In recent years, the most popular accessory people have adorned isn’t diamond earrings, gold watches or overpriced shoes. That honor belongs to the “Buy Local” bags that people all over the country have slung over their shoulders.
Buying local, though, raises the question of what the benefits of buying locally actually are, when it can be easier and seemingly cheaper to run to the nearest superstore conglomerate. With unemployment high and the economy still in poor condition, is it worth it to consumers to spend the extra buck at locally owned vendors?
“We have a duty to our local businesses to keep them afloat first,” said Alex Gerrish, a Weber State University junior majoring in music. “As soon as we forget that, we lose the underpinning of the American economy and our society.”
According to a study out of the Center for Sustainable Systems from the University of Michigan, producing agriculture fit for the local environment has become difficult for farmers because of its competitiveness. This type of competitive market control is exacerbated by contractual agreements, which, in many cases, also limit a farmer’s ability to make management choices that benefit the local environmental, social and economic condition, which make buying local even more difficult and expensive.
While many might feel shopping locally is too expensive, many small, local businesses consistently offer discounts. Some offer coupons in the newspaper or the Happenings coupon book, while others have daily discounts for students. For example, Pizza Runner, which has been locally owned and operated since the 1980s, offers 50 percent off lunch deals to WSU students on a daily basis.
Juanita Poole, owner of Pizza Runner for the past five years, said it’s not easy running a small, independent business. For the first three years, she tried advertising at places all over Ogden and Roy, but the costs were so high she had to stop. Being a small business, she has to pay full price for all supplies.
“It’s been a tough year,” she said. “Between ingredients and payroll, we barely turn a profit.”
The effects of not buying locally can be felt not only by owners’ checkbooks, but by the environment as well. Industrial food production relies on fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases when burned. The amount of fuel being burned to transport goods is tremendous and, ultimately, unnecessary. For example, between production and transportation, growing 10 percent more produce for local consumption in Utah would save around 300,000 gallons of fuel annually, according to the Utah Department of Energy.
The majority of fossil fuels being burned aren’t even in transportation or running machinery, but in developing and applying pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Almost half the fuel used in industrial farming goes toward this.
Buying local doesn’t guarantee foods free from pesticides and chemicals, however. Buyers still need to exercise caution and stay informed.
Walmart has taken notice of the “buy local” movement, and is making efforts to reach out to communities. Recently, Walmart made the decision to start getting their produce locally, or at least from the state in which they’re located. While this doesn’t affect the frozen or nonperishable foods, Erin Barnett, director of Local Harvest in Ogden, said that she thinks Walmart is putting money back in local communities and taking a step in the right direction.