By Elizabeth Henderson

In a world where fair trade prevailed, family-scale farms, both rural and urban, would prosper, paying living wages to the farmers and to all employees, forming the backbone of a stable economy.  Farm gate prices would cover the full cost of production including these wages, a decent benefits package with full health coverage, a retirement fund, workers compensation and unemployment insurance, funds to maintain and develop the farm, and ten percent for savings.  Farmers would not be under pressure to overproduce and would practice conservation of the soil and of all the natural resources upon which the farm depends.  If a farm raised livestock, the animals would enjoy the five freedoms. Access to a healthy supply of food would be considered a basic human right. Contracts with buyers would be negotiated and long-term, farmers would be free to discuss the conditions of the contract with other farmers, their family and legal advisors and a conflict resolution process would make it possible to discuss differences and grievances without retaliation.  Buyers would only cancel contracts for just cause.

Fair Trade has become a familiar term in the US – many people have purchased fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate or bananas on the understanding that the price they are paying benefits small-scale farmers in distant lands.

Fair trade for farmers in the US is less familiar and there are only a few labels or programs that promote domestic fair trade. Consumer Reports Greener Choices evaluates all kinds of food labels and only lists three under this heading:

Food Justice Certified

Fair Trade America, Fair Trade USA.

The Fair World Project publishes a guide to fair trade that includes a few more –

Fair for Life

The Equitable Food Initiative

The Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers Fair Food Program.

None of these labels has yet to become a household word. As a concept, domestic fair trade is about where certified organic was in the 1980’s.

The Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) is a cross-sector coalition that includes organic farming associations, farm worker organizations, food cooperatives and a few independent food brands. The DFTA, which has been in existence for a full decade, identifies 16 principles that characterize fair trade, including family-scale, sustainable farming, the rights of workers, fair, stable pricing with long term trading relationships, and transparent, democratic control of enterprises and markets. The Northeast Organic Farming Association is a founding member of the DFTA. This is the DFTA mission statement:

“The DFTA is a unique organization that fosters collaboration between farmers and farmworkers in the United States and Canadian sustainable agriculture movement. We seek to build supply chains dedicated to principles of fairness and equity by uniting these efforts with mission-based traders, retailers, and consumers.” 

Many other organizations are working towards a fairer system of food production and trade in the US. There is a lot of overlap in values and goals among domestic fair trade, food sovereignty, the buy local movement, the four principles of organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture.  Among commercial retailers, the network of food coops is the strongest proponent of fair trade and, to the extent possible given the fierce competition in the marketplace, comes closest to realizing fair trade principles in their actual practices.

For more information or to become active in working towards domestic fair trade, contact the NOFA Interstate Council Domestic Fair Trade Committee.