As we embark on the season of gratitude and reflection, several people have asked if I could put together a set of ways to start living local. Making the commitment sometimes starts on a modicum scale: say, purchasing 20 percent from local sources. Right now, a good way to inaugurate yourself into the Live Local pledge is to commit to purchase a chunk of your holiday gifts from small, local businesses. Besides giving loved ones something that says, “Hi, I’m thinking about you, and value you in my life,” you might also be saving the job of the person waiting on you behind the counter.
Ways to live local are vast and varied. They come mainly from the point that as we talk about the need for supporting our local economy, we stand a great chance of creating market demand.
1. Ask for locally produced goods and food, and buy made in the USA products! Ask for them by name. If we do not ask for and follow through with our actions, then there is no market demand for local. Why should we buy locally? To keep our money here, to spend it over and over again in this community, rather than letting it leave in these troubled times.
2. Say “thank you” to businesses that support Live Local. It’s as important to let them know the reasons they have your repeat business.
3. Spread the news of your newfound commitment. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, outlining why you have chosen to support local. It takes 10 minutes and can have a lasting impact on your neighbors. The job you save might live next door to you. More so, tell friends, family and acquaintances, and start the dialogue to keep its momentum going.
4. Ask your congregation, place of employment or organizations for which you volunteer to pass a local purchasing preference. Religious congregations especially wrestle with issues of ethical import regularly. The choice to spend money and how it has lasting implications in our current society is of value.
We can have a really vibrant community contributing to fund-raisers if we pool from our resources. For example, chances are, if you have a contractor in your congregation, you aren’t going to hire one that does not worship with you and give the business away. Ask people to share these values and make a commitment to support the community that supports you.
5. Visit a farmers’ market when they’re in season. We have them all over our counties, from Pender to Brunswick, and encore lists them in the calendar in season. It’s a great way to spend the morning: see and meet friends, get fresh flowers and vegetables, find out who is growing your food, purchase handmade cheese and hear great music. What could be simpler and more fun?
6. Avoid mega stores and chains. The next time you want to buy clothes, a lamp or kitchen appliance, children’s toys, a burger or music, research your local options carefully. Check for resale shops, mom-and-pop businesses or thumb through local classified options. Find out about the diner around the corner and who owns it. Put a face to the name of the business. Choose to support independents over chains and mega-stores. Make careful decisions when shopping online. Are monies going to a conglomerate or to the artisan clothing store down the street?
7. Hold your political representatives accountable for the communities they represent and how they interact with them financially. During election years, ask the candidates to invest in your economy by questioning them about their platforms on sales taxes, local jobs and purchasing preferences. You are hiring them to manage and spend your money. The election is your opportunity to tell them what you want. Do you like giving Lanier Parking nearly a million dollars a year? Couldn’t that be better spent here instead of going to Atlanta, where they’re based? Do you want more job outsourcing? Do you want more jobs here? If we do not ask our elected officials to invest in our economy, they have no incentive to do it. Your vote is your voice.
8. Start a time bank or barter network. Do you have skills that could be valued by others? Why not trade them with someone who knows how to do something you need? Swap childcare, appliances, or time spent sitting with elderly relatives.
9. Join a chapter of Slow Money. One has recently set up shop in Wilmington (more to come on this story soon in encore). Slow Money uses community investment to make micro loans that strengthen our local food system. If that is where your values lie, think about putting your money where your mouth is (literally).
10. Pay off your debt and live debt-free, ethically and happily. When you’re not paying interest rates or instituting fees on merchants who run credit cards, more money stays in local borders.
The more I think about the questions raised by the Occupy movements, the more I realize that getting my credit cards paid off and not sending money to the corporate giants that outsource jobs and funnel money to offshore bank accounts is the only way Ican really make a difference. Thanks to “Your Money or Your Life” (see #15), I have a strategy and a plan in place. Though it might not come through on the timeline I aim for, it does give me a good rubric to work with. Every time I pay cash instead of swiping plastic and charge the merchant processing fees, I keep more money here, where I want to see it over and over again.
11. Join or start a buying cooperative. The power of bulk buying allows for greater consumer power. This is how Tidal Creek started: People here wanted the options Tidal Creek could provide and realized that if they formed a cooperative, they had a stronger market voice. The easy way to take this step is to become a member of a local cooperative.
12. Move your money to a community bank or credit union. This takes some effort. You have to close your bank account, move any automatic drafts or payments you have set up, and find a community bank or credit union that meets your needs. We have talked about this topic a lot in this column and the encore archives online contain a lot of useful information.
13. Ride your bike or walk. Seriously, it’s cheaper—the money stays here instead of going to the Middle East. It’s better for your health and the environment.
14. Garden. Any food you grow yourself is local by definition. It’s also food you have not spent money on but rather sweat equity. If you don’t feel up to vegetables, try perennials and herbs.
15. Educate yourself. Want to learn more about the impact of your spending choices on your life and the lives of others? Check out the following books (available at independent bookstores; if they’re not on the shelves, the folks can order them). “Big-Box Swindle” by Stacy Mitchell; “Small is Beautiful” by E F Schumacher; “Your Money or Your Life” by Viki Robin and Joe Dominguez.
For info on your food choices try “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barabra Kingsolver; “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal” by Joel Salatin; or “The Holy Earth” by Liberty Hyde Bailey.
Please, pick one or two of these this season and try them. See how they feel, and may you all have a prosperous and joyous holiday and new year!