My Fair Trade Story
Global commerce. Big business. World debt. All of these concepts are too large for my ever-cluttered brain to comprehend. At times, these things make me feel like Colin from the Secret Garden: how could one person possibly hold the universe (read: everything) inside of a body? In my case, how could I possibly understand the size of the world, the extent of its societal and natural limits, let alone the universe? I have come to realize that understanding starts on a local level (biology majors out there know, a cellular level, even). It takes a group of friends, community members, schools, and businesses in your comfort zone to change the way the group thinks, behaves, and believes. The same is true for fair trade.
When I was growing up, my mom had a big thing for compost. When our horses were out grazing, she would throw some kitchen scraps or odds-and-ends into the already-growing mound of manure and use it to fertilize our plants. It was normal to my family – why buy any spray or product when we had our own homemade magic potion? It made our sunflowers grow 4 feet tall and gave the tomatoes the best red color (an apparently favorable effect for the deer, too). We also had a coop of chickens who produced the most scrumptious neon-yellow-colored eggs. These two things were the beginning of my relationship with “being green” and “buying farm fresh”. I guess it wasn’t even a choice or an experience necessarily – it was a way of being.
It was only until I spent my college summers in the magical land of Ithaca, “10 square miles surrounded by reality”, that I revisited both of these concepts.
Ithaca is the definition of a foodie town- it has more restaurants per capita than NYC! But, those foodies are pretty particular about where they find their ingredients. Most chefs cook with locally raised meat, organic vegetables, and fair trade products. (Tangent: if you ever visit, you MUST check out the Farmer’s Market on the weekend – it is pure bliss.) So, prices are a little bit higher than the normal small town person would be expecting to pay. However, this community is incredibly strong in their beliefs – they try to make things as healthy, affordable, and ethical as possible. They educate the community, run events, and have a fun attitude towards the whole belief system that makes it contagious.
One business in particular has changed the way I look at local, organic, and fair trade: Cayuga Coffee made by Ithaca Bakery/CTB. It is the hub for my campus’ late night bagels, early morning coffees, and unique snacks when you are feeling blue. It is a staple in the town – so much so that it has three locations despite the close proximity! And, it sells fair trade coffee only. You can read its mission here, explaining how they partnered with Boston’s Equal Exchange. Here’s my favorite line: “Why Cayuga Coffee? We wanted a local connection to celebrate our home. This is the name of the native people of our region, one deserving great respect. The Fair Trade system pays respect and fair wages to the native people in the coffee-growing countries. We’ve incorporated beautiful images and symbols from those countries into the identifying marks of Cayuga Coffee.”
Every student on my campus has had this coffee – it is a symbol of the town in which we lived and loved. So, how could we not have been changed by it in some way? Maybe it is just me, but buying fair trade or local or organic makes me feel better, both inside and out. It helps me digest the big concepts and enjoy my food that much more.
What is a fair trade company or product that has changed your life?