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Fair Trade Appalachia

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Carol Judy with fair trade items from Appalachia
Carol Judy with
Fair Trade Appalachia
Where do you look for exotic, skin-pampering products?  An alternative to the store brands might be something hand-crafted from the hills of Appalachia.  Carol Judy and her neighbors have been gathering the natural resources around them to share with the world.  They’ve brought their lip balms, soaps and salves into a loosely formed cooperative they call Fair Trade Appalachia.

“There are over 400 medicinal roots that grow here in these Appalachian mountains, 400!” explained Judy on an overcast winter’s day in the Clairfield community of Northeast Tennessee.  She showed samples of her popular salve made from all-natural ingredients, including the prized woodland root called goldenseal.  Judy learned the art of identifying and digging medicinal roots from elders in the community where she and her husband settled and raised their children.  Now one of her grown sons continues this traditional vocation along with her.  A few years ago, more residents got involved in making natural products in order to support themselves. “People were digging already, and I figured if I could buy their roots and make a product, that would ripple into the community,” Judy explained.
Claiborne County, Tennessee
In addition to the skin care products, locals have been creating other fair trade items to sell.  These include arrowheads carved from deer antlers, shadow boxes, toys, books and trinket boxes. The woodworker who gathers fallen tree branches dovetails dark walnut with other bits of hardwood, creating modern treasures. Judy notes how this type of business preserves the land by not destroying any trees or other wildlife habitat. “Randal’s careful,” she said, “he’ll leave a brushpile in the middle of the winter because it provides habitat for the critters that need it in the middle of the field.”

Applying the fair trade label to Appalachian goods involves using natural resources sustainably, as well as protecting the crafters’ income.  Right now, Fair Trade Appalachia uses a volunteer network to sell both online and at some nearby markets, with no middle entity taking a cut of the profits.  “I don’t think there’s a reason in the world that there should be a money poor person in these mountains,” exclaimed Judy.

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3 Responses to Fair Trade Appalachia

  1. Anonymous January 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Carol Judy rocks!

  2. Anonymous January 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    I hope these plants are harvested in a sustainable fashions. Goldenseal, more commonly known as yellow root, is already in a steep decline in West Virginia due to unsustainable harvesting. I hate to see these other plants go the way of ginseng just so folks can make a few bucks…

    • fairtradeappalachia January 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Hi Ma’am, My name is Michelle Mockbee. I am a co-owner of the company, so I am absolutely qualified to answer this question. We have harvested our goldenseal out of beds that Carol has harvested out of every year for 20 to 30 years. If we do not harvest non-timber forest products in a sustainable manner, we lose our wild-crafted products within a number of years. We train and work with local residents to value their knowledge of place, to understand what sustainable harvesting means for their income, culture and ecological integrity of precious natural resources. The Purpose of Fair Trade Appalachia is to promote income of local people that does not include middle men, but a digger and local production of products directly from the local residents to the consumer. So yes is it about a buck and yes it is about the integrity of relationships between people and place, as well as Appalachian residents recognizing the power of their knowledge of the land. As a region we need our answers to come from our community and the valuable knowledge we hold that should be valued and recognized by others, not just someone who rips people off buying ginseng and selling it to china to be re-packaged and sold back to the US as a product. If you would like to participate in our transition efforts, please contact us and visit our website, http://www.fairtradeappalachia.wordpress.com

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