The Whole Trade Guarantee Rose project began almost a year ago when three of us from Whole Foods Market made a trip to Ecuador to learn about Fair Trade certified roses. Right away we saw that Ecuadorian roses are gorgeous! BIG! STRONG! BOLD! After meeting with the rose workers and learning how Fair Trade benefits them, we were smitten. Before the trip was over we had the wheels in motion to bring a Whole Trade Guarantee rose to market on our stores.
This month (June ’08), we went on a follow up trip to reconnect with the grower and worker groups we met last summer and see how Whole Foods Market purchases are making an impact since we launched the Whole Trade Guarantee roses in March 2008. Here are my daily notes from the trip.Quito is in the Andes at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. I woke up on our first day green around the gills with a headache to match. Apparently that’s what happens to lowlanders at high altitude. My fellow travelers and our hosts propped me up and gave me herbal tea until I could walk and talk on my own. Ouch! What a way to start the day.
Once I got my sea (mountain?) legs, we headed South to the Cotopaxi valley. Ecuador’s landscape is absolutely stunning. Here in the Andes, there are live and dormant volcanoes on every side. It’s the combination of volcanic soil, elevation and equatorial light that give Ecuadorian roses their unique character. The plants here grow slower than in other locations, and the roses are bigger and stronger because of it.Our Ecuadorian rose growers are as impressive as the landscape. FLO standards (Fairtrade Labeling Organization) are exacting! (http://www.fairtrade.net/standards.html ) It takes commitment to the concepts and values associated with ethical trade to make the standard work.
After meeting with a group of growers, we moved on to meet with one of the workers’ committees to talk about how Whole Foods Market’s business is affecting their lives and their families. (The workers’ committee or joint body is an elected group of workers that determine how their Fair Trade premium will be spent according to standards that are set by FLO.)The projects that they told us about are really awesome:• English classes for the children of workers and 70 more children in the community.• Computer skills classes for workers and their families.• Financing for household appliances such as washing machines, water heaters and computers. (Hot water and a washing machine is a BIG deal if you usually wash your clothes outdoors.)• Scholarship programs.• Financing for livestock purchases.• A food purchasing co-op.William, the president of the worker joint body, told us that their dream is to purchase five hectares of land that the workers at his farm will use to build their own homes on. With the money coming from our purchases, he believes they can achieve this within five years. Imagine what it means to build your own home, to have hot water, clean clothes, computers and scholarships for your children after living without access to basic necessities or higher education.Days 2 and 3 rolled out as planned with farm tours followed by meetings with workers’ committees at each stop. We visited farms in Latacunga, Otovalo and Cayumbe. All of the visits were fantastic (beautiful roses!) and the workers committees all expressed how impactful the Fair Trade premium is for their families and communities. We got to see our Whole Trade Guarantee roses being packed at every stop.This is one of those weeks when I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this job!Workers’ committees are using the premium to provide dental, medical and pediatric care, nutritional programs, literacy programs…the list goes on. Improved housing was a key project for every committee that we met.Some of the worker groups that we met with are developing formidable business skills from their experience managing Fair Trade premium monies. After one of our meetings today we realized that a new breed of entrepreneur may emerge from the workers’ committees. Who knew? It’s a remarkable side effect that I didn’t know to expect.It’s midnight on Thursday and I’m still a little green around the edges. It’s clear I wasn’t born to be a mountain climber! In three hours we’ll get up and head to the airport for the 14-hour trip home. As usual, I wish I had more time to see more, to meet more people and to drink in the experience. At the same time, I can’t wait to see my own family and get back to sea level where I belong.Take care,Karen