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Fairtrade fortnight (22 February – 7 March 2010)  is a celebration of making the trading world a fairer place. You can get to show your support for the producers in the developing world through what you buy.

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Fair trade isn’t just about bananas or chocolate, it can also relate to the beauty products we buy and use on a daily basis. To mark this fortnight of festivities, we spoke to Green People who work with a range of suppliers who have projects in place that build up rural infrastructure, focus on education, provide fair wages and healthcare.

Charlotte Vohtz, founder of Green People, explains;

“We launched our first organic skincare products over 13 years ago and from day one, we have been fastidious about ensuring that, wherever possible, the raw ingredients which are used in our skincare products are produced on a fairly traded basis.   It is really important to us that people can be confident that the families that have been involved in the production of these gorgeous organic products are paid fairly, work in good conditions and have good prospects.”

Here are some of the real stories behind the ingredients that go into Green People products:

Ghana – Organic Shea Butter

The first and only Organic Fair Trade Shea Butter in the world it is handmade using age-old traditional methods in Ghana.  The production process does not use chemicals or solvents.  This fairly traded project provides employment, a fair wage and good working conditions for a community of 600 women who produce over 120 tonnes of butter each year!

Shea Butter provides moisturising, regenerative and anti wrinkle properties for skin.

Dominican republic – Organic Cocoa Butter

GP buy Fair Traded, organic Cocoa Butter from a project in the Dominican Republic which helps to train growers in sustainable harvesting and provide the financial help to expand their crops.  It has assisted communities in investing in much needed community water systems, local healthcare and educational scholarships whilst providing fair wages and living conditions for its 9,000 farmers and 350,000 individuals involved in the production – ensuring the Cocoa quality is one of the best on the market!

Cocoa butter provides wonderful softening and moisturising properties.

Bulgarian Valley – Organic Rose Otto Oil

This family-run operation in the Bulgarian Valley of Roses produces 60 kilos of Organic Rose Otto oil a year.  The land has been reclaimed by local farmers after the communist regime and is being reworked to get the valley back to the beautiful landscape it once was.  The harvests provide work for people from all over Bulgaria including three generations of the Nikolaev family who gather together to handpick the roses.

Rose oil is packed with therapeutic benefits – it’s soothing on the skin, regenerates new skin cells and promotes a feeling of well-being.

Namibia – Myrrh

The Myrrh used by Green People comes from a project in Namibia which supports the Himba tribe, who depend entirely on the income from the collection of Myrrh resin.  A group of women hand collect 100 kg in a day from 1200 different trees, but these nomadic people do not have the opportunity to create a market for the Myrrh.  Their support creates a regular and much needed income to the Himba people.  (This project is supported by WWF and the Namibia government).

Myrrh rejuvenates and helps heal damaged and sensitised skin.

India – Organic Peppermint Oil & Spearmint Oil

Over 40 small farms work together to produce a large amount of Organic Mint oils.  Over the 8 years of partnership the local community have been able to expand their farms and offer the opportunity of education to the local children.

South Africa – Organic essential oils

Rose geranium, Lemongrass and Rosemary are just some of the organic essential oils that we source from South Africa.  There are a wide range of projects going on in the country which support local communities, providing employment and a fair wage for the producers.

Organic essential oils make up much of what goes into natural skin care products, as these oils have beneficial properties for the skin and also a beautiful scent.  This allows the company to avoid using artificial fragrances, to which many people have sensitivities.

The Fair Trade Foundation are running ‘the big swap’ during Fair Trade Fortnight where you are being challenged to swap your regular products – whether this be food or beauty items, for those that have been fairly traded. You can register what you’re planning to swap at their website here.

I popped back home to Norwich for the weekend and met up with a friend from work. When paying in Topshop I was aksed if I would like to partake in their bag recycling scheme whereby customers are given a used bag and expected to bring it back and thus the process continues.

The girl next to me questioned what was in it for her–a freebie, points or some recognition. As such, there was not. But why should there be? There doesn’t need to be.

Tesco currently operate a green clubcard points scheme whereby customers get a point for every time they reuse a bag.

The question that begs is why should we be rewarded by points for such a simple saving way that is so easy to include in everyday living. Surely we should do this for the benefit of everyone and the environment rather than ourselves?

New research shows that about half of the UK population feel they have lost the practical skills of their grandparents’ generation with 45% admitting they have fewer cooking skills and 47% say they are less able to grow their own food.

Eco kids composting
Eco kids composting

The Food for Life Partnership works with more than 1,300 schools across England to ensure the next generation will be better equipped for the future than their parents by getting them growing and cooking in school.

Through the extensive Food for Life Partnership award scheme, schools get the guidance to transform their food culture and engage pupils, parents and the local community along the way. From Bronze, through Silver to Gold, schools set up organic gardens, cooking clubs and pupils visit farms and eat healthy, climate-friendly school dinners.

Late last month, the Food for Life Partnership launched the Food Growing Manual, which is a comprehensive growing resource, produced by one of the Partners, Garden Organic, for all schools enrolling on the Food for Life Partnership. The Food Growing Manual will enable schools to successfully develop their own gardens and produce edible crops for children, parents, teachers and communities to enjoy.

Food for Life Partnership manager at Garden Organic, Colette Bond, says:

“Teaching children to grow food puts them in touch with the land, familiarises them with the seasons and encourages healthier eating. On a wider level it also engages them with the food supply and helps them understand that food isn’t instant or ‘fast’ but that it takes time, energy and nurture to produce something edible.”

“Using the expert content of the manual, as well as the suggested activities and planting advice, we hope to develop a successful school garden, which will help the children to learn about growing their own food and eating seasonally. We also hope to use the garden to teach the curriculum and to reach out and involve everyone from staff and pupils right through to parents and the community.

The Food for Life Partnership aims to reconnect young people with growing, cooking, eating and appreciating climate-friendly, healthy and real food. Many schools in the Partnership are now using produce they have grown in their canteens, helping to make fresh, seasonal, organic produce a regular appearance on school dinner menus.

From now on, all schools signed up to the Food for Life Partnership will receive their own Food Growing Manual resource pack for free. To find out more or to enrol visit www.foodforlife.org.uk

Set to be open for play on October 5, Toronto’s first natural playground won’t look like any other city play space; it’s got a different edge.

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Artistic design in natural playground

Instead of solely focusing on gross motor skill based play areas, Bienenstock Natural Playground’s CEO and principal designer, Adam Bienenstock, is focusing on other areas of play.

“What happens to social skills? What happens to creative and dramatic play? What happens to sense of ownership and connection to the land?” Bienenstock said from his office in Dundas, Ontario. “How can we expect to create environmental stewards of the future if they don’t come into contact with nature and the environment?”

The new city park includes slides built into natural hills, recycled aluminum poles that create bursts of cloud mist, a giant sandbox, and furniture and forts made from a giant elm tree that had died onsite.

“The idea behind the business is to connect kids to nature when and where they play,” Bienenstock said. “Rather than put them on a bus and ship them out to the woods, let’s actually give them a place to do that.”

The playground opens six months after Active Healthy Kids Canada released it’s report card in March saying that only 34 per cent of Canadian families actually use parks and public spaces, and that 87 per cent of kids are not meeting the physical activity guidelines, giving Canadians a D grade in this category.

The report card went on to give an F to the screen time category, saying that many kids get close to six hours of screen time a day.

Bienenstock is trying to turn this statistic around.

“When I was a kid, I spent more than six hours a day in nature, that was normal for me.  I spent maybe 20 minutes a day in front of a TV.”

Sally Kotsopoulos, early childhood centre manager at Ryerson University, says if we are going to put environmental responsibility on our kids we better dust off their running shoes.

“I know for certain if children don’t spend time outside why would they care about it?” Kotsopoulos said. “Why would they care if it doesn’t mean anything to them?”

Ryerson’s early childhood centre installed a natural playground five years ago and Kotsopoulos says the children are always busy, and more cooperative than they were before.

“There is so much opportunity for creativity that nothing is prescribed,” she said. “If you have a large play structure it pretty much prescribes what the children are supposed to do. They go up the steps and down the slide. They put their head through this, and they swing on that pole. They rotate through that unit in a particular fashion.”

“Here it’s just like being out in a lovely backyard. With natural space playgrounds there are spaces where children can go to be together, they can play cooperatively, they can invent and be creative.”

Cooperative play is no coincidence; it’s a design feature. Bienenstock claims his playgrounds are not only less prone to injuries due to zero fall height potential, they are also less prone to bullying.

“If you only have one thing you are all focused on, that’s where bullying occurs,” he explains. “If you take that one thing and spread it out throughout the play space, you start to see reduction of that. It’s just a natural thing that happens. If you put music and art, and nature throughout the space, the focus of the concentration on one area starts to shift and it allows for kids with all kinds of different abilities to experience the playground in a different way.”

But could parks like these get more than the 34 per cent of families out to use public spaces?

Joy Olding, a kindergarten teacher and mother of three says her children spend about an hour a day outside, not enough by her standards.

But there are a few challenges that stand in a parent’s way.

“There is supervision,” Olding said. “I have lots of work to do inside and it’s hard to do both at the same time.”

She also said it’s sometimes hard to make the swing set look lucrative. When you have TV, computers, and a ton of toys inside the great outdoors can seem like a lot of work.

“Most of the time it’s getting them to want to play outside,” she said. “There are so many things that they want to play with inside that the challenge is getting outside to be attractive for them. It forces them to use their imaginations and sometimes they don’t want to do that.”

Bienenstock looks out his office window onto the community playground he built and stands by the theory, ‘If you build it they will come.’

“We cannot ask them to care about their environment if we do not give them the tools to do that,” he said. “It’s about time we made that shift.”