Buying Local from Afar

A farmer from the Kuapa Kokoo farmer’s cooperative in Ghana

A farmer from the Kuapa Kokoo farmer’s cooperative in Ghana

It matters where we shop. It matters where the things we buy come from, and what the supply chain is on the way to our purchase. As you shop for holiday gifts you might be thinking to make your dollars go a little further – both in purchasing power and in impact on the world. How do you do such a thing?

You can start by buying local, whenever possible, and fair trade, whenever what you are buying comes from somewhere else. The best way to get things from foreign places, as far as I see it, is to get as direct a line to the person who made whatever it is as possible. Yes, middle men need to eat, too. But frankly I’d rather know that the person who made the coat I’m wearing, or the person who grew that chocolate, got a decent portion of the money I’m spending on it.

So I look for small companies, or organizations, that have direct relationships with their producers. One of my favorites in Seattle is Ten Thousand Villages. Ten Thousand Villages was founded in 1946 by Edna Ruth Byler, the wife of a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) administrator. She was struck by the poverty she saw on a trip to Puerto Rico, and wanted to do something about it. So she bought a bunch of needlework from local artisans, and took it back with her to Pennsylvania, where she sold it to her friends and neighbors. She started a grassroots campaign to support local artisans in third world countries, and her work was eventually taken up by the Mennonite church, and eventually became its own entity – Ten Thousand villages. They have stores in many cities and a decent online store.

This isn’t an unusual story. In any city you can probably find a gift shop run by the person who travels to other countries to pick out items straight from the artisans who make them. What is unique about this approach, in most cases, is that the artisans thus get a decent wage for their work. And you usually get well made items for a decent price. It’s is like buying local from a different country.

One World Goods is one of those single store on the corner fair trade marketplaces, in Rochester, NW. La Tienda is another small store in Seattle.  Both of these also have websites, but you have to shop in person. Check out the Fair Trade Federation to find a store near you.

I’ve recently come across another entry to this list, which specializes in crafts from Nicaragua. I found them through their blog Life Out of the Box. They’ve put a new twist on the theme, though, which connects you back to the community even more. For every item you purchase from their store, they give a gift to a child in the community. Mostly they are simple things, like a school notebook and pencil. It is one of those things that takes me right back into gratitude – both for what I have, and for there still being places where a notebook brings a huge smile to a child’s face.

Do you have a favorite fair trade store in your town?

Great Idea: Spending your money in ways that support living wage jobs in all communities.
Practical Step: Buy local, fair trade, and fun.


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