One simple choice, “I’ll have THAT one” can make a difference

Every Thursday morning I stop by Dave Cuthbert’s coffee kiosk and order a Columbia roast fair trade coffee, large, black. Dave’s been volunteering at the library’s kiosk for quite awhile now and says the beverages and snacks he serves raise $13,000 a year for the library.

Choosing fair trade coffee raises honest dollars for a small coffee grower in a developing country. So often people scoff at choices like Fair Trade, feeling it’s for the ‘nuts and berries’ crowd. For half a milllion small scale coffee farms in Columbia alone, selling their coffee for a fair price is healthier than being ‘beat up’ financially by a huge company with so much market power that they drive down prices, and often pay the small grower much less than it costs him or her to grow the crop in the first place. Fair Trade is rooted in honest commerce, care for those who are working hard to produce a quality product.

Enter Bob Jowett and Bruce Morton. In 2006 they began the process to have Barrie declared a Fair Trade City. The Barrie Fair Trade Committee sees fair trade as a valuable connection. Fair Trade organizations work with farmers to pay them a premium so they can make enough to survive. Part of their premium goes into their community for education, irrigation etc. Fair Trade started small scale, took a few years to solidify its roots and is moving across the world at a steady pace.

Canada has hundreds of small coffee producers, like the Creemore Coffee Company, and perhaps our greatest comes from Invermere, B.C. Kicking Horse Coffee blares its Fair Trade Organic Philosophy and has built a stellar reputation on principled commerce. When Bob Jowett lived in his native Garstang, England, he got involved with declaring Garstang a Fair Trade Town. It took a decade for the town to catch on and in just five years 200 more English cities met the challenge.

Canada is just picking up speed with this initiative and Jowett’s move to Barrie is one reason our project is moving along well.

What’s it take?

Barrie’s Bruce Morton has been involved with Oxfam’s Fair Trade movement for years. He and Jowett set up a working group, targets which involved a website, contacts with local outlets who could participate and events that introduce and celebrate Fair Trade.

While there are many Fair Trade products (most commonly coffee, tea, chocolate, hot chocolate, sugar) there are others that will appear once a community begins the process. Imagine Fair Trade bananas, granola bars, mangoes, flowers,, clothing, wine, honey, soccer balls. Soccer balls?

Barrie’s Fair Trade website, (the gift of Mei Sze Viau, gives fair trade locations and products all over the city. The team held 26 Fair Trade events in Barrie in 2007 with more at the Winterfest Pancake Breakfast tomorrow morning at Central United Church. As the numbers of outlets increase, as cafes, restaurants grow their Fair Trade offerings, with media coverage, workplace events, a council resolution… Barrie will be able to declare itself a Fair Trade City.

Bob Jowett points out that it’s not just the little shops that can make a difference, though they often take the lead. Presidents Choice has launched a Fair Trade coffee and two Zehrs stores offer Fair Trade products in their organic sections. Shell Gas Stations with coffee bars offer Fair Trade products. Ordinary businesses can declare themself fair trade by providing these beverage choices to staff. Many coffee suppliers offer a fair trade alternative at no additional cost.

Imagine what Tim Horton’s could do, if it so chose? Coffee Time has gone Fair Trade and both Barrie stores offer the option proudly.

You can participate. Just ask, ‘are you a fair trade location? What are your fair trade products?” Look for them, ask for them when grocery shopping. And vote with your wallet.

Businesses, big and small, can make ethical change.

Fair Trade, on the heels of Make Poverty History Live Aid concerts, is becoming a big business initiative. It enables all of us to link for a better world… environment, labour, human rights, all pulling together.

It begins with one choice.

Thanks, Bruce. Thanks, Bob.


To volunteer at a fair trade event,
go to