This blog post is sponsored by Fair Trade Certified. As always, all opinions is my own 🙂
As a food blogger, I completely nerd out on learning where our food comes from. What does it mean for our food to be organic? What does the non-GMO label really mean? And what in the world is Fair Trade Certified? I’m constantly reading about labels and their meanings to make sense of it all for my family and relaying it for your family. When Fair Trade Certified asked me to visit Ecuador on a mission to learn about the meaning, importance and impact of the Fair Trade seal, I was so game!
I want to share with you what Fair Trade means and examples of actual Fair Trade farms we visited including a cocoa farm and co-op and a flower farm. I promise you’ll be inspired and amazed at the impact of this seal that doesn’t cost you anything extra! There was also time to play though. So I’ll also share with you my Ecuador travel recap: where we stayed, what we saw and most importantly, what we ate!
First of all, what’s Fair Trade?
It’s this little seal that you might see on products from food brands like Kashi, Honest Tea, Chuao Chocolate, Cascadian Farms, and hundreds of coffee brands. It’s also on clothing like Patagonia, Athleta and Target, furniture and shoes! 50% of Fair Trade products are also organic, but it’s not necessary for them to be organic.
Fair Trade means the product is certified to be made according to strict standards for the safety, health and well-being of the workers making those products and the environment they’re in. Labor laws don’t protect agriculture workers. And labor laws don’t even exist in many developing countries like Ecuador.
Do the workers have access to a bathroom? Do they have breaks in their day? Do they feel safe in their environment? Do they have a place to store their belongings? Do they have transportation to work? We take so many of these things for granted in our working environments in the U.S. But it’s not the same for agriculture workers around the world.
Why? Many businesses want to compete in a global market. So, sometimes they drive down prices at the expense of the vulnerable workers and the environment they work in. When a farm or plant becomes Fair Trade Certified, it means they are sticking by standards that ensure the safety of the workers and sustainability of the environment.
And guess what? That certification earns them a premium called the Community Development Fund (funded by brands as part of their sustainability programs) that the workers vote on improve their own work space and community! Brands send this money back to producers every time we, the shoppers, choose a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal. Yes, the brands themselves pay the premium, but it’s triggered by our purchases. It translates to better wages, more sustainable production practices and an empowered community!
Fair Trade Cocoa Farm & Co-Op
60-70% of Swiss and Belgian chocolate comes from Ecuador! Say what? I was so surprised too! It’s because the cocoa fruit grown in Ecuador produces a more complex, aromatic and high quality cocoa bean. In taste tests from hundred of countries, the chocolate we tasted were internationally acclaimed! Yeah, it was amazing! We visited Fortaleza Del Valle which is a cooperative of cocoa farmers in Calceta, Ecuador.
I was fascinated by the steps to make cocoa:
- Step 1: The cocoa fruit is grown by 960 farmers from 5 counties and the beans are removed and sorted from the cocoa fruit.
- Step 2: The cocoa fruit is fermented for 4 days using layers of revolving wooden boxes, that the farmers monitor for the ideal 45 degree temperature.
- Step 3: The farmers lay the fermented cocoa beans on a drying rack and allow it 7 days to dry. The drying process is what affects the flavor of the cocoa, allowing for the slow and natural removal of the cocoa’s acidity.
- Step 4: The cocoa is stored in sacks that identify the Fair Trade ID, to allow for source tractability when it’s exported globally.
I was even more fascinated by what their Fair Trade seal cocoa beans has done for this co-op through the Community Development Funds.
- Disaster Relief Fund: Helped rebuild not just the farms but the entire community after the devastating 2016 earthquake.
- Holiday Baskets: Filled with festive foods and small gifts for each of the farmers to offset typical Christmas expenditures
- Credit Program for Farmers: This allows them to invest in their individual farms and repay at very low interest rates. For example, there is a need for a revamped irrigation system at one of the local cocoa farms we visited run by a generation of three women.
Fair Trade Flower Farm
They have 3 advantages for being one of the largest flower exporters: 1) latitude – there are no seasons since they are on the Equator allowing for sunshine almost all year long; 2) altitude – the farms are on 10,000 feet elevation allowing for cool climate all year long and 3) attitude – they have pride in their work and view their workplace as a second home.
Agrocoex has been exporting flowers globally since 1992 and became Fair Trade certified in 1998. And what’s crazy is most of their 200+ employees have been working there since the very start! We interviewed some workers, and one of them said with joy bursting from his heart “I hope I continue working here until the day I die.” That was heartfelt and so powerful for me.
Although I learned a great deal about the process of growing flowers and getting them ready to be exported, what lingered most with me was that interview with the workers. They cited the many many benefits reaped from their Fair Trade certification and the $1.5 million in premiums they’ve received since 2008.
- Laundry Services: The women who worked on the farm used to spend their one day off washing laundry in cold and murky waters reaching up to their knees. With some of the premium Fair Trade money, a laundry service is provided at $0.40 per load, allowing the women to rest on their day off, reduce risk of sickness, and improve productivity when they came back to work.
- Dentist and Doctor on Site: Available to all the workers and those in the community for as low as $0.50 per cavity (compared to $20 in community).
- Scholarships: To help workers complete their grade school education.
- Housing Project: 100 homes close proximity to major city and the Agrocoex farms provided to the workers at cost. The management helps workers secure loan from the banks for them to buy their own brand new property in the housing project. They have so much pride in this project and all the amenities that it will give them access to including a medical center, mini grocery store, summer camp for kids, soccer field and community club.
Fair Trade products tend to be better quality because those workers know the output is coming right back to them through premiums from consumers buying the product. And the best part, it doesn’t cost us (the consumer) anything extra!
Ecuador Travel: Where We Stayed
Ecuador Travel: What We Saw
You can’t come to Ecuador and not visit the equator! It’s called Mitad Del Mundo and it is literally the middle of the world. Wassim and I were in two different hemispheres holding hands!
We had a city tour that included Itchimbia La Loma, Basilica del Voto in the Plaza San Francisco, and some local shopping at Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal and Camari – a local shop that only sells Fair Trade products!
We also visited the popular Old Town Quito, which is a historic district with colorful Spanish colonial architecture and cute narrow streets.
At night, we toured Plaza de la Independencia, the absolutely stunning Compañía de Jesús (also known as the Golden Church), and El Panecillo – an impressive Virgin of Quito on Bread Loaf Hill. We also took a stroll in Plaza Foch, which is the center of the night life in Quito.
One of the most breathtaking sites was at Cotapaxi National Park, at an elevation of 10,000 feet and a cold temperature of 45 degrees. It was so refreshing and relaxing to wonder around, watch wild horses running and enjoy lunch at the park.
Ecuador Travel: What We Ate
We had a lot of typical and traditional Ecuadorian food, including lots of fresh local fish, rice, ceviche, choclo (dry roasted corn), plantains, yuca, soup (served with popcorn!!) and a local dessert favorite – higos con queso (caramelized figs and cheese!).
I loved visiting Ecuador and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the country and its Fair Trade farms and products. Thank you Fair Trade Certified for sponsoring this trip and allowing me to share what I’ve learned with my readers!