Just recently I went on one of my fact-finding trips to local supermarkets. These trips bring me back to reality as to what is available and at what price. I am very fortunate because most of the markets I see are the wholesale ones in Smithfield, Covent Garden and Billingsgate, and the prices I see are trade – ie, the prices that restaurants and hotels pay, not the prices that the average householder has to pay.
Two things struck me as I wandered around making notes of the quantities, qualities and prices of produce. One was the range of products available covering customers’ varying ethnic needs. The other was the range of fairly traded produce available, which is timely as it is currently Fairtrade Fortnight until 8 March.
The Fairtrade Foundation has been around for more than 20 years and stands for changing the way trade works, through fair prices and better working conditions to offer a more stable future for farming communities in developing countries. What we often fail to realise when buying these products – the most common being coffee, tea and chocolate – is that someone has to plant the seeds, someone has to mature the plant and then the products need to be harvested. The people in these jobs need support so that they can continue their jobs and have a better standard of life.
It was with these thoughts in mind that, about 12 years ago, I decided Fairtrade was a great idea and that I wanted to get involved. Along with some pals in the coffee business in the UK, I went to India. We were lucky enough to find a stunning coffee plantation in a serene valley in Karnataka in South West India at the hub of India’s premium coffee growing industry.
Generations of the same families have tended the crops in shaded, elevated areas that allow slow ripening to produce a dense, high-quality bean with exceptional roasting characteristics. Coffee is normally harvested once a year, but at this plantation there were four harvests when the individual cherries were ripe. This was what we were looking for, so we bought the whole fabulous crop on the condition that part of the fee we were paying would go as a bonus to the picker’s families.
This was negotiated and agreed and the extra funds went towards a new schoolhouse for the children of the pickers. How we would come to miss the products that are now more frequently found in the Fairtrade section of the supermarket if they were gone; the rise in popularity of coffee, from cappuccinos and lattes to bean-to-cup, has been tremendous, and all of us love to use good-quality chocolate in our baking.
Chocolate roulade, truffles and of course chocolate brownies are all delicious when made with good Fairtrade products. Bananas and vanilla have also become regular Fairtrade products, and for me, barbecued bananas served with a full-flavoured vanilla ice cream are a taste of heaven. So if you can find your favourite product in the Fairtrade aisle, be sure to pick it up and enjoy, knowing you’re part of a great campaign.