Why Buy Locally?

We are all aware of the wide variation between plans that look good on paper vs. their real usefulness once they manifest in the world.   Communism, the 2010 Census and the master plans for my home-made solar cooker are all good examples.

There are those in my circle who scratch their heads, sigh or do eye-rolling when I share my thoughts on local community exchange currency, shopping locally, eating in season and organically, etc., etc.   But I will share with you a manifestation of the results of Not Buying Locally and what happens when we continue to do business as if gas is cheap, oil never-ending and getting the lowest price, always, makes you a savvy and responsible citizen.

My brother owns a sod farm.   He also harvests hay.   He’s splitting his ‘business bets’ between luxury, ecological  repair and food items.   I pointed out with very little change to his operations, he could maybe get some business from the Wheat Grass Juicing Health Food Craze.   (Insert eye rolling here.)

My brother loves what he does.   And he’s very good at it.   When he first took over operations, he already knew what his plan was to not only lower his production costs but also run his business in a more water conservation-friendly way.   He is realizing his plans.

If the economy had persevered, he would be in ‘tall cotton’ right about now.   Instead, he’s happy that all his work is going to make it possible for his farm to ride out this downturn, instead of going bankrupt.

Now, the economy immediately around him is doing okay.   There is a need for his product and he could easily sell it.    But the economy located approximately 2 1/2 hours away from him is not.   The sod farms there are trucking their salesmen and product over large distances and cutting their rates drastically, all in an effort to have some sales and keep from going under.

And as people love a good deal, my brother’s neighbors buy the lower-cost, non-local product – hey, they’re watching their pennies carefully too.

This last visit, he reported there were fencing companies traveling  almost 300 miles in order to under-bid the local companies.   No, they can’t afford to really do that , long term – but slowly spending more than you are taking in delays the starvation you have when you aren’t working at all and it will work for another reason – operating costs are tax-deductible.   Operating costs include vehicles and gas consumption.

For those of you familiar with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, you will realize these scenarios echo the example she so eloquently illustrated via buying local organic lettuce or corporate farm, non-local lettuce.    Yes, the big farm can grow it, harvest it, ship it and sell it to you for .97/head.   The local farmer wants $1.97.  “I can’t afford to eat locally/organically” you wail –

But that .97 lettuce is not REALLY that low price.  You have paid the same or more than you would for the local lettuce, but You Don’t Know that you have, because the savings comes out of tax subsidies – meaning, you are subsidizing that big farm with your tax dollars – but since you lose those tax dollars whether you buy local or not, it’s not really apparent to you just how much you are paying for the .97 lettuce.

Buying locally is also environmentally and economically advantageous.   Since I don’t believe I can be more succinct or eloquent, I’ll share a quote from Steven L. Hopp regarding this:

“A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it.  More palatable options are available.  If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels.” (Read full  “Oily Food” commentary here)

The other obvious but often disregarded truth regarding supporting local businesses – If they aren’t supported enough to survive – they are gone.   I wonder how low these traveling sod and fence salesmen will lower their prices when the market is good and they know their customers no longer have an option of buying locally?   Do you think they will reward their far-flung customers with low prices as a thank you for buying from them when times were hard?   Me thinks they will take advantage of their position and get all the money they can.

Because our current system is built on thriving through careful mining of profits through supply and demand mathematics.   Undercutting and driving out of business the smaller local operations during hard times is a great way to have an open field for charging whatever price you want when demand increases.

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While we’re on the subject of cutting off the short-term nose to spite our long-term face, let’s discuss layoffs.

About a year ago I was visiting with a fourth generation family member of a local well-works business.    He related how his great-grandad had handled the employee side of the business during the Depression.   All hands were assembled and he told them bluntly, “We have a choice.   We can all go to fewer hours, work with each other regarding scheduling so we cover what work we do have here and enable all of us to seek work in other ways too, or I can lay off all but two of you and the two left will have steady, full-time work.”

They chose for all to take less and work with each other to help meet everyone’s needs.

And when the Depression had faded away and work was once again plentiful, this man had a trained, experienced crew that was happy to return to full-time work.

When I read about bonus and dividend checks handed out to CEO’s and investors right on the heels of layoff announcements, I remember this story.    And I’m sure you know which course of action finds favor in my eyes.

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I probably haven’t shared with you anything you don’t already know.   And you may be rolling your eyes and thanking me for wasting your time telling you this.

But as we continue to face stimulus packages spent to expand regulatory agencies, (not on getting the average working American back to work, producing needed items and services) and we all realize we can’t just consume forever in expansionist mode, it pays to remember that salvation is often in the daily details.

It means spending the extra $1 on your weekly head of lettuce to keep your local farmer in business and waiting awhile for that new Xbox game or designer shoes.

If you are a business owner,  it means offering a reasonable schedule to your now part-time employees, so they have a chance in hell of getting another part-time job to supplement what they lost by staying loyal to you, instead of saying, “Take it or leave it, there are thousands that would just jump at the chance to work for minimum wage at whatever schedule or tasks I give ’em”.

(I have an acquaintance who now works 6 days a week, 2 or 3 hours at a time after commuting 15 miles, just to keep the job she does have.  Her schedule is posted weekly and can change at any time.   Her employers want full-time loyalty for a part-time position.    She sheepishly confesses, “Yeah, I’m looking for another position, but any work is better than unemployment or welfare.”   Her attitude is a noble one, and a prime example of how the idiotic and selfish take advantage of the honorable.)

It also means being very proactive in supporting the businesses that you really want to see still in business a day, month or year from now.    Putting food, shelter, healthcare should be the top of your list.   And if you have some extra to spend on the luxurious and beautiful, maybe something from a local artist or entertainer?    They may not be deemed as necessary to your survival, but if they choose to buy local too, then you are getting your quality of life via an expenditure that will also be spent in keeping your local food producer in business.

I’m not trying to be simplistic or naive.   Just buying locally and cutting back on non-necessities produced from outside your community is not all that’s needed.   But it is something that is completely within your control; action that does not have to wait for the next election, a new law to be passed, or dependent upon your government officials approving or supporting.   It’s ‘hunkering down’ not only with your family and friends, but your immediate neighbors too.

And, since I’m a control freak (according to some) I like plans of action that depend on nothing more than me choosing.

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