catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 16 :: 2011.09.16 — 2011.09.29


The local rule

A few years ago, we committed to eating at only local restaurants, if at all possible. (Our only exception is Chipotle because one: it’s delicious, and two: we want to support chains that are making more sustainable food choices.) Lately, we’ve been trying to incorporate the “local rule” into other areas of spending, such as our groceries, clothes and gifts. This relatively little decision has changed our lives.

When we started changing our purchasing habits, we did it with the idea that we wanted to spend money at places in our community that we wanted to see survive and thrive — and that was only going to happen if we and others spent money at those places strategically. The more I read about spending locally, though, the more convinced I became that our “local rule” was a political act, maybe even a radical one in our increasingly globalized, commercialized economy.

In the book Fair Food, I read about the local multiplier affect. The author cites several studies that show that the local impact of a dollar spent at a locally-owned business is three to four times that of a dollar spent at a chain store or restaurant. Check out this article and graphic for a visual interpretation. According to the article,

The study concluded that in West Michigan alone, if just 10% of consumer spending was diverted from the mall to the main street, it would result in an estimated $140 million in new economic activity, 1,600 new jobs, and $50 million in new wages.

I’m not crazy about statistics, but those numbers are pretty motivating. The studies demonstrate that even diverting ten percent of consumer spending to local sources could really revolutionize our local communities for the better. What has been even more compelling for our family is the way that being more conscientious about how we spend our limited budget connects us in much deeper ways to our community.

We have two favorite local coffee shops: Noble Coffee and Tea and SoHo. We go to Noble Coffee and Tea for “coffee house dates,” as my husband and I call them. The woman who works on Saturdays has worked there for the past few years, and she knows that my husband, Grant, always goes for the boldest variety brewing that day. We can ride our bikes to SoHo, and it has a huge porch perfect for our son to burn off his energy running around, so we usually take him along when we go there. The Local sources all of their food (and beers) from local farmers, so we go there entirely too often. The bartender knows that we always want the craziest local beer on draft and brings it to us as we sit down.

We do most of our grocery “shopping” via our CSA or the farmer’s market during the growing season, and “our” farmers recognize our faces and what we’re likely to buy. In the winter months, we use a locally-owned grocery delivery service, which not only keeps our grocery money largely in our community, but also saves me from the nightmare that is shopping with a toddler. Some families in our area have started a co-op that we use to buy local milk and cheese. We’ve met a lot of like-minded people via the co-op whom we wouldn’t have otherwise, and our money goes straight to the farmer, no middle man.

We try to buy clothes and gifts at local places as much as possible, although this is more challenging (and expensive). After reading this article calling for a “Michael Pollan for clothes,” I’ve tried to better about shopping for clothes at second-hand stores. Likewise, we try to utilize local stores and restaurants for our gift-giving.

I realize this effort to buy from local sources is not unique to me. There is practically a whole new genre of books consisting of authors and their families choosing to eat within a certain distance of their homes or shop only from local vendors or any number of other self-imposed restrictions that seem to more about author getting a book deal than anything else. I also realize that we have a long way to go yet, but this increased consciousness about how and why we spend our money has led to unforeseen consequences outside of and bigger than the reasons for which we originally made the decisions.

Our “local rule” has led to a greater connection to what Wendell Berry calls our “place,” the home and community we build and become an integral part of if we commit ourselves to the task. The rule has led to us embracing a more thoughtful (and I would argue, healthier) relationship with money. The rule has led to new friendships and a larger community. For these reasons, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that our “local rule” has changed our lives. If just ten percent of consumer spending can have such a dramatic impact, contemplate how transformative it would be if that local spending led to deeper connections within our communities, more stable and sustainable local economies, and a more engaged and compassionate local citizenry.

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