A Baker’s Dozen! Highland Park, NJ Becomes the 13th Fair Trade Town in the U.S.!

Courtney Lang November 27, 2009
Better World Cafe

Celebrating FT Town Status with the opening of A Better World Cafe!

By Guest Blogger Jean Stockdale

The campaign to establish the Borough of Highland Park, NJ as a Fair Trade Town began in 2004, before the movement had built a formal presence in the USA. The small town of Garstang, in Lancashire, UK had become the world’s first Fair Trade Town in 2002, and by 2004, a hundred other British towns had followed suit.

In central New Jersey, the nonprofit community agency Who Is My Neighbor Inc.(WIMNI) had been started in 2003 at the Reformed Church of Highland Park. The purpose of the new organization was to help people be good neighbors locally and globally. While its local efforts took the form of programs for neighborhood kids, its global efforts focused on expanding Fair Trade. From a table on the church lawn next to the town’s weekly Farmers’ Market, the group sold goods made at St. Julie’s Workshop, a co-op near Lima, Peru. That winter, an email from nuns at St. Julie’s informed WIMNI that the proceeds of their weekly sale had fed four families of five for a month, sustaining the co-op through its rainy season.

Inspired with this proof of the power of Fair Trade, WIMNI converted a small room in the church’s basement into a year-round fair trade store. Hand-painted candles from a co-op in South Africa, and carved wood items from a co-op in Palestine soon joined the needlework goods from Peru. The church was already an interfaith program partner of Equal Exchange, so the store added coffee by the bag, along with Divine chocolate from the SERRV catalog’s wholesale operation. WIMNI partnered with the local OxFam student chapter to produce fair trade events on campus, and joined the Rutgers Global Food and Agricultural Coalition.

Borough residents patronized the store until demand for fair trade goods exceeded what the tiny room could hold, so WIMNI sought to attract the nonprofit retail chain Ten Thousand Villages to locate a store in Highland Park. By this time, Fair Trade advocates in the USA had begun organizing the Fair Trade Towns criteria for this side of the Atlantic. In 2006 Media, PA declared itself the nation’s first fair trade town, using the modified criteria, and in New Jersey WIMNI held its Global Heart concert series, setting up a Fair Trade bazaar at each concert.

In 2007, the U.S. criteria were formalized and in 2009 the National Campaign became headquartered in TransFair USA. That summer, WIMNI proudly closed its tiny, part-time, volunteer-run fair trade store and welcomed Ten Thousand Villages to its downtown. WIMNI has continued producing events that let people explore and experience fair trade. In 2009, after Borough Council passed a Fair Trade resolution, WIMNI joined with the Council and with Main Street Highland Park in forming a task force that shares the exciting work of steadily increasing consumer participation in Fair Trade.

Highland Park is proud to have achieved Fair Trade Town status and is proud to announce the opening of A Better World Café, a community kitchen that opened this October. The Café’s purpose is to help make a sustainable world where all may eat.

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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.