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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

So How Does Fair Trade Benefit Us All?

Fifth annual Fair Trade Crawl supports families and artisans, the environment and local businesses

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When is a cup of coffee more than just a cup of coffee?

When it's produced according to fair trade standards.

"Fair trade is a positive solution to some of the world's most terrible problems," said Gail Bennett, owner of Fair Trade for All on North Avenue in Wauwatosa.

Those problems include human trafficking, environmental destruction and lack of human dignity.

To draw attention to the wide variety of fair trade products—and the number of local businesses that sell them—the Milwaukee Fair Trade Coalition will sponsor the fifth annual Fair Trade Crawl throughout the Milwaukee area on Saturday, May 12.

Participants will be able to visit more than 30 fair-trade-friendly shops to identify featured items. Shoppers who find at least six featured items will be able to receive a prize at any Outpost Natural Foods location on Saturday between 3 and 5 p.m. (For details, go to www.milwaukeefairtradecoalition.org.)

Why Fair Trade?

Those in the movement say buying fair trade products can help families and artisans, conserve precious natural resources and support local businesses.

Fair Trade for All's Bennett, an organizer of the crawl, said that she supports fair trade products because they provide a sustainable living for families so that they don't have to sell their children into servitude or prostitution, as sometimes happens in Southeast Asia, for example.

"The parents often have no way to support their children," Bennett said. "Kids often are sold to brothel owners because [parents] can't support them."

But when families are able to earn a living by farming or producing a traditional craft, they're able to stay together and thrive.

Mike Howden, owner of Four Corners of the World on Vliet Street, said his support for the fair trade movement grew out of his belief in Catholic social justice teaching, which fosters respect for each individual. He said the fair trade movement is part of a broader sustainable approach to life.

"A sustainable economy is different from fair trade," Howden said. "It includes aspects of culture as well as materials and recycling and growing things sustainably, such as chocolate, tea or coffee. It also includes the cultural values and skills of the artisans and farmers."

Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski, who introduced the city's Fair Trade Ordinance and helped to make Milwaukee the first city in the country to be designated a Fair Trade City, said he supports the movement because its emphasis on sustainable agricultural practices provides a proactive way to deal with food insecurity.

Zielinski said he's concerned about overpopulation and the loss of precious farmland in the coming decades, and pointed to a comment made by Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund and Johns Hopkins University, who said that if global population trends continue and grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, farmers will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as they have in the last 8,000.

"Forty years isn't that far away," Zielinski said. "This could be a problem in our lifetime."

Supporting Local Businesses

Fair trade products are typically found in locally owned small businesses. There's a link between the "buy local" and the fair trade movements, Bennett said.

"It's sort of like 'know your farmer,'" Bennett said. "Know your business owner. Know your product."

On Saturday, the Fair Trade Crawl highlights more than 30 businesses that feature fair trade or sustainable products. Clusters of fair-trade-friendly shops, cafés and restaurants can be found in Bay View, Downtown, the East Side, Riverwest, Shorewood, the West Side and Wauwatosa, as well as Cedarburg, Waukesha and Lake Geneva. All businesses will feature sales or free samples, such as free coffee or tea or discounted jewelry or clothing.

At 1 p.m., Peace Action Wisconsin (1001 E. Keefe Ave.) will host a talk on fair trade in Central America.

For more details about the fifth annual Fair Trade Crawl, and to download a passport of locations, go to www.milwaukeefairtradecoalition.org.