The Greenhouse sought to bridge this understanding of FairTrade with a local interpretation of the underlying ethos. Rose Collins, The Greenhouse's head cook, planned a meal packed with FairTrade ingredients and served it whilst dressed head to toe in FairTrade clothing. A vegetable paella featured rice from Thailand and cashews from India; the Florentines for dessert used chocolate from the Dominican Republic; the tea leaves come from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Kenya, and the coffee beans are grown and roasted in Peru. The paella was given local colour by seasonal carrots, leeks, mushrooms and sprouting broccoli. The Greenhouse's team of willing volunteers prepared and served the meal, and then joined our customers to hear the evening's speaker, Andy Mitchell, head of the local Spectrum Brewery, translate the ethical foundation of FairTrade to the local Norwich business chain.
Spectrum Brewery aims to help people drink beer properly: "not just as a breakfast drink, but a lunch and dinner drink as well. Though Norfolk boasts more non-organic microbrewers than any other county, Spectrum is the only organic brewer. Next in size are regional brewers, who deal directly with farmers and growers, allowing for dialogue not only on price points but flavours and crop specifics. Behemoth brewers mark the top of the beer chain. Mitchell explained how they pressure hop farmers into producing "high alpha hops", then screw as much beer as they can out of the malts and squeeze as many pints as possible out of the hops. These companies claim to meet consumers' expectations "...but they never add that those aren't very high!" Mitchell jokes.
The growth and reliance on these national breweries leads to the increase of food miles and the closing down of "maltings", where barley converts to malt. In addition to malt, Mitchell adds only three ingredients to his beers: hops, water, and yeast. His vegan beers are made without isinglass, a "clarifying" ingredient made from fish bladder, so the yeast goes down to the bottom and sticks there, forming sediment. He sees the organic side of his business as "making a FairTrade exchange with the earth and the soil", and ensures he trades fairly with his local customers, as well. Mitchell works with local malsters, hop merchants, and pub owners, which keep his food miles down and his community loyalty strong.
Only local pubs and businesses stock Spectrum's range, which number from nine to 14 if you count his seasonal brews. The Greenhouse stocks his bottled beer, whilst Take 5 on Tombland, The King's Head on Magdalene Street, and The Fat Cat on Nelson Street pour his brews on draught. They're able to do this because the pubs belong to the Direct Delivery Scheme, organized by the Society of Independent Brewers. This group and initiative encourages trade between small businesses and links brewers and independent retailers. This generally doesn't include pubs owned by PubCos, property companies that own chains of pubs and rent them out. With strict constraints on the freedom to order local brands and products, these pub managers cannot offer local beer even if they wished to.
Increased beer tax, which outweighed the VAT cut, is squeezing thousands of small brewers, suppliers, and pub managers, forcing them to increase their prices, and leading to thousands of pub closures each year. Supermarkets take advantage of this by selling cider for less than water, and even though the big chains claim they're not loss-leading, they're certainly not profiting. Mitchell advocates regulating sales of supermarket and off-license liquor, but keeping the tax out of pubs and instead placing the onus on managers and staff to keep the pub as a regulated drinking environment.
The choice an individual makes when buying beer affects not only them as consumer, but the retailer, producer, and grower involved in bringing that bottle to the table. Just as looking for the FairTrade mark on international goods ensures a better deal for the growers, choosing local and organic beer bolsters the local economy and protects the planet.
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