Red Bank Gives NJ the most FT Towns of Any State!
The Fair Trade Red Bank Team
By Guest Blogger Dalaiah Kusner
When the Red Bank Ten Thousand Villages manager first came across the idea of a Fair Trade Town, she realized that Red Bank would be an ideal place to have a campaign. To start, the town already had a school, a church, and at least one business fully supporting Fair Trade. Red Bank was also home to a strong community following who were very open to the idea of Fair Trade, and who had shown strong support for Ten Thousand Villages in Red Bank for the last four+ years. She started to realize the multi-faceted benefits that would come from connecting the dots and building the platform of the Fair Trade Town structure. Her objective became to prove there is a market for fair trade in Red Bank.
Red Bank, NJ is a small New Jersey shore town located one hour outside of New York City, with a population of just over 12,000 residents. Although the town itself is small, the business district draws some 30,000 employees into town to work during the week, and the downtown district has been a well-known destination for shopping, arts, culture, and entertainment in the county and beyond. The downtown district is unique in that it is comprised almost entirely of individually-owned retail shops and restaurants; however, it has experienced a bit of an identity crisis as its high-end retail identity represents only part of the community surrounding it, and not the community’s character as a whole. This and other issues has caused the business district to struggle in recent years during the nation’s economic downturn.
She started talking about the idea in May 2009, the committee formed over the summer, and they had their first meeting in August 2009. The Fair Trade Red Bank committee was constructed to collectively represent the community, business, and civic sectors, with perspectives and connections vital to future growth. It is comprised of six community leaders with overlapping characteristics, including Red Bank residents, a business owner, Red Bank employees, a member of the town’s Environmental Commission, and a CROP Walk coordinator.
Because Red Bank already met the minimum criteria in the community sector, the committee immediately went to work in the business sector, communicating the concept of Fair Trade and the value of a Fair Trade Town designation. They officially kicked off the business campaign for Fair Trade Month in October 2009, by speaking at a RiverCenter (Red bank’s business association) breakfast, followed by a Fair Trade Trunk Show also in October 2009, featuring samples of Fair Trade products sent from vendors across the country, from coffee and wine to jewelry, soap, and handbags.
SoapMarket, whose owner is on the committee, became the first business to add Fair Trade products to her store’s assortment in October 2009. The town council passed a unanimous resolution on March 22 (one month ahead of plan!), committing to “consider a Fair Trade option when making purchases on behalf of the Borough” and appointing a council liaison to the Fair Trade Red Bank committee. Two churches currently serve only Fair Trade coffee and host sales, and one school started a Fair Trade Club in support of the designation.
Red Bank’s challenge has been communicating the concept and value of Fair Trade to a business audience with little or no previous knowledge of fair trade. It has not been an easy task, especially among business owners who find it difficult to add product lines or switch to potentially more expensive products during a recession. In spite of these challenges, over 10 businesses have expressed positive interest and are very close to participating.
Red Bank currently has four fully-participating businesses, three more with Fair Trade products on their way, and seven more who have expressed verbal interest. Upcoming events planned include a Fair Trade Shop Hop for World Fair Trade Day (complete with prizes!), representation at the summer Farmer’s Market, and a “Fair Trade My Home” Showhouse in the works for Fair Trade Month in October 2010.
The committee believes the business sector will pick up momentum once business owners can actually see the designation in action, and once a full-fledged consumer campaign takes root. The committee sees the Fair Trade Town designation as a foundation and looks forward (with many creative ideas!) to building both demand for and commitment to fair trade in each sector in the coming years.
Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns
Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.