smooth that out for both producers and consumers but I think for us and we just talked about

the banana economics which are just you know just unfathomable like any other in any comparison to

any other product but I think what you find through that is like a lot of our relationships where

equal exchange can do a lot of direct trading coffee is you know a non-perishable right it's

a green bean you bring it here you roast it you control it you ship it out and you get a pretty

very good margin you know on coffee I think you can have more control with with perishables you

really depend on this interconnected supply chain so we deal with a whole system a nationally

system of of independent and family owned distributors who we sell our product to say bananas

they ripen it and sell it to a natural food store along with a whole range of other products

so I think equal exchange has always wanted to support alternative businesses as well as

an alternative source from small farmers so we have tried to support natural food stores

independent family groceries food co-ops and offer them our products in a way that they can

compete with let's face it who's selling the most organic food in this country Walmart

Costco you know and so on the one hand great that means organic food is getting to that many more

people at an affordable level but also you know there's something lost in that as well which is

local brands smaller companies access right to a giant corporate supply chain like that so that

allows your local food co-op to carry products that they don't carry at Walmart or Costco or another

place right that isn't a big box retailer and discounts for it is your local food co-op that

is trying to support a different kind of economics and I'm going to do all your shopping there

but you might want to do some and so for equal exchange it's supporting that whole alternative

from farmers to distributors to importers store each of those people we don't we're not

vertically integrated we don't control every piece of that we don't own the farm and own the store

and do everything in between we play a piece so the partners that we have along that supply chain

allow for some economic viability in the trucking industry the warehouse industry the

fresh food industry like that's supporting the whole host of community jobs here all across the

country and giving them hopefully a fair wage and a fair margin so they can actually engage instead

of saying hey you know what I want to lower my shelf price you need to do that for 30% cheaper

good luck with that you know or I'm going to go find it somewhere else this is way more of a

partnership we're interconnected um we all need each other and I think that's a really vibrant

economy as well um and so produces based on that you know trust transparency quick decision-making

being able to talk about economics and business problems claims quality issues you know you

really have to be able to have that kind of dialogue and without knowing who you are and what

your economics are and who how those economics are affecting other people you can't really negotiate

you know so that's what I do love about produce um very fast moving sort of high stress but high

energy and I think you know people love food they get really excited about it you know produce

geeks or produce geeks for a reason I think you might be smiling for a reason there I think you

know what I'm talking about a little bit a little bit I'm sure watching this will too you know guilty

as charged well it's obviously produce is such an important part of our own health and well-being

and boy we have a tremendous opportunity each one of us to increase our produce intake

and to make sure we're sourcing it from companies like Equal Exchange and they're doing such

amazing work needed work in the realm of environmental stewardship and social equity I wanted to

read a quick quote from this is from Equal Exchange's LinkedIn profile just to just to summarize

this Equal Exchange's mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just

and environmentally sound to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers

and to demonstrate through our success the contribution of worker cooperatives and fair trade

to a more equitable democratic and sustainable world my gosh I mean it's got a little bit of everything

on the important notes in there and just what a joy Nicole to have this opportunity to hear from

you directly what that means and looks like kind of from the inside point of view it's great to hear

you said that's actually painted on the wall in the kitchen we have here in our cooperative I look

at that every day but I don't you know like you see it but you forget sometimes and it's really

I think still holds true you know 35 years later those ideals Equal Exchange still is the

company that it was started out to be and I'm really proud to be here because of that and I think

the people that founded this and had that idea when the food system looked really different

and this trouble now is to sort of keep those ideals and just find the people that are

still attracted to that and want to get on board you know the water's warm as they say so hopefully

we can all engage in that those are big words you know but I think we all live them in small ways

that add up to a vibrant whole so so it's an exciting yeah exciting an inspirational concept

absolutely well the work you guys are doing it really to me exemplifies the much needed and

noble response to a statement I ran across the other day from Sir Richard Branson he said

if you're not changing lives for the better you shouldn't be in business and my gosh you know

we live in a time where we have so many choices we can each be doing so many things with our own

lives our own professional work our own careers and we have so many choices when it comes to the

food products and other things that we're purchasing and enjoying and each time we're voting

another dollar another ten dollars in the direction of supply chains and ethics systems like

equal exchange we are literally helping to create a better more sustainable world it's

it's that simple right Nicole yeah no it is and you know I think that the more we can

both consider our choices again you know I think people are busy they're strapped economically

there's so many choices it's kind of paralyzing you know so I I can relate to this sort of wow

what do I do or am I doing the right thing in this kind of pressure you know around everything

that we're doing be greener you know are you driving the right car eating the right food should you

be vegan or vegetarian or you know I think the bottom line is you know people's values connected

to food are one of the most basic things that we do it is a simple function in terms of how you

spend our dollars but also food is a very personal and very nourishing thing you know everybody eats

and so how you choose to engage with the food system again the F.A a farmer's market

shopping at your local co-op buying things where we buy it is you do have power in that decision

but there's also a lot of people that are working to help you with those choices you know and

so organizations like yourselves that are 200 spreading this message about sustainability

and the larger picture around food and growing our planet is a great portal and a great sort of

partnership and some of those messages and I really admire the work you're doing and it's

super exciting this conference that you're holding bringing ideas together and I think that that's

hopefully part of what this conversation is about as well is like people coming with ideas and

hope and excitement for the future because there's so many negative messages out there about

and pressure you know about the things that we should be doing better and in reality it's just

starting to open to your eyes to the things that you're already doing that are making a positive

difference and some small things and some big things you know and yet this this solidarity

together about those things I think is what really makes me hopeful um so I think it's uh this

has been a great conversation in terms of us connecting and raising awareness about our two

organizations and I see a great future where more and more people are coming together in these

small and overlapping circles and it just kind of expands out from there so it's an exciting time

absolutely Nicole well to wrap up I just thought I'd mention that uh one of the packages that

you all sent us for the upcoming conference is some coffee called mama tiara and I noticed

on the label it says that this is a partnership between Catholic relief services and equal

exchange and I thought my gosh what a what a cool what a cool piece what a cool layer to have

that kind of a connection and a sense of civic partnership with that organization and I thought I'd

ask you just as a fun way to leave our conversation today about uh your family you're you're telling me

a bit about your family before we started recording and of course I gather there's a deep

tradition there when it comes to enjoying food uh together with love and in community to tell

us what what's that like yeah so I come from an Italian family and um you know we are all really

loud and boisterous and a lot of things do focus around food and and the family table um and I think

one of the funnier parts about sort of my story is you know I have a degree in international

development you know my parents were the first one of generation to go to college they're for

generation here and you know so much pride about education and professionalism my dad's an administrator

my mom's a social worker and then I go to college and decide to become a farmer and you can imagine

right like everybody was like Nicole you could have just stayed in Italy and been a fun like what do

you mean you didn't come over here and stray from circles like you would turn around and be a

farmer like whatever grow your garden like go to school be a doctor do something come on you know

like so it's kind of funny um they you know there's a deep respect for food and food culture um

but it's interesting you know to see how the pressure sort of a big vibration experience and um

and what what vibrancy that's brought to our consumer and our culture but definitely you know

and my family table um I don't get any more respect now for being you know president of

a produce division that I did for being a farmer it's just kind of like you know who's cooking

and cleaning and doing whatever but I know I'm very lucky my family is great and I think um really

gives me pride in the work that I do to sort of bring back to a community and and people that

brought me my initial love of food and growing and and farming um but yeah it's not a quiet it's

not a quiet table that's for sure I think that would not be the uh the title of my autobiography

if that was going to be the game not a quiet table yeah well I uh before we side off your

Nicole uh is there anything else you'd like to share with our audience and of course on

behalf of our audience thank you so much for being with us and taking time from your busy

schedule to visit with us but before we sign off is there is there anything else you'd like to share

I would just say you know be curious like ask questions you know about your food like don't

don't think that you don't have choices and that people don't care about your opinion if you're

shopping at your local grocery store or you know you're anywhere else like there is a whole

food system out there at people that are doing some really amazing work and so if you start by

eating and shopping that's one portal but um if food is your thing like there's so many places

to get involved and meet your peers and um you know don't be stressed and lonely about your food

decisions you know like there's it's just there's a whole world out there and I think there's

so much um to be curious about and to learn about and hopefully that feels accessible and hopeful

and not sort of daunting and like guilty um because I think um you know we've come out of a

pretty conventional food culture and now I see it swinging the other direction I started farming

and people in Rhode Island thought I was trying to steal their money joining you know starting a

CSA they were like what do you mean you want to get to give you your money and you're gonna grow

some food for us later and now like in Rhode Island there's tons of CSAs and tons of young

farmers and a whole different food system and community and chefs spying from farms and restaurants

and this vibrancy that I see and so um as much as things are happening at a higher level that might

not be what we want I think there are many levels at which we can be engaged with each other and uh

and with great organizations like Juan Earth and um and many others that are doing really

seminal work with farm workers and otherwise and so like so many ways to get involved whether

it's with people of change or anyone else um yeah it's a it's a great community and I think it's

fun crowd and everybody eats really great food so you know there's the bonus right there so um I hope

this sparks a little bit of that excitement enthusiasm the eyes firmly feel for the work I do um

I hope that that other people can access that however they do absolutely wonderful well the

goal thank you so much for visiting with us today it's really appreciated my pleasure Aaron I

look forward to our next conversation likewise the yonearth community stewardship and sustainability

podcast series is hosted by Aaron William Perry offer thought leader and executive consultant

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Y On Earth - Podcast Cover
Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 36 - Nicole Vitello, President - Produce Division, Equal Exchange

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