There are so many memories, Joyce Shutt said.

So many moments that time blends together, to the point where Shutt can't place the memory with its year.

After 52 years of organizing the International Gift and Rug Festival at the Fairfield Mennonite Church, the past festivals tend to blur with each other, she said.

She remembers years of driving to Edna Ruth Byler's house in Akron, Ohio, where she and the other organizers would fill up their cars with unique crafts that came to Byler from around the world - all kept safe in her basement. Byler's pioneering work in pairing artists in developing countries with marketing opportunities in America would eventually lead to the founding of Ten Thousand Villages, one of the world's largest fair-trade organizations.

And it started with humble beginnings, and a good bit of driving back and forth to Akron.

There was one year when Shutt's father went to Byler's house in her place, and he arrived back in Fairfield unable to even get out of his car because it was so loaded down, Shutt recalled with a laugh.

Back in those early years, there used to be a silver tea service at every festival, where customers could stop at a pretty tea table for tea and cookies, she remembered.

"And then the thing grew so big, we couldn't do that anymore," Shutt said.

But that's a problem worth having.

Because the more customers that the International Gift and Rug Festival gets, the more money goes to help disadvantaged artisans, workers and farmers from 38 countries receive fair living wages through fair trade.


The money that comes in helps refugees and displaced people, victims of natural disasters, the homeless and the disabled, the organizers said. It provides for schools, sanitation systems and clean drinking water in developing countries.

"The whole idea of fair trade is guaranteeing a fair living wage for everybody, from the director of a project to the street cleaner,

everyone earns a fair living wage," Shutt said.

This year's festival will run from Tuesday to Nov. 10 at the Fairfield Mennonite Church, 201 W. Main St. in Fairfield. From Nov. 6 to Nov. 9. the festival will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Nov. 10, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The organizers expect a mix of new shoppers with their regular customers.

Some shop because of a social conscience, or environmental conscience, since many of the handcrafted items are made out of recycled materials, Shutt said.

But others just like the merchandise, unique pieces that so often come with a story.

There are necklaces and earrings made from the exploded casings of mines and bombs that went off in Cambodia and Laos.

"Most of the people making the jewelry are people who've been damaged in the mines, who have lost limbs," Shutt said. "This project gives them work."

And there are little figurines made out of dried orange peels tossed aside from the many local fruit stands along Colombian streets.

"The women there devised a craft out of orange peels, and they have hired unemployed women and street boys to gather up the orange peels, so that they had money," Shutt said.

And, as always, there are rugs. The festival will feature more than 400 Oriental, Persian, Tribal and Bokara rugs, ranging in sizes and some that have been reduced in price by 50 percent because of over stocking.

"It's great stuff, whether you're conscious or not. It's interesting and hand-crafted," Shutt said. "One gets to see the kinds of arts and crafts that are made in other counties, and many of the things are unique to those countries. It's a culturally rich experience."

If you go

WHAT: The 52nd annual International Gift and Rug Festival

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Nov. 9 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 10

WHERE: Fairfield Mennonite Church, 201 W. Main St. in Fairfield