Fair Trade Month | Giving thanks to farmers
Photo of Issouf Traore, cocoa producer from Burkina Faso, in Côte d’Ivoire for 30 years. 10 children, 2 wives, 2½ hectares of cocoa, 2 tons per year | photo credit Eric St. Pierre
Guest post by Rodney North, Fairtrade America
We’re now near the end of Fair Trade month, and Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. And even though I’ve now worked in the fair trade movement for 20 years I’ve never before noticed what connects these two events: farmers, farming, and – ideally – our appreciation for everyone, and everything, that keeps us well-fed.
Let’s start with the original Thanksgiving, or what at least is commonly thought of as the first Thanksgiving in what is now the United States. That was, of course, celebrated by the Pilgrim colonists back in 1621. They had arrived in late 1620 and their start on the new continent was tough. Food was scarce, most of the colonists fell ill and about half actually died before they could even plant their first crops in the spring of 1621.
But from there things improved. During that summer and fall their crops were bountiful – or at least enough that no one was going to starve – they were profoundly grateful, and you know the rest of the story.
But let’s remember that at that time all of the Pilgrim settlers were farmers, too. While they could take as a given that they would work hard (in fact, extremely very hard), they also knew that alone wouldn’t guarantee a sufficient harvest to sustain them through the winter and spring. Hence, any abundant harvest deserved to be celebrated. They were grateful for the rain, for the fertility of the soil, for the absence of blights or hailstorms or any of the many scourges that can destroy one’s crops.
For 99% of human history this was the norm. Food wasn’t something you purchased at a store, it was something you brought forth from the Earth with blood, sweat, tears and luck. No wonder harvest celebrations, like our Thanksgiving, are found in every culture and that they’re probably as old as farming itself (which, in case you’re wondering, dates back about 10,000 years). As recently as 1860 90% of American households were farmers, farmworkers or slaves working on farms.
However, today only about 2% of those living in the US are farmers or farm workers.
Seen this way we are in many respects living in a new world, one in which most people do not:
- know any farmers or farm workers
- even know where most of their food was grown/raised/or caught
Which brings us back to fair trade month. You see, we live in a paradoxical reality. After air and water nothing is more important than food, yet we hardly think about―let alone thank―the people who feed us. So at Thanksgiving we may be grateful for much, but too often that huge meal, and every meal, is taken for granted. Fair trade month is a gesture (among many others) towards correcting that. It reminds us that there is someone out there who carefully nurtured the coffee trees that supply your morning fix, or picked the bananas for your cereal, or harvested the cocoa for your favorite chocolate bar. It also reminds us that for these hard working people, and their families, their daily lives are often tough, unforgiving, and filled with much uncertainty but little opportunity. Fair trade is an opportunity open to all, every day, to remember the farmer and farm worker, and to demonstrate gratitude for their unrelenting work in a way that goes beyond words, and that really matters.
What does it really mean to be ‘grateful’?
-Rodney North, Director of Marketing & External Relations, Fairtrade America