Eating local has caught on big in recent years. Everyone seems to get that it can reduce our carbon footprint, help support small-scale farmers and give us access to fresh, tasty food. Becoming a locavore also helps keep money circulating inside our community, triggering a “local multiplier effect” and supporting a strong local food economy. That can help create jobs, business opportunities and the local tax revenue needed by our schools and first responders. It can even help bring members of the community closer together and make the community more resilient in the face of the unexpected. In other words, eating local is sustainable environmentally, economically and socially.
So what if we kept all this in mind when making a host of other day-to-day choices? We could increase our sustainability quotient by going local in lots of other ways. Here are just a few.
- Shop at independently owned local businesses. From clothing stores and gift shops to hair salons and dry cleaners, your town may have a variety of locally owned small businesses. Choosing them whenever possible – rather than shopping online, through catalogs or at non-local, national chains – increases the multiplier effect so important to a strong local economy. It also can make your routine errands a bit more social, allowing you to get to know shopkeepers or catch up with friends and neighbors you bump into along the way.
- Buy goods produced locally from locally sourced raw materials. You can supercharge the local multiplier effect by buying a sweater crocheted by a local artisan with wool from her backyard sheep, hiring a woodworker to build your kitchen table from reclaimed local wood or purchasing artisanal whiskey made from local wheat, barley or rye. Localizing the supply chain from source to household can create local jobs, reduce the carbon footprint associated with your purchases and even lead to friendships with local “makers.”
- Choose a community bank or credit union. Like shopping local, banking locally can help strengthen our community’s economy. Since these institutions are focused on the saving and borrowing needs of individuals and businesses in their geographic area, they tend to emphasize customer service and affordable banking services. They take a conservative approach to home and personal lending that is designed to limit foreclosures and defaults. And their reliance on “relationship banking” (i.e., making loans based on direct knowledge of customers and the local business climate rather than on computer algorithms) has made them the nation’s largest business lenders, helping to boost the development of local economies. Banking local may even be green. Locally owned companies have more reason to protect the local environment. And many banks give back to local organizations involved in preserving open space or native wildlife.
- Make your community productive. We can help our communities become greener, more interconnected and resilient by supporting local production of food and energy. Communities can produce and distribute food through community gardens, urban farms, garden sharing arrangements, community supported farms, ranches or fisheries, community kitchens, crop swaps, food pantries and seed libraries. They can reduce their collective carbon footprint – and energy costs – by investing in a community-scale renewable energy project, such as a “solar garden.” Some communities even invest in microgrids to absorb excess renewable energy and provide a source of backup electricity when a storm knocks out the utility grid.
- Donate locally. If you’re able to make charitable donations (even small ones), consider focusing a portion of your gifts on local organizations. You may choose to support nature preserves, land trusts or local environmental groups. Or you may wish to focus on food pantries, social service organizations or other groups working for social and economic justice.
Not everything needs to be local. But considering local first could help you protect the environment, support a greener, more secure economy and deepen your ties to your community.