By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
St. Martin of Tours, city of La Mesa adopt fair-trade policies
A project to teach students about where our products come from has led to a unique designation for La Mesa’s St. Martin of Tours Academy – the first fair-trade designated elementary school in California.
“I learned that fair trade is important to people who don’t get treated fairly or have fair wages,” said fourth grader Zach Crockett.
In addition to learning about how worker pay differs from country to country and how low pay effects the lives of others, the students and faculty at St. Martin also purchase and use fair-trade products whenever possible.
“Everything we can do fair trade; we do fair trade,” said Anne Pacheco, administrative assistant at St. Martin and advisor to the school’s fair-trade program. Pacheco is also a co-chair of La Mesa Fair Trade; a member of Fair Trade San Diego County and is a Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Ambassador.
To get the designation, St. Martin of Tours had to first set up a committee of students, parents and staff and hold meetings to educate everyone on fair-trade practices. Products like coffee and tea for the school had to be switched to fair trade and items sold for fundraisers, like chocolate bars, had to be fair trade over conventional products. The school also had to register online; document everything; take pictures; and have coursework created.
“Everything has to be accounted for and we have to continue it, [the designation is] not something that we get and it’s forever,” said Pacheco.
In addition, the school incorporated two different fundraisers that educate parents about fair trade and teach the children about what they are going to be selling.
“They know that the fundraisers they have are not something like magazine sales or cookie dough, but something that has a meaning that will make a difference for others,” Pacheco said.
One such fundraiser is the school’s Fair Trade Gift Fair, which is hosted by the school’s fifth graders. All the money raised goes toward paying for the students’ sixth grade camping trip the following year. The school also sets up a booth at Christmas in the Village and sells fair-trade coffee, tea and hot cocoa to holiday shoppers.
Fifth-grader Isabella Giordano said she likes the school program because is helps provide “fair pay for the people who make the stuff we use everyday and the food we use everyday.”
“I didn’t know that people didn’t get good pay and now I do know,” she said. “Some people pick a bunch of mangos and they only get like a few cents for it and that’s not fair and I didn’t know that. Now people get much more pay they deserve.”
Giordano said her favorite fair-trade item is chocolate, which is also the product she sells the most when out fundraising, just ahead of coffee.
“I like how people get paid fairly for things that they make that are high quality,” said sixth-grader Presley McMahon. “They are things that normal factories make, but better in a way.”
During the fundraiser, McMahon bought fair-trade chocolate and bracelet jewelry and her mom bought a fair-trade scarf for her grandmother.
Besides serving fair-trade coffees and teas at school functions and raising money by selling free-trade chocolate bars, the school also looks for other free-trade products it can use.
“This school year, for our walk-a-thon, we are going to order our first fair-trade T-shirts, which are organic cotton from a company called Haenow,” Pacheco said. “Right now we can buy fair-trade soccer balls and we’ve been purchasing them for a couple years. We teach the kids that there is no child labor involved in making the soccer balls and learn about the company that produces them.”
Pacheco herself learned about the fair-trade movement back in 2005 through St. Martin’s social justice committee.
“We found out fair trade is not charity, it’s a way everybody can make a difference with a purchase.”
Pacheco was educated by San Diego Fair Trade and learned that, at the time, there were 1,400 designated fair trade towns in Europe, while the U.S. had only 23. Fair trade towns are given their designation based on the availability of fair-trade products for population size along with other procedural steps that need to be completed by local governments.
Pacheco then started La Mesa Fair Trade with co-chair Nancy Ryan to get the city a fair-trade designation.
“We had to educate store employees and managers and ask them to carry more fair-trade products. That happened, especially in Sprouts,” she said.
Besides Sprouts, there are several other stores in La Mesa that now carry fair-trade products.
“Trader Joes has got a lot. Even the Vitamin Shoppe has added a lot of fair-trade products and we’ve tabled there a few times. Grossmont Nutrition, the buyer there has added several products that are fair trade since we’ve talked to her over the past four or five years. CVS carries Dr. Bronner’s Soap. Vons carries a variety of fair-trade coffees and teas and sugar; so does Albertson’s; even Wal-Mart has some fair-trade products.”
To find fair-trade products in stores, people just need to look for the labels, Pacheco said.
To make La Mesa a designated fair-trade town, Pacheco and Ryan also talked with all the local congregations, as well as service organizations like Kiwanis and the Rotary Club and convinced them to adopt fair-trade policies.
“One component was meeting with the city and having the city pass, at the time, a resolution that it would be designated a fair-trade town and maybe switch out their coffees and teas and things.”
That didn’t work out and not every councilperson supported that, Pacheco said, but the designation happened anyway with a commendation from former mayor Art Madrid.
“Now the components of the Fair Trade Campaign for fair-trade towns don’t focus so much on that resolution by the city because it is more of a government thing and we really are not political –– it’s more of an education-based awareness for consumers. So things have changed and it’s easier for towns to become [designated] fair trade.”
After getting the city its fair-trade designation, Pacheco and Ryan learned about the campaign for fair-trade schools.
“And we thought, ‘well this will be great to educate our Catholic schools first about it because one of our biggest backers [are] Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco and Ryan became Catholic Relief Services Ambassadors. They flew to Baltimore, Maryland, for training and learned about the difference fair trade is making for “all these people in all these countries, and especially women,” she said. “We also like the fact that there is no child abuses in the whole supply chain.”
Getting St. Martin its fair-trade designation puts the school into a very small club. There are only 40 fair-trade schools in the U.S. and St. Martin of Tours is the first Catholic elementary school in the nation and the first elementary school in California to get a designation.
The La Mesa school joins UC San Diego and University of San Diego, which are also declared fair-trade schools.
“The good news is our colleges,” Pacheco said. “Point Loma Nazarene will be declared next month and San Diego State has an active group on campus.”
For fourth-grader Crockett, the more schools that adopt fair trade, the merrier.
“It’s fun to know the other fair-trade students and also the presentations are quite cool and it’s nice to learn about fair trade,” he said.