Farmer Direct Brings Fair Trade Close to Home

When it comes to the subject of fair trade, folks might conjure up images of products like chocolate from Ghana, coffee from Guatemala, quinoa from Bolivia or tea from India.  Farmer Direct Cooperative (FDC) is trying to bring that kind of association of fair trade to North America, promoting what they call ‘domestic’ fair trade.  FDC is made up of 70 farmers in Western Canada that cover over 120,000 acres of farmland, specializing in organic grains, pulses, and oilseeds including lentils, peas, oats, wheat, mustard, flax and more.

In this press statement, one FDC farmer-owner, Keith Neu, explains the need for domestic fair trade standards as follows, “Most of society is unaware that farm workers in many states and provinces are not protected under Federal, State or Provincial Labour laws. Since farm workers have no recourse under law they are often exploited. Therefore, organic consumers are now demanding organic foods that are fairly traded.  We are proud to be able to offer certified organic, fairly traded food to these families.”

In 2004, FDC joined forces with Organic Valley Co-op, Equal Exchange, and the Agricultural Justice Project to found the Domestic Fair Trade Association, which has quickly grown to over 30 members.  Out of this collaboration came the fairDeal label, a domestic fair trade, organic industry supply chain non-profit and product seal that is peer reviewed by other members and third party certified.

The goal of fairDeal is to encompass multiple standards under one seal in order to help consumers more easily identify products made with a commitment to environmental stewardship, fair wages, safe working conditions, and other ethical business practices.  As they are certified organic via Pro-Cert Organic Systems and certified fair trade through Quality Certification Services, FDC became the first company qualified to bear the fairDeal label on their products.

In an article announcing a fairDeal labeled product, Program Manager of fairDeal Rachel Swenson commented, “One of the reasons that consumers purchase organic food is because they want to support the family farm.  Unfortunately because of the greater role of mega agrifood corporations in organics and the dumping of cheap offshore crops with dubious organic certification this is no longer the case. The fairDeal is a third party assurance to the organic consumer that they are in fact supporting the domestic family farm.”

The concept of domestic fair trade appears to be gaining momentum, as just last week the Boston Accord was signed, an agreement among fair trade certifiers and stakeholders to work together to create more cohesive domestic fair trade standards.

Related 3P Posts:

Honest Tea Announces 100% Fair Trade Commitment by 2011

Ben and Jerry Talk Fair Trade

Maine Root Brings Fair Trade to Soda

Lesley Lammers

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

2 responses

  1. Many people would like to know that the premium price they are paying for their certified ‘fair trade’ food was increasing the price at the farm gate, but sadly it seems that this is often not the case and the ‘fair trade’ label is just another cynical ploy from the multinational grocers th squeeze more profit from their produce. This is an area where more legislation is required as there seems to be little consistency in the offerings of the various certification schemes out there.

  2. Lesley, thank you for writing about this otherwise largely overlooked development on the food front. The emergence of a strong market for domestic Fair Trade products – with high standards – could be a big help to family farms, farmer co-ops and not least farm workers.

    While we, Equal Exchange, are not – for now anyway – seeking certification for our own domestic Fair Trade products (organic almonds from a California co-op of family farmers, see… &… ) we are closely following the pilot efforts of Agricultural Justice Project and the pioneering efforts of the Farmer Direct co-op.

    And as a founding member of the Domestic Fair Trade Assoc. we participated in the discussions leading to the new accord and are encouraged by the potential for domestic Fair Trade to make a real difference.

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