NORTHAMPTON – The next time Mayor Mary Clare Higgins holds her Hot
Chocolate Run to raise money for survivors of domestic violence, the
hot chocolate will come from a cooperative in an underdeveloped country
where farmers are earning a fair price for their product.

That might not change the world, but it’s a start.

Supporters of a recent resolution naming Northampton a “Fair Trade
Town” are hoping that public awareness is among the its byproducts.
Endorsed by the City Council on Thursday, the measure calls for
Northampton and its residents to buy products certified as Fair Trade
items. That designation is given only after the farms and factories
that produce the products pass inspection for labor and environmental
practices and are guaranteed a fair price.

Alexandra H. Mello, who volunteers
as the Northampton Fair Trade Coordinator, said the concept can be
distilled into a simple cup of coffee. For example, the beans used to
make the coffee might be grown by indigenous farmers in Central America
who have historically found it difficult to get a fair, stable price
for their product. Importers working within the Fair Trade concept will
guarantee that stable price as long as their farms meet Fair Trade
standards. By buying those products locally, consumers in Northampton
can help those abroad raise their standard of living.

“Northampton is a fairly aware town,” Mello said. “We want people to
know where things are made, to know you’re helping someone, to know
that there was no child labor involved. This is a program that works.
It’s not charity.”

Fair Trade big in Europe

According to Mello, the Fair Trade movement has already taken hold in
Europe, where more than 300 communities have adopted the policy.
Northampton is the sixth to do so in the United States, by Mello’s
count. Amherst endorsed Fair Trade last year.

“It’s just getting going in the U.S.,” Mello said. “It’s a real, sustainable way to address poverty.”

Residents encouraged to participate

Although the city government has few opportunities beyond the Hot
Chocolate Run to buy Fair Trade products, the resolution encourages
residents to buy chocolate, bananas, vanilla, flowers, handicrafts and
other products under the Fair Trade aegis. The Web site lists 28 business in Northampton that carry Fair Trade products, most of which are marked with a Fair Trade symbol.

The resolution extends the concept to locally produced items, urging people to “Buy Local, Buy Fair.”

Organizers are also planning a series of events to educate the public
about Fair Trade and the plight of farmers and crafts people in
underdeveloped countries. Mello said a farmer from Peru is scheduled to
come to Northampton to talk about conditions there on May 10, World
Fair Trade Day.