Food Co-ops Are Building a Better Supply Chain for the Climate

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By: Co+op, stronger together

Food co-ops have a long history of tackling complex issues in our food system. From pesticides to pasturing, it’s our business to know how your food gets made. Climate change has already begun to have major implications for food production and we take this challenge seriously. Sourcing food from local, organic farmers and producers who are using best practices for land and animal management is our specialty, but what about food that comes from far away?

Working together, food co-ops across the country have been able to make progress within our supply chain to support innovative projects that are putting real climate solutions into practice, especially in tropical areas of the world. Tropical rainforests are widely recognized as one of the most important natural resources we have when it comes to reversing global warming, yet currently, most agriculture taking place in the tropics is actively contributing to the problem.

Taking responsibility for our supply chain

To build relationships with our local farmers, we can often pop over to their farm for a visit—not so easy to do with farmers in Peru, for example! So food co-ops have partnered with PUR Projet, an international company that helps connects food companies to the ecosystems they depend upon. They linked us with fair trade farmer cooperatives in Peru that grow cocoa for Alter Eco (whose chocolate we sell), so that we can contribute to their farmer-led rainforest conservation and agroforestry programs. All of which have been identified by Project Drawdown’s team of researchers as key climate change solutions.

We’ve named our project Co+op Forest, to reflect our combined cooperative effort. We fund the growth of Co+op Forest through monetary contributions that are calculated based on the annual carbon footprint of our national grocery cooperative, National Co+op Grocers (NCG).* Because we cooperatively own and operate NCG, this is one way that working together on a national scale has enabled food co-ops to tackle some of the biggest issues in our food system today—ones that would be difficult to address on the local level alone.

Co+op Forest is as powerful as it is beautiful

Co+op Forest is a carbon offset program, but we see it as much more vibrant, joyful and human than that. Since we started offsetting our carbon emissions in 2012, we have invested in the planting and protection of almost 2 million trees in the tropical rainforests of Peru—including the San Martin BioCorridor, one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. In part because Co+op Forest is a farmer-led project that empowers the local community, the BioCorridor was recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2016 as a model for sustainable communities.

We are extremely proud of this work our community of food co-ops is doing on an international scale. Through the power of cooperation, we are having a significant positive impact on our global supply chain. We are piloting cutting-edge climate solutions that prioritize people and the planet—all in a day’s work!

Learn more about Co+op Forest, watch a video and see a timeline of the various inspiring projects we’ve invested in over the years in our article, Co+op Forest Carbon Offset Program Slows Climate Change.

*National Co-op of Grocers.

Meet Lady Teolith

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Lady Teolith is a pioneer farmer in Co+op Forest’s Finca a la Media program. Lady invested in the purchase of farmland 50/50 with PUR Projet, with the goal of farming using agroforestry methods.

Agroforestry is a simple idea with a big name. It involves planting a range of crops that include shade trees which Lady can one day sustainably harvest for retirement income, cash crops like cacao and coffee, and low-growing, quickly maturing crops like plantains, pigeon peas and Sacha Inchi, a popular local medicinal plant.

Lady has completed her first year in the program and produced a good crop of plantains, pigeon peas and Sacha Inchi—her profits from this year will be split 50/50 with PUR Projet which will use that money to make the same 50/50 investment with another farmer.

Her cacao will begin producing a harvestable crop in two years—at which time she will completely own her farm and retain all profits going forward. She is very happy with the program.

Agroforestry has been identified as one way we can continue to enjoy favorite foods like chocolate, coffee, coconut and bananas without the negative environmental impacts usually associated with their production. In fact, agroforestry actively slows climate change!