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Churches asked to make the switch to fair trade

Churches asked to make the switch to fair trade

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches asked to make the switch to fair trade

Sept. 14, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0739}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND —  The phrase “good to the last drop” isn’t just a catchy advertising slogan to fair trade coffee drinkers. For them, it actually means something.

And although Fair trade coffee isn't new, it is becoming the choice of more individuals, businesses and churches that want farmers to get a fair price for their product.

In order for coffee to be labeled fair trade, it must meet internationally-recognized standards: paying a fair price to farmers, including a guaranteed minimum when market prices are low; working directly with certified, democratically-run farming cooperatives; and encouraging ecologically sustainable farming practices.

Fifty-eight of the nearly 500 United Methodist churches serving fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange are Florida Conference churches. In 2002, United Methodists bought 11,000 pounds of the coffee. Buying fair trade coffee helps ensure farmers get a fair price, even when markets prices are low. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0671.

The Canton, Mass.,-based Equal Exchange, founded in 1986, uses those practices to offer consumers coffee, tea and cocoa direct from small-scale farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Coffee Project, in collaboration with Equal Exchange, started with a “soft launch” of 250 United Methodist congregations in April 2002. Now, it has double that participation, including 58 Florida Conference churches serving fair trade coffee.

One of those congregations is College Heights United Methodist Church in Lakeland. It began selling the coffee several years ago during its alternative mission expo, and recently, the church began serving it during its Wednesday evening services.

The Rev. Daphne Johnson, senior pastor at the church, said many members aren’t aware of the brand the church is serving, but they are enjoying the taste. She said the church has plans to formally introduce the coffee and showcase it on Sunday mornings.

“It is an excellent product,” Johnson said. “And I love the manner in which it is produced. The idea that we’re helping small farmers is great. This church is very mission-oriented, and this is just another way to live out our faith.”

Faith and fair trade products go hand-in-hand, according to Anna Peacock-Preston, a member of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries committee. The 26-year-old member of Southside United Methodist Church in Jacksonville says she became familiar with the practice years ago while participating in Ecumenical Advocacy Days.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community and its recognized partners and allies. It is grounded in biblical witness and the shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Its goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen Christian voices and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

The annual event offers a variety of tracks or classes, and Peacock-Preston participated in the environmental workshops, which focused on fair trade products. She soon realized the importance of the cause and made it her goal to expose the conference’s churches and missions to fair trade coffee and products.

Last year the coffee made its debut at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event when it was served at the Global Mission and Justice Ministries booth at the event’s ministry expo. Peacock-Preston said the word spread about the coffee, the booth became swamped and order forms began to disappear.

At this year’s annual conference event last June, Peacock-Preston ordered 20 percent more coffee to serve in an effort to keep up with the demand. She said as people are educated and learn more about fair trade products, she hopes more churches will serve it.

“It is slightly higher (more expensive), but you are paying for a mission, for farmers to have a fair and living wage,” Peacock-Preston said. “It’s a wonderful mission.”

Fair trade coffee is offered in about 40 varieties of blends, but for beginners, Peacock-Preston recommends the mild to medium organic Fellowship Blend.

Individuals who would like to learn more about fair trade products may purchase a 13-minute informational DVD from Equal Exchange for $5 and samples of coffees and teas at varying prices. Literature is also available at no cost.

Peacock-Preston said fair trade clothing and shoes are also available in the marketplace. She said coffee drinkers on the go can also request fair trade coffee at their favorite coffee shops and cafés.

“It’s up to consumers doing the job of asking for the products,” she said. “Our purses have so much power for helping people. We aren’t giving handouts to people but a hand up. Purchasing this coffee is a great place to start. We are supposed to be good stewards of the earth and take care of one another.”

United Methodists who serve cocoa, coffee or tea at church events or use the products as a fund-raising project help farmers both through the direct sales and the return on those sales. When church members make wholesale purchases of coffee, tea and cocoa, UMCOR receives 15 cents to 20 cents a package from Equal Exchange. That money also goes back to small farmers.

In 2002, United Methodists bought 11,000 pounds of fair trade coffee through Equal Exchange.

Equal Exchange has formal partnerships with Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonite Central Committee and Catholic Relief Services.

More information about fair trade coffee and products is available at


This article relates to Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.