This month, amidst all the news of economic woes I want to write about how our role as consumers can help strengthen our community. Before choosing this topic I had intended to write about developments in Fair Trade. Fair Trade is an economic movement that started 60 years ago to ensure that farmers and artisans in the third world could make a living selling products to us in the first world. While laudable, it is hard to see how fair trade provides direction for how we react to an economic downturn.
The Fair Trade label lets us know when we aren’t buying something made, grown or raised by our neighbors and that the family farmers, artisans or workers received a fair price for their labors. At first the system was restricted to products from the Third World and, yes, a label was created that you will see on many products like tea, bananas, and coffee to certify what we can see with our own eyes when we purchase food from our neighbors. Now, a number of mission-driven companies like Dr. Bronner’s and Equal Exchange are products they market as Domestic Fair Trade.
Comedian John Oliver recently bemoaned the need for a fair trade label. “As consumers we are still supposed to use our power to buy fair trade products, but again, what is fair trade, when you boil it down, but basic human politeness? It seems sad that we are rewarding fundamental decency with its own label… Where’s my special sticker ?”
Anyone who has bought shares in a CSA (community supported agriculture), or buys their produce at the farmer’s market knows who grew their food and knows they do not need to wear a special sticker.
As our food and other basic needs have come from further and further away, we know less and less about who grows our food, and a “special sticker” has become necessary. The most powerful benefit of fair trade is when the dollars we spend on a fair trade product circulate within that community because the producers are able to earn an income that allows them to invest in their community.
During a recession our purchasing choices become more important. We are more careful with our money, even when we spend it on necessities like groceries. The oldest form of fair trade, buying locally, takes on a greater meaning in uncertain economic times. Looming even larger is the oldest form of fair trade, buying locally. Looking for tips these days on how to weather the economic downturn and the discussion inevitably turns to buying locally.
The more we buy foods made locally the more that money stays in circulation in our community and finds its way into our own pockets. Fortunately for consumers in the Decorah area it is relatively easy to keep our money circulating locally because of the great number of locally owned businesses and the multitude of local farmers providing us with healthy food.
Here at Oneota Coop we are doing our part by purchasing locally grown and raised foods and fair trade products. We do our best to clearly label which products are local and regional and whose farms they came from. When you are grocery shopping this season look for the many products made by your neighbors.