5 Ways to Save Small Farmers with Your Dollar

October is Fair Trade Month, so raise a glass of Fair Trade Certified wine, and try some other fair-trade products you may not have been aware of.

October 6, 2009
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Every year, the nonprofit Transfair USA designates October as Fair Trade Month, reminding people that money spent on coffee, tea, chocolate, and a host of other products can improve the life of a small farmer in Columbia or a cocoa grower in West Africa. Fair Trade certification is aimed at protecting farmers in developing countries from being exploited by large corporations or from going broke due to price fluctuations for commodity crops. The certification requires that companies pay farmers a fair price (usually 10 percent or more above current market prices) for their crops, so that those farmers can pay their workers a living wage, hire adults rather than children, and use more environmentally friendly farming methods that conserve water and biodiversity.

While Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea, and chocolate are pretty widely available here in the U.S., read on to learn about five other Fair Trade products you may not be aware of.

#1: Flowers. Sold by major retailers like 1-800-Flowers and Sam's Club, Fair Trade Certified flowers are grown by farmers who aren't in danger of severe pesticide poisoning. Most of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from South America, where toxic, legal, pesticides such as aldicarb leave workers with skin rashes and chronic respiratory problems, and babies with birth defects. Fair Trade Certification prohibits these hazardous pesticides and encourages farmers to work towards organic certification, even paying them a premium if their farms become certified.

#2: Wine. Relatively new to the U.S., Fair Trade Certified wines are now being imported from Chile, Argentina, and South Africa, wine regions where labor abuses and child labor aren't uncommon. Fair Trade Certified farmers and farmer cooperatives receive a guaranteed minimum price for their crops, which means growers can pay their workers more than just the local (and typically unlivable) minimum wage and send kids to school, not to work in the fields. The certification requires that farmers reinvest Fair Trade premiums back into social and community programs like schools, healthcare facilities, and scholarship programs. For more on Fair Trade wine, visit Etica Wines and Stellar Organics.

#3: Mediterranean diet staples. There seems to be no end to the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, rich in wine, fish, fresh vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, and nuts. The most recent study on this wonder diet found that it can lower the incidence of depression by 42 percent. So why not let the farmers benefit, too? In addition to Fair Trade wines, you can now buy Fair Trade Certified olives and olive oils, mostly from small farmers in Palestine and Argentina. You can buy Fair Trade Certified rice and protein- and iron-rich quinoa from a company called Alter Eco, which also sells Palestinian olive oils. Keep an eye out for Fair Trade nuts and dried fruit, as well. Less common in the U.S., they are available at some wholesalers such as Sam's Club and Costco.
#4: Sports balls. The only nonfood product certified as Fair Trade, sports balls often are made in sweatshop conditions in developing countries. Pakistan currently supplies 70 percent of the world's soccer balls, yet 30 percent of those workers are currently living at or below poverty level. Fair Trade Sports, the only company manufacturing Fair Trade Certified sports equipment, now employs 2,500 well-paid workers at its factory in Pakistan, where they manufacture basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, and footballs using ecofriendly materials like natural rubber from Forest Stewardship Council–certified rubber trees.
#5: Your town. If you feel like Fair Trade Certified products should become more prevalent in your community, you can work towards getting your town certified as Fair Trade. The five criteria are fairly general, and the governing body, Fair Trade Towns USA, encourages interested citizens to implement them however they see fit, based on what you need to cope with at the local level. In order to get certified, you must organize a steering committee, work with local retailers to beef up their Fair Trade product offerings, educate your neighbors, alert the media, and, finally, get your town council to adopt a government resolution requiring the purchase of Fair Trade products whenever such an alternative exists and is viable. Media, Pennsylvania, a small town just outside of Philadelphia, became America's first Fair Trade town in July 2006. Since then 12 other cities have declared themselves Fair Trade, and 19 cities, including Washington DC, are in the process of doing so.