Whether shopping for coffee, chocolates or produce, consumers can’t help but notice the growing number of certifications and labels proliferating in the marketplace. One such label is Fair Trade Certified, meaning growers use methodologies that support healthy working conditions and sound environmental practices while paying producers equitably for the fruits of their labor. Recognizing the importance of building relationships between the growers and distributors of their product, Wholesum Harvest, a Fair Trade Certified operation, invited two values-driven organic produce distributors, San Francisco-based Veritable Vegetable (a certified B Corp) and Northwest-based Organically Grown Company (employee and grower-owned) to join a local team of workers in Los Janos, Sonora, Mexico for a hands-on experience contributing to a Fair Trade-sponsored building project.
The project’s goal was to improve the community school where 80% of the students are children of Wholesum worker families. A volunteer team of six women (Karen Salinger, Director of Sales, Michelle Langmaid, Account Manager and Daria Colner, Director of Marketing Communications from Veritable Vegetable (VV) and Tonya Haworth, Marketing Communications Specialist, Kimberlee Chambers, Sustainability Manager and Elissa Ruddy, Sales Representative from Organically Grown Company (OGC)) assisted in building unique, earthen patio walls, cleaned and painted a new kitchen area, and created a new computer lab space by framing an interior wall, hanging sheetrock and painting. While seeing the concrete results of their labor was deeply satisfying for the volunteers from VV and OGC, most importantly, the group gained a broader understanding and appreciation for the depth and complexity of a Fair Trade Certified operation. Sharing this knowledge with their retail customers enables the information to work its way to consumers who may not yet understand that Fair Trade certification means improved worker conditions. Consumers have shown their willingness to pay a premium when the additional funds go directly to farmworkers. The premiums collected for each Fair Trade product are managed directly by the farm’s workers. The school project is just one of many which Wholesum Harvest workers have democratically chosen to spend Fair Trade premiums. Additionally, the worker community at Wholesum Harvest has voted to provide loans for home ownership, staff an onsite medic clinic, purchase school busses and build a tortilleria, a soccer field, and a park.
While these projects tangibly improve the lives of farmworkers living in Los Janos, the Fair Trade program encompasses more than additional premiums; it is designed to progressively engage workers in the relationship with their employer and with the overall community. To become certified, the grower must provide fair wages and an hour reporting system, whistle blower protection, a safe work environment, and if worker housing is provided, it must meet requirements such as a specific number of square feet per resident, access to clean water, shade and healthcare. Child care must also be provided. Education must be available in all worker-spoken languages and worker-to-management communication must be encouraged and supported. During the first year of certification, workers representing the demographics of the labor pool democratically elect a committee to administer the Fair Trade premium funds. Each year, the commitment to the democratic process, sustainability practices and social justice for workers continues to deepen. At a time when consumers read stories about farmworker abuse around the world, it’s worth highlighting that some growers, as demonstrated by Wholesum Family Farms, support their workers even beyond Fair Trade Certified guidelines. Whether it is purchasing land for worker-owned housing, or personally contributing extra funds to install the school kitchen, Wholesum Family Farms demonstrates their deep commitment to community building at their facilities. Hosting the volunteers from Veritable Vegetable and Organically Grown Company provided an excellent opportunity for three companies to come together to support and honor the labor that goes into growing our food.
ABOUT FAIR TRADE USA
“Fair Trade” helps “free trade” work for the poor. A 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. We enable you, the consumer, to make a difference with your dollar. We help people and the planet work in tandem so both are healthy and sustained. We provide farmers in developing nations the tools to thrive as international business people. Instead of creating dependency on aid, we use a market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives. We seek to inspire the rise of the Conscious Consumer and eliminate exploitation.