Stacey Toews is cofounder and
communications catalyst for Level Ground
Trading ( www.levelground.com), a wholesaler
based in Victoria, B.C.
It all started in 1997, when two idealistic young couples came together with one purpose – to alleviate poverty through direct
trade with marginalized farming
From our base on the west coast
of Vancouver Island, we established
our first trade relationship with a
coffee farming co-op in Colombia
and began roasting their coffee.
Our first customers were Ten
Thousand Villages stores in Canada
and a handful of churches.
Today, in our 19th year of business as Level Ground Trading, we
are proud to say we trade with
5,000 farmers in ten countries and
continue to source our products
directly from small-scale farmers.
Our partnership with that original
co-op in Antioquia, Colombia enables the children of coffee-farming
families to access education. This
year, there are nearly 200 students
directly receiving education in 35
rural schools in the area due to our
Colombian coffee program.
In November 2015 I visited with
three beneficiaries of the program.
Their education, which would have
stopped around age 12, was able to
continue through university.
Today Martin is a veterinarian,
Bibiana is a medical doctor and
Elizabeth is an agricultural engineer. They each attribute their degree and career opportunity to the
partnership Level Ground has in
Our company focuses on sourcing everyday consumables that
aren’t produced locally. Currently
these include coffee, tea, cane sugar,
dried fruit, heirloom rice, cacao
nibs, spices, vanilla beans and
We’re big fans of the “eat local”
and organic movements, but we’ve
come to realize the majority of our
food is not only imported, but
completely anonymous. We work
to remove the extra links in the
global trade chain so consumers
can have a traceable path back to
those who farm our food.
Adding a human element lets
consumers view everyday food
purchases as personal acts of
thoughtfulness, and even as worship. Our packaging proudly displays photos of farmers who produce our products. Farmers are
paid for the use of their photo.
For us, it’s always been about
providing transparency. Now we
find ourselves as “mainstream”
products, in grocery and health
food stores in addition to our faith-based and fair trade store roots.
How does our business model
work? We’re a for-profit business
who wholeheartedly believes quality products mean farmers get paid
well, and customers will remain
loyal, especially customers who
value a human connection to those
who labour to feed us.
We uphold the dignity of producers by choosing a model that does
not involve charity. It’s trade, not
aid. This year more than $5 million
will be paid to farmers who produce
In each community we can quantify the positive effect of our direct
trade model, and these effects are
most noticeable where we’ve traded
the longest. What’s key to this model
is that we don’t give up a trade relationship that’s tough. We persevere
to work toward a better future for
As a member of the Fair Trade
Federation, we uphold principles
that focus on the holistic well-being
of our producer communities.
Everything from the rights of
women and children to stable
payments and environmental im-
pacts is regularly scrutinized.
Being fair means so much more
than just paying a fair price. It also
means being fair to the environ-
ment. If we really believe God’s
creation is ours to steward, that
should affect our business choices.
Here are three examples of how
this looks for us:
• We’ve been landfill-free for 12
years! Our whole process of
product flow is built around a
dozen streams of recycling and
composting waste materials.
• Our staff are given financial incentives to “green commute.”
This means they receive payment
for how they get to work, especially cycling, carpooling or riding the bus.
• In 2015 we launched a Canadian-made coffee package that’s 100 per
cent compostable. Yes, it took a lot
of work and research, but it has
been highly effective in emphasizing the importance we place on the
care of creation and its resources.
God deeply loves those who are
poor. So a posture of kindness and
compassion should infuse all our
interactions with those who live in
If we truly believe God created
all people to be equal, then we
should each work toward creating
an equal chance at a decent and
dignified lifestyle for everyone.
Trading fairly and directly with
small-scale farmers is the way we
choose to live out our faith in the
in 35 rural
due to our
How a B.C. company is changing the way we trade