Fair trade coffee like ‘cup of solidarity,’ says CRS ambassador

| Julie Pfitzinger - For The Catholic Spirit | September 8, 2010 | 0 Comments
Bob Walz


Bob Walz appreciates a good cup of coffee when he tastes one, but a rich, full-bodied taste is only part of what Walz is looking for when he pours his first cup every morning.  In his role as a Catholic Re­lief Services Fair Trade Am­bas­­sa­dor, Walz is a fervent supporter of certified fair trade coffee.

“I like to refer to certified fair trade coffee as a cup of solidarity,” said Walz, pastoral minister and coordinator for justice and outreach at Guardian Angels in Oakdale. “It’s a way to help promote economic development with dignity for the coffee growers. It’s not giving them a handout; it’s giving them a hand-up.

To be designated as certified fair trade, the producing company must provide workers with a fair wage, opportunities for advancement, equal opportunities for all workers, a healthy and safe working environment and also employ environmentally sustainable practices.

Guardian Angels regularly serves Peace Coffee, a certified fair trade organic coffee, at all church events. They also sell one-pound bags of the company’s Nicaraguan label coffee at the Thursday afternoon Farmers Market in the parish parking lot.

Guardian Angels sells the coffee for $10 a pound, and its wholesale cost is $7; profits from the Peace Coffee sales are donated to its sister parish, the Church of St. Rita, located in Teustepe, Nicaragua.

‘Mission driven’ coffee

Peace Coffee is part of the Minne­apolis-based Institute for Agri­culture and Trade Policy, a non-profit dedicated to fostering sustainable re­gions and communities. Along with another certified fair trade coffee producer, the  Faribault-based Prov­idence Coffee,  these  are what Walz refers to as “mission driven” companies, since each donates 1.5 percent of the sales of a bag of their certified fair trade coffee directly to CRS.  Both companies regularly do­nate to other Catholic organizations as well, said Walz.

With the proceeds raised, CRS helps support Central America coffee producing companies by funding needs such as health care and literacy programs, further economic development and agricultural training to help farmers improve the quality of their product.

About relationships

During a trip to Central America in 2004, Walz had the opportunity to visit several coffee farms and observe the entire production process; he even served as a taster and tried more than 100 varieties of coffee.

“CRS has done a remarkable job of working with the farmers, teaching them about organic farming and helping to create a market for their coffee in the United States,” he explained.
Walz and Shelby Vaske, director of faith formation at St. Louis Catholic Church in Paynesville, both attended a CRS training session last May in Traverse City, Michigan where they learned all about fair trade practices. So far, the two are the only Min­nesotans who have participated in this training.

“Fair trade is all about relationships,” said Vaske. “Raising awareness about fair trade and about how all of our purchases as consumers affect the market is a big part of what we learned and what we do now in our roles with CRS.”

Since Vaske’s parish community is located in an agricultural area, the concept of making sure farmers are treated fairly in the marketplace and allowed to get a price for their pro­duct that enables them to support their families really resonates, she added.

Other fair trade items include tea (sold by both Peace Coffee and Providence Coffee), chocolate, soap and handcrafted goods. Many local parishes sponsor annual events where these items are sold.

St. John Neumann in Eagan hosts a “Fair Trade” sale every October, which is national Fair Trade Month.  St. Thomas the Apostle in Min­neapolis hosts a “Just Giving Fair” the first weekend of December; the Basilica of St. Mary in Min­neapolis plans a similar event during Advent.  Every year, Guardian Angels sets up a CRS “Work of Human Sales” table during the parish’s annual Christmas boutique.

While there are many churches in both the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of St. Cloud that regularly serve or sell fair trade coffee for fundraisers —another popular fair trade coffee is from San Lucas Toliman in Guatemala, the coffee served at St. Louis Catholic Church in Payne­sville — Walz would like to see 100 percent of the churches choose fair trade or certified fair trade coffee.

Seeking bishops’ support

To that end, he will be meeting with Minnesota bishops in De­cember to ask them to “come up with an action plan” surrounding this goal.

“I want to communicate to all the priests and administrators about certified fair trade products and help them understand the connection between CRS and the work of the Catholic Church throughout the world,” said Walz. “It’s about the dignity of the individual, the dignity of work, and solidarity — all principles of Catholic social teaching.”

Vaske believes the practice of fair trade is “going to grow exponentially” as people become more aware of how their purchases can make a difference in the lives of workers and their families across the world.

“If every household would commit to using even one fair trade product on a regular basis, it would make such a difference,” she said. “To be honest, most people buy stuff and don’t even think about where it comes from.  But once you have that awareness piece, you just can’t go back.”

Want to know more?

More information about fair-trade practices and assistance for incorporating them into your church, school or other organizations is available by contacting Bob Walz at (651)
789-3181 or bwalz@guardian-angels.org and online at http://www.crsfairtrade.org.

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