Berkeley's Fair Trade Status Celebrated



Iconic Berkeley clown Wavy Gravy is famous for many things: for being an instrumental figure at Woodstock, for being mentioned in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, for co-founding the circus and performing-arts Camp Winnarainbow and co-founding the Seva Foundation, which brings healthcare to underserved communities worldwide, and for having a Ben & Jerry's ice-cream flavor named after him. (Sales of ice cream in that nutty flavor, produced until 2003, helped support Camp Winnarainbow scholarships for low-income kids.)

As the namesake of a Ben & Jerry's flavor, the history-making former hippie is entitled to free Ben & Jerry's ice cream for life. But his visit to the downtown Berkeley Ben & Jerry's last week wasn't a mere milkshake run. Rather, he was there to promote Berkeley's new status as an official Fair Trade Town — the nation's nineteenth. (Boston has just become the twentieth.)

This milestone coincided with the shop's grand opening in its new location in the historic Ennor's Restaurant Building, so Ben & Jerry's co-owner Ben Cohen joined Wavy Gravy and other officials at the event, explaining fair trade to an enthusiastic crowd and offering free scoops to those who agreed to have their cheeks swabbed for Project Marrow.

"We've always been a fair-trade company. Ben & Jerry's was the first ice-cream company to use fair-trade chocolate, coffee, sugar, and vanilla — and all of our ingredients are committed to be fully fair trade by 2013," said Parisa Samimi, owner of the downtown Berkeley shop, which features newly upgraded equipment and serves Illy coffee and Semifreddi's pastries, two extras that weren't available in its former location on Oxford Street.

Ben & Jerry's is known for supporting humanitarian causes. The brownies used in some of its ice-cream flavors and as adornments for its cakes — Berkeley's shop sells more cakes than any other Ben & Jerry's location on the West Coast — come from Greyston Bakery, a nonprofit founded by a Zen Buddhist that consciously employs the underprivileged and facilitates housing and healthcare for the homeless.

"We use only cage-free eggs and hormone-free milk, and we support local farmers," Samimi said, emphasizing that her shop is a local business as she lives nearby and her children attend Berkeley schools. She also sells vegan sorbets and sugar-free ice-cream. Because the smoothies here are made with frozen fruit and contain no simple syrup, each fourteen-ouncer contains only 250 calories or fewer.

"I have a business degree and I've owned other businesses before, but what brought me to this point was Ben & Jerry's wonderful business model — the Ben & Jerry's Foundation that donated $2 million to nonprofits and grassroots projects last year, and their partnership programs with Greyston Bakery and other groups like that. I was really drawn to it, and wanted to learn more and bring it to a local level."