Local Progress

Crabapple TreeDear Reader:

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.

4 responses to “Local Progress

  1. Way to go Shel! I’m glad you are enjoying your change in life style. Do you think it would make a difference if you were working full time? There are so many great memories I have of my childhood and all the canning and preserving my Mom did. I should look into having her show me how this fall:)
    Would still love to touch base this summer:)

  2. Hi Mary Ann: Would it make a difference if I were working full time? Sure it would. Although, it doesn’t feel like much of a lifestyle change to me yet. Shopping locally actually frees up my time because I don’t have to drive to the next town to the chain store. Cooking is easier when you don’t work all day, for sure. Gardening, ditto, but my parents were able to do it because they worked school schedules. Butter making is done by shaking a jar while watching tv. Actually, my daughter did the shaking of the jar this week:) Great new book called DEPLETION AND ABUNDANCE: Life on the New Home Front by Sharon Astyk is very inspiring. We’ll definitely get together this summer–looking forward to the Lobster Fest already!

  3. I’m loving your blog, Shelley. You are thoroughly researching your subjects and making them interesting at the same time. I am going to try my hand a bread baking based on your inspiring article. Do you have any suggestions for good books to read that focus more on the “doing” rather than “why do”? Perhaps I missed a reference in an earlier blog – I’ll go back and look!

  4. If you are talking about bread in particular, I just use the old Betty Crocker cookbook. If you are talking about going more local and how to do it, I just read a great book called DEPLETION AND ABUNDANCE. I put a link to the website by the same author on the right-hand column under “websites.” She gives alot of “why does” but at the back is a list of 100 things you can do to reduce your footprint.

    THE LONG EMERGENCY by Kunstler has some ideas in it. Most of the books with the “why does” will have chapters at the end about how to. There are books out there on every subject you can imagine. I have one called ROOT CELLARING: Natural cold storage of fruits and vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel. Also PRESERVING FOOD WITHOUT CANNING OR FREEZING by Terre Vivante (a group.) I just took a book out of the library called GAIA’S GARDEN by Toby Hemenway all about permaculture and how to set it up at your home. SQUARE-FOOT GARDENING by Mel Bartholomew. BOUNTIFUL CONTAINER by Rose McGee and Maggie Stuckley.

    Maybe I should start a book list!

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