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The Story Behind Fair Trade

Fair Trade USA

No doubt you've seen Fair Trade labels on coffee, chocolate, and tea, but the certification is also popping up on honey, agave, quinoa, rice, sugar, apparel, and fruits and veggies. While you may pat yourself on the back when you throw any kind of produce into your grocery cart, reaching for Fair Trade Certified produce could be an even healthier pick for you, the environment, and the farmers who produce the food you eat. (Stock up on 10 Fruits and Vegetables in Season During April.)

So what exactly is Fair Trade certification? Fair Trade means that you are getting a quality product, that workers receive fair wages, safe working conditions, and access to education and healthcare, and that farmers use sustainable farming practices. The byproduct is happy consumers, happy workers, and a protected environment.

Fair Trade's environmental standards prohibit GMOs and are working to completely eliminate the use of harmful chemicals—over 60 percent of all Fair Trade produce is certified organic. Workers are also educated in food safety, so they—and you—stay healthier. The added benefit of purchasing Fair Trade is that you're actually helping other women to succeed in countries where women deal with discrimination, harassment, and lack of privileges that could prevent them from taking care of their family—surprising given that women produce more than 50 percent of the world’s food. (Find out why the Most Nutritious Foods Aren’t As Healthy As They Used to Be.)

"The best part about buying Fair Trade Certified produce is that every time a box is sold, workers earn a Community Development Premium—additional money they can use to address important needs," explains Katie Barrow Schneider, of Fair Trade USA. "At Wholesum Harvest, a Fair Trade produce farm in Mexico, workers voted to purchase a bus to take them to and from work, and their children to and from school. Previously, they would have to travel long distances and pay expensive bus fares, costing up to a third of a worker’s daily salary. The purchase of the bus saves a tremendous amount of precious time and money," she says.

You may have already snacked on Fair Trade bananas, which have been around since 2004, at grocery stores like Whole Foods Market (which purchases over 75 percent of all Fair Trade produce), Costco, Safeway, and Earth Fare. In fact, more than 500 million pounds of Fair Trade produce, including 25 different types of fruits and vegetables, have been imported to the United States since 2004. But the variety of Fair Trade certified produce has rapidly expanded in the past three years to include pineapples, mangos, avocados, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and more—giving consumers unprecedented access to healthier food options throughout the grocery store. (Is this healthy shopping habit wrecking your diet?) 

The next time you're grocery shopping, look for the green sticker on fresh produce like the newest Fair Trade fruits, melons from Guatemala and strawberries from Mexico. Your fruit may taste just a little sweeter when you know the story behind it.

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