It has been acknowledged that olive oil, in moderation, is a heart healthy alternative. Knowledgeable consumers are also following their hearts by buying from socially responsible companies and organizations that produce fair trade products and olive oil in particular.
Our hearts were moved seven years ago when we met Dr. Nasser Abufara in Palestine at the Canaan Fair Trade headquarters in Burqin, just outside of Jenin in the West Bank. Mary Ann Kerr and I both were on Interfaith Peace Builders delegations meeting with non-violent activists and organizations in Israel/Palestine and this was a much-anticipated stop. In 2004, Nasser founded Canaan Fair Trade, whose motto is “insisting on life”, and the Palestine Fair Trade Association with the goal of improving the lives of the farmers in the region of Palestine where he had been raised. While working on his PhD in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Nasser discovered fair trade and knew that such a concept would fit naturally with the traditional farming practices of his people. Thus he set out to bring this life energizing philosophy to the people of the West Bank.
Insisting on Life
The Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) and Canaan Fair Trade, located in the northern West Bank, are models of social responsible organizations dedicated to supporting 1700 farmers and their families. These farming producers are organized in 43 olive oil producing cooperatives and 8 women-owned cooperatives which produce maftoul (couscous), freekah (fire roasted spring wheat), zataar (a Mediterranean spice mix), sun-dried tomato and green olive tapenades, and olive oil soap.
In addition to guaranteeing fair prices to farmers and producers that they can depend on, funds are distributed annually to the community in the form of ten four-year scholarships to farmers’ children to go to college or university, micro-loans to women to start their own businesses, and a yearly tree planting program. Ongoing workshops are also provided on fair trade, organic and sustainable traditional farming practices and techniques, and over all production improvement. In June 2014, the Canaan Center for Research and Extension (CORE) was established for “research, education and extension activities promoting organic production and marketing fruits, vegetables and grains in Palestine and abroad.” The primary researchers are Palestinian farmers who are aided and guided by professional researchers, experts and scholars in the field.
Every year since our first visits to Canaan, new projects and products have emerged which illustrate the motto “insisting on life” and create the hope and reality of a sustainable life for the Palestinian farming community. The entire production of finished goods…. growing, maintaining standards, processing, bottling, labeling, packing, shipping, designing, marketing and much more….. provide employment for an entire community and beyond. The Arabic word sumud meaning steadfastness comes to mind when thinking about the work of this community and these organizations. It is indeed inspiring! We have been so honored to be associated with Canaan Fair Trade as volunteer ambassadors and, as well, to be able to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with proceeds from our sales. It really does our hearts good!!