Love your community: The benefits of shopping local

A warm spring day dawns over the city center with its old brick buildings and light posts, conjuring images of bygone days of horse-drawn carriages, dead birds hanging in shop windows and women wearing far too much uncomfortable clothing for the 80-degree weather.

The “good old days,” when life was simple and everything was less convenient, are generally what comes to mind when one thinks of the new surge in popularity of farmer’s markets and handmade goods. But times have changed – not just in the aspects of one-click shopping and imports markets, either. Shopping local has changed for the better, while keeping intact those nostalgic things we hold so dear – quality and community, in particular.

It’s tempting to shop online or at big-box mega-stores. After all, the selection is staggering, the prices assumed to be unbeatable. But with these conveniences comes a price tag that isn’t noted on the initial markup. When locally-owned shops aren’t patronized, downtown shuts down and the local economy tanks. The sense of community is lost – instead of knowledgeable service from a local expert to whom you can return at any time, you get the clueless stares of blue-vested employees or faceless no-reply automated e-mails. Instead of just returning a deficient item to the same person you talked to the day before, you either deal with the line at the post office or the line at customer service with 60 other disgruntled customers.

There’s also something satisfying about knowing where your goods actually came from in more detail than is given by the tag in the produce section that says “Product of Chile” or the “Made in China” stamp on virtually everything.

Consider the vegetable stand offering carrots that were grown just outside of town; the people from the orchard selling apples they’ve been growing a few blocks down the road for decades; or the eggs that were gathered this morning and sold to you before the hen knew they’d been kidnapped. You get the sense that you’re living where you are, not 50 different places you’ll never be. It’s less confusing. It makes you feel like you’re part of a cyclical economy, giving and receiving, instead of just a consumer.

Possibly one of the best things about shopping local is that vendors who deal with their customers face-to-face take more pride in their work. You’re far more likely to get defective and sub-par products from factories abroad than from someone whose life and livelihood is in their specialty and the happiness of their returning customers.

Conversely, you’re more likely to get food poisoning from food handled by machinery and countless expendable employees than from a local family harvesting their few acres of produce. The value isn’t just in saving time and money; it’s about preventing headaches – and belly-aches – from corporations who don’t care as much about their products or their consumers as your neighbors do.

Brand names are no longer synonymous with quality. Quality is in what you see and experience, not simply efficiency and the massive psychological placebo effect of “well, it says (insert brand here) on it, it must be good.” If you don’t experience what our local experts and artisans produce, you may be stuck with these illusions forever.

Besides, there’s nothing quite like walking through the farmer’s market in the morning, greeting the beekeepers and soap makers, learning about the community and the processes of their labor that make it all real and meaningful. It’s initially cheaper to shop big, but at the greater cost of the local economy, the sense of community and security of knowing who and where we are. “But I can’t afford to shop local,” you may say. In the big picture, the question is, can you afford not to?

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