Posts Tagged 'fair trade'

Valentine’s Day Wine Tasting

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Call your grandmother.

To help you pick a bottle to celebrate your loved ones today, I had a wine tasting this weekend.  Experimental Setup:  About a dozen people, five bottles of wine (to taste- there were some warm-ups), in my apartment, with a wine aroma guide to help us narrow down the smells and tastes.   I’ve managed to find most of the tasting notes my wonderful tasters left behind, and I’ve compiled them (at least the printable ones- descriptions got a bit creative) for you.

These were the wines.  Four of them are made from organic grapes, and the Bus Stop White is certified Fair Trade.  I got the Bonterra Syrah and Orleans Hill Cote Zero (no idea what grape combo that is- bottle has no clues) at the Harris Teeter near Foxchase.  They had a decent selection of organic wine, but hidden in with the normal wines, so you have to hunt.  The Vida Organica and Fairhills came from Whole Foods in Old Town.  The Badger Mountain is from a Trader Joe’s.  None of the bottles cost more than $16, and most were under $10.

In the order we tasted, then:

FairHills Bus Stop White, 2009.  Fair Trade Certified.  Like “getting punched in the face by a grapefruit”.  Lots of citrus fruits, and some people mentioned notes of grass and haystraw.  Best for sipping on a warmer day on a sunnier porch.  I can never think of anything to pair these citrusy whites with myself, but one taster suggested food in cream sauces.

Badger Mountain Chardonnay, 2008.  Organic Vineyard. Smelled of “crazybutter” (yes one word) with some sort of nut undertones (someone said cashews, but I’m pretty sure they were joking).  Nice creamy finish on the taste.  I think drinking it with a meal would pull out some other nice flavors, and it would pair well with spicy foods.

A note on the reds:  I should have let them breathe more.  All three were strong and spicy, and a few minutes of air or decanting would have mellowed them and brought out more flavors.  Note-taking had also, totally understandably, lost its novelty by this point in the evening.

Orleans Hill Cote Zero, 2008.  Organic.  Smelled strongly of alcohol, with various bits of cloves, pepper, tobacco, and raspberries (“like eating a cigarette while snorting a raspberry”).  Would go pretty well with a pizza or other garlic-y tomato-y things.

Bonterra Syrah, 2005.  Organically grown grapes.  We got lots of prunes, raisins, plums, and a bit of pepper here.  The finish was dry.  Seemed like a serious red for a meal of meats.

Vida Organica Malbec, 2009.  Organic grapes.  This is one of my favorites, but it divided the tasting community (at least the ones still paying attention).  Several of us who tend to like malbecs liked it, and others found it completely unappetizing.  More time to breathe would have helped, but we smelled lots of alcohol initially, and some noted green tea taste on the ending- a little dryness.  After plenty of swirling, the raspberry and other dark berry flavors came out, plus the spice on the finish.  The pro-malbec contingent advises you to pair it with anything delicious, since we remember it being really great, but we weren’t really getting very specific at that juncture.

Voila.  Hope it helps!  Have a great Valentine’s Day!

GreenFestival: Part 1

Part 2 is where I talk about the exciting intellectual part, so part 1 is mostly about how I like their decorations.


I liked their decoration ok, though that colorful thing belongs at a preschool, not at the Convention Center.  More photos in the albumz.

I headed over to GreenFestival Sunday (EcoCheap saw the McDonough talk Saturday, so I’ll link you to him when he blogs on it- EC!  BLOG!), and I’m bad at reading charts, so I didn’t see Barbara Ehrenreich speak.  But I did wander around confusedly, and take things from vendors, and pay $5 for mango juice, and see Robert Engelman’s talk on More.

First, I don’t exactly recommend you go to the GreenFestival just to wander around the booths.  They had a bunch of different kinds of booths- fair trade sellers, national organic brands, organic groceries, Planet Green, a bunch of advocacy groups running the gamut from suits to hippies, green builder companies, etc.   Plus people selling mostly vegetarian food, but I’d had breakfast.  So there’s lots to see, but mostly so you can take a flyer or a free sample or get interrogated about your planned home renovations.  The fair trade shopping was very gifty-for-gift sake.  If this is your thing, do enjoy.

No, go for the speakers!  The speakers were all great.  I assume.  EC said his was great, the talk I saw was great.  Definitely go for that- they offer a ton of topics (yes, LITERALLY), and plenty of juice for your mind grapes.  No, fertilizer so you get plenty of juice from your mind grapes.  Yes, better analogy.

Anyway, the highlight for me was Engelman’s talk, since it cleared up some of my confusion after reading his book.  I also got to have a short chat with him.  That will be part 2.  If you want a shorter (than his book) summary of his book, he recommends you try this review at CultureChange.  See, now I don’t even have to review it! Part 2 accomplished.

I will anyway, since that is the nature of a blogger.

How Fair is Fair?

In an article yesterday, BusinessWeek explored a debate going on about the rise of fair trade certifications and labels.  Some fair trade organizations are criticizing the main US FT label, TransFair, for expanding the FT labeling program so quickly and widely in the past few years.  The label once mostly applied to coffee and tea has spread to fruits and flowers, and TransFair would like to take it into other industries, too, like garment production.

These critics say that giving fair trade certifications to large farms and plantations goes against the spirit of fair trading, given the history of worker exploitation on some of those  farms.  Plus, what with all the new groups being investigated for the labels, there aren’t enough oversight resources to make sure that the farmers, and farms, stay fair.

TransFair disagrees:

Part of the problem Rice and Wal-Mart face is the difficulty of applying the same standards of equity and economics to different types of crops. While half of the global production of coffee comes from small farms, it takes a larger operation to compete in bananas, tea, cut flowers, or sugar. “The disadvantaged majority would be locked out of the market if I were to look for only small farms for bananas and tea,” says Rice.

It’s a reasonable disagreement, and an important discussion to have while the movement is growing- but don’t let it dissuade you from buying Fair Trade.

Products that are fair-trade certified are made under better working conditions, and direct more resources back to the folks who make them than otherwise would ever happen.  It’s a sustainable way to grow both business and community resources.  But one definition of “fair” isn’t going to work everywhere.  Maybe they could have a label that was just for “Fair Enough”- or better yet, some kind of label information about what practices the group producing the item worked under.

In the end, though, I’d rather TransFair push their certification programs too far than not far or fast enough.

Eco-City Alexandria Charter

I was walking through Old Town yesterday, on the way to get my mom a fairly-traded mother’s day gift, when I saw a flyer for the Eco-City Alexandria Summit.  Well, well!  The city is working with the local campus of the Virginia Tech graduate program in Urban Planning to create a plan for future sustainable development, and that’s the grad program I’m interested in attending, so apparently the stars are aligned well lately. Except the fair trade store was closed for the evening already, so one star was AWOL.

The process has already begun the planning stages. Good summaries and some interesting documents are already posted at the website. Community leaders got together to discuss some ideas in March, and the Summit is a chance for local citizens to make commentary and add to the outline. It will be held Saturday, May 10, at TC Williams High School, from 8:30 to 2:30. Breakfast and lunch are involved, and registration is free, though they want an RSVP to by next Friday or Saturday- they’ve asked for “Friday May 3”, but Saturday is May 3rd, so.

I had plans to be in a sewing class the 10th, but this is more important- especially since I fancy myself a local sustainability blogger. I’m going to have to expand “local” to actually include more than my back deck. I’m pretty out of touch with local goings-on. Apparently they’re announcing the Environmental Charter from the March Eco-City meeting at the Earth Day celebration today in Ben Brenman Park (on Duke St, across from the ugly library)? I didn’t know we had an Earth Day celebration, so I should probably pick up a local paper or read the local county website ever.

But I know now, I’m signing up today, and I’ll report back. Thus begins my descent into local activism.

(I am a little afraid of being an “activist”. Why can’t growing my own food be enough? But I know it’s not enough.)

The Vicinity of My Head

From recently inside my head, two quick follow-ups, then a review of external bits:

First, still on the fence about buying into Valentine’s day? Reuter’s has a dampening article on the child labor and human trafficking that go into producing much of the world’s cocoa, harsh chemicals dumped on roses and inhaled by farm workers, and those crazy war diamonds. Get off the fence and try something else! If the dear heart’s heart is set on chocolate, check out fair trade chocolate options. (My head? It is now salivating.)

Second, Mike Bloomberg is chastising the US government for promoting corn ethanol as a viable fuel. Sure, it’s interesting because I talked about it yesterday (sensing a pattern in this post?), but Bloomberg has also been flirting with running for president this year. Fred Thompson has already shown us the pitfalls of merely flirting with the idea, though, and the rash (yes, rash) of interesting primary action will probably make late entries into the race less interesting by comparison. But the loud green mayor of NY seems to want to make his voice heard on the national stage, and if he’s got a message like this, let’s hear some more.

Finally, let us turn our heads to my shampoo (masculine types are dismissed, unless they’re looking for tips on how to smell not so, well, dude-like).

avalon organics shampooI’ve been trying out a few ecofriendly shampoos, and it’s been a rough process. Literally. Whole Foods brand grapefruit shampoo and conditioner left my hair feeling unwashed and unconditioned. Plus, they smell sickly-sweet. Avalon Organics has a Lavender shampoo and conditioner that smell good- like real lavender, not the fake lavender scent. Their shampoo takes a lot of work to lather (it’s not my water’s fault) and their conditioner, while promising to nourish, leaves my hair brittle even when I let it sit a while. If you like the smell, the lack of animal testing, and the “100% vegetarian ingredients”, give the shampoo a try and avoid the conditioner- though the latter might work better for you if your hair is short or oily.

trader joes conditionerReally, though, you can skip the other two brands altogether and check out Trader Joe’s store brand. Their conditioner actually conditions– and I’ve got long, curly, slightly dry hair, so that’s a tough proposition. It’s $2 a bottle, smells fantastic, wasn’t tested on animals, and it’s got mostly organic ingredients. It does contain a couple parabens, which haven’t been proven to cause breast cancer in anything. Natural health people add an ominous “yet” to that statement. Avalon Organics consciously avoids them, but hey: Avalon Organics hasn’t produced a working conditioner yet, so. I’ll keep testing. (If you can’t wait for me to come up with another suggestion, try the comments at Green as a Thistle‘s similar post.)

Sunday Special: Give a Little

It’s about that time to start wondering about the holidays- at the very least, to wonder about how to unplug those ridiculous store speakers blasting holiday music. But that’s a start, and while you’re plotting vengeance on jingle bells and window displays, save some brain space for considering how to make your holidays happier and more sustainable. No, seriously- sustainability may be the last thing on your mind in the rush of parties, last minute gifts, travel, cooking, decorating, family, and whatever else one lists in lists of potential holiday hassles, but it’ll save you money and stress.

So, Brilliant Holiday Advice (BHA) part 1: The Gift Guide.

First Rule: Before you buy someone something, figure out if they’ll actually use it. If it’s a purely decorative thing (say a bauble or perhaps a knickknack), is it “their style”? If you have no idea, don’t waste money (see gift ideas below).

Second Rule: Shopping involves ethical decisions, and those decisions don’t go away just because there’s a lot of stuff to buy. Buying fair-trade and responsible items or organic foods or sweatshop-free or recyclable and recycled things matters, and especially now, there are a lot more opportunities to shop ethically this year with a little research (good thing you’re starting early!).

Third Rule: People appreciate the thought most. If they don’t, kick them. Instead of mailing random stuff to people to indicate that you remember them, send them a handwritten note- they care more about hearing from you than odd boxes. If you have skills, make something for them. Give a huge favor- Grandmas love lawn care.

Fourth Rule: If you’re close to the giftee, talk to them about what they want: a surprise, a new microwave, jewelry, slippers, nothing. This works best with close friends and family and will save you the worry of meeting expectations, self-doubt, second guessing, and set appropriate gift levels.

And now, good gift ideas. These aren’t the only good ones by far, so if you think of more, let me know (I have a list to make…)

1. Gift Cards: Impersonal? Only if you do it wrong. Indicative of a lack of caring or thought? Not at all! Sometimes the most loving impulse is acknowledging that you have no idea, based on long distances or generational divides, what people need or want for Christmas/Eid/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus (are there Diwali gifts?). Keep in touch better next year, but don’t saddle them with random things they don’t want or already have so you feel more connected and personal. Gift cards to stores you think they will like, or to places you know they do like, with a long, personal handwritten card- everybody appreciates that. Plus, they’re small enough to mail in a regular envelope: smaller shipping cost, both in fuel and money.

2. Take a stroll through local Goodwill, Salvation Army, and thrift stores. These places sell lots of random things and their selection changes all the time. On a good day, you will find glassware, jewelry, pottery, records, books- anything, really- just right for that blank spot on the list, maybe with a little cleaning up first. Bonus small price tag, and instant thoughtful gift!

3. Reusable grocery bags: Try this on someone who’s more likely to actually want to use them- hard to make it a loving gift when you have to explain what they are and give a lecture on the ecological reasons for using them. Any bags will do, but preferably they’ll be at least as large as the plastic grocery bags, not too large to carry when loaded, strong enough for a gallon of milk, and contain separate sections for breakable items like eggs. Personalize old tote bags you have lying around. Crochet your collected grocery bags into a few new ones. Sew some bags for them on your own. Find interesting bags around: everybody sells bags. Local libraries, restaurants, operas- get bags from places they like.

4. Planet Earth series: If you think nature documentaries are lame, admit new evidence. The Planet Earth series has astounding footage of the earth earthing and animals doing animally things they’ve never been seen doing before, thanks to new camera technology and infinite patience. It’s least expensive at Amazon and Costco, and perfect for families, people who like the outdoors, people who hate the outdoors (bring it inside for them!), and, you know, everybody. Not exactly a sustainable tip, but it is awesome, and it involves the promise of technology and respecting the earth because it is pretty and can also eat you, so.

5. Jewelry: Fair Trade or responsibly made, for sure. greenKarat makes jewelry from recycled gold and gems, or find vintage items at thrift stores or consignment shops. Somehow, recycled and lab-grown diamonds say “I love you” much better than the ones currently financing wars and causing ecological and human damage- different post, though. Fair trade jewelry may also be made from recycled items, and Ten Thousand Villages carries a really interesting selection of it- styles range from modern to exciting. Some of their stores are in Old Town Alexandria, Richmond, Baltimore, Bethesda, and Rockville, though there are more in the area. Their wares are all fairly traded, and they also carry lots of other likely gift items and decorations.

6. Solar chargers: For the gadget types, I mentioned a few solar powered chargers for phones and music players in my post on the Solar Decathalon. They’re useful, sustainable, and something nobody else has yet! Perfect gadget for anyone who sees sunlight ever.

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