Discovery, Exploration and Where I’ve Been Lately.

I have realized a few things in the past few weeks not the least of which is that I am committed to discovering how I can be more conscientious about the way I spend my money. Just a few days ago, while I was in a Big Box store, I found myself thinking about “something that I needed”. It was really just something that I wanted and I found myself heading down the isle where this thing lived. As I made the turn a thought came to mind. I think it is a quote but I’m not sure who said it and I know it didn’t come from my own head. The realization was, “The more stuff we have the more clubs we need to defend it”. I didn’t need the thing anymore. For one, I didn’t have any room in my cart for clubs and for another, I have enough already. I turned my cart around and went in search of the necessities.

I have not posted anything in a while but I’ve been active in a process of discovery; mainly discovering just what Fair Trade goods are available in my area. It’s been fun to drop into a store that I’ve never been to and traverse the isles in search of “the labels”. Which, by the way, I realize that I need to post a list and description of these labels so others know that to look for.

These are not the only labels

I’ve discovered new stores carrying a wide range of Fair Trade products and I’ve met some great people curious about what I am doing and committed to Fair Trade as well. I tell them that I blog about Fair Trade and that I am trying to find what products are available in my area so I can let others know. This is leading me to another post about what specifically is available in the Sonoma County area – coming soon. Through this process I’ve photographed all the Fair Trade items in stores such as Surf Supermarket, Gualala Supermarket, Safeway, Shelton’s Market, Oliver’s Market, Harvest Market and Big John’s Market. I’m heading to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods next. I’ve also been into a toy store, a few cafe’s and some stores that sell mostly Fair Trade goods. When you know what you are looking for, it’s pretty easy to spot.

My family recently spent some time on the Mendocino Coast in Northern Ca. While I was there I took the time document what the area had to offer in the way of Fair Trade. It was a wonderful time of discovery and meeting new people. I visited the markets in the towns of Point Arena, Gualala, Mendocino and Fort Bragg. I visited the coffee shop in Mendocino owned by Thanksgiving Coffee and spoke to the Co-Founder and former president of Thanksgiving Coffee. She made me a mocha, by the way, that was simply amazing. I’ve put all the places on my map for you to find if you happen to be traveling in this area and want to know where to find Fair Trade products.

I’ve also been looking for other ways to be a more responsible shopper. I currently use the app on my phone (which I’ll provide some more info on later) and I recently purchased “” by Ellis Jones. I know that much of what I own is not Fair Trade Certified and I am discovering that much of it is not even ethically sourced. I’m not going to throw it all away and be wasteful but I am going to make sure that I replace it with goods made by companies whose business practices are ethical.

I’ve also discovered in the past few weeks how life can just get away from you. Getting back to work after the holidays takes a period of transition for some of us. There is so much going on and it’s easy to slip into routine and doing what is easiest. And as such, it’s been a few weeks since I have posted anything. But for me, the idea of Fair Trade is more than just a blog or feeling good about the chocolate that I am eating. It’s about living my life “Fairly”. And I want that way of living to permeate every aspect of my life. It’s a learning process and I have lots of room for growth but I’m moving in that direction.

It feels good to get these thoughts “down on paper” and to get the information about what I’ve found out to others. Mentioning that I’m going to post something soon helps keep me accountable to this process that I’ve said I’m committed to (I’m easily distracted). So until next time, Grace and Peace to you, let’s be fair.

Bittersweet: The Hot Chocolate Experiment

After a cold day at a Norther California beach I promised my nieces and nephew a nice cup of Fair Trade hot chocolate. The excitement level was through the roof. Just the night before we screened the film with the whole family, all 14 of them, including the five children. When they found out we were going to have hot chocolate, and it was Fair Trade Certified, they were buzzing. I on the other hand was a little nervous. I had two varieties of hot chocolate and I had never made either one. This was going to be interesting. It was the first test of an experiment that began with a Christmas party and a group of students.

The experiment seemed simple enough: find a “Fair Trade” alternative for hot chocolate. As I posted before we had some students over to our house for a Christmas party but we were out of hot chocolate. I went to my local Safeway to see if they had a fair trade option but I came up empty handed. So I was determined to see what was out there at some of the different merchants in my area. The experiment took about a month and covered a distance of over 200 miles.

For starters I checked out my local Whole Foods in Santa Rosa and came up with two options: &. They also carried Green & Blacks Hot Chocolate but I didn’t get that variety.

That evening I was going to make both brands. Both required heating up milk on the stove top and stirring in the coco mix. I decided to make the  mix with 1% Milk and the with plain SILK soy milk.  I had kids anxiously waiting and parents wondering if Fair Trade was legit. For such a simple thing I was under a lot of pressure. I heated up the two milk types and started stirring the chocolate. After a few sips I frantically called my wife into the kitchen. Neither were sweet enough, both very heavy on the dark chocolate flavor and the Silk milk was overpowering the flavor of chocolate. This was not good…

I could not salvage the the Silk and combination. It was horrible and I ended up pouring it down the drain. To save the and milk batch I broke out some fair trade sugar to mix in. My mistake was getting a “dark chocolate” variety for kids. It was good, just not rich and smooth. I increased the milk and sugar and eventually came up with a mixture that was suitable to the kids. My wife was the taste tester and helped me avoid a mutiny. My niece Madison said it was the best cup of hot chocolate she had ever tasted. I was a proud uncle!

Since the family was on vacation and we were in a new area I decided to see what other brands of hot chocolate I could find. We were in the Mendocino Coast area and I was able to tour the supermarkets in Gualala, Point Arena, Mendocino and Fort Bragg. The stores that provided the best options were and

The second step of this test happened on a Friday night a couple of days ago. We again had a group of students over to the house and this time we were going to take a full-moon hike out in the woods near our house. The plan was to take some hot chocolate with us and have it when we arrived at the midway point of our hike. I had purchased the variety at the Harvest Market and was thankful that this variety only required hot water for the mix. I mixed it up and put it into a few Thermos containers for our hike. When we reached our midway point in a large clearing we broke out the chocolate and enjoyed the cool evening and clear stars with an awesome cup of hot chocolate in our hands!

For ease of preparation and best taste my vote is for . I still have a few varieties to check out but at least I know that it is out there and I know where to get it. To find out where you can get Fair Trade items in your area, check out my MAP page for a listing of where to buy in California.

A word of caution. Always test a new product before you tell the masses what you are preparing just in case things don’t go as planned. This would have saved me from stressing out about what my nieces and nephew were going to think. Lucky for me things turned out ok.

We recently invited a group of students over to our house for an evening Christmas party. We were going to play the secret santa game, read some stories, and have dessert and hot coco. I noticed we didn’t have any hot coco in the house so I decided to run to the store to get some before the party. Because of the time I went to the closest store, our local Safeway. I knew our Safeway sold Fair Trade coffee and was hoping I would have some luck with coco as well. But this was not the case. Instead, there were 5 basic brands, the likes of which I’m sure are found in most grocery stores. There was the Safeway brand, which I must say I do not know anything about. The “local” Ghiradelli chocolate brand (local only because I live just north of San Francisco).  The flavored Starbucks brand. And the Hershey and Nestle brand. There were no Fair Trade offerings for hot chocolate at this Safeway.

So which one to buy in the pinch. Like I said, I didn’t know anything about the Safeway brand so I chose to leave that one on the shelf. When it comes to Hersey’s and Nestle I can no longer bring myself to buy any products put out by these two manufacturers. Both Hershey’s and Nestle get a D+/D grade on the app and Hershey’s is said to be the rest of the cocoa industry when it comes to supply chain transparency.  That left me with Ghiradelli and Starbucks. Ghiradelli gets a C- grade from Free2Work and Starbucks is not on the list. I know Starbucks does have 2 Fair Trade labels in their lineup of coffee so I thought they might be the better choice for the time being. So I did it, I bought the Starbucks brand Hot Chocolate but I left feeling unsatisfied.

The bottom line is that I now need to find where I can buy Fair Trade Certified Hot Chocolate here in my town. I have two options, and . Both of these markets sell a wide range of Fair Trade goods and I am confident I will be able to find what I am looking for there.

Is it really that big of a deal though? We’re talking about hot chocolate here… The problem for me is that once I am aware  that the products I use could have been produced by slave or child labor, I feel a responsibility to choose a different product. And in doing so, I feel empowered. I can choose something different. I can show what I believe in by what I choose to buy.