Buy Where You Are: The Perks of Shopping Local

Revitalize your town's economy, contribute to a cleaner planet and get more satisfaction by buying local.

| July/August 2010

It’s all too easy to spend the majority of our money on items shipped from far away. (In some stores, that’s literally all that’s available.) Buying locally made goods from locally owned stores is the obvious way to counteract that, but it’s not always as easy as it looks. In some towns, corporate shopping is the only option—and “local” is not so easily defined.

Just what is a local business? According to Michelle Long, executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), “If more than 50 percent of the ownership is located in a community and the owners have full autonomy to buy local organic potatoes to make French fries, BALLE considers them local and independent.”

Ideally, the business uses local labor and resources—but there are exceptions. “Coffee beans don’t grow in the Pacific Northwest,” Long says. “But an independent coffee shop can import fair-trade coffee and roast it locally. The local business movement isn’t about being isolationist; it’s about having a global economy made up of local living economies.”

“I can tell you the farmer’s name and the story behind every food we serve,” says Duskie Estes, chef/owner of Zazu Restaurant and Farm in Santa Rosa, California. Between 80 and 95 percent of Zazu’s food and wine comes from within 50 miles; 30 percent grows in the restaurant’s garden and on Estes’ farm.

“Most of our ingredients are picked the day we serve them and are never refrigerated, so they retain all their flavor and nutrients,” Estes says. “We’re committed to supporting Sonoma County’s agricultural diversity.”

Part of a growing movement of restaurateurs who support local food producers, Estes is happy to spread the word to her patrons. “The more you understand seasonality, the easier it is to shift your food expectations,” she says. (Translation: No Fried Green Tomato BLTs on the menu in August.)

Shift where you shop

Grocery store chains sell primarily imported and processed foods. To eat fresh, local, whole foods, look for organic, sustainable products at the following places:

• Farmer's markets

During the growing season, many farmers sell their produce at a market, roadside stand or “you-pick” farm. This eliminates the middleman, so farmers keep more profit, and you get a fresher, tastier harvest. By meeting farmers directly, you’ll learn that many family farmers who can’t afford organic certification use organic growing methods anyway. Search online for growers and farmer’s markets by ZIP code at the Locavore Network and Local Harvest.

• Community-supported agriculture (CSA)

Purchase food directly from a farmer through a seasonal share in a CSA. In return, you receive a bag of fresh farm products (produce, eggs, honey, cheese, flowers, meat, etc.) each week during the growing season. CSAs help farms’ cash flow, so you’ll share in their bumper strawberry crop—or hail-decimated tomato failure.

• Grocery stores

Let your supermarket know that you and your neighbors care about eating locally. Lobby the store’s produce or meat manager to stock more regionally grown foods. Or, join a food co-op that sells local fare.

• Your garden

Grow fruit and veggies in your yard or with an urban farming or community garden program.

Go local

• Find our if your town's Chamber of Commerce has an alliance of local, independent businesses, and support them whenever you can.

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