Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Value Added Local Food program
Today I am turning my column over to Emmi Fisher, an LLCC student and student worker in the LLCC Green Center.
Cold weather is around the corner; the hot spiced pumpkin latte and caramel cinnamon-apple iced coffee are soon to be the popular choice of flavors within the coffee drinkers’ community. However, most of the beans that help produce these well-liked flavors are imported from many miles away. According to “Fair Trade USA Helps Small Farmers Build Better Businesses,” Columbia, Brazil and Vietnam are the largest coffee importers to the U.S. These countries have a long history of farm worker injustices and poor small farmer training in risk management and global marketing of their produce.
According to the “History of Fair Trade,” the fair trade way of thinking was created at Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) when they began buying needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946 and started trading these goods with poor southern U.S. communities. Following this lead, in Europe an English shop started to buy Chinese refugee goods and selling them to help the new immigrants’ colonies with funding. Afterwards, parallel movements started popping up all over North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. The first main goal of the new organization (known as Fair Trade today) was to help producers with adequate training in marketing their goods and produce on a local, then national level.
So, why would sipping on fair trade coffee be more beneficial to the coffee growers and consumers? Fair trade supports sustainable growing practices. This helps the growing environment be rich with beneficial factors that are positive for the continued growth of goods throughout the years, as well as biodiversity being preserved or created. It also means less pesticides and chemicals are used on the beans. Coffee in fair trade is not mass produced so each bean can have time to fully mature and develop its full, intended flavor.
Fair trade is an investment in the local community of the producer and seller. The profit from the goods is a greater percentage to the farmer because the middle man is eliminated. The organization also incorporates fair pay and money distribution to the farmers and farm workers. Additionally, fair trade offers incentives for producers to reinvest profits back into their local communities.
Fair trade helps educate producers on marketing, risk management and economics. They want these farmers to be able to negotiate, develop supply-chain management, and deliver their produce to their sellers. The program encourages educational classes to also assist with the farm workers, so they can be better trained and understand their worker rights.
However, is fair trade getting a fair name? After performing research, some top U.S. universities think that fair trade helps, but can use some improvements. The research results find that the poorest of poor growers are not helped by the system because of the certification cost. Fair trade programs are also not found in the poorest of poor countries that could use the service, and they feel that the program fails to address poverty.
Since fair trade began this movement of creating a fair pay, knowledge improving, and a sustainable community, the next step of the process involved the improvement of the fair trade standards. The new direction would be with direct trade. Direct trade works with fair trade, but it is more personal between the growers and the buyers. In direct trade the standards are set by the buyers themselves, not a third-party organization as in fair trade. Direct trade also has no joining or certification fee because the buyers are purchasing the product first hand. Direct trade focuses more on product quality and economic, social and environmental quality from the grower. Fair trade is similar, but no quality regulation is specifically set on the certification process.
The benefits of fair trade are well known among residents of coffee growing regions. “Fair trade has helped Bolivian farmers to keep living, and this has also shaped the Bolivian economy in a positive way,” says Gabriel Munoz, a Bolivian born college athlete now studying in the U.S.
Springfield’s coffee scene consists of approximately 12 different coffee shops, with several having more than one location in the city. After calling them to learn more about their sourcing, I found several who are committed to serving sustainable coffee including Starbucks, Bean Counter LLC, Caribou Coffee, Grab-A-Java and Custom Cup. The owners of Grab-A-Java, Pete and Meg Lazare, explained, “After seeing inconsistent quality from the beans when we started our business 20 years ago, we turned to fair trade sourcing. We only buy coffee that is responsibly sourced to have a social and environmental impact, and provide the best possible product to our customers.”
So, as the cool weather rushes in and your cold brews turn into your hand warmers of the morning, look for the fair trade, more sustainable coffee brewers of Springfield. You will not just be helping yourself to a delicious cup of coffee, but the environment, the small farmer overseas, and the community that is being built from your purchase as well, and if it is something that does not seem to fit in with your route or end goal, like the old Christmas saying goes, “You can just go back to your old ways on the 26th.”