Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 18, 2022

Getting to know you

I'm not a particularly discerning grocery shopper, but last summer after I bought some cherry tomatoes, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. On the top of the container, an "ear" of the label had the message: "Peel here to LETTUCE OUT!" Another part had the message, "Wash me. Please don't refrigerate. It's too cold in there!"

I have to admit it made me smile.

The ear was not pasted to the container, so by pulling it, I could peel the label off. As I did so, I came face-to-face with Hermila H. A drawing of her was on the label back. She was described as a "multi-skills harvest associate" and I was invited to check out more of her story at naturesweet.com/talent. Again, I thought it was cute, but I passed on the invitation.

But the next time I bought the NatureSweet "Cherub" tomatoes, I wondered if Hermila's story was a "one-and-done" advertising effort. It wasn't! This time it was Salvador H., a tractor driver. Intrigued, I decided I would look at the company's website.

These are the Associates who grow our tomatoes. But what you may not know is that they're also growing their futures. Every day they seize opportunities to improve professionally, academically, personally, and every day we're amazed by what they're able to achieve. Perhaps that's the reason our tomatoes taste so great - because as a culture we don't see our people as workers - we see them as remarkable humans with infinite possibilities, capable of anything.

What a great way to connect consumers with the people who help bring them products!

I thought about this again when I bought some gifts at Rooted, a local "fair-trade" shop. Fair trade is an arrangement designed to help producers and artisans in developing nations improve their wages and working conditions.

Daughter Mariya pointed out a knitted drink-can sleeve, commonly called a "Koozie," she thought was cute. The small label had a picture of Norma, with the following description: "Our knitting cooperative is located in Peru at an elevation of 13,900 feet at the base of the Andes Mountains. Here are 16 Aymara women in our cooperative. When I am not knitting or taking care of my 4 children, we farm potatoes and quinoa. I love my community and being able to work close to my family. ... "

Again, I was directed to a website - andesgifts.com. The knitting cooperatives of Andes Gifts sell hats, gloves, and scarves made by Bolivian and Peruvian Aymara and Quechua artisans. Knitting is an important cultural tradition in the Andes Mountains and is passed down through the generations. The cooperatives allow the women to work in their own communities without having to travel away from their families to larger cities for employment.

Other artisans were listed on the website. Alejandrina, 56, learned to knit from her mother and now enjoys teaching the craft to her grandchildren. Maria, 42, runs a small business selling candy when she's not working on knitting projects. She says knitting helps her to feel relaxed and allows her to provide financial support for her parents. Reyna, 28, uses the money she earns from knitting to pay for her studies at a technical institute.

I bought Norma's knitted koozie and told Mariya to act surprised when she opened it on Christmas Day.

Items from Andes Gifts are only a few of the many at the local Rooted store. Other products come from India, Vietnam, Kenya, Ecuador and many other countries. Kevin Cook, his wife Laurie Weiss-Cook and their daughter Audrey purchased the store, previously called Connected, in July 2019.

Cook said, "While we didn't take the initial risk of opening the store, we felt like Manhattan was a community that could support the mission of a fair trade store. ... We also knew that there had been consistent interest in fair trade with the University community based on the fair trade market that used to happen on campus each fall. ... While we had no real data to back up our suppositions, our 17 years of living in the community and having a variety of connections and relationships led us to believe that a store that focused on quality products made by hand or grown by folks who most benefitted from the sale would be viable."

Another example of a business connecting employees with customers is Driftaway Coffee. The company offers monthly coffee "subscriptions" and Mariya and her wife Miriam have been subscribers for two years. Customers initially receive a tasting kit with several coffee samples. After sampling the coffees, customers can personalize their subscriptions. For example, Mariya and Miriam have selected darker, more chocolate-flavored, roasts. The company donates five cents for each pound of roasted coffee to the non-profit World Coffee Research organization, which is "dedicated to growing, protecting, enhancing supplies of quality coffee ..."

Each coffee shipment comes with a postcard that includes notes on the origin of the coffee, as well as the story of the farmer who grew it. Their February shipment came from farms near the Colombian towns of Tabl�n de Gom�z, Buesaco and La Uni�n. In 2011, UNESCO declared the "Coffee Cultural Landscape" of Colombia a World Heritage site.

After living in Latin America for several years in the late 1970s, I thought it would be fun to open a shop to sell crafts from around the world. I would line the walls with photos of the people who made the products and the places they lived and include personal descriptions of the artisans and producers. Journalism captured my attention instead, but I'm glad some companies are implementing my long-ago idea.

Learning these small details about items I buy doesn't affect their quality. Yet, just as when a neighbor shares excess home-grown tomatoes or a relative gives me some homemade soup, it is somehow satisfying to know where something was made and who was involved. These recent experiences may all be just an advertising gambit, but even if it is, I'm enjoying it.

Top-left: Label on the original container of tomatoes that caught my eye; top-middle-left: drawing of Hermila under the label at the left; top-middle-right: photo of Hermila at the naturesweet.com website; bottom-left: tag on Mariya's "koozie"; bottom-middle-left: drawing of Salvador under the label on the second container of tomatoes; bottom-middle-right: photo of Salvador at the naturesweet.com website; right: Mariya (left) and Miriam with their recent shipment of Driftaway coffee.

Comments? [email protected].
Other columns from this year may be found at: Current year Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home