If a new alternative food movement has its way, Ethiopian coffee growers and Georgia pecan farmers will soon have a lot in common.
Building momentum in the shadow of its international counterpart, domestic fair trade looks to bring to the home front those same principles of sustainability and market equity that have proved so popular for international products. True, an American farm doesn't exactly face Third World obstacles, but organizers believe the bar could be set higher.
“Increasingly, there's a recognition that small farmers around the world, no matter where they are, are being negatively impacted by the global food system,” said Erbin Crowell, domestic fair trade manager for Equal Exchange, a large-scale co-op that helped charter the movement in December 2005.
The program is still in its infancy, attempting to build on its roots. Founding organizations, including Equal Exchange and fellow co-op Organic Valley, developed a constitution of sorts using goals from the international movement. However, labeling protocols and certification criteria, among other benchmarks, have yet to take shape.
To test the waters, in February, Equal Exchange released a line of almonds, pecans and cranberries produced by small, domestic farms that adhere to the spirit of fair trade principles.
“We want to grow slowly and make sure all the supply chains are in place before we start marketing on a mass level,” Crowell said.
What remains a question, though, is the future interplay between international and domestic fair trade products. Will the time come when consumers choose between a coffee from Puerto Rico and one from Guatemala? The threat of cannibalization demonstrates the need for diplomacy as the stateside program moves forward. Cecil Wright, director of local operations for Organic Valley, said domestic fair trade still has a lot to figure out, but that it's moving in the right direction. According to him, Organic Valley is offering broad support with no specific product plans.
“We are probably already doing this within our organization,” said Wright. “What we were seeing was a large interest in this, and we wanted to make sure that there's one movement and that everyone gets together to have a dialogue.”