Riverford Wicked Leeks

fairtrade fortnight - banana stories

It may be Fairtrade Fortnight, but here at Riverford we do our best to ensure everyone we work with gets treated fairly all of the time. Our bananas are grown by a co-operative of small scale farmers in the Dominican Republic, and in the same way that our co-op of growers here in the UK shares equipment and growing know-how, so the farmers in the Banelino co-op band together to compete with the privately owned plantations. We choose to buy from them as it ensures that a fair share of the profit goes back to the local people who grow the fruit.

A new banana farm is established with the planting of small shoots that look a bit like a leek, from which the banana ‘tree’ grows (the trunk is actually made from adapted leaves). After six months, the plant produces a huge, extraordinary-looking flower. The fruits emerge up what then becomes the banana stem, and 10-12 weeks later, they are ready for harvesting. Once cut, the stems are loaded onto hooks and hand-pulled to shared washing and packing stations. Peculiar trains of lime-green fruit shunt and clack through the humid groves through much of the day; certainly different from pulling leeks in drizzly Devon!

There is more to the Banelino co-op than simply shared logistics though. As well as being organic, our bananas are also Fairtrade. This means we pay an extra $1 for every 18kg box which goes directly back to the community, via Banelino. Some is used to improve the farms, the rest funds social projects like schools and healthcare provision for the farmers, their families and their workers. This includes one of only two schools for children with special needs in the entire country.

After being packed into boxes on the farms, the bananas travel north to the port at Monte Cristi. After a nine day voyage to Portsmouth they are taken to the Fyffes ripening rooms in Basingstoke, before reaching us at the Riverford farms. When they get to you, just pop them in your fruit bowl if they are still a little green and they will ripen pretty swiftly. After that, it’s packed lunches, banana bread, banoffee pie; all the tastier for knowing the story behind them.