The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 3, 2012

Fair trade talk brings faces to the cause

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Loyola Catholic School kids know all about the importance of fair trade.

It’s been a passion project at the school for years, which led to Loyola earning the title of the first certified K-12 Fair Trade School in the country.

So when Margo Druschel asked a group of ninth- through 12th-graders Wednesday what fair trade means, lots of hands shot up.

“Everybody gets paid fairly,” one girl said.

“Yes,” said Druschel, Mankato Area Fair Trade Town Initiative leader. “We like to talk about how fair trade is good for people, the planet and profits.”

What Druschel brought to Loyola Wednesday that most kids hadn’t experienced before were the faces of folks whose lives have been greatly improved due to people like them who choose to buy fair trade products.

Druschel went to the Dominican Republic in the spring with a 12-member Fair Trade Town USA group to learn firsthand the origins of fair trade and what it looks like in communities that depend on it. The group visited fair trade cocoa (chocolate), coffee and banana farms.

Their first stop was at Conacado Cooperative to learn about cocoa. When the farmers used to sell cocoa to “coyotes,” or black market buyers, they had never even heard of world commodity markets, where products are bought and sold under regulated contracts.

Once farmers gathered together and established a fair trade cooperative, fair prices were established that led to enough profit to increase the farmers’ quality of life as well as their communities, Druschel said. She said profits have allowed farmers to make work easier through such advances as covered buildings to dry cocoa beans, whereas before they would dry in the sun and face damage from rain, fungus and bugs.

Portions of the profits also are continuously reinvested in communities to bring water to villages without wells, improve roads and build schools.

Druschel said she stayed with hosts in a four-home compound with women who said their homes are now safe and didn’t leak. Before, due to poverty, families pulled their children out of school around the sixth grade to help pick cocoa. But now children stay in school and many have gone onto college, Druschel said.

“Another thing fair trade brings is leisure time,” she said, showing a slide of a family dancing in their home.

Something else that stood out to Druschel was the effects of women’s cooperatives. Villages have been greatly improved because women tend to invest money back into schools and the community, she said.

“It is life changing in a culture when women make money,” she said.

Among the group’s travels were stops in La Esperanza to visit coffee farms and Cooprobata, a fair trade banana cooperative. Fair trade for the banana farmers has resulted in literacy campaigns for adults and campaigns against child labor, she said.

Druschel said she hopes the students would take the faces and stories they saw Wednesday and share them with their parents. Tell them that Cub West and the St. Peter Food Co-op have fair trade organic bananas, she said, which will only cost about a dollar more than non-fair trade.

“Go home and talk it up,” she said.