Greenhouse Fairtrade Pioneer: Kate Gaskell, Liberation

We love Liberation Nuts – it’s the UK’s only farmer-owned Fairtrade nut company with farmers growing nuts for their own company – so we’re excited to be featuring Managing Director Kate Gaskell as a Fairtrade Pioneer.

Kate GaskellKate started out working as a food technologist for Marks & Spencer’s desserts buying department. She left to do a VSO posting in Belize in 1996. Working with smallholder producers in Belize inspired a desire to work in the Fairtrade sector.

On her return she started working at Tesco’s head office, and after a four-year stint she landed her dream job at Fairtrade pioneer Twin. Twin launched Liberation in 2007 and Kate has been the Managing Director since 2010.

Tell us about Liberation – what’s your mission?

Liberation Foods is a Fairtrade, farmer-owned nut company – our mission is to empower small-scale nut farmers to earn a decent living and plan for the future of their communities.

What motivates you?

The challenge of demonstrating that you can do ‘good’ business in every sense of the word ‘good’. A community of small-scale nut farmers in developing countries is at the heart of everything we do.

It is fascinating to work with such a diverse range of people from brazil nut gatherers in the Amazon rainforest to peanut farmers in Malawi, but what I like most is that our approach is not in any way patronizing; it is about simply doing business but doing it with people who so very often get pushed out of the picture when it comes to big business and making money.

We prove that the smallest farmer in the poorest country can supply great quality nuts to the most demanding of customers.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Introducing Fairtrade nuts to the mainstream market in the UK by launching own label brazil nuts with Tesco back in 2007 and retaining and growing that business.

Today we supply own label Fairtrade brazil nuts, cashew nuts and peanuts to Tesco – the reliable volumes generated by Tesco and by similar business with Sainsbury’s are massively appreciated by our farmers.

What are the challenges you face?

Anyone who works in the food industry will know that buying perishable products from far-flung places is beset with challenges on a daily basis. For instance, we are in the midst of the brazil nut gathering season in the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia, gatherers spend days at a time camping in the forest gathering the nuts and every year it’s a race against time to get nuts out of the forest and to the port before the rainy season hits, bringing the chaos of closed roads and flooding. It certainly keeps us on our toes.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

I am excited about our forthcoming new range of products that extol the healthy virtues of nuts – nuts are so often thought of as a somewhat guilty snack when actually they are a great source of protein, ‘heart healthy’ fats, vitamins and minerals.

Where do you want to take Liberation next?

I am looking forward to seeing our Liberation branded nuts appearing in many more outlets in the UK and to developing our export customers – our name translates so well into French we have to get them over the Channel!

What can individuals do to make a difference?

The obvious answer is buy products with the Fairtrade mark on. I would add though, even better, buy Fairtrade products from Fairtrade pioneer companies like Liberation (obviously!), Divine Chocolate, Caf̩direct, Traidcraft and Tropical Wholefoods Рthat way you know that the farming communities who produce the raw material are given top priority in the supply chain.

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If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Make every Friday a National Meat Free day and promote the healthy, environmental and household budgetary benefits of cooking with and eating nuts instead. For now I have to content myself with promoting the annual National Nut Day which falls on 22nd October.

Am I allowed to say what I’d do if I ruled the world for a day?! I would eradicate trade barriers for developing countries so that all countries can really do business on a level playing field, not one where wealthy countries are protected by colonial-style tariffs and agreements.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across?

Product wise, I always love coming across something brand new to me and I’m buzzing about ‘Sacha inchi’ or the ‘Inca peanut’. Our Peruvian brazil nut gatherer friends introduced us to them – a tasty, crunchy snack packed with Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. I’d love to bring them to the UK market : watch this space!

Can you recommend a life-changing book for our readers?

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond – a fantastic insight into why poor countries are poor and why rich countries are rich. It was instrumental in my decision to move into the Fairtrade sector and gives me the ammunition to argue back against anyone who ever dares to suggest inherent superiority of any particular group(s) of people.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

Having a two year old son and an open plan kitchen and living rooms; the answer to that is the strains of C Beebies coming from the TV!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

When I was gearing up to step up to the Managing Director position, ‘You are great at getting things done Kate, now you need to move up to making thing happen’. Running a small company, I guess these days I do about 50% of each!

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

A long-standing colleague and fellow founder of Liberation Foods, Nicolas Hoskyns, who has been championing the cause of small-scale peanut farmers and their communities in Nicaragua for many years.

To keep in touch with all the latest from Liberation, follow Liberation on Twitter and on Facebook or visit their website.

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