for release Friday November 26, 2004
by Melodie Davis
From Coffee to Nuts
Last year when I drove my parents to Florida for the winter, we took a rest stop at Troy Simms Pecan Company—a large wholesaler of pecans and “other fine nuts” in Dothan, Alabama.
It was a warm and dusty Saturday afternoon in late November—the kind of toasty warmth that feels especially good when coming from the north. People were lined up in their cars, trucks, vans, and four-wheel drives outside the nut shop as if they were waiting for a car wash or something.
“What is going on?” I wondered, my curiosity about other people’s business spiking, as always.
So finally I asked and found out they were bringing in their own pecans on the back of their trucks to sell, pecans they had picked up on their own land. While most nuts are harvested commercially by machines that shake trees (with nuts mechanically raked into rows for picking up by machines), here were nuts that had been picked up, one at a time, by excited children and stay-at-home moms or dads who were just hoping to bring in a few extra bucks from their cash crop.
It was neat to feel closer to growers who took home green cash for their efforts. We used to pick up pecans like that, too, when I lived in the deep South, and celebrate with the extra money.
Even further to the south, down in the parts of the world where my favorite drink is grown (I’m decaffeinated now, but I still enjoy my daily decaffeinated java), it is possible to also be just a bit closer to the farmers who grow coffee through “fairly traded” coffee programs. Many congregations, offices, restaurants and individuals have gulped down the extra expense for this little luxury knowing that by buying fairly traded commodities, farmers get a fairer price for their hard work.
In the regular coffee trade, and most food products would go this route: food is grown by a small farmer, who sells it to middlemen; then it goes to a processor, to an exporter, to a North American broker, to a coffee company, to the distributor, to the store, and finally to the consumer. In a fair trade program, the farmer sells it to the farmer cooperative, who sells it directly to the fair trade program, who then sells it to the individual, church, restaurant, store or whatever. (For an example of one popular program, see www.equalexchange.com)
A fair trade organization purchases its products from small farmer cooperatives, which are owned and governed by the farmers themselves, enabling them to compete in a marketplace that would otherwise lock them out. This includes previously landless peasants who received small parcels of land as part of agrarian reform efforts, according to a bulletin from Equal Exchange. Fair trade helps them stay on their farms and support their families.
To buy coffee on the regular market, 70 percent of the coffee sold and drunk is grown by small farmers who live in rural regions of some of the poorest countries in the world. “These farmers are usually isolated from markets, forced to sell their coffee to local middlemen, and then through a long chain of intermediaries,” says Equal Exchange. The coffee is grown on large plantations where workers have to work long hours for low pay, have few benefits, and have no one representing their interests.
The other aspect of this fair trade organization is that it emphasizes organic agriculture and coffee grown under shade. By preserving the natural habitat, thousands of migratory songbirds find their winter homes here amid the fruit and shade trees over the coffee.
By supporting fair trade organizations, we help poor communities in the developing world to build pride, independence and actually help empower them. Other projects that have benefited from fair trade include community housing in Colombia, training of doctors and nurses in Mexico, reforestation programs in Costa Rica, organizing farmer training in Tanzania. It is really amazing all that can be accomplished by “drinking” right and buying right.
With the popularity of coffee shops even by teens and children, it is important to teach them how they can help others in their choices as consumers. It is a small way to stay closer to the growers and to our values to help people rather than just grow large businesses.
Now, you no longer have to feel guilty drinking your coffee or tea with your pecan pie this holiday season. Enjoy!
Write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg VA 22802 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.).
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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