Vacationing away from her Ventura home, Carrie McAuliffe Liberatore passed through a little town in Pennsylvania called Walnut Hill two years ago, and as the idyllic countryside stretched out before the road ahead of her, a sign appeared on a hilltop: “Ten Thousand Villages.”

Liberatore followed the sign’s directions, ending up at the nearby fair trade shop, a store run by Ten Thousand Villages, an organization that buys handicrafts and other goods directly from communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, paying a fair price for their labor and sidestepping the corporate trade structure that often robs developing countries of resources.

But in the coming weeks, that sign led Liberatore — whose name befits her activism — far from Pennsylvania, inspiring her to open up her own fair trade shop in her hometown.

“I didn’t realize there were fair trade stores like that,” she said. “I said, ‘Gosh, it really would be nice to have something like that here.’ ”

Perhaps Ventura’s first fair trade store, Consider the Source, located at 40 Day Road in a building nestled amongst a garden nursery, also sells organic and repurposed gifts this holiday season.

Last year — the store’s first — Liberatore had trouble getting the word out about the shop, but this year she has relied on an extensive e-mail and friends network, in addition to outside advertising. For now, the store is only open seasonally, through Jan.6, 2008, Thursdays through Fridays from noon to 6 p.m., but Liberatore, who works as a foster care instructor, hopes to one day open the store year-round.

“We’re off to a better start this year. People have been very supportive. They say, ‘Wow, the prices are actually very good.’ There’s this myth that fair trade equals expensive. Yes, you are going to pay for people’s time. There’s no sweatshop labor. But prices are really very reasonable here.”

A tour through the greenhouse-like building where Liberatore has set up shop is like a trip around the world.

She sells Arte Papel produced by villagers devastated by a mudslide in Ecuador, lunch bags and totes made by marginalized women in the Philippines, traditional dolls made by people in Africa and delicate ornaments made by workers in China.

“It’s like a geography lesson coming through here,” Liberatore said, pointing to the notes she has posted alongside each display of items in the store telling shoppers where the items came from. The notes help customers understand who they are helping when they purchase the gifts.

“You know when you’re buying something that you’re personally helping someone’s well-being. It closes the gap, because you’re buying with your heart,” Liberatore said. “I just want people to be conscious, thoughtful consumers, because your money is your voice.”

Consider the Source also asks holiday shoppers to remember local artisans.

Hand-blown glass by local artist Tass Rupp and Gypsy Tea from Ojai are only a few of the local products that are sold at the shop.

Organic baby clothes, shirts made from bamboo and soy candles are just a few of the other items for sale at the store.

Liberatore, who sells several items she does not make a profit on, said she hopes the store will inspire change in Ventura County holiday shoppers.

“Basically since the movie [An Inconvenient Truth], green has gone from being here and there to being a household possibility. We’re headed toward everyone being green. I think people can make little changes in their lives to make the world a little better. It’s doable and it’s available.”

Just as Liberatore drove past the Ten Thousand Villages sign two years ago, D.K. Foster and her husband, Jacko Doss, were driving past Consider the Source last week when they decided to stop in.

“I love this store,” Foster said. “Last year, I looked for a store that was especially ecologically resourceful and fair trade, and I found an ad for this one. Over a couple of visits I did all my Christmas shopping here. Each gift is really a thoughtful gift.

“You’re giving a gift two times: you’re giving it to the person it’s for and your giving it to the person that made it,” Foster added. “It’s just a wonderful extension of being an environmentalist.”

For Foster, shopping at Consider the Source is also a way to support social justice.

“Gandhi always said, ‘Be the change,’ and instead of the industry of wastefulness that the holidays can bring, you can help an individual and buy unique gifts at the same time.” n

Consider the Source is located 40 Day Road, Ventura, 320-6726.