They’re back! The delicious organic avocados we enjoyed last winter are back in stores. These avocados come from the PRAGOR co-op, twenty-two small-scale avocado growers in Michoacán, Mexico, and we buy them through Equal Exchange.
Before forming a co-op, the avocado farmers faced many obstacles: Drug cartels often set up road blocks on the mountain roads the farmers needed to travel to their farms. The multinational companies who were buying paid low, inconsistent prices. (In 2012, Pragor producers received prices as low as $0.27 per pound for their highest quality Category I organic avocados when selling to multinationals.) The companies also dishonestly categorized much of the harvest as the lower-quality Category II or III. (The companies reported that 40 to 50% of the avocados were Category I, but when Pragor began managing themselves, they found that 85 to 90% of their avocados were Category I.)
In 2010, PRAGOR reorganized and decided to control the process themselves. Their new organization espouses values such as Respect, Loyalty, and Participation. This bold move removed some obstacles and introduced new ones: The packing houses (a necessary step in sending avocados to the United States) either refused to work with small-scale farmers or were mafia-controlled. (The farmers persevered and eventually found a packing house that is a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest farm.) Mexican avocados must undergo five USDA inspections, each of which costs the farmer money. There are also expensive land certifications that must be obtained yearly. (Read Equal Exchange’s series about their visit to Michoacán and the obstacles facing the farmers on their blog, here.)
Buying avocados directly from the farmers for a fair price has a huge impact. Last season, over a million avocados were purchased by Equal Exchange, resulting in $794,660 paid to the farmers, plus an additional $30,816 premium paid into a fund for projects like a music program and elderly center. (Weaver Street Market purchased over $100,000 of these avocados from Equal Exchange!) Buying directly also enables us to sell the avocados for a good price without ripping off the producer. We are excited that these avocados are again in season and in our stores.