Local Farms Want Fair Trade Certification, Too


Photo credit: sms467

A group of farmers is calling out for what it has dubbed "agricultural justice." And to bring the international fair-trade movement—the same one that lobbies for worker equity and sustainability across the globe—home to the Midwest.

"Coffee was the originator of the fair trade movement," Liz Haywood, general manager of Bluff Country Co-op in Winona, Minn., tells the Winona Daily News. "Domestic fair trade is the new frontier."

In 2001, members of the Local Fair Trade Network (LFTN) kickstarted discussions on how to reconnect growers, sellers, and consumers in the upper Midwest, while promoting standards for fair food prices and livable wages for workers. "We saw the improvement of lives of coffee farmers in Latin [America] and thought we could use same concept for farmers here," said Erik Esse, the network's coordinator. "Farm workers—those working in big dairies, outside laborers,and meat packing—have some of the worse situations, not only in pay and respect. It's grueling conditions."

The Minn.-based organization began a pilot project with four organic farmers and two food co-ops—including Bluff Country Co-op—in 2002 and are now in the middle of rolling out labeling and advertising in stores.

The LFTN audits farms as part of the certification process, but it'll also interview the farm's workers and check to see if it's adhering to safety guidelines and production practices.

"It represents someone not just squeaking by," Esse said. "Because a one-third to half of the farmers are undocumented and if they're being screwed they can't go to authorities." ::Winona Daily News

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