It’s been over a month since I embarked on this journey into local living, and today I thought it would be a good idea to assess my successes and failures and to sit down with my calculator to figure out what effect living locally has had on my bottom line.
One of the biggest items in my budget is food, coming in third after the mortgage and gasoline. Since the beginning of April, I have managed to shop for groceries locally. I did fill one prescription at a chain grocery store owned by a large, multinational company, and my husband picked up a few extra food items there while retrieving my medication. I also shopped at the Whole Foods store in Portland one time . . . mostly because a friend was going, and I wanted to spend time with her. I was able to pick up some brown rice which is not available in my town (although I could have purchased it at One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh, a lovely little store run by very nice women or by ordering it from a co-op) and a box of lotus-root tea which is supposed to be good for my asthmatic lungs.
Anyway, back to the money: comparing the grocery bills of April 2008 with April 2009, I was not too surprised to discover a $261 difference . . . in favor of the local supermarket! How can this be, you ask? Can’t those giant supermarkets offer better pricing because they are buying larger quantities from the suppliers?
Well, yes and no. The difference for me has been one of availability. While shopping at the chain retail supermarket, I indulged in the marvelous selection of organic produce and pre-packaged items like fruit leathers for lunchboxes, ricemilk, rice pastas, tortilla chips, chickpea spread, and recycled tiolet paper. These items aren’t available at my locally-owned grocery store. I’ve had to make-do or do without, and since those organic and specialty items are very expensive, I’ve managed to save quite a bit of cash shopping locally.
As for produce and the nice selection of organic greens (and reds and yellows and oranges) at the big chain store, there is some debate about the wisdom of buying organic produce if it is grown on immense farms in California and shipped all the way across the country to my little corner of Maine. Weighing the pros and cons, I decided that supporting the local store was more important than supporting organic agribusinesses in a state far removed from mine. When push comes to shove, who is going to be there for me if our food supply network is compromised? I’ll take my chances on my local owner. After all, he lives here, too.
Would I prefer locally-grown, organic produce? Sure. I’d love to see our town take some measures to encourage local agriculture–perhaps property-tax breaks for anyone growing food rather than subdividing land into house lots, for instance. In the summer, spinach and cucumbers grown by local farmers are often available at the store as well as a few farm stands scattered around the area. The market offers bags of Maine potatoes, a childhood food staple and one to which I’ve come back as they are filling, nutritious, Maine-grown, and inexpensive . . . and my kid likes them.
Not everyone will agree with me here. Another mom’s priority may be putting only organic food into her kids’ bodies over supporting local business. I’m cool with that. We each have to do what we feel is best in an imperfect world.
Obviously, I’m not following the 100-mile diet or the 200-mile diet or even the 1000-mile diet. Still, it feels pretty good to know I am supporting a local businessperson, the local people who run the cash registers and cut the meat and slice the deli cheese and stock the shelves, the local newspaper where the store advertises, and possibly such service-persons as accountants and bookkeepers and office-equipment repairers. While the big, national chains hire local people, advertising and bookkeeeping and personnel-related jobs and accounting and inventory and warehousing are usually done in an outside location, removing dollars from the local economy. How many CEO’s and CFO’s and other corporate-office executives of multinational companies live in the town where you buy your food? The money paid to them (the money out of your pocket) doesn’t come back in the form of property-taxes on their mulit-million dollar estates . . . at least not in your town, most likely.
There ARE some foods I buy from local producers, and I would (will) buy more if (when) it becomes available. I love the eggs from my friend, Sarah’s, chickens. Raw cow milk and goat cheese straight from a farm the next town over is delicious and nutritious. For two weeks now I’ve even made my own butter after skimming the thick layer of cream from the milk jug. I just put in an order for a quarter of a beef which will be munching on pasture two miles from my home all summer and fall until he ends up in my freezer. I have a lead on organic, local chicken. So, meat and dairy products aren’t an issue. It’s the vegetables and grains I’m looking for!
All in all, I’ve been pleased with the results of my local grocery shopping. My family is well-fed, I’m saving money, and I’m encouraging the growth and retention of local businesses and cottage industries. It’s been a good start to a year Outside the Box.