Localism in the DelVal: Two Communities Consider ‘Import Replacement’



If you’re already a locavore, you won’t be surprised to know that eating local is a trend that’s on the rise, as noted by various surveys, including one from North Dakota’s Center for Rural Affairs.*  This is great news for those of us who believe localism can give rise to a greener, lower-carbon lifestyle AND lay the groundwork for a stronger, job-producing economy. But to realize localism’s full benefits, we’ll need to do more than just buy food from neighborhood farms.

According to localists, we’ll also need to adopt something called “import replacement.” While that term may not be as widely known as “sustainable,” two Delaware River Valley towns, Solebury Township, PA, and Lambertville, NJ, are considering sustainably minded proposals that are great examples of import replacement.

So, What Is Import Replacement?

Import replacement is about producing goods and services locally that a community or region or country would normally import from someplace else. According to economist and localist advocate Michael Shuman, import replacement can help diversify a local economy, broadening both local resources and skills and making a community more resilient in the face of threats ranging from the loss of a major employer to an economic downturn to extreme weather to terrorism.** Of course, as with other types of localism, import replacement also can help us reduce our carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport goods from far away.

Localizing Food

The two commodities usually held up as ripe for import replacement are food and energy. As all good locavores know, there are lots of ways to encourage more local food production. We can support farmers by buying from them directly, purchasing shares in a CSA or choosing farm-produced goods at local markets. We can also take up edible gardening (or chicken raising) in our backyards or along with other members of our community on a shared plot of land.

A Proposal for Solebury Township

…Or we can increase the amount of land available to those who would like to practice sustainable farming. This is what was recently proposed to town supervisors at a hearing in Solebury Township, PA, as reported by the Bucks County Herald, October 24. The consultants who raised the issue referenced a recent regional study conducted by the Green Space Alliance, which assessed the viability of encouraging for-profit sustainable farming on public land. Solebury Township has set aside a significant amount of open space over the past 15 years, some of which might potentially be farmed by entrepreneurs interested in farming but lacking the capital to buy land. Benefits to the community could include a stronger local economy, new jobs, more access to fresh local food and a reduced carbon footprint as less food is transported into the community.

Even talk of this type of plan is exciting. But it is hardly a fait accompli. The Bucks County Herald article indicated that some zoning laws would need to be reviewed and/or modified before Solebury could set such a plan in motion. And, of course, it will need a show of public support to convince supervisors this is something the community wants.

Localizing Energy

Examples of localizing energy (sometimes called “distributed generation”) include homeowners, businesses or municipalities installing solar panels or using other alternative energy sources, such as wind, small-scale hydro or wood pellets. While distributed generation could reduce our use of carbon-based fuels, make us more energy independent and better able to withstand storm damage, widespread adoption of the concept is still a ways off.

An Initiative in Lambertville

…But Lambertville, NJ, is considering taking a small but significant step in that direction. The town plans to begin collecting food scraps and other organic matter from restaurants and the Lambertville public school that will be turned into a form of biofuel to power the Lambertville Municipal Utility Authority’s wastewater treatment facility. The town also plans to survey residents about their willingness to participate in this initiative by separating their food scraps and other organic matter for curbside pickup.  Residents also will have access to free compost, which will be produced as part of the process of turning food scraps into energy. This type of biofuel production isn’t entirely new. According to a recent article in the Bucks County Herald, Princeton, NJ, is one of numerous communities that has implemented a similar program successfully.

What’s Next?

While Solebury Township considers allowing sustainable agriculture on land set aside through its open space program and Lambertville gears up for its garbage-into-fuel initiative, residents who support this kind of sustainability may want to make their voices heard with local officials. Both of these ideas get to the heart of what localism is all about, potentially offering a host of benefits to individuals and their communities.

* The Center for Rural Affairs, working with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, surveyed consumers about their interest in buying locally produced food and willingness to a pay a small premium for it. (http://www.crfa.org).

**From Local Dollars, Local Sense, Michael Shuman, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2012.