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November 2009 (page five)
The last day of my visit, I saw the effects of consumer demand in full force.
I rose even earlier on Saturday (at 4AM!) to catch a ride with some of Pakphum’s neighbors who would be driving their products to Surin City to participate in the Saturday morning “Green Marketplace” there. Pakphum would not be joining them this week, but he rose with me to say good-bye, and waited with me until the truck jostled along to pick me up. I climbed in the back with the sacks of fruits and coconuts, and a couple of other farmers, and we were off for a pre-dawn ride into the city.
When we got there, I helped Pakphum’s neighbors, and the other farmers who were arriving, to unload their supplies. It was barely beginning to be light outside, and already the excited shoppers in Surin City were milling about, ready to start purchasing the delicious organic produce and meat from the surrounding farming villages. Surin City is a town of only about 40,000 people (about the size of the attendance at one of our Green Festivals), and yet the marketplace was packed – a visual demonstration of consumer demand.
It’s been about three months now since I said good-bye to Bennett at the Green Marketplace, and walked to the bus station munching on an organic pomello – so I’ve had some time to reflect. Here are some conclusions that I’ve come to:
Shoppers arrive at the Surin Green Marketplace before the sun comes up, eager for the organic produce and meats from the surrounding villages. (See a slide show here.)
First of all, while I’ve met some motivated advocates for the Fair Trade system here in the US via my work with Green America, I have never encountered such passion for Fair Trade as I did with Sompoi Chansaeng and Pakphum Inpaen. It’s working for them, and they see the benefits in their community. Second, whenever I need to purchase a new electronic device, I will think of Yam, who was treated as much like an expendable resource as a drum of fuel, and I wonder when the day will arrive when dependable Fair Trade certification will be available for things like electronics products – going even beyond the commodities currently Fair Trade certified (tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, etc.
Finally, whenever I need to purchase rice, I will think of Pakphum, and the hard labor it requires to produce his rice, and how he’s working hard to make sure that he doesn’t poison others in his village the way he once poisoned himself with pesticides – how he’s teaching others, young and old, to go organic.
True confession: I had a big bag of conventional jasmine rice sitting three-quarters full on my kitchen shelf when I got home, leftover from before my trip. The sight of it made me reflect on my values. I also had conventional coffee in my cupboard, dissonant with the Fair Trade chocolates from Divine in the bowl in my dining room, or the Fair Trade sneakers on my feet. I just now finished up that conventional bag of rice last week, and later walked down the street to purchase a box of red jasmine Alter-Eco rice from my local organic market.
There on the box (right next to the Fair Trade Certified™ label) was a picture of the vista that I saw every morning on my way out to the fields – bright green rice plants waving in the breeze, with the view broken only by the occasional shade tree or water buffalo. And next to that picture, a story about what you’re supporting when you buy this rice – fair prices paid to farmers, a Fair Trade premium for community development, support for organic practices to keep communities safe and healthy.
Keep up with the latest from Pakphum’s cooperative, by reading their blog, the Surin Farmers Collective.
Learn more from the Alternative Agriculture Network, Bennett's employer and another organization of which Pakphum is a member. AAN focuses on a range of issues from sustainable agriculture systems to trade policy.
Download Green America’s Guide to Fair Trade.