Friday, April 27, 2007

Guerilla Gardening: International Sunflower Guerrilla Day

A member of the Guerilla Gardening "troops" let me know that they've declared May 1st to be International Sunflower Guerrilla Day. started out as a site where Richard Reynolds recorded his, "acts of illicit cultivation around London." Now it is an organizing space for people all over fighting the, "war against the neglect of public space."

Why sunflowers? According to GuerillaGardening:
  • It makes public space attractive
  • Birds and bees love sunflowers too.
  • Celebrate nature's fertility.
  • Assert guerrilla gardening as a positive, not destructive act.
  • We need to grow them. Sunflowers are an eco-friendly source of fuel.
Here's How:
  • You will need a packet of sunflower seeds and a bottle of water
  • Set out into the public.
  • Find a neglected or tedious patch of land and dig a little hole about an inch (2.5 cm) deep and drop one seed into it. If you're going for giant sunflowers space them about a foot (30cm) apart.
  • Fill the hole and pour a drop of water on it.
  • Return occasionally, especially if the weather is dry, to water your sunflower.
  • Post a photo of your sunflower on the Community Forum.
For more about guerilla gardening, check out:
The interview on Sew Green with David Tracey, author of Guerilla Gardening
Heavy Metal's Operation: Moss Graffiti (via Deb Roby)
Whimspirations' Guerilla Gardening: 12 Steps to Addiction
EcoSherpa's Guerilla Gardening! Grab Your Trowel and Get Dirty!
Wikipedia and Primals Seeds' guerilla gardening entries (via Mancubist's Guerilla Gardening in Urbis)
Treehuggers' Sean Canavan--Guerilla Gardener Extraordinaire.
Current TV's story about Richard Reynolds.
NPR's story, Gardeners Brighten London Under Cover of Dark.
Join the Vancouver Guerilla Gardeners Meetup group .

Collage Credit: Sunflower Nine Panel by Chris Darling.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

All for Green, and Green for All: An Interview with Van Jones

When I went to see Van Jones speak for the first time at the Green Festival in November 2002 about, "Green Jobs, Not Packed Jails," people in the States were just starting to lift their heads up from a year of fear and despair after September 11th. Hearing Van speak was probably one of the first moments I felt hope again for our future, and energized to make the world a better place. I have heard him speak several times since, and each time, my hope is renewed.

Consequently, it is a special treat for me to share with you the transcript of my interview with him for the Big Vision Podcast.

Van Jones is the co-founder and President of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He has won many honors, including the 1998 Reebok International Human Rights Award, the International Ashoka Fellowship, selection as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and the Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellowship.

To start off, I asked Van to talk about the Ella Baker Center's Reclaim the Future program and how Oakland could become a model green city.
Van Jones: One of the biggest things happening in the country right now is this sudden passion and concern about global warming and the climate crisis; that and the war are really two of the biggest issues. One of the things that we realize is that when you try to talk to people of color, low-income people, marginalized folks about global warming, it is not high on the agenda. "Somebody else has got to save the polar bears, I've got to save myself," is sort of the basic attitude. It is actually really understandable. People, when you have a lot of crisis in your life, hearing about an even bigger crisis is just depressing. If you have a lot of opportunity, and then you hear about the crisis, well then maybe you get motivated to say, "We've got to do something."

So, our formula for engaging people is, if you are affluent and you have a lot of opportunity, you are a good person to hear about this big global warming crisis; but if you already have a bunch of crises, you are a good person to hear about the opportunities within a green economy. A post-carbon, clean energy, renewable economy will be an economy that has more jobs, because renewable technologies and sustainable ways of doing things are simply more labor-intensive. You only need five guys in lab coats to run a whole nuclear power plant, but if you are going with solar pad power, or if you are going with biofuels or whatever, it is just a lot more work, a lot more jobs.

So, that's our kind of big-picture understanding of what is going on. We have this big shift to a clean energy, post-carbon, renewable economy. Our question is, will this green wave lift all boats? How do we make sure? Do we build a green economy that is strong enough to lift people out of poverty, a green economy that has green pathways out of poverty for people who want to become green-collar workers and green entrepreneurs and owners and marketers? How do you do that?

So, for us, that is kind of like our bigger picture. We say, one way to do that is to kind of focus on Oakland, and make sure that there are people who are being trained, who are peered, to be a part of this new green economy right here in Oakland. So, we have been working very hard with the City Council, and with community colleges and local labor unions and others to come up with a proposal that will start in September as an actual program called "The Green Jobs Corps."

What the Green Jobs Corps will be, it will begin training urban youth, Oakland's youth, in the jobs of the future. We don't want our young people to be in the back of the line for the last century's pollution-based economy. We want our young people to be in the front of the line for the new clean and green jobs. But if you are a young person, how do you learn how to fix a hybrid car? How do you learn how to put up solar panels? How do you learn how to double-pane glass so that buildings leak less energy?

Well, the reality is, if you know how to double-pane that glass, you are on your way to becoming a glazier--that's a union job. People who put up solar panels, you can be in the United Electrical Workers Union. You've got to be almost an electrical engineer to do that the right way. That's a green pathway out of poverty.

So, we want for Laney College and the Peralta Community College system to be aligned with the job opportunities of the future, so the Green Jobs Corps represents that commitment on the part of the local community colleges. It also represents some pretty smart thinking on the part of our City Council.

The big energy companies ripped off California a few years ago. Oakland, among other places, sued, got a four-point-something million dollar settlement. We are going to use some of that money to train some of the young people in energy conservation, in renewable fuels. So we have got a funding source that is secure and we have also got the City Council, they haven't taken a vote yet, but all the members seem to be very supportive.

So, our view is that this Green Jobs Corps is the first step towards making Oakland a global green city that has our young people actively engaged in greening the economy, rebooting and retrofitting Oakland. When a country has to get off of its basic energy source--oil--and come up with something completely new, that is a huge opportunity. It's not just an opportunity for people who are concerned about clean air and global warming, it is just a big opportunity, period.

It's like if you are in a relationship with somebody and you break up with them, that's a good time to start going to the gym and quit smoking. I mean, if you make one big change you might as well change everything. So, it's like, we're breaking up with oil, let's break up with some racism and some poverty, and just all the other stuff that we don't want. Let's just keep going, expand the coalition that is fighting global warming to include the people who need a new opportunity in life.
Britt Bravo: What are some eco-equity success stories from Oakland and other cities and communities?
Van Jones: Majora Carter in the South Bronx, with the Sustainable South Bronx project, has really demonstrated that you can bring together lots and lots of usually hostile stakeholders to create green opportunity in urban America. What she did was, growing up in South Bronx, that's kind of the dumping ground for all of New York, she said, "Hey, I want to turn this into a recycling center. I want to create green space. I want to reclaim the waterfront and make it beautiful." And she was able to get millions of dollars and support from all kinds of players to actually begin to green, of all places, the South Bronx.

Certainly, People's Grocery here in West Oakland is something that is celebrated as a model of bringing environmental solutions to people who need them. It is a mobile market. It is basically a van that brings organic agriculture, organic food, directly into the inner city, for lack of a better term. West Oakland has lots and lots of liquor stores, very few grocery stores; and so they bring, in this kind of biodiesel van, healthy organic food from local growers. It is a great idea.

When you look at Majora Carter, when you look at Malaika Edwards and Brahm Ahmadi from People's Grocery, when you look at some of these people, they really are the new environmental heroes and she-roes of our age, because those are the people who are not only sounding the alarm about the problems, they also are coming up with the solutions, and then the solutions are not only for the affluent, who can afford to pay that super environmental premium on certain products, but the people who are really low income, poor, struggling.

That is really the intersection. Can you go from problem to solution, and can you go from an eco-chic politics that engages the elite, to more of an eco-populist politics that engages everybody else. I am very excited about what we are seeing beginning to develop.
Britt: What are some of the challenges to making this happen?
Van: Well, one of the big challenges is, even though we have Democrats in Congress now, they are very shy about investment, about making big public investments and things that are for the public good. And that is a big problem because in order for us to make sure that there are green pathways out of poverty, you know, the market is not going to do that by itself. The government needs to get involved. The government doesn't need to put everybody to work necessarily, though it may get to that point.

Certainly, the government needs to get involved with the job training, with work force development, with creating clean technology training centers in every public high school, in doing the things that began to prepare this new generation for the jobs and the entrepreneurial opportunities of a new period. And that costs money. And the Democrats want to be the fiscal conservatives in 2008 who want to run against Bush's mega deficit.

And I think that is fine, but the problem with that is that when you just say we are going to do all this stuff with, you know capping trade on carbon and that kind of stuff, and you don't do things that also give, not just the rich people who can invest and make money in that market, but also working class and poor people a stake, you set yourself up for backlash.

When things don't work out perfectly, or when more sacrifice is called for, or when the price of fuel goes up, or whatever happens, then you set yourself up for backlash, and that is the big concern. You know, we need to have a policy that says, "All for green, and green for all." We can't just expect working class people, poor people and people of color to do as we are told with regard to littering, or whatever, and have no stake in the positive things that are coming down the pipe.

So, I think that the Democrats need to be willing to invest in things that will pay back a hundred times over the long term. If you weatherize millions of buildings for low income people, and give young people jobs to do that, well, you have just solved your crime problem, you are saving lots of money on energy, you don't have to build more and more, you know, power plants - there are lots of savings there. But there is an up front investment. So, the investment shyness of the Democrats is a barrier.

The other barrier is, because businesses are designed to make money, and it is a stretch for them, "How am I going to make money and also honor the Earth?" it is a burden, at this point, to say, "And I have got to give jobs to people that arehard to employ." That is a big challenge, and again this has to be public/private.

The government has to be willing to step up and say, "Here is a young man, young woman, they are coming home from prison. We spend all this money housing them and feeding them. We are going to spend this money now to help them get job ready, to take on some of the burden of their first three months of employment to make them a more enticing job candidate. We are going to do those things that will make it easy for business to do the right thing."

Unfortunately, we have a government that is on the side of the problem makers in the US economy. The government is on the side of the war mongers, the polluters, the clear cutters, the incarcerators. The people in the economy who make the problems have the support, the subsidies, and everything else from the government.

The problem solvers in the economy, the eco-entrepreneurs, the green business people, the people who are trying to do solar power, the people who are trying to do biodiesel - those people get pennies, if anything, of support from governments - state, local or federal. That is the political challenge. It is to change the balance of power in the country, so that the government, in the middle of this huge crisis, is on the side of the problem solvers and not the problem makers.
Britt: What gives you hope that these changes will happen?
Van: Well, we are on the right side of history with this one, I mean at the end of the day, we are on a completely unsustainable course as a society. Economically, politically, environmentally, spiritually - you just can't imagine that you live on a disposable planet where you've got disposable kids that you throw in prison and disposable species that you throw in the trash can.

So, change has to come, and the leadership challenge, I think, for people of color, especially those of us who are concerned about the poor, is to try to offer leadership and hope to the whole in a way that centers the people who most need that hope. There is a way you can do politics where you can say, "Well, I'm concerned about these people that have been left out, and I'm mad at everybody else," and you polarize, and you actually reinforce the isolation dynamics that you are most upset about.

There is another way to do politics and that is what we are trying to find our way towards. Is a politics of hope and solidarity and inclusion that is constantly looking for ways to expand the circle and include more people in solving the problems, and I think that our way works better.

I think that when we have had our meetings here at the Ella Baker Center, there are people from the Mayor's Office, the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, Labor Council and people who don't get along with each other, people who fight all the time, but when they come in this building, and we sit down and we think, "How are we going to get these people off the streets and into work that is beautiful and dignified and will help solve the biggest problem in the history of the world - how can we give these young people that mission?" It is a completely different conversation. People are quiet, they listen, they are respectful, they offer each other support.

I am convinced that this way of doing politics, where you put the poor, the marginalized, people from distressed communities in the center--don't put them in the margin, "See, we are not going to deal with the poor people, they are scary, you know, we will build a majority and then we will help you later." No, no no. Put it right up front and be constructive with real solutions that can help everybody. I think that is a better way to do politics, so I think that we will eventually win over both parties, or all three parties to this approach, and I don't think that there is any other approach that is going to work.

I also have been very very blessed. I grew up in the rural south, went to public schools there. Then I went to Yale for law school, fancy Ivy League, East Coast, intellectual, all this stuff. Then I moved to the Bay Area, radical, communists, anarchists, environmentalists, any other "ists" you can think of, friends and circles and involvement. I feel like I have kind of triangulated the country. I know what it is like to grow up in the heartland of the country with malls and Wal-Mart and Taco Bell being your exotic food. I know what it is like to be on the East Coast and I know what it is like to be out here.

What I have seen is that most people, given the opportunity, would rather help other people, than hurt other people. They would rather see a problem get solved, than a problem be described, and most people feel better when they see unlikely coalitions working. I don't care who you are, if you are a Christian and you find yourself in a situation where you are working well with people who are Jewish, or are Buddhists, or who aren't Christian, there is something about that that is deeply affirming.

If you are a business person you can find yourself working side by side with somebody that is from the not for profit community. There is something about this that is deeply affirming. There is something positively addictive about working constructively in big coalitions and cooperatively, and I believe that that is a solar power for our political movement, and I think the diesel that we have been burning in terms of this politics of confrontation and accusation and stuff like that, both on the Left and on the Right, I think that that is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Britt: You said in a talk that you gave a while ago that this country needs a reverence movement. What did you mean by that?
Van: Aqeela Sherrills, who is a huge peace leader in Watts who helped to negotiate and broker the first gang truce back right after Rodney King. He's the person who coined that term, and I always give him credit for that term because I think it is a very powerful term. People get hung up when you say, "Religious this," or, "Moral that," or even, "Spiritual," that pushes some buttons for people.

What Aqeela has been trying to say is that it is that quality of real reverence for life that will keep you from shooting somebody in the neighborhood, or that will keep you from destroying the planet environmentally based on your consumer choices. That ability to stand in awe and reverence for what a precious gift it is, just to be alive, and just to share this planet with so many other beautiful sister and brother species and nations and neighborhoods. Just that quality of reverence, that is really the gateway through which we can begin to rediscover our capacity to do good.

We have kind of been in this trance of consumption and competition, and consumption and competition have their place, but it has just been out of balance, and the idea of protection and nurturance and cooperation and solidarity, and really believing that there is something precious about everything and everyone, that is not too fashionable right now. That's kind of corny, and I think there's a way to make it cool again to care, I think, re-engaging the country based on our idealism as a country. The U.S. is such a mixed bag; it is sort of a schizophrenic country in that we are founded on stolen land and stolen labor, and yet with these high ideals from the beginning.

And I think, often, we on the Left are the ones who give up on the country, and give up on the ideals of the country, and kind of fall, without really knowing it, into this politics of cynicism, resignation, accusation; and we forget--and I've said it a million times--Dr. King didn't give a speech called, "I Have A Complaint." That wasn't the speech. It was, "I Have A Dream." This guy had been stabbed at that point, seen dogs sicced on them. He had a lot worse days than we do, and he was still willing to stand up and say, "I still have a dream for the country."

I think that we have to be willing to re-engage with our inner third-grader who really believed in liberty and justice for all, who really believed in America the beautiful, who really believed that we were a great country and we could do great things. I mean, that third-grader wasn't wrong. It's the grown people who are running the country that are wrong.

But that inner third-grader, that third-grader's not wrong, and we need to, I think, let that back out again and remind people that for all of our shortcomings--and there are too many to list--and for all of our mistakes and our crimes, there is something good in this country that, when it is allowed to shine, inspires the world, and we have an obligation to do that. Again, in the middle of this huge, huge ecological crisis, probably the biggest crisis ever to face the human family, it is not a time to be sucking our thumbs and mad at George Bush. We need to be out there rallying the country.
Britt: What keeps you motivated and inspired to do this work? Is there one thing that has motivated you from the very beginning and that carries you through?
Van: You know, people ask me that a lot and I don't ever have a great answer, because failure is not an option. What I always come back to, it's like it doesn't occur to me that there is some option of giving up on the country or giving up on . . . what are we supposed to do, just sort of abandon the people to the floodwaters of Katrina, and just say, "Oh well, sucks to be you." I just can't even imagine not standing up for the best in the human family, and insisting on the best for my own country.

The other thing is that a lot of folks, I think when you're young it's like, oh yeah, you kind of hate the U.S., and you kind of go through your rebel phase. But then you go overseas, and my experience, in Israel and Palestine and London and South Africa, Mozambique, people ask you, "What the heck are you doing over there? What are you doing to turn this thing around?" They don't want to hear that you refuse to vote and hate both parties and sit on your hands, or maybe march around sometimes with a sign.

They want to know, what are you doing to organize real power to get this government on some sane course. I think that what I have found is that you can't abdicate responsibility. You can't say, "Oh well that's them." When you go to Palestine or you go to Israel or wherever, you can't say, "Well that's George Bush." They'll say, "No, it's America. Tax dollars, American tax dollars, paid for that. George Bush didn't pay for that. What is going to happen here?" So number one, you can't abdicate your global responsibility, I don't think, and you can't just sort of pass it on, or something like that, or blame somebody else, number one.

And then, you can't lead a country you don't love. That is the big problem that the Left has had since the late '60s. You're trying to lead a country but you don't love the country. You can't lead a country you don't love. If somebody came in here right now and said, "Britt, I think you're a horrible person and I hate you, and here's what I want you to do different," the conversation is over before it even began.

If somebody came in here right now and said, "Britt, I love you, you're amazing, I appreciate everything you're trying to do, and here are some ways that you can be even better," you'll follow those people off the cliff, because those people--whoever that person is--they care enough about you to want you to be better. They are trying to call you up, and not call you out, and I think that this whole politics of, "I'm going to call this person out for their sexism, I'm going to call them out for their racism!" I'm thinking, "How does that work for you?"

Let's be wise enough to look in our own hearts. When do we feel moved to make a change? It is not based on being shamed and blamed. I think we have a Left that, in general, wants to shame and blame the country into being better, and I don't think that works. But if there is one good thing in the United States let's start with that, and let's see if we can grow that. Let's see if we can expand that. Let's see if we can make that bigger and bigger in the country.

So, for me, you go overseas, you recognize your responsibility to the country. You come back to the country, you realize you can't move this country by yelling at it, and hating everybody, and burning flags. You've got to actually use that flag to wrap people up in a warm blanket and go somewhere together. That's a long journey for me from where I was five years ago, or ten years ago, but I think the stakes are that high now that I am willing to forgo my right--I have a right to be mad at America--and I am willing to put that down. I'm willing to put that down in the pursuit of a better tomorrow for my son.
Britt: You give a lot of talks and interviews. What is a thing that you would like to talk about the most that you don't get an opportunity to talk about?
Van: I think that for me there is a way that being a bridge-builder is lonely. The role that I play is a lonely role in that if I am in a group of black people talking to them about green politics, or if I am in a group of green people talking to them about black politics, I might be of real service trying to play that bridge-building role, but the actual experience can sometimes feel lonely. In some ways it's OK because I am actually more of an introvert than most people would guess, but I do think that we have to remember that we are asking people to go beyond their comfort zones over and over again, and I'm kind of used to it.

I'm equally uncomfortable everywhere now--that's basically what I have been able to achieve. I am equally uncomfortable in the World Economic Forum as I am in a prison or a public housing project, or a church or a synagogue. I'm equally uncomfortable everywhere, so it makes it easier for me to do my job. My hope is that by trying to model real solidarity, that more and more people will join me in that middle part, that kind of, that lonely space in the middle. I would really like to see it get populated with more people.

I think that the other thing is just, solidarity to me is the most important value, and solidarity is a two-way street. That's one of the challenges, I think, for a lot of the racial justice activists. When they say they want solidarity they mean they want the white people to help them, but when you say, "OK, well, that's fine, but solidarity means it's two forces giving mutual aid in pursuit of the same objective." That's what Samora Machel, a beautiful African revolutionary said: "Solidarity is not charity, it is mutual aid between two forces pursuing the same objective."

Well the first question is, what is our shared objective? If you don't have a shared objective, it's either going to be charity, or we are going to fight. To me the shared objective is a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. That's a shared objective. And inside of that, I've got to be willing to fight to help the Sierra Club. I can't just say I want the Sierra Club to help Oakland, I've got to say, what can Oakland do to help the Sierra Club? What can we do to help the wilderness preservation people? Is there something we can do?

Maybe it's small, maybe it's just a prayer, but something has to go back in the other direction, otherwise it is charity, and it is this kind of--and I think that white people will often feel they're kind of damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they reach out a hand in solidarity, they are being patronizing, if they don't, then they're being contemptuous and don't care.

That whole kind of sickness and the relationship between the nationally oppressed minority groups and the majority group is something that we have a role, as people of color, in trying to sort through. So for me, I'm committed to real solidarity and I'm really inspired by Amilcar Cabral, who I named my son after, Samora Machel, Nelson Mandela, these beautiful African revolutionaries who were uncompromising in their defense of the humanity of their own people, and who refused at the same time to dehumanize the people who were oppressing their people. They were a stand for the liberation of the oppressor and the oppressed.

That is the basis of my politics. I refuse to demonize or deify white people. I see white people as humans who need to be rehumanized as much as the people in my community need to be rehumanized, and we can only do that with each other, in working out in common effort a way back to a shared sense of humanity and purpose and destiny.

So, I don't get a chance to talk about why I do what I do, or the kind of political roots of it, but that's what I'm about. When I was younger I linked a lot of that to class analysis and Marxism and all this sort of stuff, and I think that stuff has tremendous value, but you could take all that away from me and I would still have the same basic approach to life and to politics, which is, it should be in the service of the least of these--from a Christian perspective, the least of these.

That should be the center of our effort, and certainly the people who are closest to those conditions should, and will, cry the loudest and work the hardest and fight the longest to advance the interests of the people who are at the bottom of society, but all of us have a responsibility, an obligation, to commit class suicide and dive in and help, and move society for it.

So for me, that's what I believe. It's kind of lonely, and it gets kind of weird sometimes--I'm talking to Sharon Stone or Bill Clinton or Angelina Jolie or something, and I say, "Damn, I'm a long way from West Tennessee." It's a long way from home. But what I'm saying when I'm talking to them is the same thing that I would be saying if I were anywhere else, "Let's work together. Let's meet the challenges of the present period with the biggest ideas and the biggest hope that we have, and maybe that will be enough."
Britt: Is there anything else you want listeners to know about the Ella Baker Center or an action they can take?
Van: Well, we're working with Congress to get a Clean Energy Jobs Bill put forward so that we can get hundreds of millions of dollars down to community colleges, vocational colleges and high schools, to start training our young people up in this new green, clean economy. It would be great for people to go to our web site,, and keep up with this and join the campaign. is going to come on board and help us to do a lot of online advocacy to push this green jobs agenda forward, and hopefully, my belief, is that both parties, all three parties, will see this idea of job creation, and the green economy, as something that all three parties, all four, or all twenty parties in the U.S. are committed to, and that it will just become the almost invisible mainstream, and not be fringe and marginal. Everybody listening can help with that process by getting involved.
Britt: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Van: This is my first day as President of the Ella Baker Center after ten-and-a-half years of being the Executive Director. Friday was my last day as Executive Director, and Jakada Imani, who is a beautiful, amazing brother who grew up here in Oakland, is a strategic genius and a brilliant orator and has been leading our Books, Not Bars campaign for a couple of years now, he is now the Executive Director, and he is just great.

And suddenly, now I'm the President, and I'm a senior statesman and get a chance to focus on some of the things that I'm better at than managing people, which, I've never been good at managing or supervising anybody, including myself. I can focus on some of the long term strategy and on some of the fundraising, and this green job stuff which I am really called to. So, this is my first day in the building in a different role, and it feels good.

I have always felt that any not-for-profit should change EDs at least every 10 years, if not every 5, just because it gives new people the chance to step up and learn. As I told J, I said, "It's one thing to ride in the bus, it's another thing to ride in the front of the bus, but it's a whole other thing to drive the bus, and have to figure out how to pay for the gas, and read the maps, and deal with the kids throwing popcorn and all that kind of stuff. That's a very different thing." I know he's going to do a great job with it.

It's a feeling of pride that you have when you start something. The Ella Baker Center was just a scribble in my notebook, and then Diana and I got a borrowed closet, literally, from a not-for-profit, and pulled out the shelves and stuck a desk in there, and ten-and-a-half years later we've got 24 people on staff and a 1.6 or 1.7 million dollar budget, and six attorneys, and a new ED. So, it's pretty exciting.
You can listen to the audio from this interview on the Big Vision Podcast.

Transcription by CastingWords

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fair Trade Certified: An Interview with Paul Rice of TransFair USA

Why should consumers buy Fair Trade Certified products? What difference does a cup of Fair Trade coffee make? What is Starbucks relationship with Fair Trade? Paul Rice, the founding president and CEO of the Oakland based nonprofit, TransFair USA, answers these questions and others in an interview for the Big Vision Podcast. You can read a transcript of the podcast below.

Paul Rice: TransFair is the only organization here in the United States that certifies Fair Trade products. Fair Trade is this exciting new model for addressing poverty around the world. It basically links consumers, you and me, to third-world families, and through more direct trade helps those families get a fair price for their coffee, their tea, their bananas, whatever it is they produce.

At the heart of Fair Trade is the notion of direct trade, kind of like a farmer's market gone global. Companies participate and get to use the Fair Trade Certified label when they open their books and demonstrate that they bought direct from the farmers and paid a fair price. So, our role at TransFair is to work with the companies to certify their supply chain, to audit their books and to give consumers that guarantee that when you see the Fair Trade Certified label on a product, you know the farmers got a fair deal.

Britt Bravo: Why should people buy Fair Trade products like coffee and chocolate? What difference does it make?

PR: There is a lot of evidence to suggest that consumers are increasingly looking for higher quality products. People are trading up, as it were. One of the most visible signs of that is the boom in the gourmet coffee business over the last 10-15 years with the whole cafe phenomenon, cafes springing up all over the country and people looking for a much higher quality cup of coffee, but also a higher quality experience. That same trend can be seen in all kinds of industries, particularly in food. People are looking for higher quality food, they're looking for healthier food, and they're looking for a more pleasurable experience around food.

Well, it just so happens that there's a direct correlation between the quality of a cup of coffee, or the quality of a banana, or some other piece of fruit, and the amount of money that the farmer actually gets paid for that harvest. As you might guess, if prices are low, farmers have to cut corners on quality. If farmers, on the other hand, get a decent price, then they can invest more in the quality of the final product.

So, there's actually an alignment of interest there between your and my desires as consumers for higher quality products, and the return to the grower. Fair Trade is all about ensuring that that grower gets a fair price. Not only to produce high-quality products, but also to keep their kids in school, to put food on the table, to protect the land, and to protect the forests around the farms.

That, I would argue, is the other big benefit for consumers of Fair Trade. One is being able to get a high-quality product, and two is to know when you buy a Fair Trade product that you're also helping other families around the world. Helping families keep their kids in school, helping them farm in a sustainable manner. I think there is now lots of evidence to suggest that American consumers are increasingly aware of the world's problems. They're aware that poverty around the world is not diminishing, they're aware that environment degradation is a looming problem. Climate change is on people's minds.

Most consumers in the United States, most people don't really have the time to think about those problems a lot. They don't have time to write letters to the editor, or go demonstrate against something they don't like. Hell, people in this country don't even have time to vote. But if we can find effortless ways for people to make a difference, what we found is that actually people want to help. People want to be on the right side of history.

Everyone goes to the store. Half the country drinks coffee, the other half drinks tea. 90% of Americans eat bananas, so if we can find ways for people to make the act of eating a banana an act of virtue, an act of helping the planet, then I think we've stumbled on a really powerful way to save people and planet before it's too late. That's what Fair Trade is all about, it's putting power back in the hands of the people so that through something as simple and mundane as a cup of coffee, you can reach halfway across the world and touch the lives of a family.

BB: Can you share a story of how a family's life has been changed for the better by Fair Trade?

PR: I was in Brazil a few months ago, and in this village in Brazil there are about eighty or ninety families that are all very small coffee growers. And when we say small in the coffee world, we're talking about one or two acres. I mean, really small. Of course, because their farms are small and because historically they've gotten a really low price from the local coffee buyers, called coyotes in Latin America, these farmers are all poor. And in those communities high school is a luxury, so the local school in the local community typically goes through sixth grade. Then, if you want to go on to middle school and high school, you have to go to the nearest town.

Well, in the case of this village, called Poço Fundo, the nearest high school is fifteen miles away. That means to go to high school you need bus money, you need uniform money, you need book money. It's about three hundred dollars a year to send a kid to high school in this region of Brazil. Now, three hundred bucks a year doesn't sound like a lot of money, right? It sounds pretty cheap to you and me. Three hundred dollars a year is a huge barrier for kids in this community, and kids all over the developing world.

That three hundred bucks stands like a wall blocking out generation after generation of young people from a better future. So, this community got organized. They formed a co-op about ten years ago, they got Fair Trade Certified four years ago, and they started selling to the US market in 2003. One of the first things the co-op did that first year was they set up a scholarship program with the extra income from Fair Trade for kids to go on to high school.

When I was there last fall, I met a young woman named Paola Pereira who was the first woman in the history of this community to graduate from high school, thanks to the help from this scholarship fund. She's now in college, so she's broken another historic barrier. She's the first person in the history of this entire area to go on to college. Again, on scholarship from the co-op thanks to your and my purchases of Fair Trade coffee up here.

So there's a direct link between what you and I choose to buy on a day-to-day basis and the ability of kids around the world to dream of a better future.

That's a very, very, very powerful notion and we find consumers around the country awakening to the easiness and power of reaching out through something as easy as a cup of Fair Trade coffee, and those stories...every time I "travel to origin" as we call it, every time I travel to Latin America, to Asia, to Africa, to visit farming communities, I see those stories of hope, of change, of progress through education, through health programs, through housing improvements, and through the quality of the product, which at the end of the day is what makes Fair Trade win-win. Seeing those farmers re-invest in their production, in their quality, and making it a better product for you and me as a consumer.

BB: What are the challenges of your work?

PR: We live in a society where everyone is suffering from information overload. We're bombarded by messages in this country and so for a small, non-profit organization like ours... our budget this year is $10 million... so when Nike launches a new line of sneakers they spend $300 million in the first year on advertising and promotion, so you can imagine for a small underfunded non-profit like ours how difficult the challenge is of raising consumer awareness across the country around Fair Trade.

So yes, awareness around Fair Trade is growing, but it's growing slowly basically because the resources are still insufficient to tackle the job in a major national way. So our response to that challenge is really to reach out through grassroots groups, through the media and through the Internet to try and spread the word in a more grassroots approach. And what we're finding is, we're reaching consumers, just not as fast as we would like.

BB: What brought you to this work?

PR: I got interested in issues of hunger and poverty when I was in college, and was particularly interested in rural poverty in the developing world, and started studying ways to approach that, alternative ways to approach that. And a book that had a lot of influence on me early on was Frances Moore Lappe's book, Food First, which basically concludes that hunger and poverty around the developing world are not a function of overpopulation and not enough food production, but rather are the result of a poor distribution of resources.

And so if we helped small farmers and the rural poor get access to land and credit and training and other resources, and get access to markets, they in fact could grow their own way out of poverty as it were. So that was for me a revolutionary concept, and at the tender age of 20 I started looking abroad for places where I could go and work in agricultural development and be a part of an alternative approach to poverty.

So I went to Nicaragua and spent a summer working on some farms, this was in 1982, Nicaragua was in the midst of a revolution in which they were giving land to the poor, and helping poor people organize co-operatives as a way of building a community framework for development and for sustainability. And I found that very exciting, and so I went back after I finished college thinking I would stay in Nicaragua and work with farmers for a year and get my field experience and then figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I stayed for eleven years and lived in Nicaragua through the Contra War and worked with farmers and with co-ops during that time.

Which was a very exciting time but also a very difficult time because of the war, and that led me to start, toward the end of my time there, to start Nicaragua's first coffee export co-op, which I led for four years, and we started selling to Fair Trade buyers in Europe. Fair Trade has been around in Europe for a long time, and there are a few pioneering companies here in the US that have been doing Fair Trade on their own for the last twenty years, but there was no over-arching labeling initiative or certification initiative that could take that effort to scale.

And so after eleven years in Nicaragua, I realized that markets didn't have to be the enemy, that in fact markets could be an incredibly powerful force for liberating the poor and that Fair Trade was a really interesting, innovative, powerful model for approaching that, and that if I stayed in Nicaragua I could continue to impact the lives of 10,000 families, but that if I came back to the States and tried to replicate what the Europeans had done with Fair Trade, and put Fair Trade on the map in a much bigger way in the United States, that maybe I could impact the lives of 10 million farmers.

So I moved back and went to business school and got some tools and then launched TransFair a few years later.

BB: Can you talk a little bit about Starbucks and Fair Trade?

PR: Right now TransFair is working with over 500 companies around the country just here in the US on a whole variety of Fair Trade products. Coffee of course is the biggest and most important one, but we're also working with companies that sell tea and bananas and rice and sugar and chocolate and a whole bunch of other products. Coffee is still number one and in coffee we've been fortunate enough to be able to forge relationships with a number of the leaders in the industry.

Companies like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and Procter & Gamble which owns the Folgers line. They're not doing Fair Trade on the Folgers line, but they're doing it on another line called Millstone, but Procter & Gamble is engaged. Costco recently converted all of their private label coffee to Fair Trade, so the mainstreaming of Fair Trade, if you will, in the last couple of years is for us a real sign of progress. Because obviously that means much more volume is being certified and much more money is going back to poor farmers in Latin America, Asia and Africa as a result, and that, at the end of the day, is what we're all about.

We're about trying to get as many farmers as we can into this model so that they too can get a better fair price for their products and improve their living standards as a result.

So we're very proud of the fact that consumers have stepped up and have bought Fair Trade and that in turn has pulled more and more companies into the fold, because, let's get real, big companies don't jump into Fair Trade out of the goodness of their hearts. They jump into Fair Trade because there's a market for it, because they see an opportunity. That's actually a good thing, right? Fair Trade, at the end of the day, is not charity. We're not asking companies to take a dollar out of their pockets and send it south to those poor farmers down in Latin America, because out of the pity of their hearts, they want to do something nice for them. No that's not what it's all about.

Charity is noble and there is a place for charity. We're trying to build something different, something much more innovative. We're trying to build a different way of doing business. A way of doing business that allows a company to be profitable, while they do good in the world. Why do those two have to be a contradiction? Why can't we align the interests of companies and farmers and consumers, such that everyone wins by doing the right thing? That's the dream, that's the promise of Fair Trade. Building that alignment of interest so that those three stakeholder groups can stand together, and thrive together.

So in the case of big companies, like Starbucks, for example, we've made a good start. But it's only a start. If you look at what Starbucks is doing, I think there's a lot to be impressed by. Starbucks has become one of the top volume sellers of Fair Trade coffee in the country. So arguably, through the Fair Trade coffee that they offer in their stores, which is called Cafe Estima, they're impacting the lives of tens of thousands of farmers in Latin America and in Africa, at a time when those farmers really need our help.

On the other hand, Starbucks reported last year that Fair Trade represented only 4% of their total volume. Some people think that all of Starbuck's coffee is Fair Trade. That is not true, only 4%, by Starbucks own reports, is Fair Trade certified. And you can log onto Starbucks' website and get more details on their Fair Trade program and also their other programs. Starbucks is involved in a number of other initiatives aimed at helping farmers. So I think from Starbucks' perspective, they are doing a lot. From the perspective of the Fair Trade activist community, I think that there's a strong feeling that Starbucks could and should do more. Obviously, our goal here at TransFair is to be an enabler and a partner in that effort by Starbucks and other companies to do more.

We feel that there's a lot of room for growth, and in fact Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and all these big companies that we work with, year after year, they are growing in terms of the Fair Trade volume that they're moving. So there's great progress there. Sometimes the activists feel like it's not fast enough and sometimes we share that frustration. The realities for big business are different than for smaller businesses. What we find is that the smaller businesses that we work with can often convert larger portions of their overall volume to Fair Trade in a couple of years. For big companies that's more challenging. It takes longer to re-tool supply chains. It takes longer for bigger companies to identify the right producers, that can produce both quality and volume and that are stable, reliable business partners.

So TransFair's approach is to be patient and to be supportive of that process; to really embrace the opportunity to work with big companies in order to have a larger impact in the world. We don't want to ever be accused of being a greenwasher. That's the flip side of it. That's obviously the interesting risk and challenge of working with really big companies that are maybe only doing relatively small portions of their overall volume on Fair Trade terms. Are we being used? Is the Fair Trade label being used as a greenwashing tool?

So, we're mindful of that. We're aware of that. The way we manage that risk is by setting very clear expectations up front with the companies that we work with around setting a balance between the volume of Fair Trade that they move, and the volume of PR and promotion that they put out around that. So there needs to be a balance. It wouldn't work for a company to do a very tiny volume of Fair Trade and then go out and do lots and lots of PR and media work to make it appear as though they're doing much more than they actually are. There needs to be a balance there. There needs to be a fair representation in the media work around Fair Trade and what that means for the company.

Frankly, I think if you look at the companies that we work with--companies like Costco, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Procter and Gamble, Green Mountain, another great company we work with, those companies tend to be very careful about the PR that they put out around Fair Trade and tend to have their own interest in there being a link there. They don't want to oversell it and be accused of being dishonest. They're looking to build their own credibility and integrity in this space and I think the companies are pretty savvy. They understand that if they tooted their horn too loudly, relative to what they're actually doing that could come back to bite them in the ass in the end.

I'm actually really happy with the level of promotion and publicity of the big companies that we work with, relative to their efforts and their results. Needless to say, that's something that we at TransFair are always mindful of, and always looking to monitor. Because we want, at the end of the day, for consumers to see Fair Trade and all of the companies doing Fair Trade as a very credible model that has high integrity and that really delivers real results. That reports appropriately relative to the results that we're having.

For me, one the key ingredients of Fair Trade being able to successfully engage with large companies is the fact that Fair Trade has a movement. If you look at other labeling initiatives, one of the big differences between us and them is that Fair Trade isn't just a market. There's actually a grassroots movement all over the country of incredibly passionate, smart, committed people. Students, people in churches, people in environmental groups who have embraced Fair Trade as a positive model of change. For so long, the activist community in this country has focused on what we don't like - on the problems of globalization, on the problems of environmental degradation, on the problems of poverty, and the role of business in that problem, but without really having a powerful, compelling workable model of positive change. And so as a result, I think Fair Trade has really come to complement all of the great organizing work and activist work that the activist community historically has done, because it gives us now something positive and viable to point people towards once they get that there are problems in the world.

And as we engage with bigger and bigger companies that in some cases have arguably pretty checkered pasts in terms of their business practices, it is the watchfulness of the activist community that I think encourages those companies to engage and to delivery. Without an activist community, without a Fair Trade movement, I don't think many of the companies that are today doing Fair Trade would be doing it.

And so I feel that the role of activists and of engaged conscious consumers is really key to the success of the model at the end of the day. Not only in going out and buying Fair Trade products, but also in encouraging companies to move down the path toward greater sustainability over time.

BB: How can listeners get involved with TransFair?

PR: Check out our web site. There is a Where to Buy button there which allows you to plug in your ZIP code and find out the stores nearest to you that sell Fair Trade products. That's first and foremost what we would love every American consumer to do: vote with your dollars.

I mean we'd love for you to do a lot more than that, but if you only did that, if you only voted with your dollars, if you only asked for Fair Trade and looked for Fair Trade every time you went to a cafe, or restaurant, or a store, your voice would be heard, because guess what? Business 101: Listen to your customer. Companies listen, and it doesn't take millions of consumers saying, "We want Fair Trade coffee" to get a company to turn.

Actually it takes a relatively small number of consumers asking for it at the grocery store, or buying it at the grocery store, or the cafe, for companies to say, "Hey that Fair Trade line is really working," or, "Hey we need a bigger Fair Trade line, there's demand for this," So our voice as consumers is heard, and the impact is felt.

I recently had a conversation with John Mackey who is the CEO and Founder of Whole Foods Markets. They have not done a lot of Fair Trade historically, and now are about to move in a big way into Fair Trade. And John said very clearly to me, one of the big reasons why they have changed their position is because the customers that come into their stores kept asking for Fair Trade products.

So our voice makes a difference, and one of the biggest ways that people can help is simply by buying Fair Trade products and asking for them.

Beyond that, there are lots and lots of ways to get involved. We've seen students, for example, take on the project of getting Fair Trade coffee into their dining halls. We've seen churches get Fair Trade coffee into coffee hour, or bring Fair Trade products into the church through wholesale arrangements with different Fair Trade providers, and then use that us a fundraiser and as an educational device.

We've seen other grassroots groups, community groups, environmental groups, engage around Fair Trade, get the word out through their newsletters, and help to educate and raise awareness, provide links to their web sites, promote Fair Trade products through creative partnerships.

Here's an example: the National Wildlife Federation recently launched a Fair Trade, organic, shade grown coffee as a way to educate its members around that strong link between environmental conservation, and the livelihood of the people who live in and around the forest because you can't save the trees, if you don't also try and save the people who live under the trees. That's new school environmentalism, but leading environmental groups like Sierra Club, like National Wildlife Federation, they are making those links and actually promoting Fair Trade coffee as a way to promote their environmental agenda.

So lots of ways to get involved by spreading the word, and what we find is in the absence of a multi-hundred million dollar advertising budget, word of mouth, and people spreading the word through their connections, their networks, and their communities is actually not only an effective way to build the market, build awareness for Fair Trade and help more farmers in the process, but in some ways it's probably more effective than seeing an ad on TV because when we hear something from someone that we know and trust, we tend to listen to it more than seeing something on TV, because people are skeptical about stuff they see on TV obviously, so spread the word, that's how you can help.

BB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own non-profit, or is a budding social entrepreneur?

PR: The old approaches to the world's problems aren't working very well. We need creative, innovative, bold new approaches, and Fair Trade is one of those, but it's certainly not a panacea or a solution to all the world's problems.

So my advice to people who want to change the world and who might have an inclination to do something on their own is, forgive the cliche, but think outside of the box, think of a new approach, think of a way that harnesses the power of markets, if possible, to the task of environmental sustainability and social justice.

I think now is the time for us all collectively to think broadly and creatively about new approaches and to challenge a lot of our old assumptions, and a lot of our old idealogical blinders, if you will, and to come up with new alliances and new strategies for change.

For more information about TransFair USA go to

Britt Bravo also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good, NetSquared and BlogHer.

Transcription by CastingWords

Friday, April 20, 2007

Amazing Video by

Part of the Nonprofit Technology Conference I went to earlier this month was a video contest for videos that move people to create social change, and promote nonprofit work.

The winner, "Stop the Clash of Civilizations" was created by, and it is awesome. Gives me shivers each time I watch it.

You can see it on Avaaz.og, NTEN, or on YouTube, where it is in 9 or 10 different languages.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yoga for Social Change

These days, yoga is about more than getting in shape, or getting in touch with yourself. It's about getting the world in shape too.

In San Francisco, Yoga Sangha is hosting a "Spiritual Activation Series" with lecture, yoga and meditation. Speakers include Julia Butterfly Hill of Circle of Life, John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America, and Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart.

On Gaiam, you can buy organic cotton T-shirts that say, "Off the Matt, Into the World," to help raise money for YouthAids, an AIDS prevention and education program created by yoga instructor, Seane Corn.

Street Yoga is a group in the Pacific Northwest that teaches free yoga and wellness classes to youth living on the streets and in foster care, children of homeless families, and young people recovering from abuse and trauma.

If you are a environmentally conscious yoga studio or instructor, you can join the Green Yoga Association, and check out this month's "green" issue of Yoga Journal.

You can also find lots of do-good yoginis on the social network, Zaadz.

What are some examples you've seen of yoga for social change?

Photo credit: Yoga by Mark MacLean.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award: 5 Blogs That Make Me Think

Gayle of Fruitful, Amy of Shaping Youth and Jeff of Pack Light were all nice enough to nominate me for a "Thinking Blogger Award." Thanks!

As a nominee I'm supposed to link to 5 blogs that make me think, link to the original Thinking Blogger Award post, and display the cute little badge.

I have 239 feeds in my blog reader so it is a little hard to choose, but here it goes.

Five Blogs That Make Me Think:

Green LA Girl
Seth's Blog
Sustainable Table


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Three Women Journalists and Activists Host Sundance's "The Green"

With Earth Day coming up, lots of green projects are launching this month, including the Sundance Channel's, The Green, a block of weekly programming devoted to the environment. Three women journalists and environmental activists will host the series: Majora Carter, Founder and Director of Sustainable South Bronx, Simran Sethi, anchor for TreeHugger TV, and Allison Stewart, daytime anchor for MSNBC and host of "The Most".

I saw Majora Carter speak last May at a Solutions Salon put on by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. She was amazing. You can watch an awesome talk she gave at the TED Conference here. Her organization, Sustainable South Bronx, is an environmental justice nonprofit working for the environmental and economic rebirth of the South Bronx.

Even more exciting to me than that three women are hosting is that they are all women of color. Go Sundance!

The Green launches on April 17th with a 13-part program, Big Ideas for a Small Planet at 9/8c, and the first in a series of green documentaries. This week's documentary is, Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash at 9:35/8:35 c. You can see clips from both shows here.

Full disclosure: My husband, Adriano Bravo, did sound recording for some of the episodes of Big Ideas for a Small Planet.

Photo Credit: Majora Carter (left), host of Sundance Channel's THE GREEN by James Burling Chase. Simran Sethi, host of Sundance Channel's THE GREEN by Michael Williams photography. Both photos from the Sundance Channel press site.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Black Gold: Fair Trade Coffee Movie on PBS

Black Gold Movie

Last fall I wrote a post, "Know Where Your Coffee Comes From" about, Black Gold, a documentary about Fair Trade and the coffee industry.

You can watch the film this week, starting tonight, on PBS.

If you'd like to learn more about why Fair Trade makes a difference, and the relationship between Starbucks and Fair Trade coffee, check out my interview with Paul Rice, the founding president and CEO of the Oakland based nonprofit, TransFair USA , on the Big Vision Podcast. I'll post a transcript of the interview here next week.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Women Activists Profiled by Mariane Pearl in Glamour

Amidst articles about "How to lose the last 10 pounds", "DIY tips for celeb-sexy hair" and "3 random ways to boost your sex drive," Glamour has been running a series about women activists since summer 2006. Global Diary is a monthly column written by journalist, Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002 by terrorists in Pakistan.

Pearl has profiled 9 women in 9 countries:

Cambodia: Somaly Mam, a former sex worker who founded Acting for Women in Distressing Situations, an organization that rescues sex workers in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and gives them job training.

Canada: Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist, former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Cuba: Laura Pollan, whose home is the headquarters for Damas en Blanco (Ladies in White). The Ladies in White march almost every Sunday for the release of their husbands and relatives, human rights activists who were arrested in 2003.

France: Fatima Elayoubi, an Arab immigrant and former cleaning woman, whose memoir, Prière à la Lune (Prayer to the Moon), raised awareness among Parisians about the lives of "invisible" immigrants like herself.

Hong Kong: Anson Chan, the highest-ranking woman to serve in Hong Kong's Government, who is campaigning for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, and Africa's first elected female head of state.

Mexico: Lydia Cacho, a journalist whose book, Los Demonios de Eden (Demons of Eden), about a pedophile ring in Cancun, has put her life in danger.

United States: Dr. Angela Diaz, the Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in East Harlem, who went to the Center as a teen.

Uganda: Dr. Julian Atim, an AIDS activist and doctor at the Naguru Health Center in Kampala, who lost her parents to AIDS.

Next time you are waiting in the grocery store line, or at the doctor's office or at the hairdresser, pick up a Glamour and look for Pearl's newest column for some inspiration. The series is only supposed to last a year, but I hope it continues on documenting what Pearl called in her interview with Diaz, "the ripple effect of human empathy."

Screenshot from Global Diary: Uganda by Mariane Pearl

Monday, April 02, 2007

World of Good Launches Fair Trade Wage Guide

When you buy a basket, pot, weaving or jewelry from an artisan in the emerging world, you are helping them earn a living, but are you paying them fairly for their work? While you can look for a TransFair Fair Trade Certified label on things like coffee, tea, chocolate, vanilla, fruit, sugar and rice, how do you know if the art and craftwork you are buying is Fair Trade?

The Bay Area based World of Good Development Organization has created a Fair Trade Wage Guide to help artisans calculate a “fair wage in a local context.”
"At the click of a button, the Wage Guide converts ‘artisan per piece payment’ to a ‘daily wage’ and then compares the daily wage to international economic indicators providing advice on how to increase wages to meet these standards."
The Guide is built with free, open-source technology so that it is easy for artisans to use with their own systems. The hope is that the Guide will help the movement to create a fair trade craft product label, and that by working with IFAT, FTF, or FLO it can be adopted as an international standard around fair trade pricing.

In my recent interview with Priya Haji, Co-Founder and Board President of World of Good Development Organization, who is also the CEO and President of its sister organization, World of Good Inc., she explained why fair trade pricing is so important for artisans:
"In most developing countries, 75 to 80 percent of the informal workforce are women, whether they are cleaning homes, whether they are milking cows, or whether they are making a bracelet or weaving cloth in their home. So finding how to develop standards to support that sector of the economy is extremely important to the long-term life and health outcomes of not only these women but also their families.

We have had women's groups write us from Thailand and say, 'We make these beautiful weavings that take us days, and we earned a really high price for them, and we thought, "Wow, this is what is really making us money." But when we put it through the calculator and we realized, for how long it takes us, the amount of money, even though it is our higher-ticket item, it isn't really making us that much money. Meanwhile, we also use the same traditional technique and we weave something that goes on the back of a barrette. The barrette sells for much less, but it takes us such a short time; so if we could actually market more of our barrettes, we are earning more per day or more per week than when we market these weavings that are essentially getting underpaid in the market.'
For more information about the Fair Trade Wage Guide, contact Holly Harbour,
World of Good Development Organization's Co-Founder and Executive Director at
holly AT worldofgood DOT org."

Cross-posted from WorldChanging San Francisco.

Photo: Priya Haji demonstrates the Fair Trade Wage Guide to artisans in Kenya.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

It really doesn't get much more have fun and do good than vegan cupcakes. That's why I requested a review copy of Vegan Cupakes Take Over the World, and I haven't been disappointed. Last week I made vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and tonight I made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting. Both were tasty! They aren't the healthiest vegan desserts--the frosting is made from margarine and shortening and they use refined sugar, but I'm not complaining.

If you don't want to use refined sugar they have a recipe for Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes, and if you can't have gluten there are Vanilla and Chocolate Gluten Freedom Cupcake recipes. After eating cupcakes this weekend, and last weekend, I'm thinking that the Sexy Low-Fat Vanilla Cupcake with Fresh Berries recipe might be a wise next choice.

If you want some healthy vegan dessert recipes without refined sugar, I've made a lot of good ones from How It All Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer. The Ginger Snaps and Banana Oatmeal Cookie recipes are especially yummy.

I wish I could say I was a virtuous vegan, but I'm not, I just like to cook vegetarian and vegan food when I can. Long ago I was a vegetarian, and then a vegan, and then a macrobiotic, but now I'm more of a believer in the, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants," school as described by Michael Pollan in his New York Times article, "Unhappy Meals" (which is a great read).

If you are a cupcaketarian like me, you might also enjoy the Vegan Cupakes Take Over the World and Cupcakes All the Time blogs.