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Celebrate the season of love with fair trade

Many of us will purchase chocolates, flowers, and valentines to share love, friendship, and kindness on February 14. By supporting fair trade as we make purchasing decisions, we can make a positive impact for global communities and the environment. Who doesn’t love that?

What is fair trade?

Fair trade certification is a process that accounts for the working conditions of people producing commodities such as chocolate, coffee, tea, flowers, and clothing. Fair trade ensures that farmers and workers are justly compensated and helps small producers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.

Benefits of fair trade include: 

  • Raising and stabilizing the incomes of small-scale farmers, farm workers, and artisans
  • More equitably distributing the economic gains, opportunities, and risks associated with the production and sale of these goods
  • Supporting democratically owned and controlled producer organizations
  • Promoting labor rights and the right of workers to organize
  • Promoting safe and sustainable farming methods and working conditions
  • Connecting consumers and producers
  • Increasing consumer awareness and engagement with issues affecting producer

Source: Equal Exchange

Choose fair trade this Valentine’s Day


Fair trade is getting big. Hershey has set a goal to source 100 percent sustainably certified cocoa by 2020 through verification by independent auditors. In 2013, they sourced 18 percent sustainably, nearly double their original goal of 10 percent for the year (Source: Triple Pundit). Hershey products include brands such as Dagoba and Sharffen Berger.

If you are looking for fair trade chocolate, consider Equal Exchange. Equal Exchange uses some of the strictest standards of any fair trade organizations. You can learn more about their certification standards here. Equal Exchange products can be found in Portland at co-ops, New Seasons, and other retailers.


Most consumers don’t think about whether the flowers they purchase are ethically produced and harvested. Commercially sold flowers are part of a globalized system that has impacts on people and the planet. For example, multinational corporations that operate flower plantations in Latin America have been criticized for paying workers poorly and exposing them to harmful chemicals. Shipping flowers thousands of miles by air contributes to global climate change (The 50 Mile Bouquet). Flowers may also be dyed, and the process of growing them can deplete soil through the use of pesticides. These and other factors make it possible to stop by the store and purchase a rose on the way home from school or work.

In preparation for PSU’s upcoming Student Craft Market, volunteer coordinator Val Holdahl and I met with Jolie Donohue, assistant manager of New Seasons’ floral department at Arbor Lodge. She shared the process their store goes through when deciding how to procure flowers ethically. The store must take into account seasonality, as some flowers are field grown and available only during certain times of the year.  New Seasons always looks for local flowers first. If sourcing locally is not feasible, the floral department may seek producers in California. Certain well-loved flowers may be shipped from countries like South America as a last resort.

Some smaller companies cannot afford the certification process to become organic. Because of this fact, New Seasons may choose to purchase from non-organic companies if the practices meet the company’s criteria.

Local companies sourcing New Seasons flowers and plants:

  • Peterkort - A third generation farmer from Hillsboro that specializes in roses and lilies. This company uses beneficial bugs rather than pesticides for pest control.
  • Peoria - Peoria is also a third generation company specializing in potted plants and cut flowers. They utilize state-of-the-art energy efficient greenhouses and use bike carts to move merchandise and plants around the nursery.
  • To learn more about the other companies used by New Seasons, click here.

As with the rest of the store, the New Seasons floral department is zero waste. All packaging is recycled, and all flower debris is composted.  


If purchasing valentines at the store, make sure to look for cards and products that include recycled content. Even better, you can make your own heart-felt valentines! Here’s a list of 50 recycled and re-purposed valentines created from everything from wool sweaters to circuit boards. 

To find crafting supplies, stop by PSU’s very own ReUse Room. The possibilities are endless! You might also check out SCRAP, a creative reuse center in Northeast Portland. We were able to find boxes of cards and envelops for 10 cents each along with boxes of other Valentine’s Day themed items. 

To learn more about fair trade:

However you choose to celebrate the season of love, we hope your Valentine’s Day can cultivate true generosity, compassion, and kindness. 

Heather Spalding oversees PSU's  Sustainability Leadership Center, a department that bridges student life and sustainability at PSU.