The following reflection was offered by Andrew Kessel, Natural Foods Account Representative, Equal Exchange
What is your food co-op, favorite place to get a cup of coffee, or house of worship doing this Saturday for World Fair Trade Day?
Danica Yacik, from the Bound Brook Presbyterian Church in Middlesex, NJ
It is no surprise that an important factor contributing to Equal Exchange’s success is the diversity of support that we receive in helping build the Fair Trade movement. Much of this support has come from our retail partners – food co-ops, natural food stores, cafés, and even a few offices and conventional supermarkets, while other support has come from civil society – churches, synagogues, schools, and activist coalitions. With Fair Trade day coming up this Saturday and our 23rd birthday (May 1st), we are celebrating.
Let’s take the time to honor our partners for their support and creativity.
All across the U.S., we have seen examples of people acting and thinking creatively to engage consumers in Fair Trade. In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee FT Coalition does a Fair Trade crawl and has passports that get stamped as people visit local Fair Trade businesses. In Maryland, the students at St. Mary’s College fought with the administration to make their own food service more sustainable and ethical. Over the last two years, they were able to start a composting system, grow their own garden on campus, and bring in Fair Trade coffee. Last year, they helped start an Equal Exchange café on campus and we are continuing to work them as they try to convert the other café on campus, currently a Starbucks café, into a second Equal Exchange Café!
In preparation for World Fair Trade Day, a lot of people seem to be organizing and planning events around the world’s largest Fair Trade coffee break. Outpost Natural Foods Co-op (Milwaukee, WI) is featuring two Fair Trade product displays: one with wines and chocolates and another one for produce including our Domestic Fair Trade snacks (pecans, cranberries, and almonds) along with some Fair Trade bananas, locally made Fair Trade chocolate, and caramel ice cream to top it off – sounds like a delicious Fair Trade split! Weaver’s Way Co-op (Philadelphia, PA) also is setting up a display with our hot cocoas and Fair Trade snacks with a Fair Trade hiking theme.
These events in May are not anomalies as many people continue to use the holidays as excuses to promote a more equitable form of trade. Starting in February with Valentine’s Day and all of the obvious chocolate connections and then with May (Fair Trade Day), people have gotten creative in July as well. For example, Lori’s Natural (Rochester, NY) made an interesting display featuring independent companies on Independence Day. In October, we celebrate Co-op and Fair Trade month and many retailers have come up with displays featuring products from other co-operative businesses. Halloween, at the end of the month, has also been a particularly fruitful time for education and outreach and Equal Exchange has helped lead the charge with our Reverse Trick-or-Treating campaign.
Some people have really taken it upon themselves to use Halloween as a teaching moment: “Now that I’m aware [of child slavery on cocoa farms], I feel it is my duty to tell everyone I can about how they can use their consumer dollars to change the world. That’s why last October during Halloween I organized an event at The Gathering church in Salem, Massachusetts called Death by Chocolate. Volunteers from The Gathering, Grace Fellowship, the organization Not for Sale, Gordon College and I gave tourists free Equal Exchange mini bars which they could eat while listening to a recorded story about a boy who was tricked into working in the cocoa fields in Africa. It was a bittersweet experience. They loved the chocolate. And they were as shocked as I was to learn about the existence of slavery in the production of non-Fair Trade chocolate.”- Anita Coco of Grace Fellowship Church in Danvers, Massachusetts, and is active in the Disciples of Christ Coffee Project.
Lastly, we can’t forget the end-of-the year festivities when everyone is looking for a creative idea. At the Humble Bean Coffeehouse (Sioux Center, Iowa), the owners looked for a way to re-use materials and commit to green business principles. For over a couple of months they saved the silver 5 lb bulk bags that our coffee comes in and used them to make wreathes for Christmas time. They even had some of the “regular” customers help them out, resulting in a beautiful Fair Trade Christmas Gala.
The Humble Bean is not the only place that’s found interesting ways to re-use the 5 lb. bulk bags. One employee at Bloomingfoods Co-op (Bloomington, IN) used the bags to make Fair Trade wallets which she then sent back to us as gifts while another employee there used the bags for a local parade as “Ms. Fair Trade.” Go Bloomingfoods Co-op!
And finally, sometimes places such as Bulldog News (Seattle, WA), one of our cafe accounts, are just plain too cool for words. They did a Fair Trade coffee tasting at the University of Washington’s Burke Musueum (Natural History) in conjunction with an exhibit on coffee!
The funny thing is that people are always being creative and coming up with fun ideas for promoting Fair Trade and we sometimes forget that collectively it does add up and make a difference. A lot of times we don’t even hear about what’s going on but we know that there are people out there helping organize to become the next Fair Trade town, or students (such as the group, United Students for Fair Trade ) who are working to encourage their food service suppliers to switch to Fair Trade products, and the countless others pushing for a more ethical and sustainable food system. So as we celebrate, others build displays; enjoy Fair Trade splits and a cup of coffee to recognize Fair Trade Day on Saturday, what will you – as consumers – do?