Beyond buying local

Published 10:30pm Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Great Recession has arguably been the biggest boost to the Buy Local movement.

Rising fuel prices, coupled with a philosophy that prods us to “Think Globally/Act Locally,” have encouraged rural areas to rely on locally grown, locally produced and locally sourced products as our first choice.

It’s not always easy to buy local. Sometimes the products you need are simply not available nearby. Sometimes the quality you need is not available and sometimes, the cost to buy local is higher, making it a conflicting choice for people on a fixed or limited income to be loyal to community businesses.

Another aspect critical to our new way of thinking is changing old habits, specifically over-consumption. The economy has cured a lot of that — we no longer have the means even if the desire still stubbornly hangs on.

As a resident of Charlotte for many years, I could get lost for hours in a Lowe’s super-hardware store and leave with a basketful of stuff. The same was true for Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Old Navy, Best Buy, Wal-mart, Barnes & Noble and so on. Mindless shopping was so convenient. Those days are over. Now, our buying is more deliberate and we buy locally whenever possible. The loss of an income has pushed some of us to do more selective shopping, with the result, in the long run, being a good thing for all.

Jerry Nelon in Pea Ridge was a successful luxury homebuilder for many years. When the economy took a nosedive, Nelon waited as long as he could for things to turn around. With no improvement on the horizon, he took a bold step by enhancing his bison herd from a hobby to a full-fledged, serious business.

Bison has become a popular source of low-fat meat in recent years; its market has boomed. An offshoot of his new career as a bison farmer is an agri-tourism component in which the Nelons have worked to cater to a growing interest in visiting working farms. He is also investigating an emerging market for the animal’s hair, classified as an exotic fiber.

Other entrepreneurs have followed suit launching their own successful endeavors.

Fred Block saw an opportunity to create a locally crafted beer. Bottle Tree Beer claims Tryon as its birthplace and already has a loyal following. With craft beers, local is better and loyalty seems to be a pleasant by-product. Bottle Tree has already reached markets beyond its immediate regional neighborhood, bolstered by blue ribbon reviews.

Lee Ewing of Sunny Creek Farms in Green Creek started a small sprout operation on the family’s farm 21 years ago. The demand grew, as did Ewing’s desire to expand into larger produce distribution. The resulting effort is a company that employs 35, keeps seven trucks on the road from Raleigh to Alabama, and provides Polk farmers a local point for distribution. All of this new energy into “producing our own” has a positive economic spin too.

It is estimated that 64 cents of every $1 spent locally stays in the community, versus 43 cents spent at chain stores. Nationwide, small businesses less than five years old have accounted for 2/3 of the jobs created in the past decade.

Gary Snyder, a noted poet and environmentalist, is often quoted, “Find your place in the world, dig in and take responsibility from there.” Good advice for nurturing our own way towards prosperity.

Editor's Picks