By Quinn DiFalco, PJC Fair Trade Intern

There really is no better way to learn about and discuss fair trade than from the inside of an Equal Exchange banana suit.

Last year at Burlington’s World Fair Trade Day Celebration, I had the opportunity to do just that. I had been volunteering with the Peace & Justice Center for just over a year, all the while learning about what “fair trade” is, where to look for it, what the certification ensures, and why it is so important. I started that fine May day as a regular volunteer, helping set up our free smoothie station sponsored by City Market, and not an hour or so later found myself inside a banana suit, astride the City Market Smoothie bike, racing kids and adults alike to make fair trade banana smoothies for their friends and families. In between bike rides, I was talking to farmer’s market shoppers about the importance of fair trade.

Quinn in the banana suit last year. This year’s World Fair Trade Day celebration is on Saturday, May 13, 10-2:00 at Burlington’s first outdoor farmer’s market of the season in City Hall Park.

I was in a good position to give people an introduction to the world of fair trade because, like many, it was not a concept I was exposed to until recently. I remember very clearly a few years earlier when I had gone to the first Farmer’s Market of the year and was rather confused when someone told me it was World Fair Trade Day. I was excited to witness the event and to talk to vendors and participants, but I didn’t really understand what it it was all about.

For readers who don’t know, a fair trade certification basically ensures that everyone involved in the production of a product is afforded fair wages, decent working conditions, and the methods for production are environmentally friendly. Generally, supply chains for fair trade products are more direct and cut out the go-betweens and brokers who absorb most of the profit. The higher standards for this business model empower the people who usually are afforded the smallest amount of profit for the vast majority of work, ie, the farmers and producers. By giving people decent wages, the economies of their local communities are able to re-invest in their communities and improve their local economies. Additionally, fair trade certification ensures that the people harvesting crops and raw materials or working in the fabrication of an item are not exposed to harmful chemicals that are detrimental to their health. Nor are they asked to wield machinery or hazardous material without appropriate protection and safety precautions.

Fortunately, World Fair Trade Day last year was a beautiful day and the Burlington community readily engaged with me along with the other volunteers and were genuinely curious both about the bike-powered blenders and about fair trade ethics.

This year, I have the privilege of being one of the Fair Trade Interns at PJC and have been working closely with Amy Crosswhite, our Fair Trade Store and Program Manager, to create our World Fair Trade Day Celebration this year. My main goal for this event is to help educate consumers about what fair trade means and how to find these products. Consumer education and demand is the key to derailing market practices that capitalize and thrive on the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. If we as consumers ask that our producers and suppliers prioritize the livelihood of people and the planet, we can help slow and eventually reverse this destructive cycle. World Fair Trade Day is an opportunity for us to help our vendors increase visibility and availability and to educate the general population.

As part of the celebration, we are excited to host Amor a la Vida, US Sherpa, Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Nomad Coffee Cart (selling exclusively fair trade Brio Coffee Works coffee), the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Truck, as well as selections from the Peace & Justice Center Fair Trade store. Many vendors who are unable to join us graciously donated fair trade goodies that we will be raffling off throughout the day.  Additionally, Jeh Kulu, the West African dance and drumming troupe will be making an appearance and giving us a special performance! I hope to emulate the spirit of community that the event has carried with it for the past few years.

Hope to see you all there!