Durned if Ya Do…

Okay, I admit I don’t always purchase enough organic roll-your-own tobacco to satisfy my daily consumption rates for the month.

I have a choice – I can either go to the convenience store located 4 blocks from my home and contribute to the livelihood of my neighbors who are under-employed there, or I can burn an extra 2 gallons of fuel  to drive to the mom and pop store I support, every 4-6 weeks, 20 miles away (40+ miles, round-trip).

(trying to be a good citizen regarding fossil fuel consumption, local spending, organic purchases, healthier choices, supporting small business and help thy neighbor all at the same time results in marathon pondering sessions for me…)

I went to the Loaf-n-Jug this afternoon.

To get cigs.

Because I smoke more when reading about proposed Federal legislation…

This store used to carry American Spirit menthol cigarettes.

(warning! you have to enter a suitable date of birth in order to visit this site, and tell them if you’re a smoker or not…their good-faith attempt to comply with Federal Regulations…)

For about  a year, however, they did not have any in stock during my occasional forays.

So I end up purchasing the brand I smoked before I knew better….

Which violates every previously listed principal, except my desire to support my neighbor’s livelihood and gas consumption goals.

(I also occasionally use my debit card for a $6.59 purchase, just to give those who dislike me fodder to sell to National Enquirer. “Look at her in Loaf-n-Jug, in her pj’s, no make-up and using, gasp, a debit card….”)

Today, after making my purchase, I’m informed by the clerk they do have American Spirit.   Great!

I patiently wait to exchange the cigs I just purchased for ones I really prefer, while the one clerk takes care of the customer traffic that used to be cared for by 2 clerks.  (company’s way of keeping the CEO and stockholders in beach houses, I guess….)

So after waiting for about 10 minutes, and indicating to the clerk I would like the ‘green ones, please’ imagine my surprise when he shakes his head at my outstretched hand holding the now unwanted purchase for exchange and informs me, apologetically,

“It’s against Federal Law to exchange tobacco products.”

(Apparently, even those which never left his view and are still cellophane wrapped and intact).

I almost killed myself rushing home to find out if this was true, and if so, When The Heck Did That Happen?

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Various discussions and sites informing us of the 2009  Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act headed the search engine list.

I never did find anything prohibiting retailers from exchanging purchased tobacco goods, other than regulation banning the “exchange of proof’s of purchase or coupons for non-tobacco products.”  (Which means, you can’t save your box tops for cool t-shirts or ashtrays anymore)

I did learn, however, that the FDA has decided advertisements must be in Black and White (Now I know why the generic brand of cereal is in a colored box now…it was afraid of being mistaken as a pack of cigarettes.)

I also learned Kentucky (big surprise there!) is fighting a battle against the FDA, citing 1st Amendment violations.

Interestingly, this battle centers around the Black and White Advertisement regulation, rather than around the prohibition regarding use of the words “low”, “mild” or “light” in tobacco products’ name without first asking permission of God, via the FDA.

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I will share with you another interesting tidbit.  My other favorite company for tobacco purchases is Nat Sherman.  Nearly 2 years ago, I started seeing little ‘notifiers’ printed on the separation sheaf that used to tell me about the history of the company.

I’ll paraphrase for you:

“Due to regulation changes, we are now required to label our Mint cigarettes as Menthol, in order not to lure children into using our product.   We are not changing a single thing about the contents or production of the cigarette you have come to enjoy, but we must comply with those who keep our children safe or else face big  fines if we do not.”

In other words, the FDA has them in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t catch-22.

If they comply with keeping children safe, they are in turn, guilty of false advertisement.

Hmmm…..which fine/penalty is lower?  Which regulation is most rigorously enforced?

I have my answer – I regularly view numerous examples of false advertisement in 2.6 seconds of commercial TV or internet surfing.

Glad to get that off my chest…

Grazin’ Acres Update

This update is outdated – I sorta went on sabbatical and didn’t go where internet services were available.  (I also let this slide from my to-do list…)

But in short, an organic dairy farmer, with an Amish background, has operated a successful “feed thyself and thy neighbors who trust you with their stomachs” business for awhile now.   Agreements were made between individuals on who produced what, who got to consume it and how trade was to be negotiated.

Complaints regarding the arrangement are not forthcoming from any of the parties involved.

They are, however, coming loudly from local authorities.  (Agencies and personnel who depend on taxation/permit and licensing fees for their salaries and their annual budgets, I suspect.)

If the owners of Grazin’ Acres were not truly afoul of the law before, they sure are now.   Owners and customers Broke Evidence Seal tape placed by local authorities in order to access the food they needed for their sustenance.

On the flip side, I think valid charges of Vandalism or Destruction of Private Property can be levied against the raiding officials – apparently they put blue dye in a huge tank of nutritious, organic milk, so as to make it unsellable.

Hmmm… reminds me of slash and burn tactics of armies and the weird actions of abusive spouses – if we  don’t want it, can’t have it or make a profit off it, let’s destroy it so no one else can either…

Thank goodness the owners have some kind of religious faith and background.   Freedom of Religion is sometimes the last Constitutional defense you can use that will hold up against government interference. (Hey! I don’t begrudge anyone their tax-free status – just wish it was for everyone…)

Being a gnostic heretic myself, if I ever come afoul of the law, I’m screwed.

(Note* translation of ‘gnostic heretic’ is as follows: “One who has free thought regarding spiritual topics”)

What reminded me to check in again on the saga of Grazin’ Acres was the fact that zealous profiteers (aka local government agencies) are now passionately fighting the battle against unlicensed, no-permit Lemonade Stands.

(Thanks to NimblePig for alerting us to this use of valuable resources.)

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Granted, I’m glad I can make consumable purchases and not worry if I’m going to die each and every time something crosses my lips.   I realize inspection and the funds for such are needed in order to provide this public service.

But I’m reminded of a friendly debate with Ms. Capricorn-Bookkeeper recently regarding regulation, taxation, the Free Market, the benefits and evils of capitalism and about any other highly controversial topic you can name. (that is the true benchmark of friendship – how many subjects can you debate and remain friends?)

To save you pain, I’ll paraphrase the conclusions of that hour long conversation in the following clip:

In a free market, those whose products are unsafe or crappy go out of business.   People quit buying from them.   We don’t need all these laws and regulations in order to realize 3% growth each year via bigger government and increased public spending ventures.   My gawd – there is literally no ceiling on the ingenuity we possess.   We can come up with all kinds of really needed and really cool products and services.

Really, who’d have thought you could talk to your friend while cosily at home in your jammies and not have to actually clean house in preparation for company? Thank you Mr. Bell.

I am not suggesting we return to the days of milk poisoning or selling cocaine as the elixir that heals.  And I’m not silly enough to think getting rid of all regulatory laws and institutions tomorrow is a viable idea.

On the other hand, I truly question our current system of ensuring food safety.   When those who inspect, enforce and oversee food safety also depend upon income via permits, licensing fees, fines and penalties to shore up their out-of-control budgets, then me thinks we’ve just let the fox into the henhouse.

I also am highly wary of the revolving door between agencies who oversee food safety, production and sales and corporations who like to patent life.  (See Future of Food for details and information.  Trust me, it’s worth the hour and a half out of your day.)

How about American ingenuity and entrepreneurship in the form of affordable home food safety testing kits?

Consumable product (our society has been trained to love consumable goods!), food safety for the individual, a new booming business guaranteed to save lives and enable the destruction of those who poison their neighbors while making a fortune.  It would also mean new jobs… hopefully based in America….

Unfortunately, I’m not a business person, chemist or investor.  But you go right ahead.   I’ll just take an annual stock dividend check as a thank you for the idea….

Any takers?

The Price and Value of Chaos

“…and chaos among kings.  If they had to grow their own corn, mill their own flour and bake their own bread they might have no time left for all the squabbling and killing.”

This morning’s quote is courtesy of Hugh Beringar, Sheriff of Shrewsbury, comrade through thick and thin to one blessed Brother Cadfael.   (An Excellent Mystery, Eleventh Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.)

I’ve often pondered on the Excellent Mystery regarding the production of food.   As mentioned earlier, I really marvel at how quickly those who raise/grow/tend/harvest food fall down the social scale as complex society evolves.

I’ve also pondered upon how many wars would be started if those who initiated them were also stationed at the front lines.

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The Dark Ages were filled with skirmishes and full-scale battles across the European theatre, all in a tug-of-war regarding land, resources and power.

Those who always lost (no matter which army emerged victorious) were the peasant farmers.

Why some nobles and lords could not figure out their abundance was directly tied, short and long-term, to how successful the crops and herds of their serfs were is another Excellent Mystery.

Hope came for peasants following the 1340’s wave of Black Death.  Recent conflict (i.e. trampling by war horses and burning of crop fields) combined with a standard of living guaranteeing malnutrition (hence, little immune resistance) among those expected to provide the daily bread resulted in a vastly reduced work force, compliments the Grim Reaper.

Naturally, a  ‘name your own price’ heyday for those still alive and able to work ensued.   In wake of disaster, Lords and Ladies really got the simple truth; they could earn their own keep or pay premiums to hire those who already knew how feed the masses.

Feudal Monarchs depended upon the loyalty (and knights) of the nobility.   To keep crown and throne, comfortable lifestyles for supporters must be maintained.

Hence, laws making it illegal for any who labored for a noble to take to the road in search of better wages, work hours or living conditions were quickly enacted.

Consequences for those who hired laborers courageous (or desperate) enough to search for better offerings, were oft-times stiffer than those levied against the laborer who dared to better himself.  Remember, labor is in short supply – we can’t have work-able peasants rotting in jail.

But for the most part, historians pinpoint the Black Death as the beginning of the End of Serfdom.

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I’ve had occasion these past few years to speak with farmers, ranchers and dairymen who aren’t switched over to ‘certified organic’ systems yet.

The number one reason often given: “Do you know how much it costs to get certified?”

No, I don’t – I’ve been told it can run as high as $10,000, but a search of local governmental websites indicates to me the truth is hidden until you’re actually ready to purchase.  Or at least identified by email, phone number and home address as a likely target (I mean, customer.)

(This search reminded me of trying to find actual costs for advertising in yellow page publications… Lots of graphs, pictures and stats to indicate you are a fool if you don’t, but no $ information given – just a phone number to link you with someone very good at selling.)

I did discover rebates available in 2008-2009 for up to 75% of organic certification costs.   However, the maximum to request rebate on was $750.

Organic farming is becoming big business – but not necessarily for those who actually farm.   Permit, certification, inspection and regulatory agencies, me thinks, are the real profiteers here.  And I suspect, if a booming enterprise is not contributing to the local coffers enough, campaigns to shut them down ensue. (one example, which really shows how far I let my prejudices against regulation lead me.)

My guess is one massive pandemic will straighten things out.

I’d prefer we fix it ourselves, instead of waiting for Mother Nature to restore balance.

The Sustainable Dream Home

I live in Colorado.  For years, I’ve wondered why we aren’t the leader in off-grid homes.   Because quite frankly, the areas of Colorado I have inhabited all have one thing in common:

If the sun ain’t shining, you can bet the wind is blowing like a banshee.   And often, they both do their best at the same time.

Since we have solar and wind-generated power technologies, why isn’t the whole durn eastern side of the state off-grid?   (I’ve never lived on the western slope, so I can’t speak on that)

In the ’80’s, my dad, a devout Mother Earth News and New Shelter subscriber (and a very informed member of the home construction trade) told me the cost of solar systems was out of the price range of most people.

Yet recently, I read that the innovation making solar panels affordable had also given new, extended life to the Technology Industry. (something about some thin filmy thingee – – I’m not a techie…..)  So apparently, it’s getting more affordable all the time.  (and in my cynicism, I forecast that it will become very affordable the instant  profits aren’t possible in the oil industry…but I could be wrong.)

Perhaps the cost has to do with the batteries used to store extra generated energy.   My local mechanic told me that to recoup the environmental losses created by producing the battery in the new hybrid cars, you need to drive your environment-friendly car at least 5 years.   Since my perspective is that we have been trained to want a new car every 2 years, I’m not sure how this is going to work out.

Course, this same source also told me that anyone who has a million dollars to invest in wind farm projects receives 14 million back via government grants, tax subsidies, etc., but that consistent 40 mph winds are needed before those big turbines even do what they are designed to do.    Haven’t been able to confirm or contradict that, as I don’t have a million dollars sitting around to invest.  But the story stuck in my head and I realized that if true, there will be loads of wind farms, whether they actually are doing all they tout or not.

A few years back, I heard, second-hand, about an off-grid home in the area where I live.   Seems those folks (as of 2002) had only had to turn on their generators once since owning their solar home (1980’s).   During the infamous October blizzard of ’97.   Three days of snowing/no sunshine.    But, I argue, if they had wind-generated power too, their system would have been deeply in the plus side.  (all you locals know of the phenomena of sideways snow.)

I inherited the cache of off-grid living magazines when my Dad passed away.   My brother got his set of Engineering encyclopedias.   I’m figuring if we both read our collections in their entirety and then put our brains together, we could probably build an off-grid home.   Maybe… I’m not as good with tools as he is.  Maybe I’ll just stupavise….

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Over the years I’ve collected an array of books and articles –  “Life in a concrete dome home”, given to me by a neighbor almost 2 years ago, How to grow more vegetables….than you ever thought, The Four Season HarvestLasagna Gardening, 6 herb garden books, ten years worth of Farmer’s Almanacs, the same or more of New Shelter and Mother Earth News, the entire Foxfire Series….the list goes on and on.

I’ve been reading about the sustainable life for a long time.   The actual doing is, optimistically, 1/64th of the way there…

So here I sit  in my town-home, with its manicured lawns and no gardening spots (except for the pretty, non-edible/healing).   Where dandelions, the super spring-tonic food of our ancestors, are religiously destroyed every year.  (Bless their little pea-picking hearts, every spring they try once more.)

My container garden, scattered around, seated on decorative rock landscaping, looks, in places, vibrant and green and in others, dead empty save the soil I finally got properly mixed the 3rd time around.

Part of this story unfolds because I don’t have the cash money sitting around to go secretly build my dream compound and then invite hubby over and say, “See?  You can watch TV without having to unplug the refrigerator – I installed plenty of batteries…”

Part of it is because dreaming at my desk takes much less energy than actually searching through all the possible grants and loans available to see if I could get my dream home built and paid for just by carefully documenting and sharing the results of living such a way.

But the biggest part is my own hesitance.

I’ve been steeped in what I call ‘city-life’ for quite a few years now.   As the fantasy of my ‘dream home’ unfolds before my eyes, I truly question if my body can actually cash the checks my mind is writing.   Caring for other living things and designing your life to depend mainly upon your own efforts for your daily bread is a big gamble, given my daily life now.   And though I have the desire, I’m not completely sure if the Master Plan in my mind will actually work in the real world.

I’m well aware of how many things look good on paper and not-so-hot in reality.

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Older friends who have spent years gardening get quite a chuckle out of me.   I’ve read numerous books in the past 3 years.   I built a database to efficiently collect and retrieve data concerning companion planting, proper crop rotation, separate annuals from perennials, who likes full sun and who does not, what is a heavy feeder and what is a heavy giver, proper planting by the moon, how much water each plant needs to thrive, and the inherent dangers from pests and how to take care of them without chemical fallout.

Instead of recycling empty plastic jugs, I carefully washed and saved all of them, to use for water wicking systems.

I started a worm-composting bin.  (Which was going fine, with 3 worms carefully removed from a house plant my mother gave me.   Yes, I ignored the caution to only use worms designed expressly for this purpose.   I figured they’ve been surviving in a small houseplant container, why not roomy digs with lots of newspaper and veggie scraps?   But then I left on sabbatical and forgot to tell hubby the worms needed watered.    I came home to find the horror of worms who had escaped their waterless home only to die on the cold concrete of my garage floor.    Three deaths lay at the doorstep of my own neglect.   I still feel bad.)

I spent a lot of time the year of 2008/2009 making the rounds and asking the old timers about companion planting, raised beds, sub-surface watering systems, etc.    They just shook their heads and pointed to their flat, tilled, planted in rows, garden spaces and said, “That’s how I do it.”

Granted, they eat out of their garden every year and share with neighbors, but how they do it is in complete disagreement with most of the books I read.   Many a time, I thought, “Quit reading about organic, sustainable and just start out the way they do it.”

But I didn’t want to give up just quite yet.

This spring, I finally got around to actually ‘doing’.   Even with my planning, knowledge and best efforts, it’s July and I might have some leaf lettuce ready to eat sometime in September.   Improper mixing of container soils, too much water, not enough sunlight while indoors, hail, local bird population that feasted on my re-plantings and lord knows what else I did wrong, has resulted in greenery in my back yard, but not much hope that I will be harvesting loads for our supper table unless the growing season extends well past what it historically does and nothing else goes wrong.

(When I was a waitress at the local sale barn, I dubbed the majority of my customers as ‘crusty old farts’.   Now I know why they have the personality they do.  I’ve become one.)

The bright side of this whole story is my brother is happy.   As I related my disappointments and four, count them four, plantings between March and May, he said, “Well, I would have been pissed if you had just jumped in your first year and everything went perfect.  I’ve been farming for years and it still doesn’t always go right.”

Secretly, I’m tired of disappointment.   He told me to appreciate the wealth of knowledge I gain from every failure.   He also reminded me that in the planning and doing, all that information now resides in my brain, ready for retrieval in the years to come.  He’s been a farmer for going on almost 20 years now.   He’s learned to be patient and roll with the punches.

“But I wanted to eat out of my own garden this summer….” I whine.

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If all my planning, reading and learning failed so miserably in a little ole container garden, do I truly want to place my whole life in the hands of my master planned home?

Not so sure anymore.

My family is a big fan of, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.”

So I figure, if everything collapses and my family’s survival depends on me learning how to be self-sufficient, then I’ll either succeed or I won’t.  Baptism by fire if you will.   At least I will have locked into my brain some of the basics about what is poisonous and what isn’t of my local fauna.

If everything doesn’t collapse anytime soon, then I have plenty of time to learn by trial and error what works and what doesn’t.   I can waste growing seasons trying out new combinations of gardening ideas – secure that I can at least go buy food if my experiments fail.

I can also keep reading and bit-by-bit add new ideas into the floor plan of my dream home.

(Did you know you can build a solar cooker right into a south facing kitchen wall?  A useful bay window…)

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.