Faces of Fair Trade tour brings visiting farmers to the Wedge

What do bananas from Ecuador, pecans from Georgia and butter made in Minnesota have in common?

It sounds like the beginning to a nonsensical riddle, but visiting farmers at the Wedge Co-op on Tuesday revealed the similar struggles behind getting these fair trade or cooperative-produced items to people’s stores, shopping carts and stomachs.

The event was the conclusion to the Minneapolis portion of the Faces of Fair Trade tour, co-hosted by the Wedge Co-op. The tour kicked off on Saturday, Oct. 20 with a pumpkin pie giveaway at the Seward Co-op and continued Sunday and Monday with panel presentations at places of worship in Minnetonka and Minneapolis.

The tour’s aim was to help raise local and global awareness of the fair trade market, the plight of small family farms, and what cooperatives are doing to build a fair food system worldwide. Leonardo Bravo, a banana farmer from Ecuador and a member of the El Guabo cooperative, spoke of how important co-ops are to Central and South American farmers. Farmers who don’t earn fair trade wages often end up emigrating and leaving their families to try and find more stable work, while farmers who work with co-ops and earn fair trade wages are able to stay and support not only their families, but also their entire community.

Jean Andreasen, general manager of PastureLand, a southeastern Minnesota-based cooperative, spoke about the general difficulties her co-op faces on a day-to-day basis, like the cost of vital machinery for packaging or how hard it is to transport products for processing. PastureLand started in 1998 with three family farms that wanted to preserve the nutritional content of their dairy products. Nine years later, the co-op has three more farms and has won accolades for their butter and cheese at national competitions.

Shirley Sherrod, a director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, talked about partnering with Equal Exchange, the oldest and largest for-profit fair trade company in the United States, to market pecans. She mentioned how land laws in the south had stripped black farmers of more than 12 million acres of land and how partnerships in the fair trade community can help farmers overcome obstacles and end up being beneficial for everyone.

“We want to help people understand that it’s more than the pecans you’re eating,” Sherrod said. “It’s the families you’re supporting. It’s the children you’re helping to educate.”