The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

August 27, 2013

Fair trade advocate returns with stories to share

If you want to learn more about a subject, it’s best to go straight to the source.

That’s why Jane Dow, a member of the Mankato Area Fair Trade Towns Initiative, traveled to Mexico in July to visit with farmers and artisans who are producing fair trade products, such as coffee and artisan crafts.

Her hope is that by learning first-hand of their situations and hearing their stories, she’ll able to be a better and more credible advocate in Mankato for fair trade. Her goal, and the goal of MAFTTI, has always been to raise awareness about fair trade and hopefully encourage more retailers to offer fair trade products.

Fair trade is a system of goods production where the actual farmers or artisans get a larger percentage of the profits of their work. This helps these producers — who often exist in countries with substantial poverty — earn a wage that supports them and their families.

Dow made the trip with 15 other fair trade enthusiasts from around the country, all of whom were either from towns with fair trade designations, such as Mankato, or from towns pursuing such designations. The trip was organized by Global Exchange and Fair Trade USA. Both groups covered meals and other costs.

They toured coffee co-ops and other fair trade organizations in the cities of Oaxaco and Chiapas, Mexico. Dow said their travels exposed them to extreme poverty, low literacy and poor infrastructure and education systems.

But even in the midst of such poverty, she said, it was easy to see the value of fair trade.
“They would not be able to continue to do this stuff were it not for fair trade,” Dow said of the wood carver, coffee growers, and other producers.

One of the more unique things about a fair trade co-op is the concept of social premium. A little bit is added on to the price of fair trade goods in Mexico and set aside to do things for the community. For example, they might build a school for their children, hire doctors for the community or install systems for safe drinking water.

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