Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shop Locally, Save Your Community

This post is an entry in the November APLS (Affluent People Living Sustainably) Carnival hosted by Green Phone Booth. This month's theme is "Buying Local." There are some fantastic posts there - check it out! But first, here's mine:
Until June of 1999, I lived in Berkeley, California. It was a pretty blissful existence – my husband (who I met in 1993 while leading a Sierra Club backpacking trip) and I sold our car in 1995. From then on, we did everything by bike. Equipped with a BOB Trailer . We did all of our shopping, and even took our voluminous laundry to the laundromat. In Berkeley it was all so easy – it was (geographically) pretty flat, and there was an abundant variety of stores from which to choose. Monterey Market, a mere four blocks from our house, always had the first organic strawberries of the season. Next door was a bakery and a fish market. Further a field were other stores and farmer’s markets, and BART was usually bike accessible (although not particularly bike friendly).

But buying locally came easy. There was a long established local hardware store and a lumber yard, both within cycling distance. I was thrilled when my employer, Clif Bar, moved two blocks away from where we were living. Kurt worked up at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, which was up in the hills. He had amazing thighs from his commute.

But Utopia it was not, at least for us. Yearning for a life that was a bit less crazy (we still had those serious jobs, after all - paying rent in the Bay Area is no joke!) we began to look for other options. We loved the idea of cohousing - we really wanted to know our neighbors, to be involved, and be part of a community. But it came down to real estate – we had found a lovely place to live, but would have to leave it all day in order to pay for it. Not the solution for us.

When Kurt found Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage on the web, I was rather skeptical. For one thing, I was a California-born snob, and really didn’t know where Missouri even was. But we came to visit in the freezing cold February of 1999 and fell in love. Not with the physical landscape – there wasn’t much here then, just an old beater farm, with two barely-begun strawbale buildings. But we loved the idea, and the thoughtfulness and integrity with which the community had been designed. We went home, had a few yard sales, informed my (horrified) parents, and moved to the rural Midwest.

Having only been here the one time, I fully expected to find the mythical farmland I had seen on TV and in movies. You know: chickens in the yard, mom inside baking bread, a family cow to be milked twice a day, healthy food straight from the garden. Cute small towns around a town square, July 4th parades, hokey events and tractor pulls. Was I in for a surprise!

Mom was working full-time in town, so there were no chickens, or cows, or gardens. Dad was often driving a truck when he wasn’t farming corn or soy beans, in order to make ends meet. And every single small town was dying. Every. Single. One. All around the Midwest once-thriving town squares were filled with boarded up shops and restaurants. Many people did not shop locally – they preferred to drive an hour to go to WalMart and Home Depot, where they “could save some money.” And without this local support, small local stores continued to struggle.

I'll bet you don't have tractors in YOUR local parades!

I became intensely aware of how important my few dollars were. We began patronizing Hopkins Lumber, the local lumberyard. It has proven to be an absolute delight. Aaron and Bekka go out of their way to provide stellar customer service – drive supplies out here when we’re in a rush, and even share their favorite recipes. Jack and Darlene, their parents, are equally supportive. We’ve found that if they don’t carry something, they can usually order it. And while it is not always the cheapest option, we would be devastated if they were to close. So we do our part to support them, and they support us in turn. The local butcher (not many of those left!) is a great resource. And we can get HUGE bags of bones for the dogs for a mere 50 cents.

Three miles away, Zimmerman’s, a Mennonite-run general store, lets members of Dancing Rabbit order through the Natural Foods Wholesaler that they use. They charge us only an additional 5% (above wholesale), which is a fantastic deal. It has been wonderful to get to know this previously impenetrable community – there is a lot of mutual affection and respect between us, and we have found that we have more in common than we ever suspected.

The ladies who work in the local “men’s store” have been there for at least 30 years. They can tell you your jeans size better then you can, and lead you around by the hand as you shop. They write the sales tickets out by hand – no fancy schmancy computers here – and remember what project you’re working on, what boots you bought last year, and what kind of tomatoes you planted. There’s really something special going on.

Deny Clatt, who was just elected to local office, his daughter Abby (who takes fiddle lessons at DR from Tamar) and Danette, who runs the local florist shop, and is Aunt to Aaron and Bekka at Hopkins Lumber. Tiny world, eh?

Long story short: shop locally. Let me say that again: shop locally. Big box stores don’t care about you. They may talk a good game, but they’re not going to come to your son’s baseball game, or extend you credit when you get laid off. They don’t know your dog’s name, and don’t care if your community survives or not. The local banker, clothing store, grocery store and butcher are all invested in the success of YOU, and of your community. This is what we were searching for in Berkeley – a sense of belonging, of being able to make a difference. It is one of the things we cherish most about being here.

I am not suggesting that you move to the rural Midwest (in fact, those of you in cities: please go have a really good Indian or Chinese meal and know that I'll be drooling in absentia), or an ecovillage. I just wanted to share my experience, and to let you know that where ever you live you CAN make a difference. I encourage you to find your own locally owned businesses and patronize them. I promise you will receive extraordinary service, and that your lives will be richer for the experience!


Mother Earth said...

I find the two of you fascinating.

I especially liked what you said about Kurts thighs, that is serious love.

I was in san francisco several times, at age 19 with my dad, in july - froze my petuties off, in 1992 with my 14 month old daughter, stoller, back pack, cloth diapers and breasts will travel -- visiting a great friend who had just had her baby

can't help if you know another friend of mine an artist - gary barten - lost touch with him

my company treated me in 96 and i went again in 2004 for a science symposium

3 out of the 4 times you were still there. too wild

each time as fascinated as I was by the area - I thought how do folks afford to live here ?? I found it overwhelming

I have recently stumbled on some of the kinds of towns you have described in the midwest and agree how they have died

the nothing is just a shame.

Your message about shopping local is really exampled well here - people live and work here.

Those box stores have no idea who you are.

Loved this post alline!

Kim said...

You are lucky.

We live in a rural area of Central CA where it doesn't pay to shop locally. Yep you read that correctly. We've lived here for almost 3 years and I have to say that many of the stores here are owned by grouchy uncaring people. I've tried, others in the community have tried, but these people just don't care. Yes there are the few nice store owners that will be polite but they don't want to get to know you and your family and they don't seem to care whether you ever spend another dollar in their stores.

Our family lived in the Midwest for a few years so I'm familiar with the kind of community spirit you are writing about. I honestly believe that it's more a cultural thing common to that area than it is a small town thing.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

This post brought back so many memories of growing up in a small town in Kentucky. I didn't always like it there, but you're definitely right about there being a community. My parents still live there, and they know EVERYONE.

Community is one of the key reasons why I like to buy local. It just feels nicer to buy from someone who lives in your area, who is maybe even someone you know well. There's an old farmer that I buy our eggs from at our farmer's market who makes sure my kids get a chicken feather every time we go. You're not going to get that kind of thoughtfulness at Walmart!

Green Bean said...

I really really loved the second to last paragraph! That is why I think it is so important to buy local. These people LIVE in your community. If you need help, they will give it to you. Who hosts fundraisers for my kids' school? The locally owned yogurt store or the chain? Take a wild guess. Who will take me up on my respect to stock cheese from a local farmer? Again, guess!

And, holy cow! I can't believe that you moved from Berkeley to rural Missouri. My sis is in Berkeley and I'm on the Peninsula. I can't even imagine having the nerve to do that. Part of me really wants to be but well . . . I guess I'll go have a great Indian meal and think of you. :)

Alline Anderson said...

Thanks for your comments!
KAREN: Thanks!
KIM: I wonder if the difference is that the rural Midwest is emptying out, and California is always where people want to be? Hard to tell. I'm so sorry your experience hasn't matched mine. Perhaps you can come visit the Mercantile sometime!
ERIN: I LOVE the chicken feather story!
GREEN BEAN: Yep - the founders of Dancing Rabbit, who were all Stanford grads (although from all parts of the country) were stunned when a Californian wanted to join and move to the Midwest. We get to travel a lot, so I often feel that I have the best of both worlds!

yer mama said...

I think you should post a modified version of this article in the mem dem, yo!