At the end of a sunny and hot day in the coffee fields, I met Florinda and other farm workers in the Mogiana region in Brazil in one of my trips this year. Despite their long day, we had a humor-filled conversation that made us all smile and laugh.
When I was talking to her, I realized I did not remember her name so I asked for her name again. Florinda told me: “My name is Florinda, every time you see a flower you have to remember me.” (her name begins with flor, flower in Portuguese). Everyone laughed. These days, many times when I see Fair Trade flowers, I still remember Florinda.
I discussed with the workers the concept of Fair Trade for the first time. I find it tricky to talk about Fair Trade “abstractly”, before a farm has been certified and created social premium for the workers. I try to be careful in the expectations I could create about Fair Trade and try to have an open conversation about how Fair Trade has worked in other places and what challenges and opportunities it could create. That day I explained to the workers the ideas we were trying to pilot in Brazil. I mentioned that one of the ideas behind Fair Trade is for the consumers to have a stronger connection with the farm workers and vice versa. We want the consumers to pay a little bit more for the coffee if that ‘little extra’ goes to the farm workers directly so workers can democratically chose and implement projects to benefit their families and communities.
Florinda is in her 60’s (she is the first person at the left of the picture below). She told me that Fair Trade premium could help with computers classes for her and the rest of the “older crowd” in the community. She wants to know about computers so she is not “left behind”. Many kids know now about computers but the ‘older crowd’ does not know how to use the internet. After this conversation, the rest of this group agreed with Florinda and they thought that Fair Trade premium could be used to learn about computers, especially so the older ones can learn about computers and are not left behind.
We are still trying to figure out if the farm where Florinda works will be part of our work in Brazil. I hope so. I think that U.S. consumers will be very receptive to her ideas of helping everyone in the community out and supporting Florinda’s dream of learning about computers so she is not ‘left behind’.