Once a year everyone involved with Fair Trade in North America is invited to gather together for the Fair Trade Federation Conference. Last week was the week and I'm thankful to have been among those who gathered for the twentieth celebration of the formal inception of the group.
This year's conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it rotates to different major cities each year. I'd love to have the group gather in Lindsborg now that we have the J.O. Sundstrom Center, but alas, I don't think we would be considered a major city. ;)
The reasons I like to go to this conference are many, but I'll limit myself to four:
1.) We get to see one another! The people who work with the artists and farmers, the people who own retail stores and sell either some or all Fair Trade and those who are involved in supporting the business model - EVERYONE is invited. This year 250ish accepted the invitation. It's nice to be with old and new friends and raise a glass together.
2.) We have the privilege of setting everything else aside for the purpose of learning and growing. This conference has general sessions and lots of breakout workshops from which to choose. There are also round table discussions in which we can, for instance, pull up a chair next to other independent Fair Trade retailers and share what's worked and not worked during the previous year.
As I'm getting older and our boys are as well, I'm seeing how limited my time and energy can be... attending this conference ensures that at least once a year I will settle myself in and just soak in the goodness that fellow Fair Traders have to offer.
3.) The host town has at least one Fair Trade store and it is fun to visit! This year I perused two stores and in each asked a million questions. I even toured their back rooms! It is so helpful... and also makes me shutter to think that someone would ask to see my back rooms.
4.) There is a time or two during the conference in which the people who work with the farmers or artisans can set up a table and show their products. Because I don't go to Trade Shows now that we live in Kansas, this is a great way for me to see at least a little bit from a lot of wholesalers. I ordered from a few friends, made one new buy and saw lots of other things to contemplate.
I was really glad to get to go to the conference and really glad to get home again too. It was nice to walk back into our store and see what I knew was true all along - the ladies that work in our store are capable and fun. Ray especially covered tons of my hours and did so with warmth and enthusiasm.
We've started implementing some changes from the learnings of the conference that will hopefully make our store more healthy as time goes on. We also have some great references to keep us going on the right paths.
It's really all good... We just want to ensure that it will still all be good in 20 more years... all good in the movement of Fair Trade and in our own little Fair Trade store.
May it be so!