Content of my upcoming book: The Cultural and Political Intersection of Fair Trade & Justice.
Due out in Sept. 2013.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Monday, August 5, 2013
IQL and Sociology Students Research Support and Understanding of Fair Trade and Find More Awareness is Needed in the US
Keene State College students, as part of their Introduction to Quantitative Literacy class, issued a report finding that the College continues its sustainability efforts with strong support for fair trade – a means of supporting disadvantaged producers and allowing for the sustainability of their products, culture, workers, and the environment. The report indicates that in 2012, Keene State consumed fair trade products on campus valued at $493,000, which is an 18 percent increase over those sold in the year 2011. The College has also greatly expanded awareness of the issue of fair trade.
Dr. Tamara Stenn, adjunct professor in Keene State College’s Sciences and Social Sciences Department, led student research in her Introduction to Quantitative Literacy course. The class teaches students proper analytical skills when examining quantitative data.
“The research conducted by my students and the resulting report provided both an important research opportunity and a snapshot of Keene State’s commitment to sustainability,” said Dr. Stenn. “Our study has shown that while fair trade is not yet a prioritized value in our society, there is much to be examined and great potential with the growth of its awareness. I look forward to the possibility of expanding on this research in the future.”
In conjunction with Professor Margaret Walsh’s Sociological Research Methods class, a study instrument was developed and tested in fall of 2011. The next year, students conducted studies of the Keene State College and Keene populations, noting their findings about local knowledge and support of fair trade. The students found that a large percentage of the US population is either uneducated on fair trade or do not feel it is their concern. The study also revealed a growing interest in fair trade through the presence of the internet. The research findings will be featured in a book authored by Dr. Stenn, titled “The Cultural and Political Intersection of Fair Trade and Justice”, which will be released in September of this year.
“It’s great to see a growing student interest in fair trade on campus,” said Mary Jensen, Keene State College Campus Sustainability Officer. “The fair trade products sold on campus and the awareness programs run by students and faculty help to address social justice issues that are a core component of sustainability.”
In 2012, the College made great efforts to increase awareness of fair trade, with 11 presentations and events attended by an audience of more than 2,500 people. The total audience attendance in 2012 increased by 72 percent over 2011. In addition, 14 other faculty members at Keene State have brought fair trade discussion into their classrooms.
Keene State demonstrates fair trade with its products sold on campus. The Dining Commons uses Aspretto coffee, Diamond Crystal Brand Sugar, and Numi Brand Organic Tea. For every pound of Aspretto purchased, 10 cents is donated to Stop Hunger. Keene State purchased 3,141 pounds of coffee, raising $314 for the Stop Hunger Foundation. Lloyd’s Bean and Bagel supports Equal Exchange Tea and Chocolate, and has sold various fair trade flavors of Green Mountain Coffee. Sodexo also paired up with the Stop Hunger Foundation, which aims to end child hunger. More info: http://www.keene.edu/news/stories/detail/students-report-findings-from-fair-trade-research/
Sunday, July 28, 2013
By Lisa Crawford
Fair Trade has come a long way recently. The idea that producers in developing countries could market their products to other parts of the world as anything other than cheap and low quality was seen by many as a non-starter as little as twenty years ago. Nowadays, the Fair Trade ethos has spread throughout Europe and North America, particularly among student consumers. In terms of clothing production, the garments are often hard-wearing and long lasting. Sharp entrepreneurs have quickly latched on to the power of Fair Trade where high quality clothes can often be sold at a premium, whilst offering a good deal for the original manufacturers. Hand harvested fleece from free range alpacas is the yarn of choice for KusiKuy’s wide range of Fair Trade knitwear including delightful sweaters that are designed to last eight years. What could be a more thrifty and ethical a product - for the financially stretched student - than that? Students from Keene State College certainly seem to be embracing the program, whether it is for ethical reasons or because of the long lasting nature of the products. They claimed this year that Fair Trade on-campus retail had grown 18 per cent.
Of course, one of the appeals of Fair Trade clothing, such as the eight year sweater, is that it has an ethical dimension. Fair Trade certification means that consumers can purchase clothing in the knowledge that they are fostering sustainable development in the producing country. Not only that, they should be aware that a higher proportion of their dollar spend is going back to the producer, as opposed to an anonymous middle man. Farmers who produce the raw material for Fair Trade clothing are also encouraged to develop environmentally friendly measures. Eco-friendly, sustainable and - above all - fairly produced clothes have a unique selling point over other fashion items. If you add to that hard-wearing qualities, the clothing range or product is usually a winner.
The Financial Squeeze
Many new students are simply deferring their financial woes until after they graduate by using loans. Some senators have recently spoken out about proposed federal student loan schemes for which interest rates rise after an initial low period, or teaser rate. The necessity of loans for a good proportion of students is not the only way to deal with the financial squeeze, however. The International Student Identity Card allows students to access the same sort of retail discounts in stores around the globe as they can at home. Using student store discounts is one of the most heavily promoted means by which students can reduce their expenditure. Fair Trade retailers need to remember just how price sensitive their student customers are and create more thrifty and longer lasting clothing along the lines of the KusiKuy eight year sweater.
Defending The Fair Trade Brand
Identifying students as the key group for the continued success and growth of the Fair Trade brand in clothing is one thing, but sustaining that growth is another. Products obviously need to be appealing to a discerning target group of consumers who often make their fashion choices very carefully, due to limited funds. Any consumer, student or not, needs to have total confidence in the Fair Trade brand. Labeling of fairly produced clothes needs to be clear, concise and comply with the regulations set out by the government for textile, apparel, footwear and travel goods. Fiber content and the country of origin are both essential things the label should make clear. Features, such as longevity of design and hard-wearing material, should be pointed out as a market differentiator from regular clothes.
Building The Fair Trade Clothing Brand
Clothing producers and retailers need only look at the rise in Fair Trade coffee over the last decade to be satisfied there is a real interest in developing the brand. Look at the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s who have not only begun to offer Fair Trade coffee, but co-branded with it. For many investors Fair Trade offers huge potential if it grows at anywhere near the rate of the now $15 billion organic market. If it continues to produce long lasting products, like the eight year sweater, there’s no reason why it should not.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
A regenerative enterprise is like an apple tree whose main function is to produce offspring, except besides just producing offspring (seeds) it also produces an abundance of fruit, wood, mulch and shade from its leaves, and micro-environments amongst its roots. It is meeting its main function of propagation and providing other functions as well. The apple tree however, can not achieve propagation alone, it needs the bees to fertilize its flowers and make viable seeds, worms and insects to turn its leaf mulch into compost for its roots, and water and sunlight to grow.
An example of a regenerative enterprise is Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) Cow Power program which uses customer financial support to help equip dairy farmers with anaerobic digesters that convert cow manure into methane gas which is fed into a gas engine that spins a generator, creating electricity and heat. The heat is repurposed to keep the anaerobic digester warm and the electricity is fed into the grid for use by GMP customers. Last year a dozen farms with thousands of cows participated in the program which was funded at a rate of four cents per kilowatt hour by individual GMP users and large Vermont companies such as Middlebury College, Drew’s All Natural and the Killington Resort. An example of a farm’s regenerative output is seen in Green Mountain Dairy in Albany, Vermont which has 1,050 milk cows producing over 20 million pounds of milk a year and generating about 1.828 million kilowatt-hours of electricity (greenmountainpower.com).
Like the apple tree, a regenerative enterprise cannot do it alone. GMP relies on the contribution of farmers, customers and conversion technology to support Cow Power. Unlike mono-capitalist models where financial gain is the main objective, regenerative enterprises must exist within a regenerative capitalism system where outputs are as varied as the apple trees’. GMP individual and business participants are losing financial capital to support this model by voluntarily paying a few cents extra per kilowatt, farmers are losing financial capital through unreimbursed labor, time and space, and converter technologies are gaining financial capital as their conversion systems are purchased and used.
However like apple trees growing within a complex natural environment, regenerative enterprises operate in capitalism system that encompasses more than just financial capital. A regenerative capitalism system is composed of eight forms of capitalism, according to authors Ethan Roland and Gregory Landau (http://www.8forms.org). Besides financial capital, there is also materials capital or raw materials, social capital or relationships, spiritual capital or a connection to a greater whole, intellectual capital or ideas and knowledge, experiential capital from personal experience, cultural capital seen in community, songs, story and art, and living capital seen in our natural environment.
Ironically the way in which these systems are visually presented in a circle around the nucleus of capital, mimics the parts of the Andean Cross. I wrote about the Andean Cross in a previous article about Suma Qamana, a South American model of living well where needs are met for all. This is a parallel model to regenerative capitalism. The Andean cross is made up of yachay or knowing, munay or loving, ruray or doing, ushay or power. Superimposing the regenerative capitalism model on the Andean Cross creates clusters of similarities. Experiential and intellectual capital become yachay (knowing), spiritual and social capital become munay (loving), financial and material capital become ruray (doing) and cultural and living capital become usay (power – meaning the power of past histories, place based stories and beliefs). The commonalities of these two independently created models, Suma Qamana with its roots in indigenous ways of being and regenerative capitalism with its roots in permaculture, speak of our shared humanity and place on a single planet.
Understanding GMP Cow Power as regenerative capitalism broadens the way one is able to understand the role and importance of the players in the model. Where at first there seemed to be solely financial capital winners and losers now there is more. The individuals and businesses financially supporting the program gain living and material capital as they help support the creation of new energy saving resources and protect the environment. Farmers gain experiential and social capital as they share farm management skills and participate in a project with a greater community. The companies that supply the conversion systems gain financial and intellectual capital as they are paid for their expertise. GMP gains material, social, living, intellectual, and experiential capital as it uses its expertise and direction to support the project. There is no financial capital gain for GMP because surplus earnings are redirected to an independently managed Renewable Development Fund used for education, grants and incentives to support renewable generation technology and methods.
A purely financial capital growth based model is degenerative instead of regenerative, it creates goods and services solely for financial gain resulting in drained resources, communities, and environments. To be regenerative, the eight forms of capital need to be valued and incorporated in to our ways of being. When companies think regeneratively, new possibilities open up. Waste can be transformed into usable goods, partnerships form and technologies are shared. To engage in further conversation about regenerative enterprises, eight forms of capital and Suma Qamana, please join author and professor, Dr. Tamara Stenn for a tea and a chat at the Twilight Tea Lounge on 41 Main Street, Brattleboro, Thursday, Aug, 1st from 6-7pm during the monthly Fair Trade Towns discussion or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Across the Andes people are leaving their aspirations for the good life, defined as material gain and influence, choosing instead to live well, or Suma Qamana, a Quechua term which defines a concept where people live in harmony with their community, environment and work collectively to meet their needs. Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador have all adopted the language of Suma Qamana into their national constitutions making it a law to protect the earth and community. This is seen in Bolivia in the national banning of GMOs, big box stores and in the development of university degree programs in solidarity economy – a hybrid economic model that includes monetary and non-monetary transactions with a focus on justice and sustainability. The result is a steady 5% annual growth rate (GDP) in the past three years.
Suma Qamana has its roots in the Andean way of being which is based on the four points of the Cruz Andino, the constellation known in the Southern Cross. There are four dynamics which guide actions and provide balance for daily living. These are ushay, historical power, ancestors; yachay, knowing; munay, loving and ruray, doing. The four points of the cross are guided by the belief that all share a common wisdom regardless of one’s formal education or socio-economic status and that time is a spiral through which one is constantly moving as thoughts and actions transform from the future to the present to the past. There is no linear model with a beginning and end, all are in constant motion and transformation.
I presented Suma Qamana as a workshop at the recent Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro. Participants were invited to map their projects on the four points of the Cruz Andino. As participants began to think of their projects in the context of ancestors, love and power, a shift occurred. Once disparate projects took on a new, deeply integrated nuance. For example, a community garden gifting project in Montpelier took on new meaning as its ushay (power) rooted in shared wisdom from the past emerged as input from elders on gardening techniques; yachay (knowing) was experienced as community members sharing gardening wisdom with each other and opening their gardens to the each other; munay (love) took place in the gifting of garden harvests to anyone who wanted them; and ruray (doing) was the actual planting and tending of the gardens. As in many of our robust Vermont communities, there are often several groups working on similar themes of resilience, community building and sustainability. Mapping them together showed where there was room for partnering, balancing and places for collaboration.
Suma Qamana, developed by Andean scholars from within the modern capitalist model, does not outwardly appear radically different from our world today. The difference, explains Catherine Walsh, Director at Ecuador’s Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, is that instead of being guided by wisdom as Suma Qamana is, the capitalist model is guided by dominance. Dominance can be understood as competition with a winner and loser in each type of wisdom experienced in the Andean model. For example ushay in a dominance model can been seen as having power over one’s community, place or past. The colonial era is an example of a collective ushay of dominance, as colonists took land and sovereignty from others. Yahcay in a dominance model is the valuing of certain types of education over others. An example is the higher regard given to someone with an advanced degree such as a doctor or lawyer than someone with a high school diploma. Munay in a dominance model is a quantitative love recognized by how many partners and friends one may have; the more Facebook likes on has the better they are. Ruray in a dominance model is about wealth; those who earn more are seen as better than those who earn less.
In a wisdom based model, these differences exist but are not valued in the same way as the dominance interpretation. One may have more friends, earn more or be better educated but they are seen as equal as a part of the community as someone without friends, a formal education or wealth. In the Andean way of being, wealth of some is countered by the lack of it in others and makes for a diverse, balanced community. For example a person who is good at earning money might not be good at gardening. A person who is good at gardening might no be good at earning money. Working together as a community, all needs are met; the wealthy person can pay gardening expenses and the knowledgeable person can provide technical skills. The gardener is not being hired by the wealthy person per se, but rather by combining wealth and knowledge together, a collective need is met and a spirit of reciprocity, giving, receiving, and respect is built.
What would our community and towns look like if we shared wisdom rather than competing or struggling alone to meet our needs? Many organizations are already starting to do this. For more about the Andean ways of being, Suma Qamana, and community building contact Tamara Stenn email@example.com. Dr. Tamara Stenn is a professor, scholar and trainer of sustainable development.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Brattleboro – a represented community
Bolivia, is defined as the poorest country of the Americas based on their total revenue produced (GDP) which has doubled in the last decade but still is less than $5,000 per person per year (CIA Factbook, 2013). But Bolivians are not impoverished. Behind the country’s feeble earnings are creative and collaborative ways of living well which include community participation, collaboration, barter, self sufficiency and an average retail mark-up of just 30%, as opposed to the standard 100% used in the US. So while earnings are low, so are expenses and what thrives are communities, not markets. The Bolivians call this “Suma Qamana” or living well, and have written it into their constitution making this way of being a national law supported by government ministries, universities and elected officials, all with very little funding. A recent research trip to the mountainous Bolivian coffee jungles brought me to the small town of Caranavi, which shared remarkable similarities to Brattleboro - in the summer. Seeing Suma Qamana in practice in Caranavi, opened my imagination to how it could be realized in Brattleboro as well. The following is a short essay explaining how.
In the Yungas jungles of Bolivia’s Andes Mountains lies the little town of Caranavi. Like Brattleboro, it is nestled in the hills, beside a river, surrounded by farms and forests and stretching out several square miles. Like Brattleboro, community members come from many different places. In this case it’s mostly highlanders looking for new opportunities and something a bit warmer than their climate change-ravaged altiplano farms, while in Brattleboro it seems to be flatlanders seeking out hills and nature. Like Brattleboro, Caranavi is a busy little hub with the big city four hours away (La Paz, instead of New York). Like Brattleboro it is sensitive to the nature surrounding it and supports the development of small farms and sustainable, organic agriculture.
As Brattleboro is known for its artisanal cheeses and farmers’ markets, Caranavi is known for its Fair Trade, organic coffee grown on small, family farms. Already Bolivia’s coffee capitol, Caranavi is working to become the organic capital of Bolivia too, heartily embracing sustainable farming techniques, crop diversification, and environmental protection. Residents petition their national government for organic farming training programs and request that their mayor support efforts in developing organic certifications and promoting the region as an organic agro-tourism and healing destination. Like Brattleboro, Caranavi is an environmental innovator. For example, they have an active recycling program in a country where it is still considered proper to throw trash out the window or leave it roadside while Brattleboro has curbside composting in a country where it is still considered proper to throw kitchen scraps into a landfill. Caranavi, like Brattleboro is peppered with many different types of business, schools, restaurants and tourism. Caranavi got this way through its embracement of a system known as Community Economy (economia comunitaria) which grew from Bolivia’s Suma Qamana model of living well (bien vivir), instead of better.
Community Economy is a way of organizing and working together so everyone is represented, and has their needs recognized and met. For example, when several dirt roads needed to be repaired and expanded, the community asked the mayor for the work to be done. Bolivia is a monetarily poor country, so there was no budget for the job. This did not faze the community which collaborated with the mayor to find a creative solution. In this case, community members donated labor and materials for road construction and shared a community usage fee of about $10 each to raise enough capital to purchase additional supplies and rent heavy machinery. This provided a win-win for everyone, community members acquired better roads and the mayor helped the community to meet a need. Community Economy is not just about projects, it is about a way of being where people are deeply connected through a democratic process with mandatory participation. Each community has bi-weekly meetings with a community member hosting the meeting. This member host then meets monthly with an annually elected community representative and quarterly with the mayor and municipal governing board. This way needs, resources, ideas and relationships are shared and creative collaboration easily arises. Reflective of the Andean Cross and indigenous systems of balance, Suma Qamana, is not just about doing but also about being able, knowing and loving. The community organizing mentioned above reflects this where each community member takes a turn being a host, shares knowledge and has a recognized place in the community.
It is inspiring to see others’ innovative solutions from afar, but imaging it happening here creates a different experience. If Brattleboro was organized the way Caranavi was, everyone would be a part of a community sector with mandatory meetings, projects, and representation. As a town of about 12,000 people spread out over 32 square miles, Brattleboro could be divided into its three voting districts with each district represented by a democratically elected annual volunteer representative. The district representative would meet bi-weekly with district residents, monthly with the other two district representatives and quarterly with the Brattleboro select board.
Each district would have about 4,000 people in it representing about 1,000 households. The households would be organized into 40 community sectors with 25 households in each sector. There would be a two-tiered model of representation involving 40 local representatives, or hosts, and the three district representatives. The local host position would rotate every six weeks and be shared by each household. Local hosts would lead mandatory, bi-weekly meetings with their 25 households, most likely meeting in a church, school, business, or community center. Following the Caranavi model, local families would be obligated to participate in the bi-weekly, hour-long, meetings by sending a family member who was at least 16 years old or be charged a $20 non-participation fine with funds going into a community account that members would determine how to spend on an annual basis.
After three meetings, the local host position would go to the next family in line who would fill the position for the next three turns (six weeks). During the community meetings, anything about the community could be discussed, from neighbors’ health and family news, to new ideas such as Transition Towns initiatives, to education, taxes, roads, energy resilience, composting, health, gardens, nutrition, and emergency preparedness.
The 40 local hosts would also attend a 90-minute, monthly meeting with their district representative. This meeting would most likely take place at the Brattleboro Union High School. In Caranavi it took place at the Town Hall. Hosts would spend 45 minutes sharing news from their communities. This sounds like a short amount of time for 40 people, but because these communities meet regularly, they are familiar with each others’ news and are mostly receiving updates rather than presenting new information. For the remaining 45 minutes, the local hosts would look on as the three district representatives reported out district needs, news and events. Organizations and businesses wanting to network with the district communities would be invited to attend these meetings to see where their interests might fit.
The final tier of participation would take place with two-hour long, quarterly meetings between the three district representatives, and the Select Board. Like monthly Select Board meetings today, these could be filmed and aired live to residents via the local cable channel and internet. Larger projects and initiatives could be discussed at these events. Information and communications would travel both up and down the organization as representatives presented new ideas from the district to the broader region and gathered new ideas to bring back to their district communities. In Caranavi, the newspapers and local television channel reported on the quarterly meetings.
Caranavi was not always so collaborative. Ten years ago the communities were isolated and competitive. By engaging in Suma Qamana and Community Economy the region learned that all gain when the work and risk is shared by many. Participants such as 22-year-old single mother and district representative, Esther Alonqa, report that now members were not left behind like before and neighbors who rarely saw each other now enjoy regular contact. In addition, as she experienced, youth were empowered by their participation and being given an important place in the community. “Our youth are given access to leadership roles and a place in which to be respected,” she explained. Being organized, active and vibrant like this creates more opportunity. New ideas come forth as there is now a regular space in which for them to be heard. “Members do not always to agree on things,” Alonqa stated, “but their ideas and opinions need to be known.” By having a regular space to communicate together over the long term, these differences become less polarized, other ideas emerge, as issues are slowly worked out through public discussion.
Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen writes of the need for public reasoning in order for justice to take place. Public reasoning is an open discussion that creates a place for debate and, in time, understanding. It gives voice to those who are not commonly heard and creates a sphere of equality where ideas can freely flow (Sen, 2009). Suma Qamana provides the place for this discussion. Wouldn’t it be interesting to imagine Brattleboro as bringing forth greater justice through the engagement in participatory models such as Community Economy and Suma Qamana? To learn more about this participate in Stenn’s session Seeing the Solidarity Economy through Suma Qamana at the Slow Living Summit, on Friday, June 9th at 10:30am in the Marlboro College Tech Center, Room Two East. Stenn is an author and researcher in sustainable community development and an interdisciplinary adjunct professor at Keene State College. She is the founder of Fair Trade Towns Brattleboro and Fair Trade Keene State College as well as slow fashion, natural fiber, handmade clothing company, KUSIKUY.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Experiential Spanish, developed by Dr. Tamara Stenn, is a holistic way of learning language in a context that creates meaning and builds comprehension mimicking how people actually acquire, process, and retain language. Grounded in the pedagogy of “Core Fluency” which guides learners through, “fun, interactive experiences in Spanish, personalized, real conversations, interactive storytelling, and comprehensible readings,” Experiential Spanish also incorporates visual arts, nature, cooking and music into its curricula (corefluency.com, 2013). Its structure comes from grounded theory in second language acquisition that states, “the learning of rules might be seen as a recycling process gradually leading to their internalization” (Aramayo Prudencio, 2006). The recycling process means that lessons are designed around a grammar structure and vocabulary that participants engage in and re-use, figuring out the rules and words in the process. Worksheets and written instruction are also provided to help facilitate learning.
Stenn, a native English speaker, developed the Experiential Spanish method based on her own Spanish-as-a-second-language acquisition experience and her studies in experiential learning at the School for International Training. She shares 20 years of Spanish language experience, having lived and worked in Bolivia with travels to Mexico, Spain and Nicaragua. Stenn, a professor at Keene State College, teaches conversational Spanish to both adults and children from beginner to intermediate levels. Jill Stahl, Director of Arriba Spanish writes of Stenn, “She was consistently positive and upbeat, determined to make the experience of learning another language as fun and memorable as possible.”
Experiential Spanish classes are now forming in the Brattleboro area. Groups of three to five meet for one hour, two times a week, for six weeks and cost $180 each. Private tutoring rates are $25 an hour. Contact Tamara for more information at 802-254-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes can be held at her Marlboro, VT home or off-site.