African Spices

Shenandoah Gemstones Part 5: Ten Thousand Villages, Thoughts on Fair Trade, and the Ride Home

The spikey, wet cold had Chrizar and me running from market to market on Main Street. We ventured to a brewing tavern with exploding barrels of yeast, quiet jewelry stores tucked into corners, and to tiny shops filled with elegant stationary, gifts, and trinkets.

Main Street was fascinating to me because I wondered how anyone could possibly run a successful shop off of locally made goods when all of the usual corporate suspects operated just outside of the urban hub. But they seemed to manage.

I appreciated that the shops were pleasantly crowded, even though some of the items were rightly pricey.

Among these shops was Ten Thousand Villages, the seemingly little brick shop on South Main Street. They’ve been in the Valley since 1993, but have been around for decades as one of the oldest examples of Fair Trade organizations.

I appreciated that the shops were pleasantly crowded, even though some of the items were rightly pricey.

Edna Ruth Byler was the original “wife, mother and unexpected entrepreneur” behind Ten Thousand Villages, who was inspired to help impoverished women of La Plata, Puerto Rico during her trip there in 1946.

Mesmerized by their embroidery, Byler purchased the crafts and sold them to friends and family back on the U.S. mainland. With the help of her Mennonite community, she expanded her mission to India and Jordan, bringing home mounds of needlework and embroidery home to sell. Thus, the concept of Fair Trade was born.

Ten Thousand Villages’ mission “is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.”

Honestly, I’ve always had mixed feelings on Fair Trade campaigns and organizations. Although I agree with their intentions to fairly compensate marginalized communities for the goods they produce, often times these communities see little if any profit for the painstaking work they do to keep up with larger corporations who can easily produce the same or similar items at cheaper costs.

…often time these communities see little if any profit for the painstaking work they do to keep up with larger corporations…

The Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction (FTEPR) project has a well written report about the poorly testified impacts of fair trade due to meager selections and scopes of fair trade research sample sites and a tendency to only focus on the wages of product producers verses the actual workers.

In many cases, only model wage workers and not disgruntled, temporary, or laid-off workers are represented in fair trade success stories. As a result, poorly conducted research tends to skew the number of actual recipients benefiting from the fair trade market. Most of the profits go to administration, marketing, and exporting before it is even seen by the workers. This is seen especially in the coffee, vanilla, and tea industry.

Most profits go to administration, marketing, and exporting before it is even see by the workers.

At best, “only 25 per cent of the extra price paid by consumers finds its way back to producers”. Evidence has shown only modest if any impact on poverty reduction.

There is very little quantitative evidence for Ten Thousand Village’s impact as well, but they do have many success stories (link requires a subscription) where some of these artisans have been able to create full on organizations with hundreds to thousands of employees.

Ten Thousand Villages works with either a single individual or a cooperative of artists to agree upon a price for the goods made. They then pay 50% of the price upfront to the workers to cover material expenses and pay the remaining 50% at the time of export. The good news is that the makers get paid for their products in full whether or not the retailer or wholesaler sells the product. The intention is to create a low risk environment for the maker.

Despite my doubts about the impacts of fair trade, it was refreshing to walk into Ten Thousand Villages with its woody smell and library of gorgeous crafts. The colors and textures of the sculptures, toys, and embroidery were indeed spellbinding.

By this point in our trip, I had spent enough on produce, books, and a rolling pin to be able to take some of this beauty home, but I did have enough to buy some spices and sandalwood incense.

African Spices
Ukuva iAfrica flavors.

The spices were from U-KUBA i-AFRICA, a brand adopted by Turqle Trading in January 2012. U-KUBA i-AFRICA, which means “the senses of Africa” in Xhosa, was actually founded by Nigel Wood in 1996, an Englishman. He was a trained chef who traveled across the continent where he developed a passion for African street food.

It’s not a company entirely with African roots, and for some may even border on cultural appropriation, but I give it a pass for the reason that each spice and seasoning has an influential backstory and gives credit to its original region. Even the packaging is quite artistic, with some of the bottle necks decorated to resemble the Ndebele hoops and rings women wear around their own necks to display their wealth and power.

The spices, at the end of the day, were quite good, and I look forward to eventually getting their sauces. With a World Fair Trade Organization membership, I do hope that a good portion is making its way to the makers of this wonderful product.

The next day, Chrizar and I felt the exhaustion of having walked around town for an entire day. We set for home in the morning, and what better way to end our trip than a visit to Mr. J’s Bagels?

New York style Bagels
A bagel a day keeps the crazy away!!!

My New York heart desperately misses the chewy, crusty, shimmery bagels from my local markets. But, Mr. J’s did not disappoint. Some Yelp Reviews argue that the bagels aren’t exactly the same as expected in the Tri-State Area, but I say they come pretty darn close! Chrizar was right that the cream cheese truly is crack. And, the best part was that we had arrived early enough on a Sunday morning to purchase the Day Old Bagels, a baker’s dozen of yesterday’s leftovers, for only $5!

Needless to say, I had bagels for the whole work week; and they ranged in flavors from Everything to Maple to Plain to Blueberry.

On the foggy ride home, I left with an expanded outlook on food and crafts beyond the big city. Artists are everywhere. Good food is everywhere. And Shenandoah Valley is filled with local culinary gemstones I look forward to visiting again.

REFERENCES

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/05/25/surprise-fairtrade-doesnt-benefit-the-poor-peasants/#3df90235370d

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/05/25/surprise-fairtrade-doesnt-benefit-the-poor-peasants/#3df90235370d

https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_problem_with_fair_trade_coffee

http://ftepr.org/wp-content/uploads/Cramer-et-al-How-to-do-fieldwork-CJDS-SI-2014.pdf

Kitchen, Jane (2009). ” “Ten Thousand Villages”Gifts & Decorative Accessories

Wolfer, Terry & del Pila, Katrina (2008). “Ten Thousand Villages: Partnering with Artisans to Overcome Poverty”Social Work & Christianity.

Kitchen, Jane (2009). ” “Ten Thousand Villages”. Gifts & Decorative Accessories

Wolfer, Terry & del Pila, Katrina (2008). “Ten Thousand Villages: Partnering with Artisans to Overcome Poverty”. Social Work & Christianity.

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