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Local Fair Trade Organizer Moves on to National Job

Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO — The woman behind the fair trade resolution that was recently approved by the Brattleboro Selectboard is using her experience to help other communities around the country develop their own fair trade policies. Sara Stender, a School of International Training student and a Stratford native, accepted a job last week as National Fair Trade Town and Community Coordinator.The job is part time and funding for the position is coming from three non-governmental organizations, said David Funkhouser. Oxfam, Transfair USA and Lutheran World Relief have provided seed money for the position, which they hope will eventually become self-funding.

“It was something we have been talking about for a number of months,” said David Funkhouser, the strategic outreach coordinator for Transfair USA. With more than a dozen communities in the country pursuing fair trade status, he said, “we needed somebody to focus on it.”

Stender will take her lessons learned from Brattleboro and build a framework or guide that other towns can use, he said.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel in every town.”

“A lot of towns and communities are developing coalitions,” said Stender. “They are seeking advice and resources.”

She will be moving to Asheville, N.C., and though she will be on the road much of the time, advising communities around the country, she will also be establishing an office in Asheville that will serve as a clearinghouse for fair trade information.

Her thesis work at SIT was related to the fair trade supply train. As part of her course work, Stender worked as an intern with Ayllu, Inc., a Brattleboro nonprofit that encourages the development of fair trade products in developing countries. Stender was the program director for Ayllu’s Brattleboro Fair Trade Town Initiative.

Stender also worked for Kusikuy, a Brattleboro-based company founded by Tamara Stenn that distributes hand-made clothing made from alpaca and llama fleece in South America. Stenn also founded Ayllu.

“It’s perfect for her,” said Stenn.

Even though she will be in North Carolina, Stender will still be working with Brattleboro and other communities in Vermont, and that’s good for the Green Mountain State.

“I can get even more done,” Stender said. “I have access to even more resources that I can pass on to local coalitions.”

Brattleboro was a great candidate to become the nation’s second fair trade community — behind Media, Pa. — because it had a foundation to start from, said Stender. Many Brattleboro merchants already offer fair trade products, exceeding the minimum requirements established by the UK Fair Trade Federation, and the town only needed Selectboard approval to become an official fair trade community, which it granted in July.

“It already had a level of awareness about fair trade,” she said. “It already had businesses that offered fair trade products. We worked with what already existed.”

She will take what she learned during her time in Brattleboro and apply it to other similar communities around the country,.

She said when she first started with Ayllu, she had no idea her fair trade work would become a full-time job, but now “I couldn’t imagine not being involved in fair trade after learning so much about it.”

Stender said there is a misconception that fair trade is anti-capitalist.

“I am a business person and an entrepreneur,” she said. “And fair trade is good for business.”

Some fair trade products might seem more expensive than non-fair trade, she said, but as the movement expands, prices will stabilize.

“The bottom line is not about a couple more pennies. It’s about the people producing these goods.”

The fair trade movement is about empowering workers who have historically been exploited for their products and services, she said.

Those involved in fair trade around the world have told her she is “a pioneer for getting a paying job” in a venture that is populated by lots of volunteers.

Stender received a degree in business management from Simmons College in Boston and is working on her degree in organizational management from SIT.

In accepting the fair trade resolution, the Selectboard agreed to ask town departments to purchase fair trade products whenever reasonable.

The town is currently in talks to find a coffee supplier, working with both Mocha Joe’s and Green Mountain Coffee. In 2003, Proctor and Gamble, the biggest supplier of coffee in the United States and the distributors of Folgers, announced it would offer fair trade coffee under its Millstone label. Fair trade certified coffee is one of the fastest growing niche markets in the country, said Stender.

A new fair trade steering committee will be meeting Monday night at Mocha Joe’s roasting shop from 6:30 to 8 and is open to the public, said Jackie Billings, a member of the committee. Billings credited Stender’s persistence with getting the fair trade resolution before the Selectboard.

“It’s obviously something she cares deeply about,” said Billings.

Area residents can get on board the fair trade initiative by being aware of their daily purchases, said fellow steering member Kate Amanna.

“Everyone can get involved just by buying fair trade, such as coffee,” she said.

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