2012- A Year to be Thankful

Although the year 2012 has not yet ended, the Fair Trade TrailBlazers of Penn State Brandywine have much to be thankful for this year.

We are thankful for our Penn State Brandywine community that supported us becoming a Fair Trade University.  Without our students, staff, faculty, and alumni taking the time to learn about Fair Trade and agreeing that Fair Trade is significant and important for us to connect with, we would not have been able to establish such a strong community of passionate people that are continuing to educate others and using their purchasing power to make a difference.

We are thankful for Hal Taussig and America’s First Fair Trade Town.  Would Fair Trade even be here without Hal pursuing the idea of bringing Fair Trade Towns to the USA?  Would we have any Fair Trade Towns without Media taking the first steps to gaining the approval?  Would we at Penn State Brandywine have even considered becoming a Fair Trade University if Media wasn’t a Fair Trade Town?  We thank those that are the true “trailblazers” for bringing Fair Trade to America.

We are thankful for the certifiers.  Yes, you may not all get along, but we appreciate the challenges you offer each other.  By keeping the conversation going, it keeps the Fair Trade discussion moving forward.  Fair Trade has come far, but there is still so much further to go.  All movements have growing pains, and we as a university value informative, detailed, constructive, and civil discussions of all sides of the issue of Fair Trade certification.

We are thankful for social media.  OK, so this item may not seem like it fits in with the rest of what we are thankful for.  But if it wasn’t for Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Flickr, etc., we would not have made our initial connections with Fair Trade Campaigns National Coordinator Billy Linstead Goldsmith, or Divine Chocolate’s Amanda White.  We would not be exchanging tweets with Alta Gracia or other Fair Trade supporters from literally across the globe.  Thank you, social media, for allowing our campus to be connected in a global conversation about Fair Trade.

Most importantly, we are thankful for the farmers and the makers of Fair Trade products.  For the people that give so much of themselves to produce food and crafts ethically sourced that benefits not only their communities but our entire planet Earth – thank you for your tireless, beautiful work.


2012 Fair Trade Campaigns Conference – Day 3

The third and final day of the Fair Trade Campaigns Conference in Chicago – filled with more great conversation and nervous conference attendees that were not sure if they would be able to leave Chicago (thanks to Hurricane Sandy).

The third day started with a Producer Panel, where banana farmers and artisans talked about how Fair Trade makes an impact in their communities.  Felipe Echeverri Zapata and Jorge William Restrepo represented Bananeras de Uraba in Columbia, Hannah Dodoo represented Global Mamas in Ghana, and a third panelist Andreas represented Minga Fair Trade Imports.  The group shared some fascinating information, such as the challenges of climate change and El Nino causing a loss of up to 30% of banana production, and shared some inspiring quotes, such as Hannah Dodoo telling us that “if you train a man, you train an individual, but if you train a woman, you change a nation” (I’m guessing she based the quote on this African proverb).

The Producer Panel ended with the panelists being asked about what they saw as future challenges for Fair Trade.  Hannah stated that Fair Trade must be embraced in all businesses, with continued purchasing from Global Mamas.  Andreas said that he did not see a challenge because many people know what the tagua is, but he stated what he really needs are better designs of products.  Jorge ended with the comment that those who market Fair Trade products are still “missing,” and the system still needs to be much more transparent.  It was inspiring to hear how Fair Trade has had a positive impact on their lives, and how they believe that this impact will continue in the future.

For the morning breakout session, I attended the Building a Strong & Sustainable Committee talk by Gwendolyn Tedeschi and Ben Thomas.  We at Penn State Brandywine certainly have built our committee, but sustaining a committee when most of our students leave after the first two years is a challenge for the future I am worried about.  The session had some great discussion about making sure the committee is diverse across students groups, faculty, administrators, food service and the campus bookstore.  There were also suggestions to add staff and alumni.  Finding an institutional anchor is key, as well as giving each student an important task/responsibility with the movement.  I am excited and nervous about the future of the Penn State TrailBlazers, but this information is great for me to bring back to my group as to what we need to keep focused with, and information that I can share with students at other campuses looking to form their own Fair Trade movements.

Our working lunch had everyone split into two groups – the Fair Trade Towns people in one room, and the Fair Trade Colleges & University people in another room.  I was excited to see Parker Townley, coordinator of Fair Trade Colleges & Universities, show us a new tool kit for campaigns looking to be approved, and I had some great conversation with the students from Penn State – University Park in attendance at the conference as to what they could do to keep the movement moving forward at their campus.  Having more online resources available should better assist all campaigns, especially the University Park group.

Parker ended his session with the “Let’s Get to Work!” challenge.  Parker is asking all university campaigns to create change by moving our campaigns forward by major steps.  We are asked to either increase the number of our social media followers, add more Fair Trade products or host two educational events, or reach out to two new groups to form new partnerships.  We are totally going for the social media challenge (stay tuned for a future blog post about this!).

The final session of the meeting was a closing keynote by Kirsten Moller, the co-founder of Global Exchange.  If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, it is a must!  She is so passionate about social, economic and environmental justice.  And her sharing of the Raise The Bar, Hershey! campaign energized the entire room.  I think her take home message was that we have done great work, but there is still much more to do and we can’t sit back and assume it will get done by others.

I think it is going to take me some time to digest all of the information and interactions from this conference.  I do not think that I have yet realized all of the impacts this conference has made on myself as an individual and the impacts it will make on my students, my campus, and possibly, even on the larger Fair Trade movement.  I wonder what I will be blogging about a year from now….

Contributed by Dr. Laura Guertin


2012 Fair Trade Campaigns Conference – Day 2

Day 2 of the Fair Trade Campaigns Conference, our first full day of Fair Trade connections and conversations!  It has been exciting to be in Chicago, the second largest city in the world to be a Fair Trade City.

The morning began with a Panel Discussion: Building Partnerships for a Stronger Movement.  The panel consisted of individuals representing Local First Chicago, Pioneer Valley Local First, UC Davis/Sodexo, UC San Diego, Five for Water Foundation, Fair Trade Towns, and myself representing the “town and gown” connection of Media Fair Trade Town and Penn State Brandywine as a Fair Trade University.  The questions from the moderators and the audience were very thought-provoking and provided new ideas to think about as well as a refresher of items and programs already in place.  Even as a participant, here are some of the takeaways I had from the panel:

  • Go back and think about the term “partnerships”… What do partnerships mean to us? How do we define “what is a partnership”?
  • Who else can we work with to think outside of the box to make a partnership?
  • Partnerships are efficient if you have the same audience
  • Have an inclusive message, such as “buy local, buy fair”
  • Brush up on “appreciative inquiry”

It was off to Breakout Session 1, where I decided to stop in to hear more about the History & Scope of Fair Trade by Jackie DeCarlo (Catholic Relief Services) and April Linton (Author, Fair Trade from the Ground Up).  The presenters started with a reflective question, when did YOU first become involved in Fair Trade?, then moved in to a true/false format of posing questions to the audience to move us through where Fair Trade has been and where it stands now.  For example… TRUE OR FALSE…. Fair Trade only encompasses products that bear certifiers’ labels.  Jackie encouraged us to check out the CRS Fair Trade website for more information and history of Fair Trade.

For the next breakout session, I headed to Bringing Fair Trade to the Classroom.  The session was filled with university students and faculty sharing ideas and strategies for bringing Fair Trade to every discipline and making it either a part of a course or an entire course.  The group shared how courses in statistics, economics, geography, agriculture, and even writing could have a Fair Trade component.  Suggestions I am going to follow up with included checking out the anti-Fair Trade literature, the scholarly articles listed on the Fair Trade Resource Network website, seeing if our campus common read program can select a Fair Trade book, and looking for K-12 curriculum for outreach purposes on the Global Exchange website.

I then grabbed my box lunch and headed to the networking session by Green Mountain Coffee.  It was interesting to hear them talk about their Fair Trade varieties of coffee, but there needs to be more consumer demand for more Fair Trade options to be available, as Green Mountain makes less money off of this line (it costs more, but those costs are not passed along to the consumer).  Several people from Fair Trade Universities and Towns also shared how they are struggling to get attendance at showings of films on Fair Trade topics, and everyone in the room suggested strategies that could be pursued (partnering with other groups to increase attendance, perhaps just call it a film festival and not a Fair Trade film festival, etc.).  In the end, we got back to a message heard several times previously at the meeting – get the word out to consumers.

The Open Forum on Fair Trade had some interesting and challenging questions, and again, some great statements to think about:

  • Fair Trade is dialogue, transparency, and respect
  • Do we ask everyone to purchase more Fair Trade, or just have all purchases be Fair Trade, and is there a difference?
  • Moving forward, let’s not agonize, let’s organize
  • If Fair Trade is all over, the world will be at peace (this statement was made by Hannah Dodoo of Global Mamas)

For the Crafting & Tasting Demonstrations, I decided to attend the jewelry making session led by Minga Fair Trade Imports.  We learned about the tagua bead (actually an ivory-like nut harvested from palm trees indigenous to South America) and got to make our own necklaces, bracelets, key chains, and earrings.  Personally, I’m not a big jewelry-wearing person, but I love my tagua necklace I made, and each time I wear it I’ll be sure to tell the Fair Trade story behind it.

Next up was Courtney Lang reviewing the Go Bananas for Fair Trade Challenge and announcing the winners.  Guess what???  Penn State Brandywine and Fair Trade Boston were declared co-champions!  (more to come about this in a future blog post…)

Fair Trade Chicago gave a keynote on their stories and lessons about Fair Trade, sharing interesting activities such as mapping out where Fair Trade items are sold, connecting Fair Trade to job creation, establishing an education program, and bringing Fair Trade fashion shows and soccer balls to young adults and kids.  Way to go, Chicago!

The final activity for the night (phew! such a long, information-packed day!) was fascinating.  I attended a talk by Felipe Echeverri Zapata and Jorge William Restrepo from Bananeras de Uraba, (English summary), who discussed the benefits of Fair Trade for banana farmers in Columbia.  The Zapata family clearly cares deeply about their workers and has done much to help them.  Alas, the realities of climate change are impacting the growth of the bananas, preventing them from providing a constant number of bananas for the market.  I will certainly be keeping an eye out for their bananas! (they recommended checking out Sam’s Club and Walmart)

Another day filled with great information and connections.  Day 3 should be just as exciting – with Hurricane Sandy coming towards the east coast for an added bit of excitement!

Contributed by Dr. Laura Guertin

2012 Fair Trade Campaigns Conference – Day 1

Today, supporters of Fair Trade gathered in Chicago, Illinois, for the Fair Trade Campaigns Conference, “Building Partnerships for a Stronger Movement.”  My flight from Philadelphia to Chicago had several people heading to the gathering, with Ira Josephs representing the Fair Trade Towns USA side of the conference for Media, PA, and Sarah DeMartino representing Fair Trade Colleges & Universities for Penn State -University Park.

Sarah DeMartino with the Nittany Lion in Millennium Park in Chicago

I won’t summarize all the details of everything that was covered Day 1, as my head is still spinning and trying to process some really powerful information that was shared with the group.

We started the evening session with a Regional Networking Dinner.  Each person was to sit at tables with other people from their geographic region (in my case, the Mid-Atlantic region).  I ended up at a table filled with Penn State – University Park students working towards making their campus a Fair Trade University.  It was great to be able to share my insights and suggestions for connections they can make at their campus.  We also met some very energetic students from Saint Joseph’s University, and we looking forward to connecting with them more in the future and hopefully collaborating on future events.  I also saw someone with a Cabrini College sweatshirt… many universities are represented at this conference!

Next came the general welcome and announcements.  It’s always great to see Billy Linstead Goldsmith and Courtney Lang get up and speak, even if it is just for logistical announcements.  Their passion really keeps the rest of us excited for all things Fair Trade.  We received a welcome from the Fair Trade city of Chicago and heard comments/saw videos from Green Mountain Coffee, where the new battle cry for everyone this weekend is “great coffee, good vibes, pass it on!”  Their videos online are a MUST SEE!

Next up – the Ben & Jerry’s Fair Trade Ice Cream Social (check out all of their Fair Trade flavors!) & Tweet-Up.  Ice cream and Twitter – you can’t go wrong with that combination!  Several people have been tweeting with the conference hashtag #FTCconf, and some people jumped in and joined Twitter this evening to get in the online conversations of 140 characters or less.

The Keynote Speaker for the evening was Kelsey Timmerman, the author of “Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that make our Clothes.”  I greatly appreciated how Kelsey made us all stop and think – where do the clothes we wear come from, and who made them?  What is his/her story?  The stories he shared about Solo and iPod Girl were very moving.  My favorite takeaways from his talk – use personal stories to inform others about Fair Trade, form a League of Superheros, and think carefully about being a “No Impact Man” to being someone that takes actions to have an impact.

I’m exhausted already!  But I’ll definitely be ready for Day 2 of the conference – so many more connections to make, so much more to learn!

One of my goals for Day 2 is to try to get names and email addresses of students from all the Pennsylvania schools that are here.  It’s time we do a better job partnering and networking in our own state to move Fair Trade forward.  So if you are reading this and are from a PA school, please leave a comment or email me at fairtrade@bw.psu.edu so we can add you to the list!

Contributed by Dr. Laura Guertin

“Go Bananas for Fair Trade” Event

On October 9 and 10, we held our “Go Bananas for Fair Trade” event on our campus. On Tuesday and Wednesday we gave out Equal Exchange Fair Trade bananas in front of the Lion statue. with the help of Professor Olear’s BA 100 (Introduction to Business) students. After two days of standing in the rain we gave out all 611 of our bananas. Thanks to the Fair Trade Town committee in Media who assisted us with securing the donation of all of the bananas.

On Thursday and Friday of the same week, the staff in the cafeteria baked up some delicious Fair Trade banana pancakes and muffin specials, and sold 55 of them. We have submitted our numbers in Fair Trade Towns USA, and are now waiting to see if we won the”Go Bananas for Fair Trade” challenge. If we win, Penn State Brandywine can select to receive free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for a year! So keep your fingers crossed for us.

Here is a picture of our beautiful setup for the banana hand out.

And here are our two awesome banana suits that worked really hard to give out bananas.

Contributed by Louis Donaghue, Fair Trade Intern

Going Bananas with Social Media

Wednesday (August 15, 2012) evening, Fair Trade Towns USA hosted a webinar about their Go Bananas Challenge and went over some tips for effectively using social media for spreading Fair Trade awareness during Fair Trade Month in October and during the rest of the year.

We were particularly interested in the Go Bananas Challenge portion of the webinar, as the TrailBlazers are hoping to participate and host some events on campus, but the discussion on social media tips turned out to be just as helpful. Fair Trade Towns USA pointed out a Tool Kit  they have on their website for brainstorming ideas for events, hosting events, and a wealth of other information.  Our plan, at this point, is to do something with Fair Trade Banana splits (can you imagine… Fair Trade Bananas, Fair Trade ice cream, and Fair Trade chocolate sauce!), though we are still muddling through some logistics and other ideas. We’ll post more about  our exact plans closer to October (and after we meet with our food vendor on campus), but the webinar got us thinking about what events might be doable, how do we want to educate our campus population, who we should be contacting, etc. We hope that the Tool Kit above is as helpful for everyone else as it was for us!

But, the point we are most eager to share and blog about is actually the social media aspect of the webinar. Obviously, the TrailBlazers have been very much active in the social media world, and we are always looking for tips and ways to improve our outreach. We found two points in particular to be helping, but for the full guideline list, click here .

One point that really stuck out to us was food. Food posts and photos are some of the more popular topics in the world of social media. A significant chunk of the hits and likes on our own website have been for our food events and recipes, and we had wondered for a while if this was just a phenomena we were experiencing or if it was a common occurrence in the wider community.  Fair Trade Towns USA confirmed that food is a hot-button topic on the internet, and people love to look at food and talk about food. Luckily, when talking about Fair Trade, food comes up often, so sharing food related posts is easy and a great way to get people engaged. As budding social media users, all of us TrailBlazers recommend adding some food flair now and again to get people’s attention.

Fair Trade Towns USA also talked about the power of a positive post. Positive posts get more retweets and shares than negative posts, and in the world of Fair Trade, shining the movement in the best light is important for keeping consumers and the general public feeling good about Fair Trade.

We especially liked these points because they can easily be tied into the Go Bananas Challenge. In addition to hosting events, we need to effectively get the word out there, and social media has been a wonderful tool for getting people aware of what we’re doing and involved. Getting our campus involved with food while educating on the positive impacts of Fair Trade bananas will hopefully get more of our community (and the wider community!) involved with Fair Trade.

Contributed by Sarah DeMartino, Fair Trade Intern

Webinar on the Difficult Questions in the Fair Trade Community

Last night I attended, “Answering Difficult Questions in your Community” a webinar, moderated by Courtney Lang of Fair Trade USA, and lead by Billy Linstead Goldsmith of Fair Trade Towns, Ryan McDonnell of the Boston Faith & Justice Network, and Joan Harper of Fair Trade Los Angeles. The full webinar will be made available here for anyone who wishes to listen to it. Much of the webinar reinforced what I, and other TrailBlazers, understood from previous discussions with Fair Trade USA. Billy discussed Fair Trade USA’s choice to leave FLO (Fair Trade Labeling Organizations) and its Fair Trade for All pilot program; however, I was also given some insight into how Fair Trade Boston and Los Angeles have responded to the recent controversy with Fair Trade and their own struggles.

Billy started off the webinar by discussing Fair Trade USA, FLO, and the issues surrounding Fair Trade for All and the Coffee Innovation project. Billy explained that Fair Trade USA and FLO agree on the majority of their goals and methods for supporting Fair Trade, but there are some key differences. Fair Trade USA was paying FLO a substantial amount of money which then went into raising awareness in Europe and not the United States. Fair Trade USA left, in part, because they felt that they could use that money to promote awareness in American consumers. Additionally, Fair Trade USA seeks to expand Fair Trade to farmworkers working on bigger farms and who are unable to join cooperatives (see my other blog post).

Billy also discussed the recent stakeholder meeting, where some organizations met to discuss these new initiatives and what it could mean for small farmers (see this an article from FTRN on their reaction). Billy said that Fair Trade Towns wants to open the way for more discussion and invite debate, but in a way that is constructive and will not turn consumers off from the idea of Fair Trade. He also stated that for any global social movement, there have to be different ideas and approaches to solving a problem. Fair Trade USA wants to be transparent and open about what it is doing, and hopes to continue discussions.

Both Joan and Ryan then went on to discuss their organizations and what has been done in the face of Fair Trade USA’s controversy.

Joan first talked about Fair Trade LA and how it had some concerns over Fair Trade USA’s decision to leave FLO. Fair Trade USA responded to these concerns by offering to come and talk to Fair Trade LA. The two groups had a long, intense discussion, as not everyone on Fair Trade LA is in agreement with Fair Trade USA’s actions.  An agreement wasn’t reached, but that, according to Joan, wasn’t necessarily expected from the meeting. However, Fair Trade USA did agree and admit that it hadn’t communicated well and hadn’t been transparent, but were moving to remedy that.

The point that I believe Joan was making, was that while discussions may not right away lead to a compromise, it at least gets the ball rolling. She gave an example, where she had noticed a disillusionment in some people new to the movement, taken aback by the negativity out there. These discussions, even if only a little bit of headway is made, keep the brunt of the negativity from turning consumers off from Fair Trade. “Don’t sugar coat” Fair Trade, but keep the consumers above the fray.

Ryan then picked up the conversation to discuss Fair Trade Boston and its reactions. Like Fair Trade LA, Fair Trade Boston had many diverse opinions about Fair Trade and Fair Trade USA. Their goal had always been to support the “global meets local” aspect of Fair Trade, and so the group decided it would be best to remain out of some of the big national discussions and focus on its local efforts. However, the group did develop an internal policy document to reach some agreement over the controversy regarding Fair Trade USA (mostly involving issues of product labeling, such as Fair Trade Ingredients) to move forward. The document was helpful as it allowed Fair Trade Boston to voice what it liked and disliked about the Fair Trade movement, broadened their perspective, and established a middle ground on the issue.

Ryan then went on to discuss a point that Billy had touched on earlier, that many perspectives on social issues can be beneficial. Ryan elaborated that through these differing perspectives, a middle ground can be found.

Like many of the other discussions we have blogged about, the main message of this webinar was to continue to talk and ask questions about Fair Trade, and to agree to disagree. While a resolution may not be immediate, communication is still important, and with effort, some ground can be established.

Contributed by Sarah DeMartino, Fair Trade Intern