Introducing The Local Economy Project

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty down about the world.

The feeling I have oscillates between a crippling despair and a target-less anger. Environmentally, it seems like every week brings a new climate-change-induced hurricane, wildfire, or flood. Socially, it feels like we’re inching ever-closer to a terrifying Handmaid’s Tale-like dystopia. Politically, it feels like we are trapped in a system fueled by hatred, fear, and defensiveness. It’s all a bit much.

Maybe you don’t have these same dark feelings. But if you do, then I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that the world sometimes seems hopelessly broken.

I think you’ll also know what I mean when I say that, underneath the despair and the anger, I really, really want to fix the world.

Spoiler alert: this blog post isn’t going to fix the world. But I want to tell you about a step you can take with me to begin the process.

Let’s start with my home turf: flowers.

A Broken Floral System

A big reason why I wanted to start Sea Change Farm & Flower was to join in the growing Slow Flower movement. Like the Slow Food movement, “Slow Flowers” is an ideology that flowers should be grown and used consciously, sustainably, seasonally, and above all, locally.

The global floral industry is a many-tentacled thing, shipping flowers from one appendage in Kenya or Ecuador to another back in your hometown. Shipped flowers carry a large carbon footprint from their journey, and also come with hefty preservatives required to keep them looking nice as they travel.

Apart from the environmental issues with imported flowers, it’s just not a sustainable system. Imagine if some new development–environmental concerns, the rising cost of fuel, or a political trade ban–made it impossible to import flowers. This would be devastating for American florists (who would struggle to find flowers to arrange and sell) as well as for the foreign farm-villages whose economies rely on their exported flowers.

From an economics standpoint, I call the global floral system ‘unsustainable’ because it is both fragile and costly. The supply chain from grower to consumer is so long that it opens the system up to a vast number of bottlenecks and fail points. Each step in the supply chain also costs resources, both human and environmental.

Enter local flowers, which solve many of these problems simply by shortening the supply chain. A tighter system, with just one or two small steps between grower and consumer, is more resilient and stable in the face of economical, environmental, and political concerns. It is ‘sustainable’ because it feeds back into itself, with local businesses supporting each other financially, and does not consume the same unnecessary resources as our current global system.

It’s Not Just Flowers

It isn’t just the floral industry that has these problems. If you look at most parts of typical American life–our food systems, our clothing, our furniture, our cosmetic products–you will see the same long supply chains, the same carbon costs, the same dependence on large and far-reaching corporate systems.

For evidence of the fragility of our long-supply-chain systems, one need only look at the news of Trump’s trade wars: American lobster and pig farmers are suffering severely because their businesses relied on exporting product to China. Not to mention the environmental concerns of these far-reaching systems (and there are so, so many environmental concerns) it is in our own best interest as businesses and as consumers to re-wire these systems, to protect ourselves!

I’m not saying that we need to condemn our way of living immediately, denounce society and run away into the woods to live off the land and subsist on lichen.
No.

I’m saying, first, to think about it. Look up from your laptop and notice the ways in which your lifestyle unconsciously supports these systems. No judgment here, just take stock.

A Shift in Mindset

We need a major shift in mindset. We need to be conscious consumers and start thinking about the systems that our purchases support. Political leaders and corporate tycoons are not swayed by “doing the right thing” or by saving the environment. They are motivated by money, so we need to start using our wallets as tools for change.

As a start, we can be more conscious consumers. One day… well maybe we can move towards a world where consumerism isn’t the driving force behind how we all spend our time! BTW: if you want to go reading down this rabbit hole, I recommend starting with this article.

But I digress. For now, if you’ve read this far, you rock. Please continue.

The Local Economy Project

Which brings me to the point of this post, The Local Economy Project. This project is a pledge that my partner and I are taking:

“Each month, we will pick a normal item in our lives and pledge to buy it locally.”

We will strive to buy this item in as many degrees of local as we can find and afford (I’ll explain this below).

This month, we are starting off small with beef. Next month, we will add pork and eggs to our pledge.

Luckily, we live in an area where sustainably-raised local beef is easy to find. I’ll be blogging about our pledge and our experience, as well as providing resources for others in our community to follow along, this month and future months.

The Three Degrees of Local

Our pledge is to consume products in as many degrees of local as we can find and afford. This is a term I just made up, so bear with me!

A ‘degree’ of local is one step in the supply chain of a product to its consumer. There could be more than three, or fewer, depending on the supply chain for a particular product. But for now, we are thinking about local-ness in three degrees:

  1. The Seller
  2. The Product
  3. The Source Material

Say you are buying a candle.

If you buy a nondescript candle at Walgreens, you have zero degrees of local. The seller (Walgreens) is a large chain whose profits will likely not benefit your local economy. The product (the candle) was probably made in a faraway factory. The material (…maybe it’s paraffin?) hm, hard to say, could be from anywhere! Likely it involves a long supply chain, and unlikely that it is feeding back into your local economy.

Now, let’s say you bought the same nondescript candle at a small business owned by people in your community. The candle itself was still made who-knows-where out of who-knows-what, but the seller is now local. The profits they make from your candle purchase feed back into the local economy. Congratulations, you’ve upgraded to one degree of local!

Ok, now imagine there’s a candle maker, Betty, in town, and instead of the anonymous candle, you’re buying her candle at the local mom-and-pop shop. The product is now local, as is the seller; that’s two degrees of local.

Pretty good. But can we get to three?

It turns out that Betty buys the beeswax for her candles from a local bee farmer. That candle is now third-degree local! Your purchase of this candle supports a local shop, artisan, and farmer. Every step of your process feeds money back into your local economy and sustains it.

OMG That’s Soooo Much to Think About…

It is, and it’s not. But we can’t keep living the way we do! We can’t expect to fix the planet and keep buying products with such large carbon footprints. We can’t expect to fix politics if political battles are still lost and won at the hands of giant corporations that we support with our everyday purchases.

It’s time for a shift in mindset. It’s time to turn towards our local economies and support them; they will, in turn, support us.

#LocalEconomyProject

I would love for you to join us in this project! Just pick one item in your life and pledge to buy it in your local economy.

If you feel mad about politics, if you feel sad about climate change, if you feel frustrated and small at the state of the world, this is something you can do. Make a difference with your dollars. Fix the world, even just a little bit.

Will you take the pledge to buy one item locally this month? Message me or comment below with your pledge if you will join. Or, post a photo of your local items with #LocalEconomyProject on instagram. I’ll be checking 😉

Samantha is the farmer and owner at Sea Change.

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