The Shelf Elf goes bananas

The Shelf Elf has been busy again, but this time he’s into bananas. He thinks the banana tree, featuring Equifruit bananas — certified by Fairtrade Canada since 2007 — is a particularly nice addition to the store. The attractive Equifruit logo caught his eye, and he decided to investigate further. He discovered that the company was started in Drummondville, Quebec in 2006 by Danielle and Julie Marchessault, mother and daughter respectively. Ownership has since changed, and the team, now headed by Jennie Coleman, has doubled with four women now responsible for most of the Fairtrade bananas imported into Quebec and Ontario. They provide roughly 9 to 13 million bananas annually, or five million pounds. That’s a lot of bananas! Michelle Gubbels, Equifruit’s project manager, explained to me that the four paid members of the company describe themselves as being “passionate about international development, who see Fairtrade as a real alternative to the current exploitative food system.” They are supported by a phalanx of paid event staff who help to spread the word about Fairtrade at events such as the Fairtrade pop-up shop at Karma on Saturday, June 10, or the Buy Good. Feel Good. expo in May. The Shelf Elf loved the pop-up shop, especially the free samples. He thinks you should come next time.

The Equifruit team has been very encouraged by the growth of sales since its inception, particularly in the field of education. There are Fairtrade schools, Fairtrade cities (including Toronto, Edmonton, Barrie, and Vancouver), and perhaps most significantly, Fairtrade university campuses (such as Brock, McGill, Carleton, and Concordia), as well as Fairtrade events, workplaces and faith groups. In each of these contexts, our elven friend learned, becoming Fairtrade-designated involves getting organized, setting goals and making connections between Fairtrade products and the organization.

The Shelf Elf loves a good story, so he asked his new Equifruit friends if they might share a story or two about the banana producers. He watched the documentary Banana Split on the Equifruit blog. It provided background into the unethical relationship between banana growing companies such as the United Fruit Company (known as Chiquita today), and native landholders. After such a tough story, he was looking for some good news. He found it in the story of Victor Marquez. A farmer in Ecuador, he has a daughter attending university in Machala, an opportunity described as unthinkable before fair labour practices changed the life of Victor and his family. The Shelf Elf has many more things to tell you, as he’s a chatty little fellow, but let’s give the last word to the Equifruit team: “People say that organic bananas are a little sweeter and taste creamier than conventional bananas, but we’re in it for that sweet taste of social justice!”

By Sybille Parry

The Shelf Elf returns, to sample Monforte cheese

Some long-time Chronicle readers may recall a regular visitor to the pages of this publication named the Shelf Elf, a creation of his faithful human scribe, Suzanne Molina. He was a popular little fellow, and garnered a loyal following over the years that he highlighted new products in the store. It has been years since the Shelf Elf’s last visit, but we are happy to report that he is back!

We found the Shelf Elf recently in the dairy cooler where he was making the acquaintance of some of our cheeses, specifically Monforte’s Fontina, Cow Camembert, and Providence cheeses. It seems that the Shelf Elf had tracked down Daniel, a representative of this Stratford, Ontario dairy, and he learned some interesting tidbits.

The Fontina is made from water buffalo milk, sourced from a family of Amish farmers. It is a Tomme-style cheese, with fenugreek seeds giving it flavours of nut and caramel. Next the Shelf Elf asked about the Cow Camembert, which Daniel described as a surface-ripened cheese with a creamy, buttery consistency.

Finally, Daniel and the Shelf Elf discussed the Providence, a cow’s milk cheddar made in partnership with Bright Cheese & Butter. Located west of Kitchener, Bright Cheese & Butter has been operated by local farmers since 1874! Although this cheese is only two years old, it has the flavour of a four- or five-year-old cheddar.

The people of Monforte Dairy describe themselves online as “southwestern Ontario’s premier artisanal cheese company” and state that they use “only seasonal milk from responsible practise.” They add: “At Monforte, we’re convinced the small things do indeed make a difference, that agriculture is best practiced on a human scale, and that our cheeses, each in its own way, reflect something a little deeper than the technology behind mass manufactured food — a little of the poetry and passion of life itself.”

Well, the Shelf Elf thinks this statement very nicely echoes our Karma philosophy! Now he’s angling for a road trip, the little imp, likely in search of some more free samples.

by Sybille Parry
Read more articles from the spring 2017 issue of Karma’s printed newsletter, The Chronicle.