When I wake up, my primary focus is getting caffeine into my bloodstream. My preferred method of intake is drinking steaming coffee from my Moonshine Ink Mug (of course), plus I am very picky about adding just the right amount of cream and artificial sweetener. I tried going natural for a while – drinking organic coffee with soymilk and ‘Stevia,’ but honestly, it tasted awful and just made me cranky, so I went back to drinking coffee the way I always have. Once I’ve had a couple of gulps, I can survey the damage my boys have inflicted on the kitchen (they wake at the crack of dawn with no need for stimulants) and get on with my day.

I am obviously very cognizant of coffee, my need for it and its preparation and preeminent role in my morning ritual,- but until recently I never really gave much thought to its origins beyond how it affects the coffee’s taste. I read the words ‘Fair Trade Coffee’ on the can from which I count heaping scoops of coffee grounds, but I am much more focused on getting the scoops into the filter than I am about the meaning of the term.

It has taken me a long time to wake up to the importance of purchasing fair trade coffee and other commodities. The good news is that businesses like Truckee’s Fair and Green – Gifts with Conscious are taking bold steps to promote fair trade goods and to educate consumers about the benefits of being a part of the fair trade supply chain.

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Heidi and Mick Baikie of Fair and Green recently invited the community to a Fair Trade Coffee/Tea/Cocoa Break. On the sunny morning of May 9, World Fair Trade Day, they hosted a drumming circle in their Brickelltown courtyard, decorated with signs and balloons, as the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee beckoned participation in the ‘World’s Largest Fair Trade Coffee Break,’ coordinated in the United States by the Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN). The event’s purpose: highlighting the benefits of fair trade to farmers, producers, consumers, and the environment. Unfortunately, the community seems to not yet have grasped the ramifications of fair trade, and the event was lightly attended.

Is this not an important issue? Are we already experts on fair trade, or is everyone okay with their consumption habits and the ensuing effects on their brothers in third world countries and on Mother Earth? Obviously the situation is dire enough to elicit a special day to tutor us in fair play. We were supposed to learn this when we started trading marbles, baseball cards, and Halloween candy, but somewhere along the way self-interest became our modus operandi.  

Now I am not an economist: I rarely balance my own checkbook (much to my husband’s chagrin) and I am not going to go off on the evils of capitalism exemplified in free trade, lest I be accused of being a communist, socialist, or other type of terrorist, but I do know that promoting businesses that search for the cheapest labor and the highest profits is proving to be an inhumane and unsustainable practice. Fair trade, on the other hand, as Alisa Gravits (Executive Director of Green America) calls it, ‘is a people-powered solution to global economic injustice.’ It ensures that everyone along the supply chain receives fair wages, that workers are treated with dignity, and that the producers take steps to protect the environment. A fair trade certification by organizations like the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) or TransFair USA guarantees that the products sold meet international standards and are labeled accordingly. The organizations establish a fair price, ensuring that farmers will be able to meet their basic living needs plus have enough money to invest in their own communities. Fair trade coffee farmers receive a minimum of $1.35 per pound of coffee, no matter what the market is doing, when farmers in the conventional market can make as little as 45 cents a pound. Heidi explained that fairly traded commodities have a social premium tacked on. Cacao, for example, which costs $1,600 per ton, has a $100 premium, so if the price of cacao falls the farmer will still be fairly compensated.

With the current economic state, some people may be thinking, ‘I can’t pay fair trade prices. It’s too expensive.’ But now is the time to vote with our dollars. Fair trade products are not luxury products. By asking retailers to carry fair trade products you are doing your part to ensure ethical consumerism from farm to shelf. Purchasing a fair trade gift bag of coffee for a friend has a wonderful ripple effect that touches many lives. It also shows your commitment to carrying the message that we are all responsible for social justice, equality, environmental sustainability, community building, and maintaining the family unit.

That’s a lot of good for a small price.  

I asked Heidi what the benefit is for merchants who sell fair trade goods. ‘To know you’re not pillaging the planet, know you’re supporting something sustainable and not sweat shops, child labor, and indentured servitude. Also, you’re giving people a fair shake, just like people in the United States.’

Change is possible. It starts with you doing something as simple as asking the next barista the origins of your drink to make sure it’s fair trade.  

~ Email the author at java@moonshineink.com. Visit Heidi and Mick at Fair and Green – Gifts with Conscious to learn more about fair trade. 10382 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, fair-and-green.com, 530-582-0908.

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