Fair Trade Or Local: Is There Only One Choice?

When thinking about supporting a healthier food system, you might find it hard to buy all local items and wonder what to do in those cases.

For example, there are some things that we in the United States just can’t grow ourselves, such as bananas, coffee, certain teas, and chocolate. When buying these, opt instead for fair trade items, because they support local communities and the environment.

What exactly is a fair trade item? The values of fair trade are very similar to those of a sustainable food and farming system. In fact, according to the nonprofit TransFair USA, a third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, “purchasing items that are fair trade certified guarantees that they were produced and traded in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible way. When you buy Fair Trade Certified products, you support the well-being of families, communities, and the earth.”

But many people wonder if buying items, even if they are fair trade, from so far away is really a good answer given the negative environmental consequences of transportation.

One group, international Fair Trade Town movement, has looked at this and has found that supporting fair trade can support a fair global response to climate change. “In some cases fewer carbon emissions actually result from growing and transporting fair trade products than local.” The group found that was true for some items that were shipped to the United Kingdom by sea.

Fair Trade Town movement wonders whether it is enough to simply ask for local, and encourages people to make sure their food is both local and sustainable — something I have written about on Care2 several times.

Fair Trade Town also has expanded to the United States, and has several US city members including San Francisco, Taos, and Oakland, California.

Ultimately, as with the coffee and chocolate we all love, there are instances when it’s just not possible to buy both local and fair trade, and it seems extreme to always “pit” them against one another. To me, the best solution is to be mindful of the production issues involved in the products we buy by and to use a combination of the two when shopping.

To be sure that what you are buying is really a fair trade item, visit the TransFair USA website and search for where to buy items here.

To find locally grown items, search Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide.


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R11 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

Elisa F.
Elisa F3 years ago

Thanks for Sharing.

John Wedderburn
.3 years ago

I try to buy goods that can be produced in the UK from UK producers, but if it comes from a developing country, I try to make sure it's fair trade.

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jane Mckenzie
Jane Mckenzie4 years ago


Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

great article, thanks!

iii q.
g d c5 years ago


Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz5 years ago

~Informative article~I will look for mreof thes items in the future~