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Sierra Harvest: What is fair trade and why should we care?

Amanda Thibodeau
Special to The Union


There are a lot of buzzwords when it comes to food labeling. There’s local, Organic, biodynamic, natural, regenerative, animal welfare approved, non-GMO, sustainable, fair trade … and for most consumers, keeping track of what’s what can be exhausting. Luckily, Sierra Harvest’s Nevada County Food Policy Council is working on demystifying what these words mean, how to decode them, and why you should care.

Earlier this year, the Food Policy Council launched a 20% Whole-sum food by 2025 challenge. “The goal,” said Miriam Limov, the council coordinator, “is that by 2025 at least 20% of the food that Nevada County residents consume will be local or regional, fair trade, ecologically produced and/or humanely raised.” According to their recent Food System Assessment only 10-15% of the food we eat falls into one of these categories.

With so many options (and price points) and the inevitable greenwashing of junk foods to make them seem healthier, navigating the grocery store as a conscious consumer can be exhausting! It’s easy to be fooled by a tan package with the word “natural” on the front, but this word actually has no meaning. Unlike the word Organic, which is a regulated term that you can only use if certified, the term “natural” can be used by anyone with no one checking on the validity of this claim.

In this series, the Nevada County Food Policy Council has written a series of articles highlighting what some of these labels mean. In case you missed it, you can do a deep dive into the whole-sum food challenge, organics, humanely raised meat and importance of buying local/regional food. This article will tackle the fair-trade label: what it is, and why you should care.

By now, most consumers are familiar with the term fair trade. While there are entities such as Fair Trade USA that can certify a given product, the term fair trade (unlike organic) is not specific to one organization or certifier. Unfortunately, the world of fair trade is not without its own issues, as different organizations and entities have variable definitions of what counts as fair trade. The larger fair trade organizations seem to get, the more diluted the philosophies become. However, choosing something labeled fair trade is certainly better than choosing something without any label!

Equal Exchange is a large coffee co-op and leader in the fair trade movement. With stringent standards and a farmer-first mindset their organization is a great place to learn about the philosophy of fair trade. According to Equal Exchange, “Fair Trade is a set of business practices voluntarily adopted by the producers and buyers of agricultural commodities and hand-made crafts that are designed to advance many economic, social, and environmental goals, including:

• Raising and stabilizing the incomes of small-scale farmers, farm workers, and artisans

• More equitably distributing the economic gains, opportunities and risks associated with the production and sale of these goods

• Increasing the organizational and commercial capacities of producer groups

• Supporting democratically owned and controlled producer organizations

• Promoting labor rights and the right of workers to organize

• Promoting safe and sustainable farming methods and working conditions

• Connecting consumers and producers

• Increasing consumer awareness and engagement with issues affecting producers”

In short, when you are purchasing a food item that is labeled fair trade, you are putting your money toward a more equitable system of food production. With roots in international exports of products like coffee, chocolate, bananas, and quinoa, the aim of fair trade is to pay the people working in these producing countries their fair share. Locally, you can find fair trade certified products at the BriarPatch Food Co-op, Caroline’s Coffee and Crumbunny Coffee. Fair trade products are part of the Whole-sum food challenge.

Everyone can participate in the 20% Whole-sum food by 2025 Challenge by signing up for the ‘Every Bite Counts’ program where the council will be tracking our communities progress toward this 20% goal and by setting a food purchasing policy for your agency or institution.

The categories that will be tracked include:

• Local (produced within 20 miles of where it’s eaten and includes homegrown foods)

• Regional (direct from the producer or within 120 miles)

•Ecologically-produced (Organic, biodynamic or regenerative certification)

• Fair (fair trade certified with safe and fair conditions for workers)

• Humane (animal welfare certified)

Through the Every Bite Counts program, restaurants and institutions who sign up for the program will be eligible for decals in their windows and marketing support once they meet a certain threshold of food purchases in the whole-sum food categories, including fair trade.

For more information or to get involved sign up online on the Food Policy Council website page at: https://sierraharvest.org/connect/food-policy-council/ or contact fpc@sierraharvest.org. Look for this continued series which is informed by the Nevada County Food Policy council’s recent food system assessment every month.

Read the Food System Assessment here: https://sierraharvest.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/FSA-2020_011121.pdf

Amanda Thibodeau is with the Nevada County Food Policy Council

Locally, you can find fair trade certified products at the BriarPatch Food Co-op, Caroline’s Coffee and Crumbunny Coffee. Fair trade products are part of the Nevada County Food Council’s Whole-sum food challenge.
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The Nevada County Food Policy Council met on June 14 at the Food Bank of Nevada County for a tour and their quarterly meeting.
Provided photo
Farm to Table

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