Krista Corner Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Churches, missionaries and farmers have banded together to form an alliance in which everyone benefits. The St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, among others, are offering fair trade goods to community members yearround through the Equal Exchange mission in support of farmers in Latin America, Africa and Asia. LuAnn McLain of Van Orsdel Methodist Church said the idea is to buy direct from the overseas farmers so they and their families can have a better life. "This helps the small farmers in lots of countries around the world compete with big corporations," she said. "It's really heartwarming to read the stories from these countries. They tell us they can now have homes and water and send their children to school. We feel really good about supporting these people." Carol Reifschneider of St. Mark's Episcopal Church said Equal Exchange is a program supportive of humanitarian causes. "(Equal Exchange) buys from cooperatives of small farmers so they are able to give a better price to the farmers," she said. "It's a stable income for them and they also, by having a constant market for (the farmers), are able to encourage the use of the best agricultural practices, as well." The Equal Exchange program, based in Massachusetts, was created in 1986 and it is the oldest and largest for-profit fair trade company in the U.S., according to its Web site. Equal Exchange's mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, and mutually beneficial for farmers and consumers to demonstrate how worker- cooperatives and fair trade can lead to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. "Coffee and fellowship usually come together around the world, but the farmers who produce these products have a difficult time surviving," Equal Exchange literature says. "A warm pot of coffee is often the centerpiece of fellowship hour and other gatherings. Yet the small farmers who grow that coffee often struggle just to make a simple living." The human impact speaks for itself. "I want to send my thanks to all of the congregations that purchase our coffee," Jose Luis Castillo Vasquez of El Salvador was quoted by Equal Exchange. "Thanks to you, we have a seed of hope in our lives." The farmers Equal Exchange promotes come from Bolivia, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Sumatra and Tanzania. These groups of farmers suffered before joining the cooperatives, according to Equal Exchange. "Isolated from markets, they are forced to accept low prices," its press information said. "Without affordable credit, they become trapped in a cycle of debt. Many lack access to adequate housing, healthcare and education." McLain said Van Orsdel sells the co-ops products for a price that just covers the costs. Reifschneider said her church uses profits from sales to provide more help. "We use the money that we get from the sale of the items to fund water projects in Africa," she said. "We also buy seeds for the people in our companion deist in Africa." The farmers themselves strive to provide better things for their communities in which they live as well, thier stories say. Many of the farmers who banded together to form the co-ops worked together with their profits to build schools and clean water systems for all. The consumer has farm-direct access to coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa and chocolate. To learn more about the Equal Exchange program and how to involve your church or organization, call (774) 776-7400, write to Equal Exchange 50 United Drive, West Bridgewater, MA 02379 or visit their Web site at http://www. Equalexchange.com/. To purchase products in support of this program, call either Van Orsdel United Methodist Church at 265-4232 or St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 265-6293 or stop by the churches during regular office hours.