This holiday season I urge folks in our community to buy local food products as much as possible. Given the diversity of crops and livestock produced in this state, it is really not that difficult. Consider, for example, how easy it is to get greens, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and different kinds of meat — all from local sources right now! By doing this, there are numerous benefits to our communities.
“Buy Local” — you see the decal in the store window; the sign at the farmer’s market; the bright, cheerful logos for “Goodness Grows in NC;” “Got to Be NC” agriculture; the “10% Campaign” and more. The message is “let’s-support-local-agriculture,” a kind of community boosterism. Buying close to home may be more than a feel-good, it’s-worth-paying-more-for-local matter. A number of researchers and organizations are taking a closer look at how money flows, and what they’re finding shows the profound economic impact of keeping money in town — and how the fate of many communities around the nation and the world increasingly depend on it.
At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community. The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. “That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle.
Indeed, says Boyle, many local economies are languishing not because too little cash comes in, but as a result of what happens to that money. “Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going,” he says, noting that when money is spent elsewhere “it flows out, like a wound.”
“Buying local” campaigns are becoming an increasingly important part of agriculture within North Carolina and within Lee County and surrounding counties. It is important to note that even supermarkets in the area are making strides to purchase local vegetables, fruits and prepared products. This makes good sense since the latest statistics from the “10% Campaign” reported that this year North Carolinians spent $40 million on local food, which is up significantly from $25 million spent last year.
As you go shopping this holiday season, consider purchasing local. Here are a few more simple reasons that it makes sense for all of us:
• Local food is better for the environment — keeps land open, in production and requires less fuel for transportation and therefore causes less pollution.
• Locally grown food tastes better — picked within the last day or two, it is crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor.
• Local produce is better for you — food that travels less time and distance holds more of its nutrients.
• Local food supports local economies — farmers’ purchase feed and materials from local businesses reinvesting in the community.
• Local food strengthens local farm families — with direct and local sales farmers can make more money, helping to keep them in business.
• Local food is safer — consumers know where their food is coming from and how it is grown. It’s easier to trace back to the source if there is a problem.
• Local food builds community — farmers’ markets provide excellent venues for community gatherings.
• Local food preserves the open character and rural space — with growing development pressures, picturesque barns, lush crop fields and pastures will survive only as long as farms are financially viable.
Kim Tungate is the Crops and Livestock Agent for N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County.