Towards Domestic Fair Trade? Farm labor, food localism, and the ‘family scale’ farm

Sandy Brown and Christy Getz
Publication Date: 
Over the past several decades, consumers in the global North have increasingly looked to fair or alternative trading systems as a means to promote ecologically and socially sustainable agricultural production. While fair trade has historically been limited to international commodity networks, US-based agro-food activists have recently turned their attentions towards building a domestic movement, to bring fair trade principles and standards ‘home.’
Through an exploration of this growing movement, we consider the potential for third party certification and labeling to incorporate social justice into US-based agricultural production, with a particular focus on the implications for farm workers. We view current efforts to bring the principles of fair trade to the domestic arena as a reflection of several interrelated developments: a growing need on the part of small and mid-sized farmers to garner price premiums due to the erosion of the organic price premium; a recognition of the failure of organic certification to advance a holistic vision of sustainability; and the strategic embrace of voluntary regulatory mechanisms as an alternative to public regulation and collective bargaining. Initial research suggests that this has led to particular framings of the domestic fair trade concept, which may undermine the movement’s ability to address the social relations of agro-food production. Specifically, prioritization of the ‘family-scale’ farm and an undercurrent of food localism may obscure farm workers’ role in valorizing the US agricultural landscape.