Article Courtesy of Equal Exchange
The avocado is on the weekly grocery list for many American shoppers, but it hasn’t always been that way. Over the last decade, the availability and quality of avocados in the supermarkets has skyrocketed all across the US. This has led to an increased demand in avocados, and therefore many individuals in climates ideal for growing avocados are buying up land and beginning to grow avocados. The volcanic soil in the mountainous region of Michoacan, Mexico is one of those ideal climates, producing some of the best quality avocados in the world. Over the last 10 years, new farms have sprouted up in every corner of this region. Yet Michoacan is not new to agriculture or avocados, there are farmers who have lived on this land and cultivated avocados for decades. The land they live on and work on has been passed down to them by their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. These farmers had a passion for avocados long before The Avocado Toast.
For the past five years, Equal Exchange has partnered with a cooperative in Mexico comprised of 22 avocado farmer members. Many of the members of the coop have lived and farmed in this region for decades.
Gustavo is an avocado farmer, a member of the coop, and on the coop board of directors. He owns and lives on land passed down to him by his father. His orchard is biodiverse and lined with avocado trees that are 50 or 60 years old with branches towering a two or three stories in the air. The quality and richness of the avocados that his trees produce is unmatched. The newer farms surrounding Gustavo’s farm are a stark contrast, with farmers embracing the Chilean style of avocado farming to maximize profits in a shorter period of time. This is a method of high density planting where trees are planted in tightly packed rows, a few feet apart and grow into shorter bushes that must be trellised. Standing on Gustavo’s farm you can look to the left and see his neighbor’s densely planted avocado trees and then look to the right to Gustavo’s spaciously planted family trees (see photos below). This contrast is a stark example of the current landscape: newer farmers and generational farmers that are now cohabiting the land.
Alfredo is also a member of the avocado cooperative. He owns 8 hectares of land, where he lives and farms with his family. The land has been passed down through his family for many generations. They originally farmed maize (corn) on the land, and transitioned to avocados 19 years ago. He and another coop member, Ruben, transitioned their farms to grow avocados organically 16 years ago, a very progressive decision at the time in Mexico. His decision to transition to organic production was inspired by the birth of his first daughter, as well as the wish for his family and community to live in a less toxic environment. It is a lush and beautiful farm in the mountains near Uruapan. Like Gustavo’s farm and the farms of many other coop members, Alfredo’s farm stands in contrast to the surrounding farms where short trees, tightly packed together, represent the newcomers versus land like Alfredo’s, where the care and passion for avocados oozes from every corner.
The lives of these two families highlight an evolving landscape in this region of Mexico. Your purchase of Equal Exchange avocados supports 22 farmers who are progressive small farmer advocates in a rapidly changing environment. Your purchase allows these farmers who have dedicated their lives to changing avocado cultivation and avocado trade to remain on their land, to keep their communities less contaminated, and most importantly to preserve the land for future generations.
Watch this video created by the avocado coop to learn more the importance of organic farming: http://www.beyondthepeel.com/avocado/