On my vacation this year from my work as Green America's online editor and coordinator of our People & Planet Award for green businesses, I had the good fortune to visit the headquarters of Canaan Fair Trade, and spend a week harvesting olives with the Fair Trade cooperatives organized in around the city of Jenin in the Palestinian territories.
Canaan is a true leader in the Fair Trade movement, and it will be my privilege to share more about my time with the farmers in an upcoming issue of the Green American magazine (you should subscribe!). But for now, as we're blogging about our holiday gift-giving, I wanted to share some of my strategies -- this year including Canaan's delicious olive oil! -- for keeping my gift-giving green (plus, a quick slide show from Canaan):
1. Books -- For my immediate family, I started a new tradition last year. I scan through my bookshelves and figure out which book from the past year's reading list would be enjoyed the most by any given member of my family. Then, I write a short note at the beginning of the book, wrap it up, and share. No additional resources spent, and then maybe -- sometime in the future -- talking about the book will help us grow closer. It's a more personal and less material form of sharing.
2. Donations -- With the money I save by not buying a lot of material gifts for my immediate family, I give a donation in their names, usually to a non-profit organization whose work I admire -- Doctors Without Borders, for example.
3. Small, green gifts -- Then, for those extended family gatherings, or holiday gatherings with friends, where a small gift is customary to be shared, I plan ahead, earlier in the year, for what I can buy or make (something in line with green values) that I can stock up on. Many years, that's been something I can myself -- pickled local/organic beets from the farmer's market, or homemade jam from the local U-pick farm. This year, I'm supporting the farmers I met in Palestine by sharing their organic, Fair Trade olive oil (small bottles, flavored with peppers or garlic, are available in bulk and quite affordable).
And now, a quick snapshot of the production process, as I saw it:
To harvest the ripened olives from the tree, you can stand on the ground, on the ladder, or climb the tree. Then, you can pick with your hands, strip the branches with a small hand-held rake (you can see an orange one lying on the ground under the ladder), or beat the higher branches with a long stick, to make the olives fall.
My kind and hospitable host, Abu Fahdi, displays the olives ready for harvest on one of his trees.
Abu Fahdi and his grandson Ahmed rest underneath an olive tree at lunchtime.
Olives harvested from the trees fall into waiting tarps, where they are collected into piles. Here, Abu Fahdi's nephew Samir sifts the olives to remove leaves, stones, branches, and debris before bagging the olives in burlap.
Bagged olives are carried by tractor back to the village to be pressed into oil within two or three days (for the best quality).
Olives wait their turn to be loaded onto the conveyor (at rear) and run through the press. The process is surprisingly rapid. In just a few minutes, these olives become the delicious, high-quality oil we see everyday when we reach for the bottles in our kitchens.
Canaan's home office, in Jenin, Palestine. Olive oil is one of the newer Fair Trade commodities on the market. Unlike coffee, tea, or chocolate, which have been certified Fair Trade since the 1990s, certified olive oil first came on the market between 2004 and 2006. Since then, Canaan has grown rapidly, welcoming many more farmers into their cooperative structure, which helps these farmers from an economically challenged area attain the best price for their product, and find access to international markets which would be harder to tap individually. Whether you choose to share Fair Trade olive oil this year like I'm doing, or choose other Fair Trade products -- Fair Trade chocolate coins for Hannukah or as stocking stuffers, or rich Fair Trade teas as warming gifts for the Winter Solstice, for example -- tapping into the Fair Trade marketplace is a great way to give meaningful gifts this season.