Supporting your local economy has never been so hot and in recent years a real grassroots movement towards buying local has taken root. Consumers, and in particular food shoppers are seeing there are huge advantages to be had. But what are these advantages and how does buying locally effect our economies? And most importantly, is this trend sustainable?

Define small!

When we talk about buying local – what we’re often alluding to is buying from small suppliers. We want to shop at small suppliers where we know the owners and see the money being put to good use.

But on the flipside, just because it’s small doesn’t make it local. Banks usually call companies with an annual revenue of under $20 million, small, and small business advocacies work with businesses with fewer than 500 employees. This can include some serious global operators who do not reinvest in the community. And that’s really what buying local is all about – keeping the cash in the local economy.

Still, most of us look to small business assuming they are automatically economically ethical. We use ‘small’ and ‘sole’ as a very handy measuring stick. But this sometimes leads us down a blind alley where size matters more than community connections and commitment. And this is something we can only rectify if we understand what buying local really means.

What do I mean by this? Well, here’s an example. Imagine you’re at the farmer’s market and you see a stall selling locally bottled Himalayan rock salt. I probably don’t need to point out, that’s not local. The seller is local, but depending on how much mark up she’s charging, the majority of the price of the product is directly leaving the local community. Perhaps she visits Tibet six months out of the year, perhaps she even shops exclusively on Amazon. You get the point.

Other Avenues in Outer Sunset

Why is it important to shop locally?

The sad truth of the matter is, many US communities are languishing not because too little cash comes in, but because too much cash goes out. Like the blood circulating your body, there’s a surprising amount of it already there and you can lose some, but it has to be replenished. When we spend our money in places where the price of the product and the profit earned is siphoned out of the local community, that money is gone forever. The community figuratively hemorrhages cash.  The pittance the community recovers in rent and wages just can’t stem the flow.

In addition, this process leads to ghost towns and clone towns, creating a hostile environment for any ‘buy local’ movements. It’s a vicious circle: low price goods, delivered by low paying companies, creating poverty which ties people into looking for low price goods.

Breaking the mold

So rather surprisingly in these febrile clone towns all across the US, it’s fallen to large, national and even global companies to deliver the ‘buy local’ model. These are the companies who ensure the highest percentage of every dollar, stays in the towns and cities where it’s spent. It is in their best interest to support these communities to make sure they have the means to consume. But to do so big hitters need to think long-term, local, sustainable and holistic.

It’s accepted wisdom, what we do within the next ten years to ensure we ‘buy local’ will be the determining factor in whether our communities flourish or flounder. It means sourcing local goods from suppliers with the same principles, looking to produce new products using locally sourced raw materials and supporting companies, which pay a living wage. However, it means a myriad of other things too.

Right now, the cost of providing a child with an education (both as a community and from a family economy point of view) is often money the community never sees again. Whether or not you go on to further education, as soon as you move away, the talent is lost. And while it is inevitable that new graduates will want to explore the world, making sure there’s a town waiting for them to return to is one of the ways we can keep the cash in the community. So by ensuring the local economy is doing well, we can make sure the local community does too.