Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What is Fair About Fair Trade?

As long as I can remember, and that is a long time, the United States of America has been the unofficial “911” of the world.  Global disasters, whether brought about by human hands, or the displeasure of Mother Nature, the American government and its people were ready, willing and able to help.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that I personally took notice that when it came to America itself, we seemed to be failing the 911 calls from our own farmers.

The first Farm Aid Concert was held on September 22, 1985; organized by Willie Nelson, John “Cougar” Mellencamp and Neil Young.  The focus of the concert was to raise money for American farmers who were being threatened by foreclosure due to mortgage debts.  Now while Congress did pass, in 1987, the Agricultural Credit Act, to keep foreclosures at bay, the question remains, why, why was the farming industry in such dire straits?

Simply put, the cause is “dumping”, but an article, Global Trade can Make or Break Farmers, by Jennifer Fahy (Communications Director for Farm Aid) explains it in more detail.  Quote, “Agricultural dumping — the practice of exporting commodities at prices below the cost of production….encourages overproduction, trapping family farmers in a never-ending need for higher yields… forcing…farmers off the land, while damaging rural economies, public health and our environment.”

Jump forward to the 2000s – 2010s and the newest term to hit the food industry, “Fair Trade”; sounds similar to the term “barter”, no?  No, fair trade is, as defined by Fair Trade Certified aka Fair Trade USA, “a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment. In other words, it’s a world-changing way of doing business.”  Formerly this applied to poorer countries, or what are referred to as “third world countries”; but recently the practice is being applied to American food industries, namely farmers.

Should you, as a consumer, make a conscious effort to purchase fair trade products?  Sadly, the answer is dependent on your, or your family’s, financial good or bad health.  Fair trade products are pricey; while a 12 ounce package of Dunkin’ Donuts (coffee beans from Latin America) costs an average of $6.99; Equal Exchange’s 12 ounce package will cost an average of $8.99.  Equal Exchange gets their coffee beans from a small town in Brazil, called Bahia, and, now hold on a minute, isn’t Brazil in Latin America!?!  The difference is large company growing and harvesting the beans as opposed to family farmers in a small village.  The product you decide to purchase is now dependent on what you can comfortably afford to pay.

In my humble opinion, the concept of fair trade is not unreasonable; we can apply it to the “small cottage” industry San Juan County is attempting to develop.   A huge corporation can make jams and jellies, selling cheaper in bulk.  At home businesses will have similar products, made fresh, by folks you personally know, just a bit more costly.  Which should you buy?  Again, it’s dependent on what you can comfortably afford; but I know I’d rather see a San Juan County, Utah, USA label on a jar of jam, then “Made in China”.  Again, that’s just my own opinion.

Mary Cokenour

Note: All photographs are of products available at Nature’s Oasis, Durango, CO


Fair Trade Certification extended to USA farmers:

Fairness to USA Farmers:

Farm Aid:

Farm Aid’s mission is to keep family farmers on their land to guarantee an agricultural system that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities.



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