A Valentine’s Day ribbon cutting by Ann Schwab, the mayor of Chico, Calif., highlighted years of impressive community leadership of two Equal Exchange partners in the town. Activists Jim Henson and Liza Tedesco brought together dozens of businesses, non-profits, student groups, and churches to build momentum to make Chico just the tenth city in the nation to declare itself a Fair Trade Town.

Jim Henson is a central figure and longtime volunteer with the Chico Peace and Justice Center. The Chico Peace and Justice Center is a community-based, non-profit organization whose mission is “Building justice through peace and peace through justice.” The center works for social change through education, community building, and direct action, and is dedicated to bringing an end to violent conflicts among nations and individuals. CPJC is an offshoot of the Chico Peace Endeavor, which has been working for nonviolent change since 1960.

Jim pioneered bringing together the Fair Trade community with the immigrants’ rights community in Chico, and thanks to his efforts, today the annual march in May is a festive, crowded celebration of a real global village. He has worked with Equal Exchange as a customer and advocate since 1998 and taught us how to move beyond being a supplier to the local co-op and become an active supporter of the community.

The Chico Natural Foods Co-op is the wonderful local community-owned store that has supported small-scale farmers and co-operative development since its founding in 1972. Chico Co-op has purchased Equal Exchange coffee for nearly two decades. In 2007, the co-op invested in getting to know the coffee farmers better by sending a manager, Liza Tedesco, on an Equal Exchange-led trip to live and work with our farmer partners of CEPICAFE in Peru.

Upon returning from the trip, Liza became a community leader, speaking at the “This Way to Sustainability” conference in November 2007. She collaborated with the Chico Peace and Justice Center to organize a Fair Trade meeting for local women. In May 2008, she hosted Juan Jesus Castillo, one of the farmers she visited in Peru, during Juan’s visit to the U.S.

The Chico Peace & Justice Center and the Chico Natural Foods Co-op teamed up on an event in October 2008 to host a big event for Fair Trade Month 2008. The food tasting booths and informational tables they set up inside the store, while Liza and Jim spoke on the local community radio station KZFR 90.1FM in the parking lot of the co-op, welcomed the community to learn more about the farmers who grow their food, and incorporated local growers into the effort. The event was the springboard for the work which one year later allowed Chico Mayor Schwab to declare that Fair Trade ” gives people in Chico a chance to help their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. By paying fair prices, producers in developing countries are empowered to invest in their communities and protect their environment.”

Equal Exchange is blessed to have activists and visionaries like Jim and Liza to prod us in doing an ever-better job bringing together consumers and farmers and to inspire us and all our supporters about what is possible.