At my daughter’s preschool ‘graduation’, they asked the kids what they wanted to be someday. The kids chirped to the crowd – doctors! lawyers! farmers! dolphin trainers! and I think there were a few mermaids. Then there was that one kid who stood up and said, “I want to save the world someday”. Collective gasps. My jaded self instantly had hope for our future – good luck, kid. So imagine my surprise, when I had the great pleasure of meeting Richard Stark of Level Ground Trading at the Natural Products Expo West show last March. As Richard lit up while speaking, no preaching about Level Ground Trading, I thought, geezus…Richard is essentially the ‘save the world kid’, but grown up.
The Expo West show was overwhelming, and honestly, I’m STILL catching up on content and reviews. However, I saved Level Ground Trading to blog about because I’m a ‘save the best for last’ type of gal. Level Ground Trading, based in Canada, trades fairly with small-scale farmers in developing countries. They have developed personal relationships with these farmers to grow crops such as coffee, tea, cane sugar, dried fruit, cacao nibs, vanilla, coconut, heirloom rice and beautiful spices.
As Richard spoke to us, it was clear he had a deep passion for what Level Ground does. He knew the stories of where each product came from, farmer’s names, size of farm lots and how the fairtrade process that Level Ground Trading has set-up results in a direct beneficial impact upon people across the world.
The Level Ground Backstory:
In 1997, four families came together with the idea of improving the lives of disadvantaged producers through trade. We were inspired by the work of Ten Thousand Villages and were keen to see the principles of Fair Trade applied to foods we consume every day.
Level Ground’s first Fair Trade initiative was buying coffee from a cooperative in Colombia. Fair Trade premiums are directed to educational scholarships in the coffee growing region and the project has grown to support 200 scholarships /year! We’ve loved watching amazing students grow up to become incredible professionals including doctors, agronomists & social workers.
From there… lots happened!
- Trade relationships were formed in Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia, Tanzania & D.R. Congo.
- A Colombian company was formed to produce dried fruit and cane sugar and to provide positive employment for displaced women.
- Trade relationships were started with; small-scale tea growers in India, heirloom rice farmers and coconut oil producers in the Philippines and finally with spice farmers in Sri Lanka & vanilla growers in Uganda.
As a self-proclaimed home chef, I use spices on a daily basis and quite liberally. I used to buy fancy brands from Whole Foods, or go to spice shops and buy by weight. But where were these spices coming from exactly? My spices were faceless with origins unknown. Richard gave me some spices to play with at Expo West, and for the past few months, I’ve been cooking with them. I’ve been extremely happy with the quality and rich flavors from the LevelGround varieties. Fresh spices also pack more anti-oxidants, so I’m not only using sustainable, fair-trade spices but I’m getting an extra health boost!
Level Ground works with Ethical Inspirations in Sri Lanka to purchase spices from small-scale farmers. All spices are purchased fresh off the tree or out of the ground and are dried and ground and packed as soon as possible post-harvest. Farmers are selected for their organic practices and are verified as holders of organic certification by the Department of Export Agriculture in Sri Lanka. Due to cost, each farmer does not hold the rights to their certification certificate and therefore, we they do not state organic certification on the package label, but it’s good to know WHY. LevelGround’s trading partner, Ethical Inspirations, is a Fair Trade organization focused on supporting marginalized farmers with fair prices. As farmers are able to get better prices for their efforts, they can sustainably grow even more spices!
Level Ground Trading has a huge variety of products from around the world, and you can read the stories of individual farmers. The relationship between product and farmer is SO personalized, that you’ll note that there are faces on all of their product packaging!
I truly enjoyed meeting the team (Richard & Kelley) of Level Ground Trading and am inspired to make purchasing changes that not only benefit my family but benefit the world.
If you’re running low on spices, coffee, dried fruit or want to try out some beautifully colored heirloom rice, you may purchase Level Ground Trading products online – and they are available on Amazon. Their prices are competitive for comparable ‘organic’ brands (prices as in CAD online), but with Level Ground you know that there is a great story of human support behind the products!
PSST – Spices, Tea & Coffee make GREAT holiday gifts and that craziness will be upon us before you know. Shop early, shop smart & hey – Save the World 🙂