Tag Archives: fair trade

Auburn Alabama Going Bananas!?

Catching up, I wanted to report about some intriguing research I stumbled across regarding growing bananas in the Coastal South, while attending the recent Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference held at Auburn University.

That’s right: Bananas. In Alabama. At Auburn. Is Auburn going bananas? It gets cold down South!

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The field trials are being held with hopes that local growers can provide a crop that competes with grocery imports. The trials are in their infancy; but so far 2 varieties survived last year’s 21- and 25-degree lows to harvest; they think at least one will survive this year’s 9-degree low; and this was in central Alabama, not the Coast. Trials are being held further south in Alabama, as well.

According to literature from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES), the banana variety research plot at Auburn University’s Plant Science Research Center in Auburn, Ala., was established in 2011. Banana plants were provided by Dr. Greg Fonsah, an Extension ag economist and international banana production and marketing veteran from the University of Georgia at Tifton, GA.

This research, in my opinion, offers a huge potential resource for local and sustainable growing in the South. As ACES reports, bananas offer many different products that small, local growers can produce. “The fresh fruit can be used as dessert. Banana fruit can be cooked, fried or eaten ripe with stew. They can be used to produce beer, livestock forage, cooking wraps and plates, can be utilized as shade trees and for medicinal purposes. Banana fruit has low fat, cholesterol, sodium and salt content, and is extremely rich in potassium.” And they can be used for ornamental purposes, too.

But a major consideration for consumers interested in buying locally produced fruits and vegetables is that such locally grown products can be sustainably grown: not shipping them for thousands of miles and using up fossil fuels, or bringing up Fair Trade issues regarding worker health and equity. They can be grown as a local resource returning value to the local community.

Admittedly, I have not seen the UGA test site where ACES obtained its first varieties. Here’s an article about Dr. Fonsah and his work: http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/gafaces/?public=viewStory&pk_id=4983

But I can say that I’m totally intrigued by the concept and hope that small, local and artisanal growers can add this crop to their offerings.

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Varieties being tested at Auburn: ‘Gold Finger’, ‘Saba’, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, ‘Pisang Ceylon’, ‘Double, ‘Dwarf Green’, ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Grand Naine’, ‘Cardaba’, ‘Viente Cohol’, ‘Sweet Heart’, and ‘Ice Cream’.

The tests will be carefully watched not only in Alabama, but across the Gulf States, I’m sure!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Fair Trade group to weaken small farmer alliance

Dec. 2, 2011

Fair Trade group aiming to weaken small farmer alliance

As if it weren’t bad enough that the state is ending the certification of organic farms, putting a burden on local small farmers, now Fair Trade USA, the U.S. group that certifies small farmers for the Fair Trade designation, is aiming to bend its rules to accommodate large plantations and corporations.
As we reported last week, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce will no longer certify farms organic in the state starting Jan. 1 due to budget cuts.
That’s not likely to affect corporations or large farmers who can afford out-of-state certification, but it could price small farmers out of being certified.
Now, it appears, big corporations and large plantations will be getting a break on Fair Trade certification in America, too.
For those who have long supported Fair Trade goods, it’s seen as a turnaround from the spirit of the movement (much as many believe the increasing use of the  certification by large industrial farms and importing cheap “certified organic” fruits and vegetables from foreign countries is out of keeping with the
original organic movement).
A little background: Fair Trade began in the 1940s when a few small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets.
The movement to support impoverished farm workers – particularly in the Third World with coffee growers, banana pickers and handcrafters – grew and since the 1990s, it has become a global movement. Having a Fair Trade symbol on a product, such as organic coffees found at the grocery, ensures standards are followed
regarding working conditions, wages, child labor and the environment.
Such commercial giants as Walmart and Starbucks now proudly display the Fair Trade logo, which is reserved for goods that are certified as Fair Trade, either by Fair Trade USA in America, or the international Fair Trade organization, which has a different logo. (Mississippi has a Fair Trade store devoted to certified products at the Rainbow Natural Foods mall on Old Canton Road in Jackson.)
Fair Trade has had a powerful impact. As intended, it raised living standards for the poor and promoted building of hospitals and schools. And it put money in the pockets of a larger segment of the population in
impoverished countries, rather than the wealthy and multinational corporations.
Now, the rub. According to The New York Times, Fair Trade USA says it will cut its ties at year’s end with the main international Fair Trade group and will start giving the Fair Trade designation to coffee from large plantations, which were previously barred in favor of small farms.
It is also proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent Fair Trade ingredients (current standard is 20 percent; it should be raised, not lowered!).
Fair Trade USA defends its action by saying that it will benefit even more small farmers and workers – those employed by large plantations. But that claim is not selling well with others who complain that some companies will now be Fair Trade certified not because they have changed their business practices but because the
rules have been changed.
The international group has also rejected the changes, saying it refuses to “water those principles down.”
Given the uproar, we’ll have to wait and see if Fair Trade USA continues with its proposed changes. But it reinforces the fact that consumers must pay attention to the labels of the foods that they are buying.
Buying locally can promote the local economy. But if you buy imported goods, it doesn’t cost a whole lot more to look for the Fair Trade label to support schools, hospitals and better working conditions. Some American consumers, however, may now be looking for the international symbol – or Institute of Market Ecology (IMO) “Fair for Life” certification – rather than that of Fair Trade USA.

Online: The New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/s3aujv
Also, see: A Betrayal of Fair Trade: http://smallfarmersbigchange.coop.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Tilth’ helps hold soil moisture

July 1, 2011
Check ’tilth’ in organic garden for soil moisture
I guess weird weather is the “new normal” now, with weeks of no rain, crops fried in 100-degree days, then rain falling finally, blessedly, but perhaps too little too late for many this season.
Given the heat, now’s a good time to check the moisture holding capacity of your soil. If you have adequate tilth (loamy material) and regular watering, you should have only a light crust on the top but can push in your finger without a great deal of effort.
But if it’s too hard for a gentle push of the finger, don’t despair. It can take years to build up the soil. We’ve dumped tons, literally, on our plots and they break down rapidly with acidic, sandy soil.
Remember, with organic gardening, the soil is everything, but it’s a moving target. It’s a constant balancing act between biomass and soil digestion activity.
Take this as an opportunity for future growth: Just keep adding more compost and, in fall, more leaves or other vegetative matter to build up your tilth.
By the way, old folks used to put sawdust in their gardens. That’s fallen out of fashion, as it tends to eat up nitrogen breaking down. But if you are using foliar feeding – spraying kelp or fish emulsion to feed nitrogen for it to be absorbed through leaves – I believe sawdust could help hold soil moisture. That is, as long as it’s not chemically treated wood.
It was good enough for our Mississippi forebears and Helen and Scott Nearing – homesteaders in 1930s Maine (see their book: Living The Good Life). So, if you’ve got it, I’d use it.
Growing tip: You can grow your own natural sweetener using leaves from the Stevia plant. It’s not too late to plant to get some leaves by fall.
According to WebMD, it is useful for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other weight-related medical problems.
The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Seeds are commonly available and can be purchased from Burpee, if not locally. It grows prolifically, like mint.
We grow it and use it. Tastes great. I like it in my tea instead of sugar.
Summer reading: I recommend: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs, $24.99).
Founder and head of the nonprofit Fair Food Network and a former agronomy professor at Michigan State University, Hesterman is quick to point out that he is not writing about our broken food system from the standpoint of a chef or journalist, but as someone who has experienced it from plow to plate.
The observations he makes are similar to the popular notions of journalist Michael Pollan and chef Mark Bittman, but his methods are more direct, from developing locally profitable food distribution systems in urban and rural “food deserts” to joining corporations such as Costco in developing transnational fair trade supply trains that ensure living wages for producers and reinvestment in local communities.
Fair Food is a serious book about a serious subject. It offers ideas for local communities, as well as suggestions for local, state and national policy makers (I hope members of the Legislature read this book!) It should add immeasurably to the national conversation about fixing our food – and world! – for the better.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.