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Fair Trade Or Local: Is There Only One Choice?

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.

Read more: Community, Conscious Consumer, Do Good, Food, Green, Life, Smart Shopping, , ,

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Judi Gerber

Judi Gerber is a University of California Master Gardener with a certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She writes about sustainable farming, local foods, and organic gardening for multiple magazines. Her book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay was released in September 2008.


+ add your own
11:05AM PST on Jan 12, 2014

Thanks for Sharing.

10:55AM PDT on May 31, 2013

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.

8:05AM PDT on Mar 19, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:16PM PST on Dec 14, 2012


4:11PM PST on Dec 13, 2012


9:05AM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Thanks for the info.

12:36AM PDT on Oct 12, 2012

great article, thanks!

5:35PM PST on Feb 2, 2012


8:31PM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

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

10:55AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Thank you

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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