Today is World Fair Trade Day. I’ve been meaning to write a post about fair trade for some time now.
A couple of years ago I met a wonderful woman, who inspired me very much with her stories of the vanilla growers around the world. Much as the small coffee, sugar cane, tea, and cocoa growers struggle against corporate giants, so too, do the vanilla workers.
And there is another battle the vanilla growers fight: the battle against synthetic vanilla flavoring. Did you know that most of vanilla “flavoring” is not vanilla, but synthesized chemicals from a laboratory? Check the label: if the label says “vanillin,” it is likely synthetic. And if it is an imported bottle, unless it is at least $20 and is 35% alcohol, it is probably synthetic or at least partially so – regardless of what the label says.
It takes 3 years before a vanilla vine is mature enough to produce a vanilla bean. Once a flower forms, it must be hand pollinated within a few hours of opening, and then the bean sits on the vine for 9 months before it is ready to be picked! Once picked, it must go through a curing, drying, and resting process which gives it its rich flavor and aroma.
Small vanilla growers care deeply for the vines, the earth, and the rain forests in which the vanilla grows. And yet often they don’t earn enough money to adequately feed and clothe their families, pay for schooling for their children, nor have access to basic medical care.
In 2005, Patricia Rain nearly single-handedly created a distribution and information network of thousands of vanilla growers around the world, to help empower them. She has persevered in her work, despite cancer that has hit her body more than once, and works against the odds to do whatever she can for the growers: helping create strategies for marketing their crops – including creating an online distribution hub, navigating Fair Trade and organic certification, and creating a united position for fair wages and the opportunity for better lives for vanilla farmers and their families. Many call Patricia “The Vanilla Queen”.
But Patricia would be upset with me if I made this post about her. Because it is not about her, it is about the vanilla growers and their ability to change their own industry for the better. And it is about you and I, who have the power to help them: we can help each of the vanilla, coffee, tea, cocoa, and sugar growers around the world – simply by be conscious of our buying choices.
It is worth it to buy Fair Trade, organically grown products because we are all in this one world together. Fair Trade reflects the true cost of a product, so that the people that grow and cure the crops are able to live a decent, happy life.
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