COLUMBIA — When Mustard Seed opens, there will be a noticeable absence on the shelves of the new Fair Trade store in downtown Columbia, which plans to open next week. There will be no coffee.
"We decided, being in the same neighborhood as Cherry Street Artisan, Kaldi's and Lakota, it would be difficult to break into that market," said Mustard Seed's executive director, Jessica Linneman, listing the downtown cafes that sell Fair Trade-certified coffee.
For more information on fair trade initiatives in Columbia and the U.S., visit:
A board of directors made up of four members, three of whom belong to Karis Community Church, help oversee the store's operation. But Ann Daugherty, one of the founders of the store, said that despite the store's ties to Karis, it is not a ministry of the church.
For some, operating the Mustard Seed is like operating a ministry. Linneman had a first-hand experience with Fair Trade while participating in a mission trip to Uganda. There, she saw local women selling bead necklaces made with pages of magazines and lacquer. She wanted to sell the necklaces at Mustard Seed but learned that the women didn't make the beads. They were buying them from other villages and delaying payments to the artisans.
"Until then, I had assumed that it was so simple. All we have to do is buy from these people. But Fair Trade is so much more complex than that," Linneman said.
"As Christians, I think there are a lot of reasons to care about Fair Trade, but I think it's something the community cares about, too," Daugherty said. "We wanted it to be a far-reaching thing."
The Fair Trade certification started in the Netherlands, and was introduced in 1998.It has come to include handicrafts such as housewares, artwork and clothing produced by workers in underdeveloped countries.
"The biggest misconception about fair trade is that it's charity," said Linneman. "Fair trade is actually doing the right thing and paying people fairly." Linneman stocks Mustard Seed's shelves with baskets, jewelry and gift items from all over the world. As store manager, she is the only paid employee; the rest of the staff consists of volunteers.
She said that because profit has been the main source of motivation in the assembly-line economy, artisans who spend hours making their products and who demand a living wage are being marginalized and don't have a variety of outlets in which to sell their products.
Mustard Seed is located at 25 S. Ninth St. and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It operates as a non-profit so that as much money as possible can go to the artisan. It takes its name from a parable in the Bible in which Jesus Christ compared the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. The miniscule grain begins small but grows into a giant tree that provides shelter for birds.
Like the mustard seed in the parable, the Fair Trade movement has been growing in Columbia and across the nation. Anthony Marek, spokesperson for TransFair USA, a non-profit group that certifies fair trade products, said 7 percent of Americans recognized theFair Trade label in 2003; in 2007, 27 percent recognized the label.
Marek attributes the growth in popularity of Fair Trade products to their growing presence in the mainstream — Wal-Mart now stocks its shelves with its own Fair Trade coffee line and all Dunkin' Donuts espresso drinks are also certified. In 2000, Starbucks sold 190,000 pounds of Fair Trade-certified coffee. In 2006, it sold 18 million. "Corporate social responsibility is a concern like it never was before," he said.
While Mustard Seed is a new initiative, Fair Trade has been a part of Columbia's Christian community for years. For many, it is a way to act out their faith. "Communities of faith have been instrumental from the beginning," said Marek.
The movement began when women's church groups, visiting a devastated Europe after World War II, bought local handicrafts and re-sold them to their congregations at home, and sent the money back to the European artisans.
Community United Methodist Church began selling Fair Trade items on a seasonal basis more than 10 years ago, offering them as holiday gift ideas. The church now houses a separate Fair Trade store, The Global Market, which is open three days a week to both congregants and the public. It is staffed entirely by volunteers.
Ava Swofford, who runs the Global Market, sees Fair Trade as a mission, and regularly speaks to women's groups such as King's Daughters about the practice. Gender equality is one of the requirements of Fair Trade distributors such as 10,000 Villages and SERRV, both of which originated as nonprofit programs of religious organizations.
Global Market stocks a number of items that sell for under $20, including jewelry, handbags, scarves and stone carvings. "There is no profit motive," Swofford said. "We make our expenses and give whatever is leftover to development work." For example, The Global Market sent SERRV $500 to help restore tools and other equipment to crafters in Kenya after the political unrest there last year.
Amy Kay Pavlovich, associate minister at First Christian Church , sells Fair Trade items out of her office, although there are plans to eventually move into a separate space for a store. The church began offering Fair Trade items for sale after a mission trip last year to Tucson, Ariz., where Pavlovich and others learned about border issues. As a result, most of the items now available at First Christian come from south of the United States.
"Buying Fair Trade is something easy for us to do that has an impact on people we haven't even met," says Pavlovich.
One misconception about Fair Trade products is that they are costly. Coffee might cost $9 per pound at First Christian Church, which also sells necklaces averaging $9 in price, bags from Guatemala for $15 and candles for $6.
Baskets at Mustard Seed can range from $8 to more than $30. Higher-end objects can cost more. "We want people to know they're getting quality items and they are getting what they pay for," said Linneman.
Fair Trade: the facts
— Just what is Fair Trade anyway?
It’s a movement to make sure farmers and producers get fair prices for their goods. “Fair Trade” is also used as a label for goods that meet this standard.
— How do I know if something’s really Fair Trade?
Fair Trade goods carry an International Fair Trade Certification Mark, awarded by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), which is the movement’s standards and certification body.
— Cool. How does a good get the label?
According to FLO, the label is awarded to goods only if producers are paid a minimum price for their merchandise. Among other requirements, the goods must also be made using sustainable methods, and working conditions must be safe.
— How did Fair Trade start?
The modern Fair Trade movement kicked off in 1998 after the coffee market was deregulated, leading to a collapse in coffee prices that began in 1988.
— So what kind of Fair Trade stuff can I buy?
Though the movement started with coffee, FLO now certifies products in 18 product categories, covering goods such as wine and athletic balls.
— Where can I find out more?
For more information, Transfair USA offers a list of fair trade-centric links on its “Resources” Web site.