The organic produce industry long has kept one marketing eye on Fair Trade products, which aim at fair wages and living conditions for workers, environmental stewardship and profits for the growers.

It makes sense for organic fruit and vegetable suppliers to deal with Fair Trade partners, said Simcha Weinstein, marketing director for Albert’s Organics, Bridgeport, N.J.

“This support helps provide small farmers direct access to international markets and the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive,” said Weinstein, whose company has been involved in Fair Trade goods since 2006.

Fair Trade funding makes sustainable local development in rural and poor communities possible, Weinstein said.

“It allows farmers and workers to develop infrastructure that improves their communities and their lives,” he said, listing health care, education and nutrition programs and organic gardens for workers among benefits Fair Trade provides.

“Participating in Fair Trade programs has given Albert’s Organics an opportunity to directly enrich and improve the lives of growers throughout the world,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said his company has contributed about $420,000 in community development funds to banana growing communities in Ecuador and Peru since 2006.

Capitola, Calif.-based Awe Sum Organics, which ships and markets organic fruit from the Southern Hemisphere, also is committed to the Fair Trade philosophy, according to David Posner, who founded the company as Farmers Fruit Express Inc. in 1985 and changed the company name four years ago.

As of March 1, Awe Sum Organics had achieved Fair for Life certification, which enhances the social responsibility component in the company’s existing Fair Trade effort, Posner said.

“One of the requirements is workers are all paid good, fair wages and they have good working conditions and there’s a social program for them and part of the money goes back to the social program,” Posner said.

The social programs are key components to the Fair for Life program, Posner said.

“Our New Zealand organic apple producer has started a community garden where the workers live,” he said.

The idea is to get the entire worker community involved, he said.

“Not only does it give the workers an opportunity to participate in a project that brings the community together and produce wholesome organic produce for their families, it also gives them something that keeps the community from having problems with crime and other problems,” Posner said.

He said another Awe Sum grower, in Argentina, has two social programs going.

“One is contributing books to the library in the village where the workers live, and another is contributing medical supplies to what you could call the ‘emergency center,’” he said.

Involvement in Fair for Life, as with typical Fair Trade programs, comes with a price premium. Posner said a bag of Fair for Life-certified apples might retail for $5.99, compared to $3.99 for a comparable bag of conventional fruit.

Customers willingly pay the extra cost, he said.

There are risks, and Posner said his company may learn that firsthand this year.

The company normally ships 700,000 cartons of fruit — mostly apples, pears and kiwifruit — from the Southern Hemisphere annually, but volumes won’t approach that this year, Posner said.

“Some of the growers dropped out of the organic production due to the fact that the returns weren’t enough to sustain the costs of production,” he said.

The exchange rate, which Posner has cited in the past as an issue, played a role.

This year, weather problems came into play, he said.

“In New Zealand, where our biggest volume comes from, it was a double whammy this year,” Posner said, adding that a big problem was a record cold summer, which prevented an ideal fruit set.

“We ended up with the smallest-sized fruit ever,” he said.

What fruit does reach the U.S. will be marketed prominently as Fair for Life fruit, Posner said.

“A lot of information that people want is that workers are being paid fairly and that they have good working conditions, but it’s also important to pass on the fact that the producer is receiving a return back that is above the cost of production,” he said.

Posner and Weinstein said involvement in one Fair Trade program or another is trending upward among organic shippers.

“Others will get involved, if they aren’t already,” Posner said.