Going Local: Support Your Community, Sustain Your World
My best friend is a farmer. Many people are often surprised to hear this from a city-dwelling, office-working person like myself. When we met, however, we instantly connected over a mutual passion for the environment. She has a slightly different take on how we interact with the natural environment. While I am more concerned with the physical environment, she is more interested in the ability of the natural environment to feed communities and of communities to feed the earth. Whenever we talk, I tell stories about escapades to the outdoors and she reminds me of the positive impact this can have on our environment through the investments we make in our local community.
As responsible citizens, we are often asked to “think globally and act locally.” This phrase, coined by founders of the modern environmental movement, is a call to action – not just for individual actions, but also for proactive steps to build resilient communities. Harnessing community energy to implement local solutions to global environmental problems is effective and allows us to experience the intersection between a thriving economy, community, and natural environment. Achieving large-scale environmental goals does not have to come exclusively from innovative technology. It can, and must, also come from actions taken at the local level. Each person can contribute to this effort.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to support local business and improve environmental health is to connect with the local food system. The food system, the supply chain from seed to store, is responsible for up to one-fourth of the carbon footprint of the average American. Reducing the number of miles your food takes on its journey from farm to plate can have a significant carbon footprint reduction. Shopping at farmers’ markets or food cooperatives, or joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) share program are ways to effect change through support of the local food system.
Farmers’ markets are a great way to explore new foods, learn about the challenges and advantages of food production in your area, and add variety to your produce. In addition to food, you will also find local artisans at farmers markets. Joining a CSA share program ensures fresh, local produce all season long—and helps your farmer invest in their crops at the beginning of each season. Another way to connect with local food is to join a food co-op. This is great for year-round shopping and helps you find local goods that may not be found at farmer’s markets.
Eating locally can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 7%. This is similar to the impact of going vegetarian or reducing your meat consumption. Start exploring local food in your area here. Once you have begun purchasing new and local foods, try hosting a potluck where everyone brings local and seasonal dishes. This is a great way to share new recipes, discuss food sourcing and its environmental impact, and connect with friends, family, and community.
Local Shopping vs. Online Shopping
Going local expands beyond food. Consumer habits have shifted in recent years–in 2016 consumers purchased 51% of their goods online. Online shopping is quite convenient when we need to buy something quickly, or easily find less common items. However, choosing overnight or two-day shipping can lead to a higher carbon impact than choosing ground and traditional shipping options. To reduce your environmental footprint when shopping online, first look for a local vendor with the product. If it’s not available locally, opt for slower shipping methods. Using ground and slower shipping methods can help suppliers optimize routes and save fuel. You may opt to skip the purchase altogether—doing so will help your wallet, while also preventing both resource extraction needed to make the good and the transportation needed for delivery.
Evidence suggests that stores with a smaller square footage and land footprint, which local stores often do, have a smaller environmental impact than larger chains stores. Local stores tend to reinvest in their communities at a higher rate. This means that your dollars will stay in your community and ripple throughout your neighborhood time and time again. Don’t forget to plan errands using bicycle, foot, public transportation, or carpool. This will decrease your footprint and help you save gas, all while supporting your local community.
Other Local Ideas
There are other ways to go local as well. For example, you could add locally made and reclaimed materials to your home decor and improvement projects. Habit for Humanity’s stores, called “ReStores,” have a great variety of home supplies at an affordable price. Plus, using reclaimed materials is trending right now! You can also lower your impact as you shop by visiting thrift shops, libraries, and tool libraries. Using shared resources can help lower carbon emissions by up to 3% in urban areas.
A strong community is the foundation for responsible environmental action. Having a network of folks to discuss ideas, host events, and advocate for a clean environment will help all of our communities make progress. While it is true that using 100% renewable energy, or changing all truck fleets to electric vehicles, would have a significant impact on our environment. But we must start in our local communities by making small behavioral shifts. This is a great way to start spreading ripples for our environment.
I hope you find a way to meet your local farmer. Mine is my best friend.