Charlie Preston-Townsend: What makes local?
May 2, 2013
Steamboat Springs has been blitzed with the idea of "Buy Local" for some time thanks to a successful campaign by local businesses in the day of online shopping. We are similarly faced with the local option as the popularity of the Farmers Market continues to grow.
The premise of buying local is that you are supporting the local economy. It has been suggested that by keeping money in the local economy it has more benefits than if you send it away via online shopping. But what percentage of our buying power do we need to keep local to have effect? And what does it really mean for us to buy "local" in Routt County and abroad?
Let's discuss the existential before we figure out the economics. The local movement is a protectionist mentality. We think community is valuable, and by purchasing from within our community, we are expressing that value. To know who is benefiting from our purchases is rewarding. Like water to a plant, money permeates our local economy, encouraging its slow growth.
The word "economy" is rooted in the Greek meaning "household management," thus we must consider households. One constant expense in any successful household is a constant supply of food. While some consumer products available are still manufactured in the area (think Moots bicycles), even their component parts are from elsewhere. Food, on the other hand, is considerably local.
With opportunities to express our value of community as routinely as we buy food, let us be sure to purchase wisely. At places like Elkstone Farms and Cacklin' Hen, Firefly and Pura Vida Gardens, people are pouring their hearts into providing consumer products grown from Champagne powder melt-off. The Yampa River Valley continues to be an excellent summer grazing ground and provider of delicious beef. Places like Rockin' J Ranch continue this tradition.
While a limited selection of Routt County products is available at area grocers, even they tend to miss the mark.
However valuable taking "Colorado Proud" and "Buy Local" into consideration may be when buying things, how "local" can things like coffee, tents and energy bars really be? And although the seeds used by Tasty Tomato to grow their delicious heirloom tomatoes may have been outsourced, a seed gives a 1,000 percent return on investment. Pair that return with the intrinsic value of knowing the couple who have poured their hearts into the production of that tomato and we're talking a good investment.
A stable household is forced to make choices when it comes to purchases. Because an up-front cost comparison would point any frugal shopper to the industrial model, it is here where we are forced to quantify the intrinsic value of the "Buy Local" model. And although we have not yet successfully done so, next time you are at the grocery store, ask yourself where your money might be better spent.