Mural brings attention to fair trade farmers

Mural brings attention to fair trade farmers

When the Tacoma Weekly caught up with mural artist Mari Shibuya, she was in Friday Harbor on a site visit for another mural she is looking to create – and this comes just days after she completed the new mural that now graces the exterior of Central Co-Op on Pearl Street in Tacoma.


Friday Harbor is where Shibuya helped paint the mural on the Whale Museum in 2016, one of the first murals she worked on. At that time, she assisted more seasoned muralist Lindsay Carron, painting little fish swimming alongside Carron’s giant whales.


Fast-forward five years later and Shibuya, now a seasoned muralist herself, worked solo on the Co-op mural depicting a detailed portrait of Carmen Mueses, a cocoa farmer and member of the Fairtrade-certified CONACADO cooperative in the Dominican Republic.


“You gotta love that each project’s different,” Shibuya said with a laugh.


Through painting numerous murals around western Washington, Shibuya has come a long way from a being a freshman learner to an accomplished muralist. Each one of her murals is indeed very different but with her signature artistic excellence that will greet Co-op shoppers every time they pull into the parking lot.


Shibuya began this mural in early October, recognized annually as Fair Trade Month. Working closely with Fairtrade America and Co-op staff, together they decided that Mueses would be the chosen farmer to honor from among several different photographs of farmers and the cocoa making process that Shibuya was given to choose from.


“Carmen was my first choice,” Shibuya said. “She’s amazing, a really powerful and strong woman. I’m just so impressed by the organizing that she’s doing within her community and the gentle, compassionate leadership that she is exuding. That central image of her tending to the beans I just found so beautiful and evocative in terms of the story of her hands and her expression.”


Mueses demonstrates resilience and ingenuity to make a living from her cocoa crops, and she even started a small business selling sweets and liqueurs made with her cocoa pods and coffee beans to diversify her income. She expanded her farmland by purchasing an abandoned plot next door and cultivating the land to become fruitful once again. She enjoys coming together with her neighbors during harvest to help one another pick their cocoa crops. 


Carmen Mueses is a cocoa farmer and community organizer.

CONACADO is one of the longest standing fair trade certified cooperatives, operating for about 30 years. Joining CONACADO enabled Mueses to secure a better price for her cocoa, scale production, and diversify her crops. That she is a woman in the largely male-dominated farming industry makes her even more special.


“We are working in a community based on trust and equality to earn a fair price for all of our farmers where there is no difference based on gender,” Mueses said.


Mary Linnell-Simmons is director of marketing and external relations at Fairtrade America. She said that while the fair trade system encourages and actively enables gender equity, Mueses is “an above-and-beyond case for this. She has organized groups of women farmers to get training, have more say in their communities, and generally just band together and become united within the cooperative. She’s really shown that leadership quality in such an incredibly humble way.” 


While oftentimes murals are created to memorialize someone who has passed away, the mural that Shibuya painted exudes life not only by the fact that Mueses is alive and well and with us today, but by the circling lines that give movement and meaning to this mural. At first casual glance, one might see these lines as merely decorative elements. Look more closely and you’ll see that they are purposeful and specific. Bringing motion to what otherwise would be a static image, the lines illustrate the cycle of cocoa from the farm to your favorite chocolate bar on grocery store shelves. They also represent Mueses’ journey in her life as she grew as a farmer and community organizer setting an example for the women around her. 


“I have been very much obsessed with geometry and how to use it to activate the space and tell the story of how our actions go out into the world,” Shibuya said. “I find it to be one of those visual illusions that can add that depth. My hand is so drawn to drawing harmonic wave patterns.”

Linnell-Simmons said that Fairtrade America’s mural project is an effort to offer inspiration, hope and connectivity. “Even though you may not meet the people who grow your food, they’re still part of your daily life. Internationally, Fair Trade works with almost 2 million farmers and farm workers around the world growing over 300 different products. It’s about celebrating these farmers and acknowledging their existence as human beings and their rights as human beings too.”


With her eye always on the health of our planet and equity for all people, Shibuya said small scale agriculture is part of the solution to the state of the world we’re facing. 

“The more we can uplift those who are growing our food and uplift our connection to where our food is coming from, the more mindful we are of our interdependence with the nutrition we’re taking in – where it’s coming from and where it’s going. It’s so important for the future of our planet that we start centering that conversation.” 


Story by Matt Nagle: [email protected]

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