Living a Local Lifestyle

Go native by supporting and celebrating all things local.

| January/February 2004

During my recent visit to Philo, California, my friends Bill and Mary Pat invited me to their home for dinner. At the table, Mary Pat introduced each dish with a story of its origins: a salad created from just-picked greens from their garden, including “weeds” such as round-leafed miner’s lettuce; roasted goat meat raised at a local biodynamic farm; thick slices of garlic bread made from a hearty wheat loaf baked that day in town with locally grown garlic and butter from a regional dairy. We drank wine from a nearby organic vineyard and glasses of filtered rainwater. Eating felt like taking part in the abundance of a community and its ecosystem.

Weeks later, back in my kitchen in Concord, Massachusetts, I realized that nearly all of the ingredients for the meal I was preparing were from California. I started then to seek out what was unique to my community and my bioregion—and how to really live where I am.

As we begin to realize some of the detrimental effects of globalization and an economy based on distant goods, localism, or “bioregionalism,” is becoming a more appealing alternative. Wes Jackson, noted sustainable agriculture advocate, calls it “becoming native to one’s place.” Poet Gary Snyder refers to “reinhabitation.” Poet and farmer Wendell Berry says if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.  

Live here now

For Joanne Willis of Richmond, Vermont, the Y2K scare prompted a change in thinking. “We researched our power sources, where we’d get food locally, where our water comes from, how the sun hits our house at different times of day,” she says. “Ultimately, it was a great learning experience that made our lives feel richer—like we were part of something larger. Now we’re more appreciative of our local growers and all they offer. We’re also relieved to know that we’re not entirely dependent on imported stuff. We don’t feel like we live in a bedroom community any more.”

Becky and C.J. May of New Haven, Connecticut, decided to eat only food grown in their home state for one year. Their experiment proved a creative quest as they found sources of starch in squash and potatoes, convinced farmers to grow some grains, used local sweeteners (honey and maple syrup), and foraged for wild edibles in backyards, even in the city. “Local agriculture helps preserve and promote open space, the land-to-person balance, and smaller scale farming,” Becky explains. “That means less soil and water depleted in any one area, fewer pesticides needed to protect huge mono-crops or preserve food in transit, and less fuel used to transport food.” She now offers local lifestyle consulting through her business, YIMBY (“Yes, In My Backyard”). “Some of my friends complain that eating locally takes so much time,” she says. “Then I hear how they spend a couple of hours every Sunday at the supermarket. I’m never at the supermarket, and I don’t have to plan menus anymore because we’re going to eat whatever’s come from the farm that day.”

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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