A sweet deal: Company gives sugar a fair shake

HONOR – Food For Thought is putting fair trade sugars in all of its preserves, making it the first purveyor of Fair Trade-Certified preserves in the United States.

This is a natural evolution for the northern Michigan-based organic foods company, which is committed to the use of organic and wild-harvested agricultural products either grown on their farm or purchased from as many local farmers as possible.

"The best fair trade is a handshake across the kitchen table," said Timothy Young, owner/chef of Food for Thought. "And that's how I do it with all of my local growers. But when I can't, I look for companies that are Fair Trade Certified and pay more for a product that ensures a better life for the farmers. There's just no other way to do it as far as we're concerned."

Currently, there are no standards for Fair Trade Certification for products in the U.S. The standards are for imported agricultural products that are produced in massive quantities. Food for Thought went through an almost two-year process for their fruit preserves because Fair Trade Certification for processed products is new.

Young has been working for the last three years with a number of businesses, non-profits, migrant labor groups and others to develop a Fair Trade Standard for domestically produced goods. Food for Thought and Dr. Bronner's Soaps in California have been engaged in independent trials of new standards which are expected to be launched later this year.

Fair Trade Certified products support farming families in the developing world through fair prices, direct trade, community development and environmental stewardship.

"We know our fruit comes from local farmers where we have direct relations, where we can assure the fair treatment of people and planet," said Young. "However, this has not been the case with sugar as it is comes from overseas. Once Fair Trade organic sugar became available on the market, it was an easy decision for us to make."

Things Americans enjoy everyday-coffee, tea, chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, vanilla-are harvested by farmers and growers where survival can be a real struggle. Low prices, market volatility and isolation often keep them in the cycle of poverty, unable to recover their costs of production, which takes its toll on families, communities and the environment. Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment.

Food For Thought uses organic fair trade sugar in its preserves and butters from Paraguay provided by Wholesome Sweeteners. Until signing Fair Trade agreements, many farmers' kids in Tebicuary, Paraguay worked in the fields and horses pulled cane carts. Today, the kids are in school and a tractor does all of the pulling. Coffee farmers in Nicaragua can now send their children to school, obtain health insurance, have access to credit and learn business skills. By giving farmers and farm workers access to international markets and the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive, Fair Trade makes local sustainable development possible for people worldwide.

Fair Trade Certified agricultural products are currently available at over 35,000 retail establishments in the United States. BN