Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Buy Fair Trade Certified? Coffee Is One Reason!

Here is an article that I wrote for HonestCooking.com concerning items and foods labeled Fair Trade Certified.  There are other labels such as Rainforest Alliance, organic and other international organizations.  Companies such as Ten Thousand Villages which is a favorite of my daughter's is a Fair Trade retailer and the town Media, PA claims to be the first Fair Trade Town.  I have always been drawn to the uniqueness and quality of these products and love the concept that I am effecting someone's life and community directly instead of through a large corporation that fills the pockets of the top tier and pays the workers just enough.  If you read on I hope you enjoy this article and maybe when you see something labeled Fair Trade you will take a second look.  This is a chance for the power of our hard earned cash to make a difference.  That is a good thing.

Fair Trade is a label that I have seen more of in the US markets recently.  I bought a store brand coffee blend labeled Fair Trade dark roast beans last time I stocked up on java.  No specific information was offered at the market so I felt some research was in order.  I found out that this coffee was Fair Trade Certified and was an organic blend of Mexican coffee and a dark roast Sumatra blend from Indonesia.  What exactly does fair trade certified mean?  The Fair Trade USA website states the definition as "Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We're a nonprofit, but we don't do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives."  That makes me really happy.  I believe there can be a lot of power in the purchases that a person makes.   You can vote all you want (and I do) but real power in the markets.  It is amazing to me that a routine cup of morning coffee in my life can make a big difference in someone else's life and their community.   This is one of the reasons I love my local markets.  I know who grows the food,  I can ask them question  about concerns I may have and I know that the purchase money is going directly to them.  For me, beside feeding my family, I feel like I am doing the right thing.

During a family trip to Costa Rica, we had an opportunity to take a coffee tour when we were in Monteverde.  This tour took us to a farm that was just about 3 hectares (about 7.4 acres) and the farmer gave us a tour of his property. He spoke very little English and we spoke very little Spanish but we had a translator when needed.  The language barrier was not a problem and was very personable.  The farm was amazing.  No rows and rows of coffee beans, instead it was a hillside of seemingly random plantings behind the farmers home.  We wove through the jungle like area and the farmer pointed out the coffee plants.

The coffee plants seemed like they were growing wild and were among plantain, banana, lime and orange trees.

  Clockwise from top left:  Coffee seedlings, coffee trees, 
 Plantains or Bananas, and Limes.

The farmer was friendly and very proud of his farm.   It was a rainy day so we wore raincoats but then the deluge came and cut the tour short. He made us a cup of coffee under a canopy and it was delicious and memorable.
 Raining on the coffee farm.  It had no intention of letting up!

Making coffee for us at the end of our farm tour.

How would you like to grind your coffee in that mortar! 

After we were finished on the farm, we headed out to the area where they process and roast the coffee.  It didn't let up raining and there were a few roads washed out, but we managed to get there.  I guess that is how it goes when you vacation during the rainy season!  We got there just in time to experience and watch them roast a batch of coffee beans.
The last part of the tour was roasting the coffee.  We were lucky that we were 
ending our tour at the right time!

This something I will absolutely never forget.  The smell of freshly roasted coffee.
Such a heavenly smell!

We still get a newspaper delivered to our driveway.  It is true we are one of the few in our neighborhood but we can't seem to get on the handheld device bandwagon of reading books and such.  One day when they don't deliver door-to-door (we know that is not too far off) we will move on to electronic devices for our news, but until then I like reading the paper old school.    One recent morning there was this article about a coffee company in Philly called La Columbe (located in Philadelphia, New York, and a new opening coming in Chicago) and how one of the founders, Todd Carmichel discovered an almost wild grown Typico coffee in Haiti.  He brought back this coffee and sold it to one of Philadelphia's top restaurants called Talula's Garden. She tasted the coffee and said it was the best coffee she had ever had and bought all he had.  The Haitian farmer  got the opportunity to come to Philadelphia and stopped by the restaurant to personally thank the owner for their business and shared what it meant to him.  Considering all that has happened in Haiti, it was a very moving and awesome story that you can find in full here.

Direct Trade is a term I had never heard before going to Chestnut Hill Cafe in Lancaster, PA. Their espresso was reviewed by Bill Walsh here on Honest Cooking and I decided I had to try it the next time I was in Lancaster. It did not disappoint as in it was amazing and I agree with everything he said. He is the connoisseur and I will leave the nuances up to him.   I asked them if they used Fair Trade coffee and he said yes and Direct Trade.  I had never heard of Direct Trade before and it is essentially what the name implies, they buy directly from the producer/farmer thereby bypassing the middleman.
Mmmmm.  Coffee.

On a final note, I would like to mention a town that is not too far from me that calls itself America's First Fair Trade Town.  It is a great place to dine and one of my favorite places to window shop for unique purchases.  This quaint little town is called Media, PA located west of Philadelphia and you can check out their website here.  I have to wonder if there are not other places or towns like this.  Maybe you know of some and will share with us in the comments section.

If you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life by purchases that you are probably going to make anyway, then buying from businesses that buys Fair Trade and thereby sustaining a farmer, a small business person and helping to protect the environment just makes sense.  What can be better than that?


  1. Interesting. Fair trade is a great concept with good intentions. Its costs more than mass produced stuff but some consumers willingly pay extra to support development. I saw a documentary looking into fair trade stuff and it was found that in some cases fair trade and 'unfair trade' products were mixed up together. However I am guessing this only affects a small portion of the products.

  2. Hi Three-Cookies! Like everything there is always someone to take advantage of "marketing". The Monteverde coffee tour really hit home for me because actually meeting the people involved made it more personal. In Media, I can't say that some of their products are more pricey than others but it definitely varies from product to product and store to store. I wasn't really paying much attention until I read the article about Carmichel and the Haitian coffee. I do find it interesting that Haiti had a viable commodity all along considering how poor the country is and what an impact it could make. Documentary? I would love to see. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Such an interesting and informative post. The tour must of been fascinating and I love that we were able to partake by seeing these wonderful photos

  4. Interesting and informative post! I would love to take a tour like this, I really enjoyed your story and photos. I am your newest follower;-)
    Thanks for your comment on my recipe at Honest Cooking.


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