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

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