HIGHLAND PARK – Fair Trade products have been available in Highland Park since at least 2003, and because of residents’ support of the farmers and producers who grow and make the products, Highland Park has been named the 13th Fair Trade Town in America by Fair Trade Towns USA.
When products are designated as Fair Trade, farmers receive a guaranteed minimum floor price, work in safe conditions and sell directly to importers, eliminating the middleman.
Highland Park Councilman Jon Erickson saw an article about Montclair being named a Fair Trade town and started working to get the distinction for his hometown. He worked with Jean Stockdale, executive director of Who Is My Neighbor? Inc., (WIMNI), a grassroots community agency, whose mission is to create neighborly care locally and globally, and Main Street Highland Park, the nonprofit that works to promote downtown Highland Park.
Erickson introduced the required resolution for the Fair Trade Town naming designation. “It’s an example of thinking globally, but acting locally,” he said. “It’s promoting Fair Trade products and the businesses that sell them. I’m hoping the designation will attract shoppers to Highland Park.”
Main Street Highland Park director James McCrone pointed out that, “the Fair Trade designation is really more a way of recognizing what has been going on here in Highland Park for some time.”
WIMNI played an integral role in laying the groundwork for the designation. Organizers started encouraging businesses six years ago to sell Fair Trade products. Members of the organization were running a small Fair Trade store in the basement of a church, but closed it when they convinced Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit store that only sells Fair Trade products, to open in Highland Park.
Highland Park-based stores including Through the Moongate, Centerpiece Gifts and White Lotus Home also sell Fair Trade products.
Stockdale said the designation is more than an honor.
“I really feel that the designation reflects the value of our community. It’s a mechanism to go forward in expanding the Fair Trade movement. It’s a market-based way to help people out of poverty through the means of their own work. They can earn their living through dignity,” she said.
In addition to stores selling Fair Trade products, such as soaps, honey and spices, WIMNI spearheaded a program in which the borough’s middle and high school band, orchestra and choral students sold Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate as a fundraiser.
“The kids learned about global issues through the sale,” Stockdale said.
Highland Park had to meet five criteria before they could be considered for the designation. They are: form a steering committee; outreach to area retailers; engaging the community; gain media attention and to pass a Fair Trade resolution, said Billy Lindstead Goldsmith, national coordinator of Fair Trade Towns USA, the organization that awards the designations.
“We encourage towns to stay active after declaring. We’re looking for viral, horizontal growth, so it takes on a movement of its own,” he said.
Farmers and workers who produce Fair Trade products decided democratically how to invest their profits, which are usually used for social and business development projects, such as scholarships or water wells, Stockdale said.
Stockdale said Highland Park is a role model for other towns whose mission is to become a Fair Trade Town.
“Highland Park may become a city that helps guide and foster other Fair Trade towns. There are 725 towns that sell Fair Trade products in the world. We’ve met the criteria far in advance of larger cities,” she said.
While Highland Park shoppers are now spending their discretionary money on Fair Trade products, she hopes there comes a time when they are spending their necessity money on Fair Trade products, such as food and clothing.
“It’s up to the consumer to change the environment in which products are sold,” she said.
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