Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transition Primer 2.0, US Version

Transition Primer US v2.0

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is the "buy local" idea / movement, and why should we buy local?

"Buy Local" is a meme that's beginning to gain traction and is one of the pillars of creating sustainable healthy communities.  Like many slogans however it's kind of vague and subject to interpretation and misinterpretation.

In particular the MegaCorporations have noticed the "buy local" trend and are attempting to co-opt the movement claiming that they're supporting local commerce.  It leads one to ponder "Does "buy local" mean buying at the local Target or Walmart or other megacorporation owned store?"  In case you're curious, the answer is NO.

Why focus on locally produced products/services/food/etc?

The energy footprint of a non-locally produced gizmo is bigger than the locally produced thing.  This has to do with the energy cost of transporting the gizmo from where it's produced, to where it's purchased.  Overwhelmingly, today, transportation is done with fossil fuels like diesel or gasoline.  Fossil fuel use have extremely bad side effects on the climate, and on our health, but they're also getting into a short supply condition where very soon it's thought the oil companies will be unable to increase oil production which will bring about a global energy crisis.

By purchasing locally produced things you help your local community retain its local character.  The traditional gizmos made by a local people represent the character and needs of that community, and are best made by those people for their own needs. 

A local manufacturer can have a great relationship with their local customers, while employees and managers of far-away factories have little or no connection to their customers.

Local production encourages greater diversity in the marketplace of products and services.  Versus the one-size-fits-all products coming from the globalized MegaCorp's.

Purchasing locally made stuff from a locally owned store keeps more dollars circulating in the local economy.  Buying globally produced stuff in a globalized MegaCorp big box store siphons money out of local economies.  Further, it's known that the presence of a MegaCorp big box store tends to kill off locally owned stores, and while the big box store does employs people the jobs lost exceed the number employed in the big box store.

The components of a healthy local economies

Many of the reasons to "buy local" have to do with the health of your local economy.  BALLE (link below) suggests these are the components of a healthy local economy:
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • Local zero-waste manufacturing
  • Independent retail
  • Green building
  • Community capital
  • Local and/or fair trade clothing
  • Education
  • Independent media and communications
  • Business development/professional services
  • Transportation
  • Health and wellness
  • Arts and culture
  • And others, as appropriate in your community.

What is local food?

Local Food is one of the easiest things to "buy local" because it, Food, can grow anywhere and be produced by anybody.

Local food production can be thought of in terms of concentric circles surrounding your home.  Different groups define different distances as "local food".   For example the term "locavore" was coined by Jessica Prentice from the San Francisco Bay Area for World Environment Day 2005 to describe eating food grown within a 100 mile radius.

"Local" isn't automatically "good" so it's important (perhaps) to consider whether the item was produced sustainably, or not.  If it's food, was it grown with proper organic practices, or was it grown in the normal slash-and-burn agriculture malpractices?

It may be difficult to be strict about buying local food.  For example Coffee and Tea is only grown in the tropics, so what are we to do for our morning beverages?

Slow Money

The "Slow Money" movement is bringing people together around a vision of investing practices that encourage sustainable healthy local communities.  They model the local economy as "soil", which is our local community, "seed", which is the entrepeneurs who launch businesses, and "water", which is the deployment of funding.  Those elements can be deployed in a way which harms local communities, or in a way that creates positive economic feedback loops within the local economy.

They publish on their website (link below) a nice set of principles, and also have local groups spreading around the world.  The Slow Money group is focused on investors, and encouraging investments that encourage healthy local communities.

In other words - not exactly "Buy Local" but "Invest Local".


The SustainableTable website focuses on a mantra which goes "eat local, buy local, be local".  In other words, it's about buying locally produced food.

Portland Buy Local  (Portland Maine)

Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE)

Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) has an extensive set of information and fact sheets focusing on the threats of the big box stores owned by megacorporations.

Buy Local Berkeley (CA)

Local First Utah

The Corporate Co-Opt of Local

Local Harvest - a map of farmers markets operations across the U.S.A.

Plugging the Leaks - "Local economic development as if people and the planet matter"

Community Involved in Sustaining Local Agriculture -

Slow Money

The Occupy protests have supposedly re-ignited the "buy local" idea, as a counter to globalization

A part of the Occupy issues is concern over globalization and the effects of MegaCorp's upon our lives.  An article today on (St Louis) explores how/whether the Occupy movement has reinvigorated interest in the "buy local" meme.  Though, to be honest, I thought "buy local" was such a little known idea that "invigorated" is a better word than "reinvigorated".  In any case here's a few ideas riffed from reading that article (see link below).

Is "buy local" wholly about worries about greedy corporations that have shipped jobs overseas?  The StlToday piece starts with an assertion along those lines.

Clearly a purchase of a locally produced widget means the job of producing that widget is held by one of your neighbors.  For example there's been a long-standing "Buy American" meme to counter the export of manufacturing jobs to foreigners, and let's be clear that this aspect of globalization has been underway for decades.

To me "buy local" has a bigger purpose than that, because globalization causes other issues than the export of jobs to other countries.  One example of another issue is the 10,000 mile Ceaser Salad where someone living in Boston in February simply cannot get locally grown Ceaser Salad ingredients and they have to be shipped from the southern hemisphere.  The environmental impact of shipping salad ingredients thousands of miles is completely out of line, but is routinely happening thanks to the "wonders" of globalization.

Hence, "buy local" when applied to food is the "slow food" or "locavore" (local fresh food) movement.

The same environmental impact issue applies to all the other stuff that gets shipped to us from thousands of miles away.  Take the lowly pencil made by a pencil factory in China and shipped to central Kentucky.  If it were manufactured in Kentucky it would travel a few miles to the store, and instead it's shipped by boat to a port somewhere, then trucked to Kentucky.

I think it is true that a "few people shopping at boutiques and farmers markets" will have little impact on the whole globalization picture.  For there to be a major impact would require a large scale mind-shift in what we think as normal.  It's an idea which must become known and adopted by large numbers of people.  People who shop with conscious awareness of the ownership of the stores they shop in, the production source of the things they buy, and the manufacturing practices being used.

This touches on the advertising messages that engulf people - well, those who watch TV.  The article quotes this from a St Louis resident:  "I don't expect kids to understand the economic philosophy about why they can't get a toy that they really want if it's only available at a big chain" or if it's only made in China, Corbett-Otto said. "Getting them what they want is more important. It's about them."

To interpret what she said - "the kids" are totally engulfed in messages from television showing some particular toy that they're salivating to have.  The messages from the television are put there by the MegaCorp's who have the advertising budgets to pay for the television system.

Occupy protestors reinvigorate buy-local, buy-American debate

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Does "buy local" mean buying at the local Target or Walmart or other megacorporation owned store?

I'm a little surprised that this is a question, but let's make something clear.  The purpose of "Buy Local" is to buy locally made stuff from locally owned businesses, this way more of the money you spend buying the widget will stay in your local economy.  "Buy Local" is meant to keep your local economy healthy by keeping more money circulating within a 50-mile or so distance of where you live.

Some might think "Buy Local" would mean going to the Target (or other MegaCorpStore) down the road, and buy stuff from them.  That local MegaCorpStore may be physically close to your home, but does that make it a "Buy Local" activity?

The owners of your favorite MegaCorpStore will be gathering products from around the world to sell them in your store.  This is not going to support a healthy local economy, because a large fraction of the money spent at your local MegaCorpStore gets siphoned out to a series of companies that manufactured, marketed and distributed the products you're buying.

Likewise you may find a nice locally owned store, owned by wonderful people you dearly love, but the products they sell are made a zillion miles away using slave labor hiring practices.  Their store isn't owned by some MegaCorp but the products they're selling are made by MegaCorp's.  Right?  A large fraction of the money spent at such a lovely locally owned store still gets siphoned out by the MegaCorp's manufacturing the products.

The ideal is - locally made gizmo - locally owned store - locally produced raw materials.  Obviously you won't be able to do this with every economic transaction you make.  Every time you buy something you vote with your dollars.  Each purchase.  The MegaCorp's look at purchasing trends to determine what to do.  It isn't just about a "Buy Local" preference, because there could well be wonderful products produced zillions of miles away.  What kind of products, what kind of production methods, what kind of ecological side effects do you want to support?  If we all are careful about what we buy and where we shop it can produce dramatic changes.