The big news in my world this week is from Migrant Justice and Ben and Jerry’s, CEO. They signed the “Milk with Dignity” agreement in front of Ben and Jerry’s flagship ice cream store.

Migrant Justice is a non-profit organization for Human Rights and Justice for Vermont farm workers and based in Burlington, Vermont. Besides ice cream, Ben and Jerry’s is known for being leaders in corporate social and environmental responsibility.

Spokesperson Enrique “Kike” Balcazar, Migrant Justice Spokesperson, spoke to those assembled: “This is a historic moment for dairy workers. We have worked tirelessly to get here, and now we move forward towards a new day for the industry. We appreciate Ben and Jerry’s leadership role and look forward to working together to implement a program that ensures dignified housing and fair working conditions on dairy farms across the region. And though this is the first, it won’t be the last agreement of its kind.”

Tuesday’s signing was the culmination of two years of public campaigning by dairy workers and allies. This arrived just before “National Day of Action” on October 5th when communities across the nation brought attention to the need to support and maintain dignity and respect for immigrant families. America’s immigrant population has a significant impact on keeping our farms running and agriculture viable. It is ground-breaking as the first agreement of its kind in the dairy industry as a worker-driven human rights program,

  •  Farm workers will see improvement in wages, scheduling, housing, and health and safety.
  •  Farm owners will receive a premium on their milk for Ben and Jerry’s and support in improving working conditions.
  •  Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will be free from human rights abuses.

The next step will be to expand the “Milk with Dignity” agreement with other companies.

The issue of Fairtrade is dear to my heart, especially since meeting with migrant farm workers ten years ago and learning of human trafficking in agriculturally related industries. Fairtrade ensures no slave labor and otherwise seeks to empower family farmers and workers globally. It is a market-based approach that empowers farmers to get a fair price for their products, rather than an “aid” program.

It’s not a perfect system, and more needs to be done for laborers, but in the meantime, it has made great strides in assuring a fair price at market. It has helped increase wages which in turn enables farmers to provide better food for their families, educational opportunities, and access to health care and housing. All of this helps make communities sustainable overall.

October is Fairtrade month. The perfect invitation to explore Fairtrade and take action against issues like slavery in seafood and child labor in cocoa. Fairtrade certification assures the product is non-GMO, no child labor, and fair prices to the grower. When we buy Fairtrade certified we show we appreciate the efforts of farmers and other industries that support social, environmental, and economic initiatives.

Look for the Fairtrade label on staples such as sugar, coffee, and chocolate. It’s also on fruits and vegetables; flowers; clothing and home products; nuts and oils; seafood; and athletic equipment. Their core values are sustainability, integrity, innovation, excellence, empowerment, fairness, community, and personal development.

Our coffee often comes from remote corners of the world where family farmers are small scale and lack access to credit for expanding their farms. Old school market practices left farmers at the mercy of “middlemen” who would often pay cash at a fraction of the coffee’s value. Now a minimum price is guaranteed.

Add to this; farms must meet sustainable farming guidelines with limited impact on the environment. As climate change continues to make growing coffee a challenge and input prices rise, Fairtrade is all the more important to ensure coffee farmers are fairly treated in the marketplace.

SOPPEXCCA is an example of a Nicaraguan cooperative of 62 farmers formed in 1997 using Fairtrade principles. It has grown to 650 farmers, 210 of them are women. By choosing Fairtrade coffee, the power is put in our hands to support farmers to be the best at what they do, help them grow on a personal level, and create sustainable communities.

From the vantage point of our flavorful, aromatic cup of java, we impact coffee farmer’s lives. The coffee we buy matters. 

By choosing to be conscious consumers, we support Fairtrade in its mission to create fairness and sustainability in all industries. An excellent source for finding products and companies is fairmoments.org. Conscious consumerism matters.

Lillian is a Community Visionary. She is an advocate for several important political and social causes. She speaks and writes on local food, human trafficking, and caring for the caregiver. She believes building community is about justice, environment, sustainability, retreat and uses this philosophy to weave together people and ideas from diverse areas.

Lillian strongly believes that collaboration, cooperation and communication is key to thriving communities. Noting that local is not only about miles, Lillian tirelessly works to promote local and global community development that is affordable, sustainable and just through speaking engagements; writing, policy development and consulting. A staunch advocate for non-GMO foods, she was instrumental in developing the Maine GMO labeling bill and has organized local food and farmer forums. She serves on several boards and task forces and is a founding committee member of the Local Food Day: Maine Fiddlehead Festival.

Friends have been known to call Lillian the “food evangelist”, reflecting her passion for working with local foods. When she is not helping people or visiting farms, she spends time with family and friends; writing books; blogging and lingering over a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Her friends know her for describing coffee as one might describe wine; although, often waxing into issues of fairtrade, climate change and sustainability. She also enjoys reading, running, Pilates and visiting museums. Check out her website at lillianlake.com.

The Milk with Dignity Agreement being signed at Ben and Jerry’s flagship ice cream store in Vermont.

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