Fair Trade Day Garden Event at Just Creations

7″x9″ watercolor
See all artwork available for sale.

From the wonderful staff at Just Creations, Louisville’s International Fair Trade Marketplace:

On Saturday, May 9, noon-4, we join organizations from around the world to raise awareness about the need for and the benefits of Fair Trade.   Our special event features:

  • Potting Activity for Kids & Adults: Just in time for Mother’s Day! Pick your herb, pick your pot. Plant it yourself or let the experts do it for you. While supplies last. Suggested donation – $7
  • Jeneen Wiche Container Gardening Presentation at 1pm. Jeneen will talk about creating interesting containers, with emphasis on starting out right with the right container, right soil mixture, and right plants for the site. Jeneen will also offer tips on how to make your garden more sustainable. Admission is FREE, but reservations are suggested.
  • Herb Planter Raffle – We’ve got a special pot with kitchen herbs planted up just for you! Raffle tickets are available through May 9. $1 each or 7 for $5. Proceeds from the raffle will be donated to “Planting for the Future,” an environmental education program in Haiti that helps students learn how to plant and care for tree seedlings, improve the soil and deal with trash, one of the region’s most visible problems.

Special thanks to Thieneman’s Herbs & Perennials for partnering with us by providing herbs for our event and raffle.

Just Creations
2722 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206

the ‘Ville gets green(er)

Louisville city skyline
2′ x 4′ oil on canvas
See all artwork available for sale.

By guest writer, Mark Appleberry, of Sustain (a business dedicated to providing the resources necessary for families and individuals to live more sustainably).

“Green living can mean so many different things. It can start with buying the first re-usable shopping bag, switching to toxic free cleaning, buying from local farmers, or even giving second life to an object instead of buying new.   It starts with small decisions that can have significant impacts on the future.   Everyone we meet that is making steps towards sustainability is an inspiration.   We would like to acknowledge a few our friends, right here in Louisville, who are making great strides forward and inspiring hope along the way.

Ben and Julie Evans – The aspiring filmmaking team, along with another friend, Mark Dixon, are the creative genius behind “Your Environmental Road Trip [YERT],” www.yert.com.   These three took a year to visit all 50 states, putting themselves through extreme eco-challenges, interviewing over 800 environmental leaders, experts, and regular citizens from all walks of life, and documenting sustainability across America – as they like to say, “the good, the bad…and the weird.”   The documentary is pregnant with hope, laughter, and over 500 hours of “green” footage.   It is slated for release in full at the end of this year.   For now, satiate your curiosity with over 50 short fun films on their webpage.   For anyone interested in helping with the feature film, contact Ben at ben@yert.com.

Paul Schellenberger – An 18 year veteran of vermicomposting (worm farming), Paul is a passionate environmentalist excited about educating people about worm farming and composting in general.   Paul consulted from the outset with Breaking New Grounds, a local Louisville vermiculture operation.   You can find BNG’s compost at local Heine Brother’s Coffee shops.

John W. Moody – John is enabling sustainable living by connecting people with local farmers.   His involvement with the Whole Life Co-op., as well as his educational seminars, convey the message of “simple living”.   John regularly speaks on composting and encouraging people to think before carelessly buying, consuming, and discarding.   He and his wife also speak to young parents about raising happy, healthy children.   You can learn more about what John is doing by exploring www.wholelifeco-op.com

Green Convene – The Green Convene is non-partisan coalition to promote sustainable policies in local government.   Led by an informal steering committee of local volunteers, the Green Convene is working to coordinate and bring together the many local Louisville movements addressing a variety of sustainability issues in the Louisville Metro area.   They are always in the market for volunteers and participants and you can join here.

These are just a few of the great people and organizations in and around Louisville dedicated to helping Louisville become a greener, environmentally friendly community and we’re proud of their efforts!”

Thank you Mark!   I’ll add to that list the Green Building, Ohio Valley Creative Energy, and BrightSide (supported in part by Gallopalooza), all of which are highly worthy of your clicks.

So who made that sweater you bought dad for Christmas?

18″ x 24″ oil painting on canvas, SOLD
See all artwork available for sale.

It’s a beautiful scene, isn’t it? Maybe for most, but for me personally, looking out my window and seeing a fresh blanket of snow does not make me think joyful and serene thoughts of the winter season. Instead I imagine opening my front door to step into a life-size freezer that stings my skin and drys my contacts to my eyeballs. I usually stand at my window and try to enjoy the white landscape from the comforts of my heated apartment until the chilling, drafty air seeps through the window to get me.

My distaste for winter had me knitting thick scarves for friends and family as Christmas gifts, motivated by the strange personal responsibility I feel to protect my loved ones’ well-being from the harsh elements. But as usual, time ran short and more of my yarn was still in a ball, not knitted in rows. I’ve turned to the web to supplement the goods I couldn’t produce myself, but with the great disadvantage of specifically looking for items made under fair working conditions.

Earlier this week I got a thorough update on sweatshops on this NPR program. An independent factory inspector and other industry experts laid out the various components of the industry including cheaper, more loosely regulated overseas labor, market transparency and socially responsible alternatives. I then found a couple especially worthy resources to share with you.

If you aspire to be an armed consumer at all times, consider the back-pocket-sized “The Better World Shopping Guide” for yourself or as a gift. The comprehensive buyer’s companion is a directory that ranks companies based on their commitment to social and environmentally conscious business practices.

Too busy to look up a company’s ranking? Go straight to a retailer that professes fair practices in its name, “No Sweat.” Yoga pants, hoodies, jeans, screen printed shirts and yes, scarves are available at very reasonable prices. If you have to venture out into that gigantic outdoor freezer, at least you can say your body heat is being guarded by garments produced under humane and fair working conditions.

Fair Trade, a niche market or hand out?

5″ x 7″ watercolor in a 12″ x 15″ frame, $220 ($10 donated to Just Creations)
Click here to see picture of framed painting.

See all artwork available for sale.

Following a recent knitting demonstration given by a visiting finger puppet artisan from Peru, I found myself engaged in a healthy mental jostling with my boyfriend over a macro view of fair trade. The word “subsidy” was tossed around a few times by my business-minded debate partner. The comment section below is his space for rebuttal, but my impression of his position is that the market determines the price of a product; if there is no demand, it’s elbowed out of the market. If it’s highly valuable, the price mirrors that worth. The sustainability of fair trade was the theme of the conversation and brainstorming what model truly best serves the marginalized producers of the endless products we consume.

Within reason, you could call me a proponent of self-governing business, unencumbered by government regulation that can systematize businesses and stifle innovation and creativity. Few people would believe I actually believe that statement since most often I’m arguing for regulations that prevent large companies and other power-players from using their disproportionately heavy monetary influence to manipulate the system to work in their favor. If we can’t trust people to act morally, the government has to babysit and wag a finger at gluttonously self-serving business. We wouldn’t have offer subsidies on such a large scale if more people were given the opportunity to take care of themselves instead of being held in oppressive, compromising positions by businesses profiting massively from their labor.

I argued that if people were 1. adequately informed consumers and 2. financially able to choose more healthy and ethically produced products, the market would indeed “correct itself” and make room for products with a more equatable division of profits between producers and distributors. Only then we wouldn’t have to call it “fair trade” because that would be redundant.

There are an abundance of fair trade options for consumers to utilize as their voice in telling the market, “I want and will pay for products that ensure the producers get a fair wage.” Most cities have a fair trade retail store and multiple fair trade coffee shops (in Louisville it’s Just Creations and Heine Brothers Coffee). For online shoppers, ’tis the season (nearly) to start gift giving. Consider these fair trade suppliers as you vote with your credit card for just and fair wages to the people making your sweaters and throw pillows:

“Black Gold”

5″ x 7″ watercolor in a 12″ x 15″ frame, $220
Click here to view a picture of the framed painting.
See all artwork available for sale.

This week I saw a screening of the documentary film Black Gold. Heine Brothers Coffee, an independent, fair trade chain in Louisville promoted the film screening to shed some light on the economics of coffee (second only to oil as the world’s most heavily traded commodity).

Black Gold is another documentary calling for thoughtful action in our everyday activities verses being blissfully ignorant of the harm we help create through our behavior as consumers. Americans alone drink 400 million cups of coffee per day. Of that $3 for a cup of coffee, approximately $.03 goes to the farmer. Of course that $3 includes the a lot of overhead, nonetheless, coffee retailers benefit disproportionately from the farmers’ crop and labor. One saddening effect of this is the desperate decision of some farmers to replace their coffee plants (which take several years to grow to maturity) with chat, sold as a narcotic drug in their own communities.

Don’t fret! We can still enjoy our beloved drink with a clear conscience. Buying fair trade coffee ensures that farmers are paid a minimum of $1.50/lb of whole beans. This stands in stark contrast to fluctuating prices (sometimes dropping well below $1/lb) set by large multinational corporations for coffee traded in the free market.

After the film, during the Q&A session, I asked who absorbs the cost of paying the price difference for fair trade coffee. A long time Heine Brothers barrista informed me their company paid the difference and, although it has hurt their profit, their customer base has grown because of the attraction of such higher moral business practices.

The Starbucks website claims they are North America’s largest purchaser of certified Fair Trade coffee, although I know they certainly do not exclusively serve it. I read on a blog somewhere that Starbucks had promised to brew a cup of fair trade coffee for you if it was not the coffee of the day. I tried this at a Starbucks inside a Target store and the woman at the counter asked me what fair trade meant. I didn’t have the patience for that explanation. When I went to the sugar counter for milk, I ironically saw a fair trade pamphlet. Clearly fair trade is not a bullet point in the employee training manual.

Click here for a direct link to the Black Gold trailer.

Click here to see a schedule of Black Gold screenings.


Not too shabby, eh? We’re brainstorming other venues where we can place similar banners or signs, such as coffee shops or natural food stores (should the owners be so kind as to offer the free space).

Just Creations making an appearance at the farmers market

I’ve been toying with this design for a 3′ x 5′ outdoor sign which will hang from a vendor’s table at the Deer Park farmers market in Louisville. If you’re a local, and have frequented this farmers market, I’m positive you’re familiar with the famous omelet stand. The produce to the right of that stand is sold by the glorious organic omelet chefs and comes from Oxmoor Farm, home of the Food Literacy Project (featured here on this site in the past).

As the board member from the marketing committee designated to be the graphic designer for Just Creations, I created this sign to encourage socially conscious farmers market patrons to shop at Just Creations (we are a fair trade, nonprofit retailer selling home furnishings, decor, clothing and coffee produced by artisans from around the world in developing countries. I’ve also blogged about the store here and here). Another board member is donating a several of our artisan baskets to kick start some enticement.

I need to send the design off to the printer this week and would love some feedback. Any suggestions?

Just a little gloating

I know I’ve already visited this, but… just around the corner from me, at one of my favorite coffee shops, where I might as well leave my credit card, I now feel more a part of the fair trade coffee exchange…


The Painting Activist has squeezed into the spotlight again

The Courier-Journal recently ran an article about this new, brilliant, lyrical product sprouting from a dearly loved local coffee chain in Louisville, Heine Brothers Coffee.

As Starbuck’s continues to lose its unique, personal touch and bulge into the Walmart of caffeine, small cafes like Heine Brothers are seizing the opportunity to replicate large-scale successful practices for their mom-and-pop style patrons. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen all the Starbuck’s items sold at the counter aside from products that belong in your mouth, like CDs from their own music label, Hear Music. Heine Brothers has teamed up with sonaBLAST! records to promote up and coming indie rock artists on their own compilation CD. I had the good fortune of blanketing the cover with one of my paintings (and therefore mentioned in the article).

In the Heine Brothers spirit of exclusively using fair trade beans and sending staff to Latin America on Habitat for Humanity projects, this CD is more than another way to make a buck. $1 of the $10 album is being “donated to a fair trade organization, whose goal is to help marginalized producers of any type goods compete on an international scale.”

The CD is available in all Heine Brother store and Ear-x-tacy. There is also talk of Amazon, iTunes, and other independently owned coffee cafes around the country. I’m honored to be a part of it.

World Fair Trade Day 2007

It is indeed World Fair Trade Day.   If you’re in Louisville, head over to Just Creations on Frankfort Ave to celebrate by letting the kiddos paint a clock while you stock up on cool fair trade goods, and get your face painted.   I would be there myself to paint your face, but alas, I’m in Chicago learning how to be a better blogger (I really do love you!).

Not leaving the couch on your day off?   Shop for fair trade products online (ah, the beauty of the internet).   One of my favorite fair trade companies (which is a supplier for Just Creations by the way) is Ten Thousand Villages.   Remember, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and there are loads of excellent gifts for mom at your local fair trade retailer.

Personal stories literally woven into handsome rugs

It’s too easy to stroll into Pier One, TJ Maxx, or Target and pick up an expensive, knockoff oriental rug. Trust me, I’ve dug through the clearance pile myself looking for the cheapest one to just to cover that stain in my living room. As I’ve become more involved in the behind-the-scenes workings of the retail industry, my conscience has demanded that I be a more informed consumer. Mega-giant, chain retailers sing like sirens to our impulsive and thrifty sides, but even an inkling of thought invested into the impact behind your purchases will bring you to your socially responsible senses.

I am a new board member of the fair trade retailer, Just Creations. Yesterday, I watched a brief informative video about the long and laborious process of making oriental rugs, three times before spending a few hours at the store for our Oriental Rug Event. For those of you in a position to invest in such a purchase, here are a few things to think about before you cut corners at the discount store:

1) Artisans receive 60% of the sales price, compared to 10-20% with other retailers.
2) A price tag of several hundred to several thousand dollars may catch you off guard, but keep in mind it takes approximately 4-5 people, working at the same time, 6 hrs/day, 6 days/wk, 14 months to complete a 9′ x 12′ Persian rug at 500 knots/sq inch.   How much do you and 4 of your co-workers make over that amount of time?
3) Many alternative rugs are made with materials of lesser quality by workers who are essentially forced to work in poor conditions for wages that keep them impoverished.
4) Even an abbreviated version of the process is enough to make you want to frame a rug behind glass instead of walking on it:

  • Sheering local sheep, spinning the wool, making the dyes, dying the wool
  • Creating the design, painting a key of it, making a grid of the painting, then writing a color sequence for the knotters
  • Building a loom
  • Tying 500 knots/sq inch, by hand!
  • Cleaning the rug (actually “burning,” washing, rinsing, and color-safe bleaching it multiple times)
  • Sun drying, stretching, and sealing the rug
  • Tying and trimming the tassels

Even writing about it exhausts me!   The sale ends tomorrow, so go buy a rug, or go here to look online.

Artisan visits Just Creations

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $150 ($50 donated to Just Creations).

See all paintings available for sale.

The mechanics of a nonprofit retailer, Just Creations, were spelled out for me by an artisan who visited the store this past weekend to share with her arts and crafts loving audience how her products get from developing countries to your living room. Retailers such as Just Creations “purchase exclusively from Fair Trade Organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages, A Greater Gift and Equal Exchange. These groups work directly with artisans and farmers to ensure that Fair Trade principles are practiced.

With the enthusiasm of a child beaming at show-and-tell, the artisan walked us through various explanations such as batiking. Like a premature Santa, she had beautiful desirables in tow that made distant places such as Ghana seem a little more “real.”

It’s wonderful to know that pots (like the ones above) will end up stuffed with flowers on someones table or in a gift bag awaiting “oh my gosh, I love it!” Not just any pots, but ones that were possibly sculpted by someone like Kartick Pall, of Paul Para, Bangladesh who, thanks to his fair trade vendor tells us, “there is no end to my hopes.”

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Paying fair wages to keep the caffeine flowing

Heine Brothers Coffee Cafe
8″ x 8″ oil on board

“Independent music for independent coffee drinkers” is the brainstorm stage theme for a new compilation CD that resulted in this painting as a possible cover image for the album. Heine Brothers’ Coffee is the small chain that will be offering the album as an independent, local version of Starbuck’s HearMusic.

Heine Brothers’ Coffee is all about the spreading the love of happy coffee drinkers. They are very vocal about the fact that they, “import and sell only Organic, Fair Trade, green coffees from small farmer cooperatives. This effort supports a more equitable and sustainable system of coffee trade that directly benefits these farmers, their families, their communities, and the environment.” Even the walls of every store are adorned with larger-than-life murals depicting coffee growers in their local environments.

Maybe you’re not in the fair trade coffee know. If not, here’s a site all about it with a quick and fun intro that sums it up.