|Peace With Justice Sunday is June 6 Commentary: We should help farmers get fair wages
By Steve Hodges
The laborer is worthy of his hire, says Luke 10:7, yet farmers the world over get far less than their just compensation.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average U.S. farmer gets less than 18 cents for every $1 spent on food. The situation is worse for farmers internationally. Coffee farmers in Africa or Latin America typically get 13-16 cents of every $1 that North Americans spend on coffee, according to the Fair Trade Federation. As Christians buy food, we are often not aware that we participate in arrangements that give farmers far less than they deserve. Like those in Matthew 25, we are often not aware of helping or hurting the farmer who has become one of the least of these my brothers.
Holston Conference's Outreach/Advocacy Ministry Team and Peace With Justice Committee are sponsoring projects that help United Methodists spend their food money in ways that provide farmers with wages worthy of their labor much as the SERRV program (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation Vocation) has done for craft makers. For example, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Coffee Project provides a way to help small coffee farmers and their families. By buying coffee that is fairly traded through the project, up to twice as much of the money goes directly to overseas coffee farmers. At least two congregations in Holston (Concord United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge District and Munsey Memorial UMC in Johnson City District) have begun taking orders and selling fair-trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate. These congregations report it is an easy and successful project. For more information, contact UMCOR at (800) 554-8583 or see the web site at www.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/ hunger/coffee.cfm.
Another project that helps local farmers? The Appalachian Spring Cooperative (ASC) of Treadway, Tenn., directly markets jellies, salsas, pickles and other foods produced by farmers in seven east Tennessee counties. (Fair disclosure: This cooperative was started by Jubilee Project, a United Methodist mission of which I am employed. The cooperative is memberowned and all sales go exclusively to ASC and its members.) For more information or ordering, call (423) 733-2095 or visit www.apspringcoop.com
Free-trade coffee, products from the Appalachian Spring Cooperative, and information on free trade will be featured at a special exhibit at Annual Conference, June 13-16, at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The Peace With Justice Committee wants to hear about other congregations with fair-trade experience as well as other opportunities for United Methodists to provide farmers with wages worthy of their labor. For more information, contact Steve Hodges at (423) 733-4195.
Hodges is director of Jubilee Project and Holstons Peace With Justice coordinator.