Organizer Spotlight: Paul Renshaw – Mankato, MN

Courtney Lang July 11, 2012

Ever wonder what inspires people to start Fair Trade Town campaigns?  How about what kind of impact a campaign can make on the availability of Fair Trade products in a community?  Get the low-down on Mankato, Minnesota’s phenomenal success through the words of their chair, Paul Renshaw.


MAFTTI volunteer Audrey von Holt at the Fair Trade coffee sampling and product display table at Cub West Food Store, Mankato, World Fair Trade Day 2012.

Mankato Area Fair Trade Town Initiative (aka MAFTTI) owes its origin to the visit of two Peruvian women co-op workers in May 2009 Eva Pizarro and Ayde Riveros. They visited Mankato courtesy of Green America and Partners for Just Trade and told their Fair Trade stories to a gathering of 65 people. That clinched it. The next month the first Fair Trade Town project in Minnesota was born.

At the time Fair Trade was growing slowly in the retail sector from a very low base.  There was only one dedicated Fair Trade coffee shop in Mankato and North Mankato (combined population c. 50,000).  A number of churches, however, were using Fair Trade coffee. Several also sponsored pre-Christmas bazaars featuring items from SERRV or Ten Thousand Villages.  An informal ecumenical group hosted the Peruvians’ visit.

Fast forward to October 24, 2011 – the City Council declared Mankato a Fair Trade Town, the 25th in the nation. (The Fair Trade agenda in North Mankato, one-third the size and with only a small retail sector, remains a work in progress.)

Effective Strategies that led us to Declaration:

  • Persuaded nine churches, the core of the campaign, to make institutional commitments to Fair Trade.
  • Encouraged the expansion of Fair Trade in the retail sector. Currently 14 stores carry at least two Fair Trade products, including four coffee shops and one pub offering Fair Trade coffee and tea.
  • Adapted and developed curriculum materials for piloting in local public schools.
  • Designed a special float themed “Carmen Miranda” to raise public awareness at the North Mankato Fun Days Parade (July) and the Homecoming Parade on the local campus of Minnesota State University (October).
  • Supported university students in their first efforts to promote Fair Trade among peers.
  • Used a regular presence at the Mankato Farmers’ Market to talk with shoppers about Fair Trade and affirm the “Buy Local, Buy Fair” message.
  • Spoke at a variety of local community groups as well as the university.
  • Marked World Fair Trade Day and Fair Trade month with events in a variety of locations – coffee shops, libraries and book shops as well as churches.

Encouraging the 3rdFair Trade High School

Loyola Catholic School WFTD 2012 event in downtown Mankato pub – teacher Emily Kracht and students. (The event was part live music and part silent auction – difficult to describe succinctly but entirely student-inspired.)

On May 1, 2012 Loyola Catholic School in Mankato became the first K-12 Fair Trade school, and the third Fair Trade high school, in the USA.  Loyola’s Fair Trade work started independently of MAFTTI and promises to be a major boost to Fair Trade awareness in the area, especially among the substantial Catholic population.

Rallying Supermarkets for support . . . successfully!

Our experience with supermarkets has been interesting. Mankato has four, one regional and one national chain each having two stores. MAFTTI has good contacts within one of each supermarket, but in only one instance do these effectively include the Store Director. At Cub West (part of SUPERVALU chain ) the Store Director actually states an interest in responding to local customer demand. This is not a ubiquitous attitude, it seems, and is something to cultivate when encountered.

Cub West and MAFTTI now have a good working relationship, the result of personal and organized lobbying by MAFTTI over a couple of years at both local and corporate levels. MAFTTI’s distinctive one-sheet Fair Trade shopping guide has also helped, being spotted by staff in the hands of customers. This year, for the first time, Fair Trade bananas have been stocked on a sustained basis, as well as other soft fruit when available.  Interestingly, the Store Director is receiving enquiries from some of his peers elsewhere in the Cub Foods network about his experience in providing Fair Trade produce, as well as packaged products.

Lessons & Challenges Along the Way

What are the lessons from MAFTTI’s first three years?  Outside a big city environment it is a matter of making the most of the opportunities available.  Strengthening Fair Trade does not require the presence of Ten Thousand Villages or Ben and Jerry’s, though it would be nice to have them.

The major challenge ahead?  Lowering the average age of a dedicated and active Steering Committee, and key supporters, and enabling MAFTTI to become a “networked non-profit” in ways that most of us would not begin to understand.


Stay connected to what is going on at Mankato Area Fair Trade Town Initiative, such as their recent North Mankato Fun Days Parade, by checking out their Facebook and blog, or by contacting them through their Fair Trade Towns USA page.


  1. Great job!

    Chicago Fair Trade

    Art Perez - 12 years ago
  2. So glad they are carrying Equal Exchange bananas! True commitment. Let’s get them into more Cub stores around the area.

    Jessica - 12 years ago

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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.