Monthly Archives: November 2009

Avoiding Holiday Distractions


by Jackie DeCarlo

Over the past few months, it has been especially gratifying to read the reflections of my colleagues about the role faith plays in their Fair Trade work.  I hope you have felt inspired and informed.  As I end my time as lead blogger, and in keeping with the approach of the holiday season, I thought I would offer some considerations about Fair Trade gift-giving in our lives. ~ Jackie DeCarlo

Part of my daily practice is to read from inspirational sources.  Currently I am revisiting Simple Abundance, a daybook I received as a gift about a decade ago.  A recent reflection included,

“At this time of year our conscious attention often turns to what we don’t have rather than what we do-and for a very good reason.  The season of non-stop shopping has arrived.  [After Thanksgiving] the race to get ready for the next round of holidays begins.  No sooner have we celebrated the season of plenty then, with the advent of the first official days of [holiday] shopping, we enter…frenetic weeks of looking, finding, buying, and ordering-but not for ourselves.  We feel overwhelmed by a season of lack….

Before we head to the mall, it would do our souls good to have a reality check, in the form, not only of counting our blessings, but of focusing on them.  Money is going to have to buy a lot in the next few weeks, but it can’t buy the gifts that count the most:  good health, a loving and supportive [relationship], healthy [children and loved ones], the fulfillment of creative expression, and inner peace.  We forget this, not because we’re ungrateful louts, but because we get distracted by the razzamatazz of real life.  Now is the time to remember….”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

The “razzamatazz” of this year makes me eager for the holidays to fly by so 2010 can get here. The illnesses of elderly relatives, the purchase of a new home and the resulting shift from an urban to suburban lifestyle, a global economic crisis impacting my day job and the Fair Trade movement I love-all are my own special type of 2009 distractions and reasons for dread as I look at my holiday list and check it twice.

Yet this week, I have received cheerful greetings from a friend with the World Food Program who narrowly escaped a kidnapping in Pakistan.  Another friend in Sudan has found his humanitarian service includes sleeping in tool sheds and having only a towel to provide warmth in the cool night air.

Definitely this is the time to count my blessings and to recommit myself to a season not just of making it through the shopping process.  I’ll start by offering a word of thanks to you the reader.  If you are visiting this site, you are probably already doing your best to make plenty of Fair Trade holiday purchases.  You are building a just marketplace gift by gift.  You’ll probably even offer educational pointers on economic justice to relatives and friends while they unwrap your offerings.   You do so because you remember that across the world there are many who don’t have good health, love and companionship, freedom, peace.  You are taking small actions in a big, complex world to alter that reality for others.  Fair Traders like you make shopping worth a lot of focus.  Thank you and happy holy days.

Paths that Converge: Spirituality and Fair Trade


by David Funkhouser

Late in the sixth decade of my life, I said farewell to a wonderful community of friends in Philadelphia, let go of much of the “extra” I had accumulated, packed a few boxes, prepared to ship my piano, and headed west into the world of Fair Trade.  Like many other passages, it just seemed like the right thing to do.  Following 10 years of parish ministry as an Episcopal priest, including faith-based community organizing work, I was ready for a change.  The opportunity to join TransFair USA in Oakland, California would draw on experience and skills developed over the years, and the prospect of taking part in a mission intended to empower small-scale farmers and farm workers struck a major chord. More than five years later, I reflect now on the amazing privilege it is to be part of one of the most promising social change initiatives on the planet: the Fair Trade model that is building dignity, improving people’s lives, and nurturing farming families in very concrete and real ways. I’m grateful also that Fair Trade challenges us in the Global North to look mindfully at our consumption patterns and change how we do business, for the benefit of everyone.

The theme Jackie proposes for this blog is the intersection of our spiritual paths and Fair Trade. I acknowledge that the seeds of my current work and the type of work I have done most of my life were planted during childhood and adolescence. In the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the rural community where I grew up, life revolved around the small United Church of Christ (UCC).   The values of simplicity and generosity seemed to be naturally embraced in our somewhat insular life; however, there was also a strong taste of struggle, as hard-working families, including our own, faced economic insecurities and hardship.  Something was born in me in my youth that has stayed with me, and it had to do with “what is not right with the world.” That seed motivated me to look beyond the Valley to the wider world, and, with the encouragement of special persons along the way, I set out to become a doctor, with the bold intent to follow in the footsteps of Albert Schweitzer in Africa.  I left the Valley and went to a UCC college, but instead of med school and the Africa dream, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching biology in Bogotá, Colombia.  The Peace Corps experience was rich and formative in many ways, and it also brought me face-to-face with harsh realities of endemic poverty and systemic economic injustice, causing a lot of pain and inner conflict.  This was taking place in the late tumultuous ’60s as I began to connect the dots for a deeper understanding of what was not right with the world, and I became more and more aware that this was all part of my spiritual path.  I accepted that the conflicts, injustice, and contradictions made it impossible to be neutral.

Seminary (rather than med school) followed the Peace Corps, then ordination and Episcopal parish ministry, school chaplaincy, and a period of broadening my spiritual practice by conversing with Quakerism, Judaism, Buddhism.  In 1978, I learned about the revolution taking place in Nicaragua and the role of Christian base communities in that process, and for the next 10-12 years I lived and breathed Central America, working on education for U.S. Americans on what was happening there, accompanying delegations, building relationships, and, overall, trying to influence U.S. policy.  The policy piece was incredibly frustrating and difficult.  There were many rewards, though, in the relationships with Central Americans, both in their countries and exiled, and many of them were part of faith communities.  Those were perhaps the most challenging and also the most rewarding years of my life, nurtured by the vision and conviction of people who faithfully pursued their dream of justice and dignity.  Their faith reinforced my own.

Fast forward to many years later, when I woke up to Fair Trade and to the insight: THIS WORKS!  This is an accessible and concrete way to address social and economic justice, and the work is consistent with values I’ve held all my life.  Of course, the greatest inspiration and meaning comes in relationship with remarkable people who are part of the Fair Trade movement-the producers, artisans, and workers and their families, as well as the partners all along the chain.  I am reminded that meaning is at the core of spirituality.

I’m a great admirer of those who have contributed to this blog before me, grateful for their gifts, their inspired work, the questions they raise.  The issues of over-consumption and the future of our planet are at the root of the spiritual crisis that afflicts our species.  In this path in Fair Trade, also in the evolution of my spiritual journey, my aspiration is to contribute to real and accessible solutions to the great problems of our time, solutions that empower people to become actors in their own lives, as necessary for us who are privileged as for the unfairly treated.  Trying to do this, I’ve become more and more aware of the need to hold contradictions as we attempt change. It’s a tough thing to do.  I like to remind myself of a quote a close friend shared with me, written in the 20th century by the Russian philosopher Lev Shestov: “Freedom consists in the force and power not to admit evil into the world.”  I think of the spiritual path as trying to raise my consciousness in the search for that kind of freedom, and the Fair Trade path as putting my consciousness into action.

– David Funkhouser

We Are All God’s Precious Children


This week I am pleased to share the reflections of Melanie Hardison, who coordinates Just Living and Enough for Everyone as part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I am fortunate to work with Melanie, particularly as we endeavor to be part of the faith contingent of the Fair Trade Futures conference in September 2010.  I also have a bit of pride at her contributions to Fair Trade as she and I both attended Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, which has deep ties to the Presbyterian Church.  No matter what your denomiation (or lack thereof) both Melanie and I will be curious to read your response to her blog’s final question.” ~ Jackie DeCarlo

by Melanie Hardison

How does faith inform my work with Fair Trade?  One of my early formative moments happened when I was 11 years old, in confirmation class.  I went through confirmation with my father, who wanted to become Presbyterian and had asked if he could go through confirmation and join the church with me. (For those of you unfamiliar with Presbyterianism, this is – to say the least – unusual.  I’m still grateful that both the pastor and I said yes.)

The formative moment came when the pastor led us in an activity in which we wrote the words, “Who Am I?” at the top of a sheet of paper.  Before writing our answers, we were instructed to write these words next: “I am a Child of God.” I remember the pastor encouraging us to express who we understood ourselves to be, but saying first: “No matter what else you are, always remember first and foremost that you are a Child of God.”  I was aware, too, that my dad had written “I am a Child of God” at the top of his page, and indeed each person the class had written “I am a Child of God” at the top of their page.  It was part of the lesson: We are all God’s precious children.

As I grew older and began to learn about injustice and suffering in the world, I began to wrestle deeply with how it came to be that I was born into a life more privileged than most people in the world.  I was born with white skin, in the United States, in a wealth-class family, with two stable parents that were able to provide for my basic needs, and more.  I enjoyed health insurance, was able to go to college, and more.  If I had all these things and was able to get around fairly easily in the world, why can’t everyone?  Aren’t we all God’s children?

As a young adult I also came to develop my identity as a theologian and activist, thanks in part to the Youth Theology Institute at Candler School of Theology, an incredible minister Rev. Clover Beal, and my coursework with the Religious Studies Department at Agnes Scott College.  It seems that my whole life, from confirmation class to my current work in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have been exploring the social and public implications of individual faith and how it can be applied in the church and world.

Fair Trade is a significant part of the professional work I feel called to do.  As a Presbyterian I believe that God does not wish suffering or poverty or violence on some people and not others; rather it is human-made structures that are imperfect and unjust, not God’s structures. There is enough for everyone – enough love, abundance, creativity and joy – that there must be a way we can each live to our most full and true potential.  Those of us who are able to work for the survival of others (because we don’t have to focus on survival for ourselves) have a responsibility to do so.

For the 1,300,000,000+ people in the world who live with hunger, and the 2,000,000,000+ people who live on less than $2.00 per day – all of whom (like me, my dad and the other kids in my confirmation class) are God’s precious children – Fair Trade is a viable economic alternative that helps people gain access to needed resources, provide for their families, help gain control over their lives and live with increased dignity.  It’s a system I have experienced at the ground level in a number of cooperatives in a number of countries, and I believe in it fully.

These are the things that have undergirded my work in Fair Trade and related initiatives for the last 11 years.  What shapes and inspires yours?

Planning for a Special Holy Day: Act Now


vicky-with-palm-lwr(Photo credit: LWR)

For the Christian tradition it is time to start planning for an important holiday….no, not Christmas, but Palm Sunday!  Guest blogger Kattie Somerfeld, of Lutheran World Relief, explains why fair and sustainable trade are important to her religion’s practice.  She also gives readers an opportunity to bring eco-palms to their congregations by planning for purchases now. ~ Jackie DeCarlo

by Kattie Somerfeld

For Lutherans and other people of faith, Fair Trade is about more than fair income, sustainable development, and protection of the environment. It’s about seeing God in the faces of our sisters and brothers in the products we buy. For us, it’s about affirming their dignity with our consumer dollar.

On Palm Sunday, Christians remember Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, where people threw palms on his path and shouted “Hosanna in the highest!”

We wave palms fervently as the procession comes down the aisle, shouting “Hosanna in the highest!” anticipating the pivotal moment that defines the Christian faith – Christ died, Christ rose from the dead.

To us, those green palm fronds represent a new hope for an ailing world. To most producers of palm, however, they represent something an unjust system of trade that keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty.

That’s because palm cutters (called xaterros (sha-TARE-rows)) typically trek deep into the forest to extract palm that they bring back to sell to middlemen, who go on to sell it all over the world. Although palm purchases total about $4.5 million a year, the xaterros see very little of this money.

Middlemen pay for palm by volume, prompting xaterros to extract as much palm as possible from the forests, often to the detriment of the palm trees. In trying to earn a living for themselves, they are forced to systematically destroy their main source of income.

Lutheran World Relief and other faith groups support the sale of Eco-Palms, a more just and environmentally friendly palm product. Eco-Palms encourage a better system by paying xaterros by the quality, not the quantity, of their fronds. Instead of selling their palms to middlemen, groups of palm harvesters process, package, store and ship their own palm, creating jobs and keeping more of the money made from sales in their own communities.

Purchasing Eco-Palms directly helps these communities, who benefit both from the higher price of their palms as well as the extra five cents per palm that is invested back into the communities. This social premium builds schools, provides health insurance to xaterros and their families, and improves palm storage facilities.

As we prepare for Palm Sunday, we reflect on the wonder of Jesus’s death and resurrection as well as the life he lived on earth. He walked with the poor, the ostracized, and the disadvantaged. In his teachings he emphasized again and again our mandate to love one another as God loves us. Including Eco-Palms as a part of your congregation’s Palm Sunday activities honors this mandate by ensuring that everyone can share in the sense of joy, celebration and hope that the coming of Christ brings for all of God’s people.

For more information visit If you are interested in purchasing Eco-Palms for Palm Sunday 2010, send your name, congregation, email, and phone number to – we will contact you by January 6, 2010 with final prices to confirm your order.

Kattie Somerfeld is the Fair Trade Projects Coordinator at Lutheran World Relief. or