In 2010, Wal-Mart announced it would join the buy local movement by increasing their purchase of locally grown produce from farmers in areas where Wal-Mart stores are present. This is a giant leap for the buy local movement which has been around for decades but has received more media attention lately. As local economies struggle to rebuild, the buy local movement is meant to empower local economies and create self-sustaining areas around the globe. But is it really working and is it realistic?
What is the Buy Local Movement Exactly?
Some of you may have noticed a sticker in the window of your local Main Street shop which encourages you to buy local. The purpose of this initiative is to get consumers to buy food, products, and services from your local community. This allows local communities to keep consumerism within their local economy, reduce environmental effects of importing products, and help build a sense of community.
In some areas, co-ops have been developed to bring local farmers and product manufacturers to one location and allow them to reach local consumers. If you have ever shopped at a local farmers market, you have contributed to the buy local movement. This guarantees your money stays within your community and creates a local economy separate from the national economic climate.
Is it Working?
In 2009, there were 6,132 farmer’s markets nationwide. In 2010 this number increased to 7,175. Of the money spent by buying local, 73% was reinvested in the community versus the 10% from large chain stores. This shows that buying local does in fact work. Your dollars spent on farmer John’s corn will eventually be spent at Suzie’s hair salon or Patty’s Ice Cream Parlor. Those who sell local are more likely to buy local, keeping the community economy thriving.
Benefits of Buying Local
Aside from the economic benefits of buying local, there are many health and quality benefits. 27% of the people who buy local do it for the freshness and taste of produce. 19% buy local for the confidence that they are buying a quality product and know where it comes from. And 15% of the people enjoy the sense of community they get from purchasing products and services from their neighbors rather than a faceless brand.
For those selling products and services, you will reap the rewards. On average, those local businesses that launch a “buy local” campaign find a 55% increase in customer loyalty and a 47% increase in new customers. Buying local is the trendy thing to do.
Getting Involved in Buying Local
There are many different ways to get involved in the movement. Whether you are a business owner or a consumer, you can still be proactive in increasing the buy local initiative in your community. You may have seen the advertisements in the windows, banners around town, or posters in your community center that shows the various local businesses that offer locally made or grown products. Shopping at these participating businesses will keep your money in your community.
If you are a small business owner, be sure you advertise your buy local spirit. Shop window displays, business cards, or even a stamp on your website should show you are participating in the buy local movement to entice local consumers to buy your product or services.
Buy Local vs. Fair Trade: Which is Better for Farmers?
On the other side of the buy local coin is fair trade. For many produce growers this is a method of increasing profit. In 2010, the fair trade sales reached $2 billion in the US, and $4 billion internationally. For farmers, there is more profit in fair trade as well as credit for harvests before they come in. This assures the farmer’s success rather than hoping for sales locally.
The profitability alone is enticing enough for large growers to get involved in fair trade, especially in areas where local commerce is limited. However, for smaller farmers, there is a lot to be said about selling at the local grocer or farmer’s market. Keeping the community economy strong, assuring better quality and taste, and creating a sense of community can drive any grower to the local market.
Cost of Localization
There are many local farmer’s markets where you can find a great deal on a bushel of corn. However, in Alaska, you may find it hard to find a good price on locally grown strawberries. The reason for this is simple, the care and equipment needed to keep produce safe from the climate can be costly. If you lived in Florida, you can walk outside and pick an orange for free, since it is a local product. In Nevada, you wouldn’t have that option.
As nice as it would be to keep only locally grown produce in the grocery store, it is unrealistic if you are shopping on a budget. The end result of 100% locally grown produce is increased prices on “good” foods and consumers being drawn to the cheaper alternative, the “bad” foods. Fruits and vegetables which are high in nutrients will be cast aside for cheaper “fast foods”. Growing outside of the natural limited regions can be a costly endeavor resulting in costly shopping.
There are many benefits to buying locally, and yet there is still a need for fair trade. Ideally if every major chain increased locally grown produce to 10%, we could still sustain local economies while keeping prices low on fair trade produce from regions where it is natural to grow. Complete localization is currently ineffective and costly, however, visit your local farmer’s market and support your community as much as possible and perhaps in the future science will find a low cost way to grow strawberries in the Alaskan mountains.