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Strengthening Domestic Fair Trade
Sarah Rich, 28 May 07
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Most of the time when we think of Fair Trade products, we think of supporting small farmers outside the US who struggle to earn livable wages and to receive adequate payment for their goods. But a coalition of farmers in the Midwest wants to encourage the same kind of committed support we give to imported Fair Trade products for goods farmed domestically. Wholesome Harvest raises organic meat on a network of forty farms throughout the Midwest and sells it in supermarkets (and online) through processors who've been approved by their members.

The goal is to provide absolute traceability, transparency and access to backstory for their customers -- a particularly important set of values in the meat industry, where bacterial contamination is more common than in produce, and often can't be traced to the source due to complex networks of national and international distribution. The health threat this poses has been presented recently as a real threat to national security; but even when outbreaks effect only a small population, it's critical to be able to identify and eliminate the problem quickly.

In addition to farming, Wholesome Harvest has a strong ongoing activist effort, engaging concerned citizens like themselves to try to raise the standards of organics in the US, to make domestic fair trade criteria as stringent as those for the international seal, and to demand that limitations be lifted on testing for BSE (Mad Cow Disease) in livestock.

There are other groups working to strengthen and grow domestic fair trade products. Equal Exchange -- which has long been in the business of selling Fair Trade items from Latin America, Africa and Asia -- now has a small collection of domestically-grown fair trade products, which they package and sell in partnership with several small farms. As they explain on their website:

[T]he challenges facing small farmers and rural communities in the Global South have only become more severe. And as our food system has become ever more globalized and its control more concentrated among a shrinking list of large corporations, family farmers in North America face problems that are similar in many ways to our farmer partners in the developing world.
[T]he people who grow our food receive an ever-shrinking share of the money consumers spend on their food. And between 1935 and 1997, the total number of farms in the U.S. fell from 6.5 million to just 2.05 million. By 2003, there were just 1.9 million working farmers in the U.S. - less than the prison population. Meanwhile, over 50% of the revenue generated globally by food retailing is accounted for by just 10 corporations.

As we've mentioned before, there are some tricky issues around choosing to eat local in terms of the way shifting to local sources impacts farmers whose livelihoods depend on exporting their yield. But within existing systems of production and trade, and regardless of the distance our food travels, it is as important to support justice and wellbeing for a farmer in a neighboring county as one on a distant continent.

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