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How Opening A Fair Trade Store Brought Global Perspective To A Small Town

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World Fair Trade Day is May 12. How does this matter?

Six months ago, I opened a fair trade Store in Storm Lake, Iowa. Storm Lake has a population of about 10,000 diverse souls. At the time we moved here, there were 43 languages spoken by students in the public schools. We have an African meat market and grocery, several mercados and Mexican restaurants, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and of course, Italian. It's an education to walk the groceries' ethnic aisles and meat and vegetable cases as the merchants have adapted to the populace's needs.

When it became apparent that my husband's occupation would lead us to Storm Lake, we naturally did some investigating. Storm Lake is home to a Sara Lee turkey plant and a Tyson hog plant. It has a agro-cultural based economy. There are seasonal ups and downs that necessarily are dictated by farm life. We also have a university, Buena Vista , that encourages international students and studies.

And so, a fair trade store, Earthings, was born. The premise of my store was to provide a place where fair trade items from international artisans would be available. I wanted to provide a place where the "locals" -- possibly those not quite comfortable with the diverse population, could find out more about some of the newcomers' stories. Whenever there is a quick and large influx other cultures, there will be a time of adjustment. So it is here.

A large world map helps children and adults locate the producer countries. We have offered informal talks about some of these countries as well.

What I have found, to my delight, is that Storm Lake has a very active and dedicated group of travelers and people who have done mission work. I have met people from Perth, Australia one day and Pretoria, South Africa the next. I have mentioned the fair trade Chocolate from Ghana to one young man who then turned to his dad and said, "Isn't that where you're from?" Close; Dad is from Ivory Coast. I had a wonderful visitor one day: Mary, of Sudan, who walked into our 700 sq. ft. store and told me how a basket is used and why these gourds are shaped this way -- so that butter can be made in them. Her next comment was stated teasingly -- that she found Americans so interesting that they only used these tools for decoration. What an observation.

The questions: who would think to DO something like this? How did they know how to felt in Nepal? Where did the knowledge come from to weave this basket, or to create such wonderful items using beads? The answer to most of these questions is that these are crafts that have been made for generations, passed from mother to daughter, father to son. We in the United States are finally coming to appreciate these talents.

As fair trade artisans, these workers are guaranteed fair wages for their region, healthy working conditions, no forced labor or child labor, and a voting voice in their communities. These artisans and growers are empowered to feed and educate their families and to help to make their communities better places to live.

As I tell the stories of fair trade at church functions, Rotary, and school sessions I am reminded that the concept of fair trade has been around since 1948. Yet so few are aware of it's impact for so very many people of our world.

World fair trade Day is this Saturday, May 12th. Celebrate with the knowledge that over five million people, farmers, artisans, workers and their families in more that 60 producer countries with annual sales of well over 4 billion dollars, will be celebrating with you.

Small town Storm Lake, Iowa is just one spot on this globe where we can all learn more about each other. Celebrate!