I have this t-shirt that says “Buy Local” on the back. You hear and see that phrase a lot now. Small businesses use it, and so do businesses like Wal-mart and Whole Foods, which hype their willingness to carry foods from local providers. But if everyone’s using it, what does it mean? And has it become a useless marketing term?
“Local” isn’t defined in any official capacity by the government or some other body. And it can’t really be defined by state lines, since where we live in Pittsburgh, we’re closer to Ohio and West Virginia than our state capital. It’s also hard to define it by miles – do you count a day’s drive as local or a certain number of miles from your home? I’ve seen products labeled as “local” in grocery stores where a quick google reveals that I’d have to drive 8 hours to get to the place it was sourced. That doesn’t really feel local.
For my purposes, I’d casually define local as sourced from within my own economic region – the greater metropolitan area of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. I’d extend that to sourcing items within a radius I’d be willing to drive to pick up the item itself or to co-ops with drop-off locations throughout that same area.
By why buy local? Here are my 5 reasons.
- Simplification. It can be really complicated balancing different priorities with food purchases – organics v. conventional, natural, sustainable farming practices, humane animal treatment. When I buy locally grown and produced food, especially directly from the source, I have more confidence. There is little marketing hype, and I am more confident that the farmer across the table from me at the farmers’ market is not handing me food that’s laced with poison or destroying the viability of the land. He or she has a vested interest in taking care of the land and producing a healthy crop – because it’s his or her family eating that food too and living on that land. It just feels simple.
- Economics. When you buy something from a local producer, whether that be food or another item, that money stays in the local economy instead of flowing outward to nameless, faceless companies for their exorbitant profit margins. Instead the money is put back into the community through taxes and the costs of running a business, plus supporting the employment of local people. Local producers who also source their raw materials from local sources help keep that cycle going. (e.g. Local distilleries and breweries who source their grain from local farms.)
- Expertise. While there are certainly people working in traditional chain stores who know their stuff, it is really fulfilling to patronize a local business and benefit from the expertise of the people who run it. I am often willing to pay more for a product or service from a local business simply because there is value added in the customer service that often isn’t there at other stores.
- Quality. When it comes to food, I’ve never once been disappointed with a local purchase. It’s also nice that it typically lasts longer, since it’s had less time from the field to my table and spent less time on the highway (or sky) in a refrigerated truck (or plane). I think when a local producer sells you something, there’s a bit of a subconscious awareness that they might see you around town. They take pride in the quality of their products, knowing that it’s one of the best ways they compete with big business.
- Because I love my community. I’m proud to live in this area and proud of the great things that people are innovating and creating and growing here. It’s rich in history and legacy, and I want to support businesses that continue that and are helping to make Pittsburgh the most liveable city that it is.