World Fair Trade Day

In recognition of World Fair Trade Day, I asked four friends and longtime supporters of Mirembe Kawomera to contribute to an interfaith commentary on the fair trade movement. Special thanks to the contributors: Reverend Will Scott a pastor at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco; Nyla Khan a teacher at the Islamic Foundation School, in Villa Park (West Chicago); Rabbi Brant Rosen, rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston; and Reverend Anne Myosho Kyle Brown, of the Kumeido Zen Center.

Reverend Will Scott, Grace Cathedral

There seems to be a real movement happening in the United States and all around the world – a movement of “staying awake” – becoming more aware of how deeply we are connected to one another, and how much our choices affect the well being of others. The Internet and other communication technologies have helped many of us become more aware of the ways in which our lifestyles affect other people. Fair trade is one way to allow our love for God, our care for our neighbors and for the earth to infuse more of what we do.

Many Christians advocate simplicity, i.e. consume less of the world’s goods, buy less. The motto “live simply so that other’s might simply live” comes to mind. More and more Christians in addition to consuming less are also seeking to contribute to the good of the global and local community by how they engage in the marketplace. From fair trade gifts to buying livestock
for poor villages during the holidays, Christians and other people of faith are waking up to new ways of serving God and bringing hope to others.

Recently, my brother shared with me how college students around the country are asking that their campuses serve local produce to support family farms. As a priest, I think all this conscientious consumption is connected to the deep human longing to be awakened to God’s purposes, to be part of God’s realm of love and peace. I think this concern for where our food comes from, for how something is made and by whom is all about waking up, is all about loving our neighbors —even strangers— as ourselves. This conscientious consumption may be a spiritual discipline inviting us to consider how we seek and serve God in all persons, including those that made the clothes on our backs, or picked the vegetables we eat, or harvested the coffee we drink or bagged all these items at the store.

Our faith insists that we tell the truth. A modern Christian confession asks us to confess the evil things we have done, and those evil things that have been done on our behalf. We must name the cruelty, injustice, ecological devastation, and the greed that is part of our contemporary economic system. The Fair Trade Movement helps us get real, to be more honest about who we are and what we are doing to make the world a better place. May the Fair Trade Movement help us all stay alert, keeping awake to the urgent message of God’s love for us, and our responsibility to share that love with all people in all our words and deeds.

Grace Cathedral recently began serving fair trade coffee at all our church events. We have partnered with the Interfaith Council of San Francisco and Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative, an interfaith co-op in Uganda. On Easter Sunday, we were treated to a visit by a group of these coffee farmers, and together celebrated in song God’s life among us.

Nyla Khan, Islamic Foundation School

Fair Trade – A Muslim’s Perspective

Fair trade is in total congruence with Islam and Islam is in total congruence with fair trade. The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) have related over and over the ideas of fairness and justice – on the part of the buyer and the seller.

“A truthful and trustworthy trader will be in the company of the Prophets, the very truthful, and the martyrs.” (Tirmidhi)

This Hadith underscores the importance of a trader’s integrity. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him), traders wanted wealth so badly, they didn’t care how they acquired it, thus the basis of this Hadith. I think that these days, as consumers, we want THINGS so badly, we don’t care where we get these things from. It is our duty as consumers, Americans, Muslims, and human beings to be very careful about where our food, clothing, necessities and accessories come from and where our money goes. By engaging in fair trade, we can at least uphold our end of the bargain.

Rabbi Brant Rosen, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation

One of my favorite Talmud passages comes from this discussion about the blessing after eating:

“It is written, ‘The earth and its fullness are God’s’ (Psalms 24:1), and it is written ‘He has given the earth to the children of man’ (Psalms 115:16). This is no contradiction. The first verse is before man’s blessing, and the second verse is after the blessing.” (Talmud – Berachot 35a)

As it is often fond of doing, the Talmud presents two Scriptural verses that seem to contradict on another. In this case, they are two verses from the Psalms: one claims that the earth belongs to God, and the other holds that the earth belongs to humanity. So which is it?

The Talmud points out that while the world indeed does belong to God, the earth becomes ours to enjoy in direct proportion to our recognition of God’s dominion over it. If we fail to properly acknowledge God’s proprietorship of the goods we use, in a sense we commit a kind of thievery when we dare to use them for our own ends. That’s why as Jews, we dare not enjoy the blessings of this world without first saying a blessing.

I find a great deal of spiritual power in this teaching: that the world becomes ours to enjoy only when we acknowledge that it really doesn’t belong to us. I also believe that this insight has profound implications for a world in which humanity too often claims exclusive proprietorship over its bounty – where increasingly powerful interests are claiming ownership over increasingly diminishing resources.

I sometimes find myself wondering, what would it mean for our global world economy if we truly took this teaching to heart: that none of it was ever really ours to begin with? One thing I do believe is that it would force us to confront the chronic sense of entitlement we have toward the earth’s resources. And I also believe it would give us a much deeper sensitivity to the process by which goods and services reach our door.

I think that more than anything else, this is why, as a Jew, I am so drawn to the Fair Trade movement. Fair Trade is a discipline that demands mindfulness of a greater good when we consume certain goods: of fair prices to those who actually produce the products we enjoy, to safer working conditions, to sustainable development in their communities, to the sustainability of their farms.

I do believe, as I learn from the Talmud, that when we consume with a sense of personal entitlement, we are guilty of a kind of theft. Much like the utterance of a blessing, when we support Fair Trade we demand conscious consumption.

Revered Ann Myosho Kyle Brown, Kumeido Zen Center

Dear Friends,

On the occasion of the celebration of World Fair Trade Day, I would like to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for Thanksgiving Coffee Company and the Mirembe Kawomera Coffee Cooperative in Uganda for their fine work in helping to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainability.

To move individuals and communities from a position of vulnerability and to a position of security and economic self-sufficiency is a noble task, springing from the essence of the Buddhist principle of Right Livelihood which states that Buddhist practioners not engage in trades or occupations which either directly or indirectly lead to harm to individuals or systems.

Right Livelihood is but one element of the Buddha’s Nobel Eightfold Path to enlightenment which includes: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Though the path is numbered one through eight, it is not a series of linear steps through which one must progress; but rather the simultaneous development of wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.

As such, JJ Keki, founder and director of Peace Kawomera Cooperative, was truly inspired with Right View to have conceived of the idea of bringing together his Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighbors to work for their mutual benefit and the benefit of all.
For these neighbors to bridge their historical differences and operate with trust and cooperation clearly required Right Speech, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. For the Katzeff family to recognize the great value of their endeavor and commit to supporting and promoting not just their coffee but their values is a remarkable manifestation of Right Aspiration and Right Action.

This is an enlightened project which fills me with hope and faith in these troubled times around the world.

May all beings realize their true nature of oneness. May all beings be free from fear and danger. May all beings be happy and able to protect their happiness. May all beings be peaceful.

Deep bows to all of you.

Sincerely,

Rev. Ann Myosho Kyle Brown
Kumeido / The Little River Zen Center
A Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha

freedom’s two sides

It’s Passover, the Jewish celebration of freedom and the telling of the story of Exodus, told literally and interpretively in ways new and old. For me, and many other people of the Jewish tradition, Passover is a vital link between our cultural and religious inheritance and our work for justice; it illuminates a legacy of struggle, and helps us understand our place in a human geography of people called to make the world a better place, or more specifically, to pursue the realization of freedom for everyone, everywhere.

So, that’ a long way of saying that I’ve been thinking about freedom and justice extra hard lately, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the topic, as it relates to fair trade.

Fundamentally, fair trade is about changing the character of economic relationships so that producer and consumer come together in a whole partnership, one that sustains, nourishes, and shares. For farmers, this often means a transformation of the conditions of their lives—from poverty, and struggle of not having enough, to freedom, and the ability to choose with agency. It’s the difference between choosing which child not to send to kindergarten, and choosing which child to send to high school or even college. The uniting of farmers with consumers in a relationship that is direct, just, and sustaining changes the world. It creates a condition of freedom, or at least, circumstances of life that are more-free, with the possibility of the ever-opening pursuit of more freedom.

This is the heart of fair trade’s freedom, but it is only one side of a partnership, and its pursuit is incomplete (and I might say impossible) without an exploration of freedom’s other side.

Far away from the farmers who grow our coffee, we walk through the automatic doors of our neighborhood supermarket and are confronted with a countless number of choices. Products offer us health, energy, deliciousness, maybe even the fullness of satisfaction. We feel our power, and choose our favorite loaf of bread from the selection. Our favorite peanut butter. Our favorite fruit jam or jelly. So many choices. Then it’s on to bananas or oranges, maybe both, and apples, pears, lettuce and spinach. Then the coffee section. Strong or sweet, ground or whole bean, flavored or not. We wheel our carts to checkout, each of pushing a metal cart containing the results of our choices—or is it a cage containing the work of our freedom, a definition of self expressed through our agency to choose within the choices given to us?

What interests me is the question how are we to understand our freedom as consumers. To move from choosing within the narrow choices given to us, and the meaning of those choices, literally manufactured by a corporate culture, towards an economy where we choose in a broadly free way, where meaning is personal, and the process of choosing is liberated from external pressure, definition, and constraint.

This seems to me to be a study of the unfreedom of our condition as consumers in a world beyond our control, our blind (or distorted) participation in relationships formed predominantly by another’s choices, our day-to-day feeding of a social organism directed and guided to serve the interests of some over the many. If freedom is the ability to choose, to connect, and to know in truth, then we are greatly deceived by the illusion of freedom we so surrounded within.

Fair trade proposes a very different kind of freedom, the freedom to choose not only for self (think back to health, deliciousness, satisfaction) but also to choose for other. The possibility of choosing to consume in a way that takes and gives, the possibility, as I’ve written elsewhere, to re-imagine our role as consumers to be more like co-producers in a world where farmers feed, and are fed. Where we who take do our taking in a way that sustains the ability of those who give to give.

These are the two sides of fair trade’s work for freedom. I hope that you who know the story of Peace Kawomera, who’ve met the farmers, read their interviews, and thought of them when you bought and drank their coffee—you who’ve made this project whole and who it possible for our company and their cooperative to continue our work—I hope that your participation has given you a new sense of freedom, your freedom, and another’s, together awakening a new, more whole, more free world.

Yours in Peace (and for Freedom),

Ben

buried treasure

I just found a treasure, in the midst of a task I’ve been dreading (always a good lesson).

Over the course of the past four weeks, as we’ve met with community leaders, presented our work to interfaith coalitions, and individual congregations, we’ve kept a growing stack of signup sheets for our email newsletter. By the end, the stack had that nice heavy feel of a full file folder—substantial, and gratifying, but also…kind of a chore to enter each name and email, hundereds of ‘em.

At least that’s what I thought. So I came in to work early this morning. Sat down with a sweet cup of Byron Corrales Martinez’s organic Maracaturra (Byron is and has been a mentor for me, he’s a leader in the cooperative movement in Nicaragua, and a dear friend. No, contrary to popular belief, I don’t only drink Mirembe Kawomera coffee.) I put Midnite on my headphones (great politically charged reggae from St. Croix) and started typing one-by-one-by-one, trying to enjoy the time, but mostly looking forward to being done with it.

And then…I started to pay attention to the names, to enjoy their sounds and to imagine their stories. Luo, McDowell, Shapiro, Qarni, Najmi…that was Boston, I think. Panitz, Curtis, Abu Jamal, Allen, Ali, Van Besien, Weisbaum…that was Chicago, the sign-up sheet from our event at Columbia College. Then Lupien, Khan, Gardner, Hasaan, Mulazim, and Gardner, from Baltimore . These people were standing next to each other, probably talking, maybe shaking hands, perhaps trading phone numbers and email addresses. Read their names out loud, for yourself. Imagine the world they are living in. People of all different backgrounds, faiths, and histories, together in a moment, a rich tapestry of human experience, weaving their disparate threads together around this project…

So now, with the chore transformed into a kind of treasure hunt, I sit and ponder the beauty of this work to build peace by working together; the work of creating a pluralistic society where are differences are cause for celebration and a source of inspiration, rather than a cause for division and conflict.

Still yours, in Peace,

Ben

home safely

Dear Friends,

We’re home safely—JJ, Sinina, Margaret, and Sam in Uganda, and Holly and I on the Mendocino Coast—after our last week on the road, and an incredible month-long tour. I spoke with JJ this morning, and as you could expect, he’s thrilled to be home with his new baby girl Grace Ellen Ntuyo. In JJ’s proud words, “She’s very beautiful, and very fine”.

Since my last post we visited new friends in Sacramento, celebrated our work in San Francisco with their Interfaith Council, and their members the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, Temple Emanu-El, The Islamic Society of San Francisco, Congregation Sherith Israel, culminating in a day with Grace Cathedral, where the Reverend Alan Jones gave a wonderful Easter Sermon. Then on to Los Angeles where we were hosted by the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, The Wilshire Boulevard Synagogue, and Holy Family Church in Pasadena. Our trip ended with a quick, but wonderful visit to Olympia, Washington, where a young but inspired interfaith collaboration is in the works, led by Beth Hatfiloh, Interfaith Works, and others.

All too soon, it was March 27, 5:30 in the morning, in an airport motel down the road from the Seattle airport. We were stuffing too many suitcases in too small a van for the last time, and this time, as we moved through check-in and security, Holly and I stepped back and watched as our friends made their way through to their gate, to Boston, through Amsterdam, back to Uganda. And I couldn’t help but feel that it felt a little like a family was being split up, or at least saying going different ways, out into the world to live our own lives, but with the knowledge that there is a place and people to come back to. I often find myself looking for aspects of community, family, and friendship in my relationships through this work. As I’ve said before, when you get down to it, business is really just a certain kind of relationship between people. And more often than not, thankfully and beautifully, I find these connections. For me, the teary departure, the proud goodbyes, are signs that we are on the right path, that we are coming together on the most fundamentally human terms, honestly, genuinely, in relationship that is not free from struggle, but rich with learning, growth, and real progress.

I know that though our tour was overbooked, overscheduled, underslept, and sometimes frantic, we did in fact share this same family-like connection with hundreds, if not thousands of people across the country. To those of you who have brought this story into your life, who organized an event, hosted us in your home, sang along, asked a question, or wished us well, thank you. It’s great to be home, great to get some rest, and great catch up with friends and family. But it’s hard to say goodbye, not only to JJ, Sam, Margaret, and Sinina, but to each of you, and the whole experience of being welcome in the world, at home, far away from home.

Yours in Peace,

Ben

where have we been?

That’s a good question. It’s been almost two weeks since my last post, and I bet some of you have been wondering: where have you been?

Well, the answer is a long one. And there’s hardly been a break in our schedule to sleep, let alone drop a note on our blog. Why have we been so busy? Well…

We’ve been meeting with dozens of our supporters—churches, synagogues, and mosques—all across the country.

We’ve been packing and unpacking far too many suitcases, in cars far too small for all of our baggage, let alone all of us and all of our baggage.

We’ve been moving from city to city, town to town, sharing our story of peace, juggling radio interviews, reporters requests for photo shoots, and trying to make at least a little bit of time at each stop to see the sights. So far, Sam likes Chicago most. Margaret is taken with New York. Sinina is partial to San Francisco, but I think she likes the sunshine most, so LA may be the ultimate winner. As for JJ, as those of you who know the man, he’s pretty much happy everywhere, and would take the world for his home if he could be everywhere at once.

We’ve been welcomed in the most amazing ways by communities from Baltimore to Washington to Chicago, and now in California, Sacramento and San Francisco. We’ve been thrilled at each stop.

The Bolton Street Synagogue in Baltimore, packed to overflowing with the city’s Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

A fantastic series of events in Chicago, which showed that there is truly an interfaith movement coming together because of this project—standing ovations from hundreds of young Muslims at the Islamic Foundation School, an interfaith welcome organized by the Chicago Fair Trade Coalition, a visit with our dear friends at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, and an exciting first meeting with St. Sabina’s Catholic Church on Chicago’s southside.

Listen to an interview on Worldview, from WBEZ Chicago.

(Special thanks to Nancy Jones of the Chicago Fair Trade Coalition, and Elaine Waxman of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston for organizing our time in Chi-town.)

Then back home, a beautiful gathering in Santa Rosa, California, on our way to Mendocino, Thanksgiving’s hometown, where we were welcomed by a sold out benefit dinner to raise money for the cooperative’s efforts to combat malaria.

All in all, it’s been quite a whirlwind. A combination of exhausting and exhilarating, non-stop, and unstoppable.

I find myself thinking a lot these days about what it means to be traveling in the service of peace, to be sharing this story of hope at a time when we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. So many lives have been lost, so much hatred has been stoked and sustained. And yet, in these same five years, in this community in Uganda, people have been working together for peace. And in this country, in last 4 years, we have been working to bring this story of peace into people’s lives, and these people have been working to make sure that the farmer’s efforts succeed. Two very different stories, the same world. Two different examples of our human capacities. I hope that each of you reading this blog has had the chance to meet these amazing farmers, and I’m thankful to all of you who’ve joined us to affirm that we can in fact work for a more peaceful world. We’ll continue in our work, and we hope you will too. One day, as JJ’s been saying, maybe we’ll learn to stop fighting each other, and work to create the heaven of our dreams right here on this earth.

On our one day off, I took JJ surfing. It was amazing, and a joy for me to share this pursuit which I love so much with my dear friend. I think JJ caught the bug, and as we walked back along the beach with our boards under our arms, JJ told me, At first, I was afraid of the waves, and felt like they were trying to attack me, to hurt me. Then I saw you out there, playing, having fun, and I realized the waves were just being waves. So I tried not to fight them, but to accept them as they came towards me. I relaxed, and pretty soon, I felt like they were there to offer me their beauty and their energy.

And of course, I can’t help but comment that Senator Obama’s speech earlier this week should help us imagine a deeper vision of who “we” are, both as Americans, and as citizens of this world.

So, where have we been? Many places. I think the question really is, where are we going?

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Sam, Sinina, JJ, and Margaret on the mall in Washington, D.C.

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Kind of like Where’s Waldo, only with more luggage: can you find JJ in this picture?

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Our friends from the Islamic Foundation School rep the coffee in Chicago.

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St. Sabina’s social justice club with the farmers.

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JJ and Sam on the Mendocino Coast, with the Pacific Ocean.

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The crew and Holly with one of Northern California’s majestic redwood trees.
With our friends at the San Francisco Interfaith Council.
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on the road

Greetings from New Jersey, where we’re just wrapping up the end of our second leg of this year’s Mirembe Tour. We’ve been here for four days now, graciously hosted by Curt Fissel and Ellen Friedland, and shuttled from meeting to meeting, presentation to presentation. We’ve met with St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenwich Village, Omar Mosque in Patterson, New Jersey, The Pioneer Academy, Congregation B’nai Keshet, Allwood Community Church, and Seton Hall University. A big thanks to everyone who organized these events: to the communities who are supporting us, and who are making it their work to be ambassadors for this project.

Tomorrow we head off for Washington, D.C.

And aside from all of that, we’re happy to announce that JJ Keki and his wife Miriam are the proud parents of a new baby girl! Here is a picture of their daughter, and another of JJ surrounded by friends when he first learned of the news. The little one’s name is Ellen Grace Ntuyo—congratulations to JJ and Miriam, and welcome to the world Ntuyo! ntuyo.jpg

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And here are a couple of other fun photos from our travels:

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Sam, Margaret, and Sinina, all dressed up, and ready for snow.

11.jpg from the bus, coming from Boston.

TOUR SCHEDULE

The foundation of our work is the belief that business is all about relationships. Our business is built on the relationship between a farmer and the earth, between our company and that same farmer, and on the relationships we cultivate with coffee drinkers to build a market for that farmer’s coffee. Really, business has always been about relationships—it’s just unfortunate that for most of history, these relationships have been exploitative rather than fair, and blind rather than personal.

Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Coffee is a revolutionary kind of product: it’s the story of the farmers who grow it, it’s their dream of peace, and it’s also a delicious coffee. It’s all of these things woven together to create a new kind of relationship…or should we say, a new kind of business?

What better way to cultivate these relationships than to spend time together?

Starting late next month, a delegation of four Ugandan coffee farmers and two Thanksgiving Coffee staff will travel to share the story of our efforts to build peace through fair trade. These four farmers will share the story of their struggle to overcome a history of religious conflict by uniting in a common effort to earn a fair price for their coffee. The delegation will include Sinina Namudosi (Muslim), Joab Jonadab Keki (Jewish), Margret Buhinizi (Catholic), and Samuel Ngugo (Anglican). Please stay tuned for more event details and specifics, and call Holly Moskowitz at 800-462-1999×49 for more information.

29-Feb Boston, MA Shabbat Service Tufts University

1-Mar Boston, MA Opening Ceremony for Interfaith Conference Tufts University

2-Mar Boston, MA Workshops at Conference Tufts University

3-Mar Boston, MA The Rashi School, Newton, MA 11:15am Julie 781.859.9363

4-Mar Boston, MA Jean Mayer Award Tufts University

5-Mar Boston, MA Travel to NY

6-Mar New York, NY Manhattan Neighborhood Network Interview

Interfaith Event St. John’s Lutheran Church – 83 Christopher St., New York, NY 10014 7:00 PM Luna Kaufman 212.308.9645

7-Mar Montclair, NJ Turkish Mosque 3:00 PM sema kaymak 201.456.6439

Montclair, NJ Kabalat Shabbat B’nai Keshet Synagogue – 99 South Fullerton

8-Mar Montclair, NJ Shabbat Services B’nai Keshet Synagogue – 99 South Fullerton

Terra Tea and Fair Trade Montclair, NJ 2:00 PM

9-Mar Clifton, NJ Allwood Reformed Church 100 Chelsea Road 10:30 am

South Orange, NJ Interfaith Event Seton Hall University – 400 South Orange Ave 2:00 PM

10-Mar Washington, DC Interfaith Event * 6th & I Historic Synagogue 7:00 PM Lee Salawitch 800.323.3244

11-Mar Private event – closed 6:30PM

12-Mar Towson, MD Towson Hillel 2:00PM (12:00 lunch-closed event) Contact: Ken 513.503.9559

Baltimore, MD Interfaith Event Bolton Street Synagogue 7:00 PM Elisabeth Liebow (410) 235-5354

13-Mar Chicago, IL “WorldView: Chicago Public Radio 2:00 PM

Chicago, IL Interfaith & Fair Trade Event Columbia College – 1104 S. Wabash 6:00 PM Elaine Waxman 773.274.4978

14-Mar Chicago, IL School Meeting Evanston High School 10:00 AM Elaine Waxman 773.274.4978

2:00PM Islamic Foundation School, Villa Park, IL

Chicago, IL Shabbat Service Jewish Recon. of Evanston – 303 Dodge Ave 7:00 PM Elaine Waxman 773.274.4978

15-Mar Winnetka, IL Congregation Hakafa Winnetka community House, 620 Lincoln 9:15AM

Chicago, IL Faith Community of Saint Sabina 1:00PM Rev. Pfleger 773.483.4300

16-Mar Santa Rosa, CA Unitarian Universalist Congregation Melissa Kort 707.526.7780

17-Mar Mendocino, CA DAY OFF

18-Mar Mendocino Community High School 8:30 AM

Anderson Valley High School 12:00PM

Casper, CA Interfaith Event Casper Community Center –
15051 Caspar Road 6:00 PM

19-Mar Sacramento, CA Interfaith Event Westminster Presbyterian Church – 1300 N Street 5:00 PM Rabbi David Wechsler-Azen (916) 485-4478

20-Mar San Francisco, CA Purim Celebration Congregation Emanu-El – 2 Lake St 5:45PM

21-Mar San Francisco, CA Friday Prayers Islamic Society Mosque – 400 Crescent Ave 1:00 PM

San Francisco, CA Kabbalat Shabbat Congregation Emanu-El – 2 Lake St 5:30PM

22-Mar 9:30 am Congregation Sherith Israel 2266 California Street San Francisco, CA Shabbat Service

23-Mar 11am & 6pm Easter Services; 4:30pm reception Grace Cathedral 1100 California Street
San Francisco, CA Service

24-Mar Woodland Hills, CA Woodland Hills Church of Christ – 23363 Burkank Blvd 7:00PM Cambria Smith 818-718-6460 ext 3011

25-Mar South Pasadena, CA Holy Family Church 7:00PM Allis Druffel 626-403-6141

26-Mar Olympia, WA Interfaith Event Temple Beth Hatfiloh 7:30PM Sheri Gerson 360.786.0843

27-Mar Farmers fly back to Uganda

*Admission Fee

The Jean Meyer Award

Dear Friends,

Tonight, in a beautifully organized ceremony at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, we accepted the 2008 Jean Mayer Award for Global Citizenship. This event was in many ways the kick-off for our month-long tour, and if beginnings are a sign of what’s to come, this is going to be a fun few weeks. JJ, Sinina, Margaret, and Sam all spoke about their experience as coffee farmers, and their participation with Peace Kawomera. JJ shared some especially powerful words, pointing out that the work of making peace was just as serious as the work of preparing for war. He added that he felt we had done something small, but that there was much to do still. What we’ve done in Uganda is nothing if we can’t find a way to build peace in Kenya, in Israel, and in Palestine. JJ’s powerful words reminded me of the courage that it took to begin this effort, to take a first step into the unknown, and of the power of these farmers, and the many lessons they have to teach our world.

I wish I had transcriptions of what everyone said, but alas, I only have the speech that I wrote, which ended up turning into something else in the moment. Anyway, for the sake of sharing, I’m pasting it in here for those of you who are interested. Thanks for your support: it’s people like you who’ve make this project real every day!

Yours in Peace,

Ben

(Here’s my speech)

I want to first thank Tufts University, and your Institute for Global Leadership for this tremendous recognition. We are deeply honored to receive this year’s Jean Meyer Award, and to stand side-by-side with the previous winners. We commit to you to use this award to continue our work, in the service of peace and of justice.

To Rabbi Jeff Summit and his wonderful wife Gail, thank you for making Boston our home.

To Joan and Paul Katzeff, friends, mentors, and colleagues: the love you’ve put into our Thanksgiving Coffee Company since the day you opened its doors in 1972 is what got us here. Thank you.

To everyone back home in Fort Bragg, the people who make our work possible every day, thank you.

To my dear friend and colleague Holly Moskowitz: your commitment to the success of this project is immense. The movement you’ve built is strong. We would not have succeeded without you.

To Laura Wetzler, and the whole Kulanu family: you are bridge builders and matchmakers, a new kind of shiddach for our changing world. We thank you for your tireless efforts on behalf of the Abaydaya, and their Muslim, and Christian neighbors in Uganda. None of this would be without you. We are proud to share this honor with you.

Lastly, and most importantly, to the farmers of Peace Kawomera: you are a light in this world. Your example has taught us so much. I thank you for your strength, and for the courage it took to step into the unknown together. You have so much to teach us. It has been my honor to grow together as family. May our children one day know each other, and may they continue this partnership for generations.

Thanksgiving Coffee Company is a business built on the belief that the basic values of community—fairness, trust, honesty, and caring—don’t end when the workday starts. We believe that business is responsible for its actions, its impact, and for the well-being of every person, every community, every forest, and every river, from the headwaters of our business, to its final destination.

Our responsibility to the farmers who grow our coffee—be they in Nicaragua, Rwanda, Ethiopia, or Uganda—is to build a fair trade of great coffee for a reasonable price, one that ensures the well-being of the farmers and their families, and the success of our business. It is a simple responsibility actually, simply human, but unfortunately, it is historically rare, and difficult to achieve.

We are the buyer, on the other end of the supply chain, for coffee produced with love, care, and craft. Our commitment is to the farmer’s future: we don’t just come one year and leave the next. We return year after year, and help to build the stability farmers need to invest in their businesses, and realize their dreams. Our responsibility, the one we invite our customers to join us in, is to build the market demand necessary to sustain the production from our partner cooperatives, year after year, thereby lessening the distance between farmer and barista, producer and consumer. Trading great coffee for fair prices makes sense, but it’s not easy, and our world has long since lost track of the simple logic of fairness and sustainability.

We are in the business of creating a different kind of business, so that business can create a different kind of world. In order to do this, we have got to unwrap ourselves from what we’ve inherited so that we can heal the damage that’s been done. The same thinking that got us here can’t get us out of here. The same tools which we’ve used can’t fix the problems they’ve created. Which is really just another way of saying that we have to create a business that’s about people, a business whose imagination is bigger than profits, and inclusive of more than just its shareholders. We have to create a business whose conception of profit goes beyond self, because we are all people, and there is no justification for gaining at another’s expense.

Oh, economics—the “dismal science”.

Transaction?—producer?—consumer? You notice that this doesn’t sound like the neighborhood you live in. It doesn’t sound like community, because it’s not. If you lived next door to the farmers who grew your coffee, you wouldn’t pay nothing and then go on with your day.

Let’s imagine a new kind of economy, an economy of people. Transaction? How about interaction? You notice that our very language hides us from ourselves. How about relationships between people: farmer and mother, Muslim and Jew, Ugandan and American. How about JJ, and you, and me? Let’s get to know each other, let’s talk shop. We can sit down for a cup of coffee, let’s do business. Let’s live together, let’s make the world a smaller place, a richer place. I submit the radical notion that we can use capitalism to heal itself. That we can create a culture that would civilize this savage beast, based on what a former Jean Meyer prize winner, Archbishop Tutu once said: “God created enough for all of our needs, but not enough for all of our greed.”

This is the story of a different kind of business. And stories—like the story of Peace Kawomera—are what shape and change the world.

When I first met JJ Keki, in the winter of 2004, he asked me if we would join him to build peace. He thanked me and my colleagues at Thanksgiving Coffee for agreeing to buy his cooperative’s first harvest. He told us that it was coffee that united his community, and that through fair trade he could convince his neighbors that there was more to be gained by working together than there was to be had from competition with each other. We committed to being his partner, guaranteeing a fair price for all of the coffee his cooperative could produce.

Then he set a challenge to me that has filled my days and my dreams ever since. JJ asked me how we would bring the story of Peace Kawomera to Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the United States. To be the teller of a story of such power is an enormous responsibility—that much I knew then. To be honest with you, at that moment, I didn’t think we could, I didn’t imagine that we could. It seemed like something extra that we would have to do, something that would take more than it would give. Something that would distract us from our obligation to find a market, buy this year’s coffee, and to return next year, to purchase the next harvest. I was wrong, thankfully, and JJ, in his JJ kind of way, was asking me to see his dream, and to become a part of it.

From vision to practice, from dream to reality, we have been guided by the courage, inspiration, and example of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. We have been guided by what started as JJ’s dream, the dream that his neighbors began to dream, the dream they are still dreaming.

Tonight I want to tell you the story of our work with over four dozen churches, synagogues, and mosques in the United States. Theirs is the the other half of the story of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative: together, linked through our little coffee company, this new alliance of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is creating the market necessary to sustain the farmers of Peace Kawomera.

Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques in the United States—American Christians, Jews, and Muslims—have come together to support Christian, Jewish, and Muslim coffee farmers in Uganda.

So I think that this award is also for the thousands of people who have heard this story, and who connected hand with heart to make real their support of this project. This award is for them: the people who heard a sermon, or read an article, or listened to a friend, and then said wow, beautiful, and then stepped up to do their part in making this real.

They are the ones—and let me tell you, they are the most amazing people—religious school teachers, single moms finishing PhD dissertations, travel agents, and filmmakers, each of whom has taken this to their community, and in their own way, mobilized their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family. Every day these people brew a cup of this sweet coffee, and make it part of their lives. Every week, they buy a package. They are building a market, one-by-one, but they are also building a relationship with this cooperative, far away in Uganda. They are bringing the world together, making it a smaller place, a more peaceful place, and a more human place.

These are people of different faiths who see that each of our proud traditions converge in our teachings of justice, of the essential worth and dignity of our fellow humans, and in our responsibility to inform our daily lives with these deepest beliefs. Together, these communities are beginning to see that, like the farmers of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative, there is more to be gained by finding our shared common ground, and by building a world together, based on that foundation.

You know, the economists talk about producers and consumers. One creates and the other takes, one sells and the other buys. I’d like to suggest tonight that we re-imagine that relationship, and begin to look for ways to be producers, together, of the kind of world we’d like to live in. We talk a lot about empowerment. I’d like to point out that we all have power to create the kind of world we’d like to live in. It’s often times as simple as the choices you make when you shop. So let’s empower ourselves to buy in a way that creates, and to recognize that when we do so, we not only fulfill our responsibility to pay a fair price, but that we also empower the dreams of people around the world, dreams of a future of peace and beauty. I’d like to end with the words of Arundhati Roy, from India, one of our world’s most courageous voices.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

microfinance empowers dreams

Dear Customers,

Meet Mr. Tondo Eliazali, coffee farmers, and participant in the Peace Kawomera Cooperative’s matched savings program.
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(Mr. Tondo, with Elias Hasulube in the background)

“By saving I can prepare for what comes in life. I would like to develop my home—our househould—with first cattle, then goats, and so many things which can benefit the family. My main reason for investing in cattle is for fertilizer for my coffee shamba (farm).”

Visit our Community Development section for more information on the Cooperative’s innovative microfinance program, focused on savings and investment.

This is what fair trade looks like

Fair Trade mandates that 5 cents of every pound should be dedicated by the producing cooperative to community development. Today I visited Nankusi Elementary school, the local public school, where the cooperative recently provided funds for renovation of the building, and supplements to government-funded staff salaries. It’s absolutely incredible to see that the Cooperative is moving beyond serving only its members, and into a strong social and philanthropic organization in it community—but what’s even more incredible is the connection between the two: the students who attend this school are the children of the members of Peace Kawomera. Peace Kawomera helps to support the school, but it’s the income farmers make from their coffee sales that enables them to pay for their school fees, uniforms, and books. So, this picture of Nankusi Elementary School class P5 (fifth grade), is a picture of fair trade at work in a farming community. This, I think, is what fair trade looks like.

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