Appreciating stores devoted to selling Fair Trade goods

I feel passionate about Fair Trade, a kind of international financial safety net for workers traditionally exploited in the production of goods like coffee, cocoa and vanilla – as well as crafts and increasingly other goods. In producing our documentary currently in the film festival circuit about Ugandan coffee farmers building peaceful relationships and economic development, we witnessed firsthand the daily difficulties faced by coffee farmers in producing this commodity we take for granted when we start our days every morning. To pick good coffee, for instance, the cherry (shell containing the coffee bean) must be red. A farmer committed to quality might spend all day working under an equatorial sun picking only the ripe cherries hanging from hundreds or even thousands of trees, just to start all over again the next day as new cherries ripen. He or she then relies on manual labor to depulp the shells, sets the beans out to dry, then collects them in bags weighing over 100 lbs. when full, slung over shoulders to collection and payment points.

Farmers who are members of a Fair Trade co-op are assured a baseline price per pound of coffee that is set by the NY Commodity Exchange. The price cannot fall below that level, assuring the farmers they will be paid a fair wage for their coffee. The wage is not enough to enable them to afford luxuries like tickets to a sports game or even a movie, but it does help them send their children to school by buying books and uniforms for them and to improve the infrastructure of their homes and local communities.

The documentary Delicious Peace Grows In A Ugandan Coffee Bean addresses the plight of farmers and the benefits of Fair Trade. It also talks about the Fair Trade coffee buyer who plays a vital role by partnering with the co-op then marketing and selling their product. In the case of the Ugandan farmers in our documentary, that buyer was Thanksgiving Coffee Company, a business in Ft. Bragg, CA working with several co-ops in S. America and Africa. After all, without support and sales, the whole system fails.

But one party that is often overlooked in the scheme of Fair Trade is the small storeowner who sells Fair Trade items. I thought about that today as Krystal Sancho, associate producer on the documentary, and I sat down with the owners of a wonderful little Fair Trade store called Terra located in our hometown of Montclair, NJ. When Delicious Peace screens at film festivals around the country, viewers invariably ask, “Where can I buy the coffee?” The answer is almost always “online,” but not when the documentary is screened in the metro NY area. Then I can say, “Terra.”

Terra has coffee, cocoa, beautiful jewelry, and handicrafts like hotplates, wallets, and toys. The shelves are filled with items for every occasion, and each purchase endows the recipient with a dose of double-joy: the wonderful product itself as well as the knowledge that its purchase has improved someone’s life somewhere in the world.

The owners of Terra are understated about their role, focusing instead on the impact of the Fair Trade model. In actuality, however, they are a key liaison in the process. It is through the Terras of the world that these goods are discovered and purchased. Sometimes Fair Trade establishments are part of larger groups, like the Ten Thousand Villages stores in a number of cities. But often they are just little shops like Terra on Church Street in Montclair, working hard without a major marketing machine to broadcast their crucial message.

So here’s to Fair Trade stores! We need to appreciate and use our buying power to support the hard work they exert as much as we feel that way about the folks who produce, buy and distribute the goods that line their shelves.

7 Responses to “Appreciating stores devoted to selling Fair Trade goods”

  1. Tweets that mention Appreciating stores devoted to selling Fair Trade goods « Ellenfriedland's Blog -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Kevin M Roth Says:

    Great article. These shops are doing a lot to promote social change through fair trade only practices. Thanks for shining the spotlight on some of the smaller (but just as important) fair trade stores.

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