Why Fair Trade Matters

By Dean Cycon

In the hyper-caffeinated world of coffee marketing, it is very difficult to tell the truth from a load of beans. Most marketing materials are prepared with the sole goal of increasing sales, rather than informing or educating consumers as to the real qualities of the product or of the lives of the people who provide it.

One could easily be forgiven for believing that all coffee farmers are smiling Juan Valdez types, happily trotting down the mountain with their mules, on their way to deliver beans directly to the consumer. And why are they always immaculately dressed in white with a well-pruned mustache?

While there certainly are happy, well-fed farmers in the coffee world, they are mostly the ones who own large farms and have high degrees of education and access to credit. The overwhelming majority of coffee farmers are poor, have little opportunity for education, and scrape by on small plots of land no bigger than the front lawns of many suburban American homes (sans the frog pond). These farmers are at the low end of a commodity chain that prices their product in accordance with the speculative calculations of financial houses and investment firms on a frothy trading floor in New York—unrelated to the actual costs of production and any sense of a reasonable profit for the farmers. At the village level, most farmers let their beans go to local middlemen (called coyotes in Latin America) who pay pennies for what we end up paying a dozen dollars for at the store.

There is an alternative for the small farmers of the world, a way to realize meaningful prices for their labors, a way to realize cherished dreams of education for their kids and sufficient food on the table. That’s what Fair Trade is all about, and it is the most tangible result of the work we Fair Traders do, and some of the most gratifying that I have seen during my years of javatrekking. 

Fair Trade also offers farmers pre-financing of coffee purchases. This means that when a farmer asks, a Fair Trade buyer is supposed to pay as much as 60% of the contract up front, instead of waiting months until the coffee ships from the coffeelands. Not all buyers provide pre-financing, regardless of the flowery language in many marketing brochures (yes, Fair Traders puff, too). But it is a growing aspect of Fair Trade business, and it provides farmers with essential money needed to harvest and process their new crop—or, frankly, to feed their families until the rest of the money comes in. When pre-financing isn’t available, farmers have to borrow from local banks or coyotes at rates anywhere from 10 to 30% per month.Fair Trade guarantees a minimum price of $1.90 per pound (for certified organic coffees, which is all we buy at Dean’s Beans) when the quirky world commodity price falls below that figure. During the early years of the new millennium, the world price fell as low as 35 cents—barely half of what it took farmers to produce the beans. When the market price rises above the floor, Fair Trade always adds 20 cents, thus giving farmers an incentive to stay in the system when the market gets a little more real.

But money is not the most important part of Fair Trade. Farmers are also required by Fair Trade to organize themselves into democratic, transparent cooperatives. These structures offer the first opportunity for most farmers to have a say in their own governance. This has an especially significant impact for women, whose voice in management is not often heard in rural, Third World communities. About half of the co-ops that I deal with are run by women. And all of these women juggle motherhood, baking cookies, and running complex farmer organizations with astonishing efficiency and heart. Fair Trade has also opened the door for farmers to meet and work with a host of great development organizations in the areas of health care, education, and alternative income generation.

I have worked on the ground with coffee communities in a dozen countries since 1989 and can testify to the real impact Fair Trade has on the lives of the farmers and their families.

But let me be real. Less than half of the coffee from Fair Trade–certified cooperatives gets sold as Fair Trade. The rest gets sold under conventional pricing, which does not give a farmer much to feed his family, and certainly doesn’t give the community enough to build a school, a well, or a health clinic. This is not the farmer’s fault. It is the same coffee grown in the same manner.

The problem is that most people in the coffee industry are not willing to recognize Tadesse, Salim, Esperanza, and the other farmers as true partners in our businesses—they are simply cheap wage slaves to whom we can give pennies while selling their coffee at inflated prices. It is not an economic issue—even at our higher-than-Fair-Trade-prices paid to farmers we make a very good living. It is not a quality issue—non–Fair Trade roasters are buying the same beans as we are from Oromia and Pangoa Co-ops, they are just not paying the price. It is not an availability issue—80% of the Oromia crop is out there waiting. It is first and foremost an ethical issue, plain and simple.

So take a look deep into your coffee cup. Behind the aroma, the acidity, and the body lay the real lives of farmers and their families. The choices we make at the supermarket and the café have immediate and profound impacts on almost 30 million people around the globe, on their ability to drink clean water, to educate their kids, and to dream of better lives. Fair Trade works. Help make it happen.

Lawyer, community organizer, environmental and indigenous rights activist and Fair Trade pioneer Dean Cycon is the founder and CEO of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee. The company was founded in 1993 to model business as a vehicle for progressive social, ecologic and economic change throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.

For more information about Fair Trade Certification and to find certified products visit these organizations:

Fair Trade Federation

 Fairtrade America

 Fair for Life



12 Years Without Christmas

 By Kristen Davis 

The first lesson in the restaurant business: Weekends and holidays are for chumps. It’s a guarantee that Friday night, when the world is celebrating the weekend, you’ll be working. Mother’s Day, working. Easter, working. Christmas? It’s not fair, but that’s the job, and the sooner you let go of your beloved holidays the less disappointed you’ll be when another can’t-be-missed celebration comes around—and you miss it.

I had an easier time letting go of the holidays, because I set off to travel the world when I was 19. As a chef, often working at remote island resorts, there’s no time for the holidays. Besides, it’s hard to get into ye olde Christmas spirit when you’re sweating it up in 90° tropical heat.

My third Christmas in Thailand, I was single, sad, and missing home. The closest thing to Christmas dinner I could find was a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I snagged a rather suspect bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that looked more like a rosé and tasted like cider vinegar. I sat on the beach and ate my burger and fries while washing away my tears with a bottle of questionable life choices. The bottle was done by noon and so was I.

Some years the holidays were more joyous than that one, but the traditions I’d grown up with had long been forgotten. Christmas dinner was more likely to be a barbecue and game of beach volleyball than presents under the tree. These days, paradise is just a daydream and the start of another chilly New England winter brings the promise of the holidays. I have a young son now, so I’ve started a few new traditions to share with my family.

The First: Close the restaurant on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a restaurant owner, there are never enough days off, so I’ll take this excuse and leave the business to the Chinese delivery joint down the street.

The Second: We MAKE Christmas magical. But I spent a decade with all of my worldly possessions strapped to my back, so walking into a store and paying for Christmas really isn’t my style. We make our decorations, presents, and traditions. Each year the family strolls around the neighborhood foraging for materials: twigs and branches, holly snipped from a neighbor’s yard, a few dried flowers and leaves. After a trip to the grocery store for some popcorn, oranges, cinnamon sticks, and other aromatics, it’s time to decorate the tree. Armed with a hot glue gun and delectable bottle of red wine for the grownups, we laugh and sing as we craft our ornaments. We dehydrate orange wheels; bake simple, indestructible gingerbread cookies (cinnamon, water, and seasonal spices); glue popcorn kernels to sparkly gold ribbon, and tie cinnamon sticks alongside twigs and berries to create a tree that is truly magical.

The Third: The holidays are all about the food … I mean family. Let’s face it, chefs are really in it for the food. I’m not RSVPing to Thanksgiving dinner to see my second cousins, I’m coming for my second helping of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Oh, pie. The best part of the holidays is eating food we don’t have to cook. Feast of the Seven Fishes? Make it 11 and you can guarantee I’ll be back next year.

As my family grows, we add new traditions and borrow some from my wild adventures. Maybe next year we’ll break out the water balloons to ring in the New Year.

Kristen Davis is an award-winning chef, international restaurateur, and entrepreneur. Her current project, The Platinum Pony, in Easthampton, showcases her craft cocktails, creative snacks, and eclectic nightly entertainment. For more info visit ThePlatinumPony.com or find them on Facebook here.

Kristen's Indestructible Gingerbread recipe

Food for Thought: Peaches, Not Pipelines

Peaches, Not Pipelines

By Ben Clark, Clarkdale Fruit Farms


 The Pipeline - The Landscape

The TGP Northeast Energy Direct is a high-pressure natural gas pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, to run from Pennsylvania through New York State into Massachusetts at Richmond, in the Berkshires, through to Dracut, north of Boston, where it could join with existing pipelines that connect to the Massachusetts and Canadian coasts. The pipeline is intended to carry natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus Shale.

 At the time of this writing, the company’s timeline calls for a pre-filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in September 2014, with the pipeline to be operational by November 2018.

In addition to the main transmission line, the Northeast Energy Direct Project is proposed to include six components in Massachusetts (not shown on the map), identified by the company as follows: the North Adams Lateral, the Energy North Lateral (extending into New Hampshire), the Worcester Lateral, the Fitchburg Lateral, the Haverhill Loop, and the Lynnfield Lateral. There would also be at least one compressor station in Dracut, and likely one or more others along the main line

The proposed pipeline path runs through hundreds of private properties and public land, including land and waterways that are protected from development. Depending on the property, protections include restrictions under Massachusetts Article 97 (the Public Lands Protection Act): Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR), Farm Viability Covenants, or a combination of these protections. Wildlife conservation lands also fall along the proposed pipeline route.

 As a result, there is strong opposition to the Pipeline from the conservation community. Says Rich Hubbard, Executive Director of the Franklin Land Trust and President of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, "Kinder Morgan has told us that they selected this route [through our state] for their pipeline because it is undeveloped. It is undeveloped because we have spent decades ensuring the land would be protected from development. Should we allow for these protections to be dissolved for this purpose, it will be the tip of the iceberg. The conservation land we have worked so hard to protect will instead become the path of least resistance for utility and infrastructure development."

Should the pipeline construction be approved, its construction is proposed to be paid for by a tariff on electricity customers through a charge on ratepayers’ electric bills.


Based on information from massPLAN.org (accessed August 1, 2014).

For additional information about the proposed pipeline and its potential impact on our region, please visit:

Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network

No Fracked Gas In Mass

Franklin Land Trust

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners

Since this essay was published in our Fall issue, there have updates to this story. From NoFrackedGasinMass.org:

Kinder Morgan applied for prefiling with FERC for the Northeast Energy Direct project on September 15.  Among the 24 files in their application are many new maps with much more information than they’ve been sharing up until now. Additional compressor stations are now confirmed to be slated for Canaan, NY, and in Conway and Townsend, MA. Meter stations are identified as well.  

For a set of maps showing the route through Franklin County as proposed by Kinder Morgan in their prefiling, visit this page.

Clarkdale was founded by my great-grandfather Webster Clark in 1915. I am the fourth generation to work the land and tend our orchards. The passing of my grandfather, Fred, prompted me to return to Clarkdale after living away for many years. My father Tom has farmed here for over 40 years, and he and I work alongside each other daily. My son Emerson is now 18 months old. He is a bundle of energy who loves tractors, ladders, apples, and all things farm-related.

If the Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline Energy Direct project goes through as planned, our orchards will be ripped apart, and our iconic hillside will be destroyed. The legacy of nearly a century of our family stewarding the land will be put in jeopardy. We grow food, and provide a healthy local supply of over 100 varieties of tree and vine fruit. Each year we donate hundreds of bushels of our crops to area food banks and shelters. We are able to do this because we are a thriving family farm well rooted in the community. We believe in giving back, especially to those less fortunate.

We did not ask for this pipeline. We did not ask for the hours of conversations, unbudgeted legal fees, and sleepless nights filled with anxiety. Our very way of life is being threatened, and we are at the mercy of a behemoth corporation and their drive for profits. We will not benefit from the gas, as we do not use it on the farm. Rather, we will be forced to pay for this pipeline through tariffs added to our electricity bill, as will every single ratepayer in the state. This is one of the most infuriating aspects of the project, and one that was agreed to by the governors of New England.

We have twice denied permission to survey our land, and have retained a lawyer to respond to Kinder Morgan’s threat of gaining access through the State. Our land is protected under an Agricultural Covenant with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). We have a deed restriction, signed by us and the Commissioner of MDAR, to ensure that the land will continue to be farmed and not exploited for other uses. If the Patrick administration does not recognize this commitment to preservation, then a dangerous precedent could be set for all conserved lands in the Commonwealth.

Our State Rep. Steve Kulik has been a wonderful ally, and is aggressively pursuing the land conservation issue, the enforcement of which falls under Article 97. He and many colleagues along the pipeline route are doing great work on affected landowners’ behalf. We are also fortunate to have hosted US Congressman Jim McGovern at the farm, and on a pipeline resistance march. Jim is the only Representative in the state who has come out vociferously against the Kinder Morgan proposal, and has been pushing for answers at the federal level.

We will continue fighting. Our way of life depends on it. PEACHES, NOT PIPELINES!



In Food For Thought we ask someone in our local community for a commentary on a topic that is meaningful to them. We welcome suggestions for contributors or topics. If you would like to suggest a topic or author, please contact our Editor at mary@ediblepioneervalley.com.

Food For Thought: Let's Double Local


By Margaret Christie and Phil Korman, CISA

Tips for digging in to double the amount of local food in our diets!


• Buy more local food. • Cook more and use the freshest ingredients – grown by local farmers. • Share your love of local food with friends and neighbors. • Eat more seasonally and plan for winter.


Think about all the roles and "hats" you wear in your daily life such as cook, shopper, volunteer, neighbor, parent, worker and citizen.

YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD • Invite others to your house for a local-foods potluck. • Share gardening tips, tools and harvests with neighbors.

YOUR SCHOOLS • Help your school start a garden and make it a part of the school curriculum. • Advocate for more buying from local farms by the school cafeteria.

YOUR WORKPLACE • Encourage the business to offer payroll deduction for a CSA farm share. • Ask if your health insurance plan could cover part of the cost of a CSA farm share, as it does for a gym membership. • Request more local food in your work cafeteria. • Buy local food for work meetings and events.

YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY • Shop and invest locally, whether it is a food coop or other food-related business that is committed to sourcing locally.

YOUR DEMOCRACY • Educate yourself at BuyLocalFood.org and take action on state and national issues that affect your local farmers. • Ask questions of candidates for public office about how they will help us double the amount of local food in our diets. • Vote!

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) has been working to strengthen farms and engage the community in building the local food economy since 1993. Over the next 20 years, CISA's goal is to double the amount of locally grown food in the diets of Pioneer Valley residents, making local ingredients a full quarter of what we eat in communities across the Valley. A healthy agricultural economy is part of the solution to many national challenges – from shrinking oil reserves and a changing climate to increasing diet-related health problems.

As residents of the Pioneer Valley, we're especially invested in the success of local food businesses right here, but we will also benefit from a healthy regional agricultural economy. By trading with our neighbors in Vermont, Maine, and New York, for example, we can fill gaps, make good use of varied land and climate resources, and feed both urban and rural residents.

What's it take to produce, process, market, distribute, and sell more locally and regionally grown food?

  • DIETARY CHANGES. Eating more local food doesn't require eschewing treats from far away altogether. But we'll increase our self-reliance, and bolster our local economy, if we eat more seasonally. We can feed more people on our land base if we eat less meat.
  • MORE FARMS, AND EXPANDED FARMS. New farmers need support, training, and financing. Most importantly, they need access to affordable land. Farmland protection and affordability strategies are critical and, over time and across New England, some land that is now fallow or forested could be converted to agricultural use.
  • FARM LABOR. Our current cheap food system is underwritten, in part, by underpaid workers. At the same time, many farmers struggle to make a living and to find willing, skilled, and reliable workers.
  • APPROPRIATE FOOD SAFETY REGULATIONS. All food carries risks, but our industrial food system has magnified them. Governmental responses should prioritize real risks and recognize solutions appropriate to the size and types of farm operations prevalent here in New England.
  • INFRASTRUCTURE. Aggregation, distribution, and processing are important for bringing local food to all of the many places where people shop – including schools, hospitals, restaurants, and convenience stores. When these services aren't in place – or were designed to serve global markets instead of the local market – farms and local foods businesses need to replace or work around the current system, often adding inefficiency and expense.
  • BUSINESSES THAT PRIORITIZE LOCAL SOURCING. These businesses can also provide the technical assistance, financing, and enthusiastic customer base they need to make it work.
  • CREATIVE FINANCING. A commitment to local sourcing can add business expenses or require business activities that conventional businesses don't need to take on. Innovative financing strategies can help businesses achieve profitability while meeting these challenges.
  • POLICIES, PROGRAMS, AND BUSINESSES ensuring all residents have access to local food. Expanding access to local food regardless of income or geography will increase the market base for farmers while recognizing everyone's right to good food.
  • AN ENTHUSIASTIC AND COMMITTED PUBLIC. That's you! Consumer demand is the biggest driver of buyer interest in local sourcing and community action can change our current food system. See the sidebar for ideas to implement in your own life.

Here in the Pioneer Valley, farmers and their customers have created a renaissance in our local food economy, one that promises long-term benefits to our health, our environment, and our communities. Food provides us with one route to recapturing our role as creators of our own communities, stewards of our land, and protectors of our family's health and well-being. Each of us may use different tools in our effort to achieve these goals – a trowel, a tractor, a dinner invitation, business plan, or town zoning bylaw. Pick up the tool that fits you the best and get your hands "dirty" to Double Local!

Learn more about CISA's efforts to Double Local at BuyLocalFood.org.

Margaret Christie, Special Projects Director

Margaret served as CISA's executive director from 1997 to 1999, when the Local Hero program was launched, and interim director in 2008. She is instrumental in new project development at CISA and is now focused on infrastructure, financing, and support for food system businesses. Margaret grows food for her family in Whately and holds a master's degree in rural sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Philip Korman, Executive Director

Phil has led CISA since 2008 in its mission to strengthen farms and engage the community in building the local food economy. He has over 25 years' experience in management and raising resources at nonprofits. Phil grows only garlic for his family in Florence and holds a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley.