Sylvia Blanchet, MEd ’89

ForesTrade Makes a Global Difference

When they met at a conference in California in the 70s, Sylvia Blanchet OM ’89 and Thomas Fricke (Antioch West-San Francisco ’78) had already made individual commitments to improve lives and preserve the environment in third-world countries. Sylvia was preparing to leave for Guatemala and Thomas had just returned from Bali. For the last twenty-five years, their partnership alongside their Antioch experiences have helped make a difference. Most notable is their creation of ForesTrade in 1996, an organization that is winning global awards for its social and environmental impact.

Changing the Face of Commerce and Preserving Rainforests

ForesTrade began with Blanchet and Fricke’s concern for rainforest preservation and commitment to sustainable agriculture. The Brattleboro, Vermont-based company is the leading supplier of organic spices in North America and Europe and a leading supplier of single-origin Fair Trade coffee in the United States. It is, however, the organizational model they’ve created that is most noteworthy. At the 2002 Johannesburg World Trade Summit in South Africa, ForesTrade received a Business Award for Sustainable Development Partnerships.

During the presentation of the award, Forestrade was recognized for the social and environmental impact of its business and the structure of its partnerships in Indonesia and Guatemala. ForesTrade is a network of alliances, explains Sylvia. The network includes farmers, non-government organizations, government bureaus, conservation groups, and consumers.

Sylvia says “the Department of Organization & Management’s systems theory approach for diversity and conflict resolution helped develop the unique business model that became ForesTrade. We didn’t have any templates for what we wanted to create so we just had to invent as we went along. What drew me to Antioch’s Organization and Management program was that it was based on systems theory and an experiential learning approach. The importance of the interconnection of all things has always been my orientation, so Antioch was a good fit for me. Learning by doing is something we have just continued in the business,” Sylvia says.

Thomas developed Sustainable Agriculture curriculum for the University of Santa Cruz as part of his program for Antioch West. In many ways the seeds for the business began during his Antioch program where he was studying how agriculture can be a vehicle for community development and societal change. He drew a great deal on his experience in Indonesia doing community development in the early 70s. Their unique combinations of education and field experience have made a difference to more than 35,000 people throughout the world.

Teaching Farmers to be Sustainable

ForesTrade sets up a structure to train farmers about responsible and sustainable agriculture. Through incentives that pay farmers a fair price for their products and provide bonuses for growing organically, the structure both educates and encourages the use of conservation measures, such as the use of non-timber products of the rainforest to prevent slash and burn clearcutting.

ForesTrade goes further still, organizing democratic farmer cooperatives, which benefit the community with additional jobs, community centers, nurseries, and training farms. In addition, ForesTrade works with Conservation International and the World Wildlife Federation who provide additional incentives to the farmers for honoring the boundaries of the rainforest preserves. The last part of the alliance is the consumer.

“We’re hoping to help people get a better sense of connection with the source of their food. This is a place where their purchasing truly makes a difference to farming communities and fragile tropical ecosystems,” states Thomas. “By being committed to organics, people can feel empowered at all levels, from the farmer to the consumer.”

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