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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2009 Archives > September-October 2009 > Have yourself a ... Fair Celebration

Artists who are part of a fair trade co-op in the Dominican Republic carve statues.  Funds support their families and a community school. Photo by Kelli Martini
Have yourself a ... Fair Celebration

By Kelly C. Martini

On his first trip to Chiapas, Mexico, from Media, Pa., Hal Taussig watched small children picking coffee beans all day long in hot fields. He described the scene as "slave-like conditions."

When the longtime social justice advocate returned a couple years later, the children were no longer working. They were attending school.

Mexico produces 60 percent of the world's coffee. Most of it comes from the poorest parts of the country. The coffee pickers Taussig saw had found hope when they received fair wages as part of a fair trade cooperative.

"Coffee is the biggest commodity in the world after oil," he says. "Coffee growers have been badly underpaid, and fair-trade coffee can double the income of these poor farmers while raising the cost of a cup of coffee by a dime." Taussig sees buying fair-trade products as directly impacting the world's poorest people.

At its simplest, "fair trade" means supporting farmers, artists and other goods producers without a middle person who often takes the largest share of the money. When money goes directly to local producers, the purchases send children to school, rather than fields or sweatshops. Women earn wages that help them leave poverty and gain self-worth. Products are produced legally in ways that protect people and the environment.

For Pablo Quilla, a Peruvian artist, selling his work through a fair-trade organization offers a way to share his culture "and also live a better life and study. I am proud that my children are attending university. Fair trade has changed our lives."

Taussig believes it's the responsibility of "rich consumers in industrialized countries as opposed to people who produce goods living in abject poverty getting hardly survival pay" to work for justice. "Whenever the poor are juxtaposed with the rich, Jesus takes the side of the poor," he says.

Packages of coffee, chocolate and tea are traditional gifts for teachers, bus drivers, neighbors and others. The effort to buy these through fair-trade organizations can be educational.

In 2008, the United Methodist Committee on Relief promoted a "100-Ton Challenge" to urge United Methodists to purchase 100 tons of fairly traded coffee, tea, chocolate and snacks over a year.

Although the 100-ton mark was not quite achieved, "the fair-trade issue is indeed gaining momentum among United Methodists," says June H. Kim, UMCOR's hunger and poverty executive.

In Media, where Taussig is a member of First United Methodist Church, the borough in 2006 became the first fair-trade town in the United States -- the result of advocacy that other United Methodists could replicate (www.fairtradetownsusa.org). Shops and restaurants make fair-trade products available, and workplaces use them. Campaigns and steering committees educate and involve townspeople. First Church participates in a monthly "arts stroll" to support local musicians, artists and fair-trade businesses.

For Sheila Litchfield of Charlemont (Mass.) Federated Church, fair trade is about personal connections.

Charlemont has taken more than nine delegations of United Methodists, Congregationalists and American Baptists who form the church to rural Nicaragua. It has also raised funds for Nicaraguans from a sister church to come to Charlemont. Dialogue and relationships bring education about similarities, an understanding of true poverty and a personal connection to coffee they drink every Sunday.

Litchfield and the others have learned "it takes an effort to help people look at the impact of their own personal consumption." Analyzing values behind purchases can directly affect people.

Doreen Krut, a social worker and mother of two teenage boys from Bethel United Methodist Church outside Pittsburgh, plans ahead for birthdays and holidays. She likes fair-trade jewelry and musical instruments.

"I often try to use places like SERRV and Ten Thousand Villages because a higher percentage of the profits go to the people who make the products," she says. "I feel like it's my responsibility to acknowledge the presence of other people who may feel invisible in the world economy."

Mark Andrews (right) and his son Mark cook stew made entirely of items obtained through a Community-Supported Agriculture farm. Courtesy of Sandy Andrews
Margarita Torres, from El Salvador, says, "In the cooperative, we work together, everyone supports each other. When SERRV places an order with us, we are happy because there is work. It is a source of hope."

Bethel members lead in developing fair-trade markets at area Christmas bazaars and craft fairs. "It's very easy for a local congregation to have a fair-trade market a few times each year," Krut says. "You can order a potpourri of fair-trade things at your church. You can create a mood with global music and make the market an educational event for kids and families."

Diane Martin of First United Methodist Church  in Powell, Wyo., prepares for gift giving by shopping at a Global Village store in Billings, Mont. She tries to "patronize and publicize" what fair trade offers.

Buying fair trade may cost more, but Krut responds, "Break down and spend the extra few dollars, because it makes a huge difference in people's lives."

Sandy Andrews and the Elizabeth Circle from St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del., raised $1,800 by selling beaded necklaces -- made from paper -- for Project Have Hope, directly supporting women in the Acholi Quarter of Uganda.

Karen Sparacio, the organization's director, says her fair-trade organization has sent 92 children to school this year, given 32 microcredit loans and enrolled many others in vocational training 2 all because women are making beads from paper in Uganda and women like those in Delaware are selling them.

For Andrews, fair trade is a lifestyle, something to consider when giving gifts -- and buying groceries.

She and others from her church belong to a Community-Supported Agriculture farm -- a partnership between the consumer and a farm or group of farms. Members of a CSA become shareholders in the harvest and receive a box of produce each week. The program supports fair trade with food producers in the United States.

"Each Tuesday I pick up a grocery bag loaded with many kinds of vegetables, fruit and herbs," says Andrews. "It requires an adventurous palette and cooking creativity, but it has been interesting!"

CSA programs assure that growers have people to buy their produce. It also allows farmers to educate consumers about the process of producing fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat.

As families gather around their table for holiday meals, lambs and turkeys from CSAs and prayers for those who produce them take on new meaning. Creativity and planning in gift giving can affect people -- locally and globally. Preparing to make fair trade purchases of gifts, food and beverages indicates a readiness for a life valuing all God's children.

--Kelly C. Martini is a freelance writer in Glen Mills, Pa.

Places to Start for Fair-Trade Purchases:

www.equalexchange.org  : Equal Exchange (coffee, tea, chocolate and snacks; supported by United Methodist Women and UMCOR)

www.serrv.org : SERRV

www.tenthousandvillages.com : Ten Thousand Villages

www.projecthavehope.org : Project Have Hope

www.globalexchangestore.org : Global Exchange fair-trade store

www.localharvest.org/csa : Find community-supported agriculture near you.




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