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‘Tis the Season for Buying Local

by Belle Bergner

“A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.” –Edward O. Wilson, Harvard Biologist

‘Tis the Season, friends… to spend money. And if you haven’t seen one of the recent document ar ies about the “corrosive” effects of multinational corporations, our dollars = power. One of the best ways we can actuate “a new environmental ethic,” as Wilson suggests, is to buy from local businesses.

So what does buying local have to do with “the unavoidable price of population and economic growth” that Wilson decries? It keeps economic growth local. It keeps money in our neighbor’s pockets rather than those of corporate executives thousands of miles away. Buying local removes the “price” of corporate growth and unsustainable consumption of resources beyond our ecosystem’s ability to sustain them, and creates a purposeful connection with our neighbors. It supports healthy population growth, strengthens our communities, and gives jobs to our neighbors.

Now I’m not perfect… sometimes my bargain hunter instinct overrides my brain’s hyper-rationalization of how to harness my consumer power in the most ecologically sensitive way, and I choose the cheaper deal that has a higher ecological and local economic cost.

But this holiday season, I’m going to try to take to heart that I have the power to change the “corrosive and risky behavior” of indiscriminate consumption. We all can avoid the “unavoidable price” of buying products from halfway across the globe that traveled hundreds or thousands of climate-warming, gasguzzling miles, or we can at least buy products grown from far away at local businesses who are selling them. Here are some ideas:

Old is new. Second-hand, retro, or consignment shops are great sources for gifts, or find free, gently used stuff at Milwaukee Freecycle, groups.yahoo.com/group/MilwaukeeWIFreecycle/.

Make gift baskets of locally-grown, baked, or processed foods. Is it just me, or do the words “locally grown” make food taste better? Seek out USDA certified (a green and white label), organic, and best of all, fair trade products which give more of the profit directly to the farmer to support their sustainable, small-scale farming and healthy communities. Or give to a local nonprofit organization in someone’s name. There are over 200 in the greater Milwaukee area.

Not sure where to start? Talk a walk. Discover your neighborhood. You might be surprised by what you find.

Include a personal note in the gift explaining why you chose to support these local businesses and encourage the recipient of your gift to do the same. Let’s see if next year we can see our local businesses growing, stronger families, lower crime, and healthier communities.

May 2007 bring peace, joy, and good health to you… and happy shopping.

Riverwest Currents online edition – December, 2006