Why buy local?

buy localI walked down Oxford Street yesterday and reminisced about the street characters we used to see. I remembered today, these few paragraphs I wrote four years ago:

I believe the main street in any city or suburb is its virtual artery; you can diagnose its health by the ebb and flow of pedestrians and through the boom or bust of businesses. Over a period of time, the street will divulge the social change of its suburb.

I recall years ago that Oxford Street in Darlinghurst had an optimistic vibe. The Albury was pumping with drag acts on the bar, an alternative rag The Hub was launched and ‘queer’ heroes strutted proudly to the CES with dole forms in hand. Today, the street has the dirty tinge of chemical hangovers; ice addicts have migrated from Kings Cross and empty shop-fronts blame Bondi Junction’s Westfield mall for the death knell.

Newtown’s King Street has thrived in comparison. Gone are the days of punks hovering at The Oxford’s jukebox; today’s residents prefer fine dining and upscale bars.

This is why I believe we must buy “local” food. Not to minimise our carbon footprint – this idea has been debunked – but for the local economy and community.

At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community. The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. “That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle.

Indeed, says Boyle, many local economies are languishing not because too little cash comes in, but as a result of what happens to that money. “Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going,” he says, noting that when money is spent elsewhere—at big supermarkets, non-locally owned utilities and other services such as on-line retailers—”it flows out, like a wound.” By shopping at the corner store instead of the big box, consumers keep their communities from becoming what the NEF calls “ghost towns” (areas devoid of neighborhood shops and services) or “clone towns”, where Main Street now looks like every other Main Street with the same fast-food and retail chains.

Buying Local: How It Boosts the Economy, Judith D. Schwartz Thursday, June 11, 2009

So that means buying food from local farmers, farmers’ markets and even your greengrocer or butcher. There are other benefits of course, including better quality and fresher food.

But the main thing I want to stress is: we choose what society we live in, every time we spend a dime.

Related elsewhere
San Fransisco Chronicle: Stacy Finz, Hyper-local markets provide big economic boost, December 27, 2011

CC photo by whiskertickle


3 Responses to Why buy local?

  1. Grant says:

    Hi Sharon — while I agree with your key point, that there’s more to buying local than food miles (which are, of course, problematic), and that supporting the local economy is one of the main benefits.

    However, I don’t think that article/research “debunks” the idea of food-miles — transport-related emissions still account for 11% of total emissions — it just makes the point that transport-related emissions are not as impactful as production emissions, and that choosing less intensive food sources (e.g. avoiding red meat for a day a week) will have a greater impact.

    Regards, Grant

  2. Ro says:

    What ever the research suggest, I agree that for many reasons buying local is needed. I prefer to grow my own, and that definitely reduces my foods road miles! Looking forward to seeing where your project goes!

    1. Sharon says:

      Hi Ro, I doubt the science took into account a gardener/hunter/forager! In your case, we’re probably measuring food metres :)

      Actually, yes I was thinking more about this recently. Other compelling reasons are taste (especially strawberries, tomatoes and peaches) with varieties grown for flavour and picked ripe. Also, to have a relationship with the place where your food is grown. And so on and so forth.

      Yes, I agree with you there Grant.

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