Posts Tagged ‘fair trade’

pecansa1.jpg Saturday night was about knowledge, straight up. Knowledge that could easily be lost. Valuable knowledge, that gave our sweet apples their crunch, and left salted, roasted pecans melting on our tongues.Equal Exchange and Fair Trade USA may parade their glossy pamphlets into a profitable niche market, and consumers might have their qualms about the economics of the minimum price and farmer premiums of Fair Trade in a Free Trade market. We could have talked about accountability, or economics, or about the process and cost of certification, or about exactly how much Barney and Chris pay their Jamaican employees on their 200-acre orchard in Vermont. Any of these topics would most likely have resulted in just as striking and informative an event. But speaking for myself, and Saturday’s Park Slope crowd, we’ve spent time on those topics before.parkslopecoop.jpg For me, Connecting Movements was different. We were in the upstairs, high ceilinged, dull-green back room of the Park Slope Food Coop, and no one needed a rehearsed sales pitch and a cheery encouragement to “Buy Fair Trade!” Four farmers sat at the front of the room, beside each other: Yocser Godoy Carranza from Coopetrabasur in Costa Rica, Diann Johnson from the Southern Alternatives Agricultural Cooperative in Georgia, and Barney and Chris Hodges from Sunrise Orchards in Vermont. They predictably tipped their hats to the organizations with which they work: Oké USA, the Domestic Fair Trade program of Equal Exchange, and Red Tomato. They credited these groups with finding good markets, and offering helpful assistance.But the elderly woman in the front row wanted to know if the color of the apple told her anything about it’s sweetness. The hoarse, bearded man in the corner wanted to know if global warming had affected the farmers in a tangible way. The little girl, already in full gypsy costume and braided brunette pigtails, wanted to be sure the chocolate she took, to do Equal Exchange’s “reverse trick-or-treating,” would still be good by Wednesday, on Halloween.The girl was not convinced by any reassurance about the chocolate, and announced she’d be putting it in the freezer as soon as she got home. But the elderly woman barneyhodges.jpg listened intently as Barney Hodges patiently explained the way different varieties of apples are different colors, how the apples change colors as they mature, though some may get sweet while staying green in the shade of thick branches. Barney, standing up, tall and lanky, a Johnny-Appleseed young father, said he could only guess what changes on the farm were the effects of global warming. What he knew? The nights were warmer this year. Macintosh apples require cool nights to mature into sweetness, and gain their red color, and this year they’d taken weeks longer than usual. It had been a record late harvest.Diann Johnson shared with us a step-by-step account of pecan farming. “How many of y’all know anything about pecan farms?!” she began, almost in a rallying cry, followed by a satisfied chuckle at the air above our heads, not a hand raised. dianejohnson.jpg She led us through: the shaker (which shakes the pecan trees), the blower, the sweeper, the harvester, the dump bucket, the assembly line where twigs, hulls, (and snakes!) are cleared away, and where the pecans are washed, baked dry, dumped into a dunlap bag, a holding bag, and then brought to her co-op, where they shell, crack, separate the halves and the pieces, package, and finally sell (!) to individual customers, as well as Equal Exchange. “But it wasn’t that easy!” Diann went on, “Limbs fall when you’re shakin’, and you gotta go and clear ‘em out, one by one. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned all the labor…” She explained how Equal Exchange helped her, especially as a black woman. She’s often blocked in the market, she said, or isn’t taken seriously. But her eyes only lit up again when the elderly woman in the front row asked her pecan question: How do you tell whether the pecans are roasted or salted or candied or raw? Diann smiled and went right ahead, describing every texture and difference, down to the slightly darker color of a roasted nut, and the feel of the salt on your fingers.Yocser Carranza scrunched his broad shoulders and twisted his arms, demonstrating what happens to his plants when there’s too much rain: the flowers stay closed, and the bananas are deformed. When it rains too little, he said, the plant can’t absorb nutrients, the fruit lacks calcium, and often turns a red color that won’t sell at the market. He explained how it would cost less to grow palms for palm oil on the land of his cooperative, rather than bananas, but it takes seven or eight people to work a hectare of bananas, while palms only require one or two. coopetrabasur.jpg Switching crops would leave 150 families in their community without a job. The social advantage of banana production is more important than the benefits of producing palm more cheaply. Bananas keep everyone in the cooperative employed. Iokser told us how Coopetrabasur decides upon how to use their premium from Oké ($1/box): as a community, with a democratic vote. The cooperative built a hospital for its members, and they’re working to capacitate microfinance enterprises. “In every new project or effort,” Yocser explained, “our goal is to increase community benefits.”Barney mentioned at one point in the evening, “If you buy an apple from Washington, you’re benefiting that farmer as much as you’re benefiting me. What I hope is for my customers to have an association with where their food’s coming from, who grew it, and how. You’re more likely to have that with something grown locally. It’s all about having a connection, with the place, and the people.” I’ll be the first to say, he could ask more of America’s customers. But like I mentioned, this night wasn’t about high-minded ideals and social solutions. It was about the red of an apple, the shake of a pecan tree, the dimensions of a well-grown banana. The event brought together two movements that we often separate – that of local food, and that of Fair Trade – and didn’t need to push the common point. These are people worth supporting, worth knowing, who love what they do, whose knowledge is invaluable. They’re passionate about their land, and they know how to work it. Let these small farms die, in a discriminating, subsidized, or exploitative market, and not only do they lose their land, but we lose their knowledge, and the tastes and relationships their occupation provides.LinksFaces of Fair Trade: Uniting the Global and Local (The Host)Park Slope Food Coop (The Location)Equal ExchangeRed Tomato (see EcoApples Program)Oké USASouthern Alternatives Agricultural Cooperative, Inc.Project Bona FideInterrupción

Read Full Post »