The Call, Column 36 – All I Want for Christmas…

8 02 2016

(December 20, 2015)

The Urban Farmer

All I Want for Christmas…

Cows at Blackbird Farm, enjoying Santa's visit to the farm stand

Cows at Blackbird Farm, enjoying Santa’s visit to the farm stand!

I just got back from the big farmers market in Pawtucket, and I have to say, I’m really inspired. I go pretty often, probably once every two weeks during the winter. But this week, the atmosphere was different – Christmas was in the air, there were an exceptional amount of people, and all around me, there was this vibe – people were there to shop local for the holidays.

That’s what I want to talk about today. As we approach Christmas, and the weather gets colder but our homes (and hearts) get warmer, there are a lot of things on our lists to be bought. There’s food and drinks, gifts, decorations, and entertainment of all kinds. And while I’m the first to discourage mindless consumerism, 1) food is a biological necessity and 2) this is the time of year to share our blessings, including thoughtful gifts and experiences, with those we love. So with that in mind, here are some reasons that you should buy from small, local businesses for the holidays.

It’s good for the local economy. The American Independent Business Alliance (amiba.net) estimates that about 48% of the money spent at small, local, independent businesses is recirculated through the local economy. When we buy from these businesses, the profits made on our purchases don’t go to make the rich richer. Instead, they help to pay for the dance lessons of a little girl in our community; or into the retirement savings of one of our neighbors; or to buy some other good from the local economy, which itself has this pronounced effect.

As consumers, by buying from local businesses, we send signals to the economy that we value their goods more than those bought at big box stores and chains. And we create demand, so that innovative and hardworking people in our community might be able to make a living in their own companies.

            It’s good for the environment. Personally, this is my favorite part. Buying locally produced goods and services – things like jewelry, entertainment, handmade clothing, art, prepared food, and agricultural products (which we’ll talk about below) – drastically reduces their carbon footprint. They do not have to be shipped around the globe like many similar products at big box stores, and small businesses are often more careful in selecting higher quality goods and materials, which further reduces their toll on the environment.  

            Buying locally-produced goods also serves to internalize, and thereby reduce, the negative externalities associated with production. “Negative externalities” are harms caused by some industrial process – like pollution, labor exploitation, damage to local economies, etc – that do not affect the company’s bottom line (because no laws exist to make it so), and which they can therefore freely ignore.

When a multinational company builds a heavily-polluting factory in a low-income neighborhood, it does not rely on the health and wellbeing of those people, that environment, and that community for its financial success – so it has no incentive to pollute less (that’s called environmental racism, classism, etc).

But when a good is produced and sold within a localized area, we who live there know and personally feel the effects, good and bad, that that product has on the local environment, the labor force, and the health of the members of our community (for example, think about the pollution of the Blackstone River). This means that if a product comes with any negative externalities, they are necessarily internalized. And if we choose en masse not to buy it, we force the production to be cleaner.

So buying locally-produced goods from businesses whose practices are helpful, not harmful, to the local environment gives us a powerful tool to protect and restore our community.

            It’s good for you, the consumer. When a business owner makes a good (or provides a service) to be sold to his or her friends, family, and neighbors, he or she puts more thought into the quality of that product. Unlike a multinational baked good conglomerate, it is doubtful that a local bakery, for example, would use a preservative or additive that is technically legal but that other countries have deemed harmful. And if you, as a carpenter, are building a swing-set or table to be sold to one of your neighbors, that product will be structurally superior to a big-box version, cheaply made by slave labor in a developing country.

And this notion, that the things we consume have an effect on our health, brings me back to the beginning of this column, and the central reason that I decided to write it: why it’s so great to buy food from local farms.

Buying food from local farms strengthens the local foodshed: it grows the local production system, and makes it more resilient in the face of large-scale food shortages that result from weather events, political unrest, and the like.

It drastically reduces the carbon footprint of the food we eat, and often results in improvement to the local environment, rather than destruction of some foreign or otherwise out-of-site one.

It gives us the ability to know what practices went into growing our food: what artificial pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers were applied, how animals were treated, and what type of seed (organic, heirloom, GMO?) and feed and growing methods and soil fertility measures were used. And therefore, it gives us the ability to select foods which meet our personal criteria for environmental health and individual wellbeing.

And it lets us shake the hands the feed us (throwback to this summer!). We can know the hardworking, conscientious men and women who have dedicated their lives to making the one good we all cannot live without. Whose industry is the only one with the potential to have a positive, rather than negative, effect on the local and global environment. And who get up early on a Saturday morning, to bring delicious, healthy food to Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, for us to buy and cook for our loved ones, to show them how much we care.

One of my favorite farms, Blackbird Farm in Smithfield (Farm Stand: 660 Douglas Pike, Smithfield), is a perfect example of this (you might remember when I wrote about them during the summer). Last Saturday, Santa visited the farm stand, where they were selling Christmas trees and, of course, their high-quality beef and pork. The overwhelming message there was the benefits of buying locally-produced food, and intimately knowing the growing practices that went into producing your food. Ann Marie, one of the farm’s owners, sent me some great pictures of the day, one of which I have included here.

In closing, I want to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a joyous holiday season. See you in 2016!

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

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