Churches’ usage of fair trade palms on the rise.
As the world becomes more interconnected, decisions that once affected only local communities now impact people around the globe. That’s why many congregations today are aligning their beliefs and values to support environmentally and socially responsible organizations. In recent years, churches have become increasingly concerned with the harvesting of leaves and decorations used in their Palm Sunday celebrations. Questions have emerged about one palm variety in particular. The Chamaedorea, or Bella Palm, is a tropical palm with leaves that resemble a fern and have been especially plagued by aggressive harvesting. This has resulted in a depletion of Mexico and Central America rain forests. Chamaedorea harvesting has been central to the sustainability discussion, and is primarily used by florists. Environmentally minded palm growers, like our Texas-based palm supplier, does not sell the tropical Chamaedorea palm. In fact, over its 53-year history, the company has primarily grown the Sabal palm, which is native to the company’s South Texas location. Our palm supplier sells strips from the Sabal palm, as well as ornamental leaves from other desert palms. “We view our trees as a long-term investment,” Westphal says. “We harvest the leaves every year until the tree reaches 8-10 feet. At that height, the tree requires someone to use a ladder to reach the leaves, and we don’t want to endanger our workers. So, we’ll sell the palm for landscaping in yards, golf courses, roadways and commercial sites.” To help protect and sustain its land, our palm supplier regularly replants natural vegetation and has built numerous ponds for native wildlife and birds. In 2004, the company donated over 300 acres of native habitat to the Natural Area Preservation Association to create a permanent sanctuary. “Native plants and wildlife have been depleted in the Rio Grande Valley because of ongoing development,” says David Bezanson, executive director of the Austin, Texas based N.A.P.A. “[Their] history and biological diversity make it one of the most unique properties donated to us. We’re grateful they were willing to help preserve the rare species of animals, plants and trees.”
While many churches have become actively involved in the environmental issues surrounding harvesting, they are equally concerned about the workers procuring the palms. That’s because in some areas, particularly in Central American countries, workers often encounter exploitative conditions, including underpayment and discrimination. Such injustices not only impact the lives of the workers, but also further perpetuate poverty in these communities. Located in one of the poorest counties in the United States, our palm supplier provides nearly 200 seasonal jobs for American workers. The company is known for its fair working conditions for all its employees, which is why nearly 75 percent of their workers return year after year. For most churches, making responsible choices is part of their overall commitment to living their faith. When purchasing palms from Kaufer’s, congregations are ensuring the palms used for Holy Week celebrations were harvested in a way that truly reflects the spirit of the season.