Fair Trade 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.

This entrepreneurial community leader knows all too well about poverty in the mountains and has been working for decades to help her neighbors overcome it. Tomorrow:  what threatens the existence of their fair trade business and way of life!

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