Buying Local: There's more than meets the eye
"Where does this come from?"
It's a common question that's often asked when purchasing food, and I hear it asked all the time at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. We all know that it is important to buy local, but what does that mean exactly, and why is it important?
There are many ways to look at this, one of the easiest being economically. According to a study conducted by Local First, when you buy from a local business, 73 percent of that money stays in the local economy. Conversely, when you buy from a national chain, only 43 percent of the money stays local.
That is a pretty big discrepancy, but there is more to it than that. Because of the multiplier effect, the impact of this dollar amount is a lot more than the 30-percentage-point difference would lead you to believe.
Think of it this way: If you buy some produce from a local Hillsdale Market farmer directly, the farmer turns around and pays local wages to his employees, who then use that money to spend locally in Portland — perhaps for a new haircut, where that barber then goes to the local pub to buy a local beer and tips to a local bartender, and so on.
Every bit of that money you spent with that farmer affects a lot of people, and as you can imagine, a little bit goes a long, long way. If you were looking to make a bigger impact by throwing stones into a pond, would you choose a small or a large rock? Buying local is choosing a bigger stone, and thereby doing more with less.
Of course, there are more than just economic benefits to shopping local. When you purchase from a local farmer at the market, that person who lives close to you also is the one growing your food. He or she can tell you all about the food, including how it is grown, what it can be used for, how often the soil is tilled and what, if any, additives are used during the cultivation of the food. Just about anything you want to know about, your farmer can answer — and that's just better service.
Buying local is also better for the environment. Well, if it did not begin in your kitchen, it had to get there somehow. The farther something is shipped, the more effort or fuel it takes to ship it to you. Every mile adds up to more emissions, and if you agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality, then you would be wise to buy local.
Not only does it take resources to ship things, but it takes time as well, and in the case of most foods, that time spent lessens the freshness — and therefore the quality — of the food. Fresh food just tastes better, obviously.
If there are so many advantages, then why isn't everyone doing it? I usually see two reasons: convenience and ignorance.
Not everyone knows the staggering importance of buying local, and many people find it difficult to give up some of the conveniences they have. I'm not asking you to stop eating pineapples, boycott Amazon, throw away your iPhone or never set foot inside Costco again. But even the slightest shift in your spending can result in huge changes to your local economy.
Seriously, if everyone in the Portland area did just this, we are talking millions of dollars of increased economic activity in Portland alone.
You can look at the situation in a lot of ways, but ultimately, the reality is that spending money at a national chain leaves less for your local economy, over time effectively resulting in a net drain.
These chains have a lot of power, but not as much as you, the consumer, and that makes the notion of change much more empowering. You, in fact, have the innate ability to change the world around you by doing something as simple as choosing where to spend your money.
Every dollar makes a difference. It's just a matter of changing your perception.
Clayton Kammerer is the new Market Manager at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. A recent transplant from Arizona, he came to Portland to be a part of a community of people that resonate with his core beliefs. With a background in business and experience in event planning, he hopes to help kindle the magic of the market, and bring about exciting growth and development while building on the stong foundation already in place.