I just came back from a trip to visit our friends at the Rice Fund Surin co-op in Thailand where our delicious Hom Mali Jasmine Rice, Purple and Ruby Red Rice are produced. I travelled with Justin Murphy (pictured right) from the Tidal Creek Co-op in Wilmington, NC. Last year, Justin won a Trip-to-Thailand contest that Alter Eco put together with the NCGA (Natural Cooperative Grocers Association), a group that represents 130 local co-ops here in the US. We were thrilled to travel with a representative from one of the stores supporting Alter Eco products in the United States in a true co-op to co-op experience.
As committed food activists, every year we travel far and wide to bring the most exotic, delicious and sustainable foods onto the supermarket shelves. This November we spent 7 days visiting our Thai farmer partners in Surin, Yasotorn, Ubon Ratchatani and ChangMai. We have been working with these farmers for over 10 years now and can see the direct impact fair trade has on local communities. Our host Khun Somrat, (pictured below) gave us a harvest training lesson and told us about how fair trade has transformed his life. Beyond guaranteeing him a fair revenue for his work, fair trade also helped the farmers in his community transition to organic agriculture. He told us that “villagers used to be sick from the impact of the pesticides on their health and on their finances. With organic agriculture, we are in much better health and the overall happiness in the village is better than ever.”
One among many other inspiring encounters, was Khun Som Sak, a social entrepreneur who grew up in the slums of the town of Surin. For the past couple of years, she has been developing transformative projects locally that directly benefit the under-privileged community and its kids. These projects include developing a fishery, planting hundreds of fruit trees, planting trees for timber, starting several educational support programs, ect. By herself, she has brought about significant change. During our visit, Alter Eco and our broker from Integrated Organics (who was also traveling with us) made a donation to finance her next projects: a mushroom house and a chicken farm.
A word from our NCGA friend, Justin, upon his return to the US:“Thanks again for the trip. It has been a life-changing experience and I was so glad to enjoy some of it with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. The farmers I’ve seen and the people we dealt with along the way give me confidence that the organic food industry is alive and growing and the right place for me.”The ‘land of smiles’ never fails to host a magical, bountiful experience. Until next year, farewell Thailand!