What Happens When We Buy Local?

By Joe Campbell posted 6 days ago

  
A girl in a hoodie holds a box of eggplants. She has bracelets on one wrist.


If you’re here, chances are the local food movement is not new to you. After all, “local” has become quite a common distinction in the U.S. and around the world. However, whether you’re a seasoned “locavore,” or are taking your first steps into the wonderful world of local food, arming yourself with the facts is never a bad idea.

But first, let’s pause. When we say “local,” what comes to mind? From person to person, the imagery and meaning may vary quite a bit. Do we mean food produced in close proximity to where you live? Or are we talking about produce and food that has unique characteristics of a particular place?

The answer, for this article, is a blanket yes. The local food movement has swept across the world, bringing with it many ways to think about locally grown food and produce. A core tenet of INFRA’s mission is “feeding the community.” Local, independent food retailers do just that, and as individual consumers, we can both help support local food systems and improve the environment we live in at the same time. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

 

The Benefits of Buying Local

The benefits of buying local are numerous and diverse. It’s a way for us to support our local economies. We can reduce our own carbon footprint and collectively reduce that

of our communities. If that wasn’t enough, we can also benefit our own health along the way.

 

Environmental

Let’s start with the grandest and most macro-focused benefits. The environmental benefits of buying local are many – too many to list here. So, we’re going to focus on a few important ones.

Eating local reduces our food miles 

There’s a concept that is no doubt very relevant to INFRA Members and on the minds of their many customers. If you’re not already familiar with “food miles,” you can probably guess what it is.

Food miles refers to the distance food travels from farm to fork. Food on the shelves at your nearest supermarket may have traveled quite a distance to get there. In fact, it is estimated (and supported by many studies over the years) that the food most of us eat has traveled a cool 1,500 miles to reach us.

A girl in a mask picks up a tomato in a grocery store.

 

That’s 1,500 miles of fuel and refrigeration.

On the other hand, by buying local, we can choose to take part in and support a less energy-intensive system. Reducing our food miles by simply eating what’s local and in-season can spectacularly reduce our own carbon footprint in a way that many don’t realize we can. Easy peasy.

Local food promotes genetic diversity

Large-scale food production generally means limited genetic diversity. Conventional agricultural systems choose produce varieties for uniformity and longevity. Growing different varieties of meat and produce isn’t feasible when the product is destined for a supermarket shelf 1,500 miles away. 

However, prioritizing genetically diverse food isn’t just about having colorful and fun varieties to pick from (although, c’mon, that’s really cool). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that up to 75% of crop biodiversity was lost during the 20th century.

Globally, we depend on about 150 plant species, and 12 do most of the legwork.

Maintaining genetic diversity in the food we eat is one of the best safeguards we have to ensure food security now and especially in the future. Luckily, the last 20 years have seen quite an increase in awareness and efforts to preserve crop diversity. Eating local is a fantastic way we can support local diversity and promote food security.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed hat crouches in a greenhouse to tend to some plants.

 

Eating local helps protect local land

Supporting local farms is both an economic and an environmental boon. We’ll get into the economic benefit, but we are first discussing the environmental side.

By eating local and supporting local farms, we can each put our money towards keeping local lands out of the hands of large-scale developers and industrial farms. Small farms can be fantastic stewards of the local environment.

Though local does not necessarily mean organic, we can still reasonably expect the land to be cared for and preserved. Small, independent operations, after all, have a vested interest in being sustainable for their own longevity as businesses. Small farms employ a diverse range of land management systems, providing important ecosystem services by promoting biodiversity.

Economic

Buying local has amazing economic benefits that are go above and beyond the food space. Local businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. We could dive deep into that, but we’ll reign in our enthusiasm and limit ourselves to food.

 

Eating local keeps money in your community

Simply put, eating local is supporting local businesses. The beneficiaries of local food are numerous, and when we buy local, we support an entire network of businesses in and around our communities.

On a given visit to your local INFRA Member, your cash flows through many levels of the community. Obviously, the first stop is your local independent organic food retailer and all its employees – members of your community.

Our collective support of local organic independents flows through them to the farmers they buy from. Because farms near the buyer have drastically lower transportation costs (imagine how much cheaper 50 to 100 food miles is as opposed to 1,500), that’s more money in their pockets and in the pockets of their own employees.

One hand gives a fruit to another hand, reaching over the counter at a farmers market.


But it doesn’t stop there! That money circulates to other local businesses, such as restaurants that prioritize locally sourced food. Patronizing local businesses, and local food especially, has something of a multiplier effect. Employees at local businesses are more likely to support other local businesses. Putting our money into the local scene tends to keep money in the local scene, creating a reinforcing cycle of economic support and positivity. On average, 48% of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, as opposed to 14% of purchases at chains.

We’re all part of an interdependent and interwoven system. Circulating money in our own communities is something we can all do that enriches everything around us.

So, What Happens When We Buy Local?

The benefits of buying local food ripple through the environment and economy. 

When we buy local produce, we’re buying produce that we can trace. We’re buying produce that represents a much smaller carbon footprint than large-scale grown and distributed food. We’re supporting local environments that promote greater genetic diversity and protect local land.

The money we spend on locally farmed produce means money circulated in local economies. It’s money that goes into local businesses (like your neighborhood independent natural food retailer!), which supports the members of your community who work there and shop in the same community.

The organic movement is local and happens among us, in our communities. What other benefits can we promote with our spending habits? How much produce do you buy that comes from local farms? Our grocery habits, whether we’re members of the industry or members of the community, can ripple positivity for all!

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