Center for Fair & Alternative Trade

Colorado State University

"The Meaning of Markets: Imagining a North American Domestic Fair Trade Initiative"

Presented by Emily Thorn, Ph.D. Student, Sociology, CSU

On September 13, 2010, Emily Thorn, Sociology Ph.D. student and CFAT Graduate Student Associate, presented “The Meaning of Markets: Imagining a North American Domestic Fair Trade Initiative” to CFAT faculty, students, and associates.

Emily Thorn received her MS in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana.  This seminar builds on her thesis research and her work developing ties between CFAT, the local community and local food movement.

The presentation outlined the organization and goals of domestic fair trade initiatives which seek to promote social justice and environmental sustainability in the United States and Canada.  This effort grows out of and seeks to learn from the successes and pitfalls of the international fair trade, organics, and local food movements.  As Emily outlined current domestic fair trade discussions revolve around three key themes: distinction, defensiveness, and democracy.

The presentation focused specifically on the newly organized Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA).  The DFTA is a collaborative effort representing farmers, farmworkers, food system workers, retailers, manufacturers, processors, and non-governmental organizations.  Their primary goals include supporting family-scale farming, farm worker rights, and reinforcing farmer-led initiatives. Ultimately, they seek to help build a more cohesive movement for sustainable agriculture in North America. 

The seminar highlighted current challenges in creating an inclusive domestic food movement. As has become increasingly apparent, many local food initiatives neglect issues of social justice and equity. This is precisely what DFTA hopes to address. Emily’s research analyzes how DFTA actors understand their efforts to be both pragmatic and transformative. She found that they seek to use a consumer movement to change policy and support farm worker justice and small-scale organic farmer interests.

Emily discussed the tensions and potentials of DFTA’s work, as it sets out to create a space for dialogue and action within the existing alternative agro-food movement.