In honor of World Fair Trade Day, we spoke to Erika Inwald, the National Coordinator of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA). DFTA works to build relationships based on principles of fairness amongst farmers and farmworkers in the United States and Canada’s sustainable agriculture movement. Below, we have included information on domestic fair trade, how it impacts marginalized communities, and event details from DFTA’s World Fair Trade Day Festival!
1. How would you define domestic fair trade?
Erika Inwald: The way that the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) defines domestic fair trade is based on our 16 principles, which can be found here. For us, domestic fair trade means fairness and sustainability within all of agriculture. We work domestically, meaning within the United States and Canada. Our organization focuses on the importance of social justice throughout agriculture supply chains.
2. How does domestic fair trade help to empower marginalized communities, such as women, minorities, and indigenous people?
EI: Within the U.S., women, people of color, immigrants, and indigenous people are groups that have been historically marginalized due to discriminatory policies. . For [the DFTA], one of the ways that we address this historic marginalization, as well as the current injustices that exist, is by [structuring] our organization to be an example of what equity looks like. If we look at our Board structure, we have 5 sectors that are a part of the DFTA. The sectors include farmers, farmworkers, groups that represent both farmers and farmworkers, retailers, NGOs, and food intermediaries (manufacturers, distributors, and processors), as well as associate members. Each sector has two positions on our Board. Since we work by consensus, everyone has an equal say. Our Board structure helps to mirror what we believe an equitable power structure within agriculture should look like. The DFTA works towards being an open space where groups that have not had an equitable seat at the table now has that ability. We believe that putting forward frontline communities of color, indigenous communities, immigrant communities, women, and women-led organizations and supporting that kind of membership can help to empower marginalized communities.
3. What prevalence does food justice have when talking about fair trade?
EI: Food justice is very intertwined with domestic fair trade. Many communities in this country (lower-income communities, communities of color, etc.) do not have access to healthy food. The DFTA stands for promoting and creating sustainable agricultural supply chains, so that people can have better access to food. One of our members is the Food Chain Workers Alliance, who have published reports showing how food workers are often the most food insecure in the country. Creating supply chains that are fair and sustainable help to target the issue of food access. By having a platform where different stakeholders come together, the DFTA stands together to make sure that we are attacking the injustices in our agricultural food supply chains in a holistic manner, which includes access to food, right to land for all communities, fair pay, and equal treatment, respect, and dignity within the agricultural food chain supply.
4. In what ways can we promote food sustainability for small farmers?
EI: There are a lot of different ways that we can promote viability of small farmers. Supporting campaigns and initiatives where small and mid-sized farmers throughout the supply chain are organizing is a huge way to promote food sustainability for small farmers. Also, paying attention to legislation is another [big way.] The injustices in our food system were created with legislation and from the people who benefitted from these injustices. I think as active citizens, it is important that we are aware of what legislation is going on regarding food issues, [both] in your own communities, and on a national level. The last aspect is to continue to build awareness. Providing individuals with accessible resources, such as the DFTA and WhyHunger, is a major way to build awareness. Talking to one another is a way that the work that we do goes outside of our inner circle. If you have the opportunity to talk to someone about these issues who may not be aware, that is very helpful in itself.
5. What inequalities do we see amongst farmers and corporations in the Global North?
EI: Multinational corporations have so much power within the supply chain. Places like Walmart get to dictate so much of how food is produced and what food is sold because [of their size.] When you have a food supply chain where there is a power imbalance, you will have situations where it is not fair for small, or mid-sized farmers. Small and mid-sized farmers are getting squeezed at the retail level, distribution level, and at the brand level. What does that mean for farmworkers? Farmworkers are constantly invisible; however, they are essential in ensuring that everyone gets food, and is able to eat. That power imbalance exists in both the Global South and in the Global North because these large companies conduct business internationally.
On the other hand, agricultural policy in this country has been geared towards large-scale farming for a long time. Former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’s famous saying to farmers was “Get big or get out,” and that is what’s happening. We have national policies that don’t support small and mid-sized farmers. We must advocate for them because they have been marginalized in the scale of agricultural policy, which includes farmers of color specifically because of historical discrimination in terms of loans, and land and property rights. For the DFTA, it is very important to advocate and help promote food supply chains that centers around small and mid-sized farmers. We need to find solutions that allow for equity, not just for farmers, but also equally for farmworkers.
6. What is World Fair Trade Day and why do we celebrate it?
EI: World Fair Trade Day is organized by the World Fair Trade organization and its regional subsidiaries. One of the main inspirations is to show that there are solutions to this imbalance of power that exists in the food supply chain. World Fair Trade Day is a way for us to feel a collective power in the world. There are many different ways that people are celebrating this day around the world with the same goals of a fair and sustainable food supply chain. It makes you feel as if you are working towards something bigger. Another reason why we celebrate World Fair Trade Day is to raise awareness because so many people aren't aware that there are ways to engage in trade that is fair. When we say fair trade, we don’t mean more power to corporations that are only focused on profit, we mean real sustainability and fairness within the entire food supply chain.
7. On May 20, 2017, the Domestic Fair Trade Association is hosting a Fair Day Trade Festival. Can you please tell me more about the event.
EI: We are having an event in Brooklyn, New York with the New York City Fair Trade Coalition. It is from 10 AM to 6 PM. We’re going to have different fair trade vendors, so people who will be selling apparel, accessories, food products, etc. We will also have more information on what fair trade is, and what it means to you. We will have live music and a panel featuring Kathia Ramirez from CATA, one of our members. The Fair Day Trade Festival is located at the flea market outside of P.S. 321, which is located at 180 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215.
The World Fair Trade Day Festival will take place on May 20th, 2017 from 10 AM to 6 PM at P.S. 321’s Flea Market (180 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11215). For more information, please visit the Domestic Fair Trade Association’s Facebook page. Please check on the event page for the latest information about rain cancellations.
What does it look like to build a just food system that ensures dignity for all and puts human rights at the top of the ingredients list?
WhyHunger is supporting our partners in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Food for Maine’s Future to implement their vision in answer to that very question. For the third summer in a row, and on the heels of a year of multiple learning exchanges, representatives from the CIW and Food for Maine’s Future got together on the Blue Hill peninsula in Maine to continue plans for developing a farmworker/small farmer-owned cooperative business in the blueberry industry. We’re honored to support this long-term solidarity and collaboration between two groups who share both the experience of extreme oppression in the food chain, and the transformative understanding of their own power to reimagine and rebuild our agricultural system.
Check out our photos, read the CIW’s post about the trip, and stay tuned for your chance to try some organic blueberry jam packed with nutrition and justice!
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To learn more about previous solidarity exchanges between CIW and small farmers, check out these articles, blog posts, and video:
CIW blog post about previous years' visits [CIW blog]
Strengthening the food chain: Farmers and workers unite, find power in numbers [Grist article by WhyHunger]
Hitting the Road with the Farm Labor Reality Tour [WhyHunger's CONNECT blog]
Farm Labor Reality Tour: One Year On [WhyHunger's CONNECT blog]