Buying Local

business, jobs, community
The 'Local' Cycle

The previous piece in this series on national cooperatives mentioned the importance of buying local in an age when most grocery stores or websites offer products from anywhere in the world. The “buy local” jingle rings hollow for many, though. It’s a reminder that consumers have probably heard one too many times, a “feel-good” pitch that doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense when Amazon ships for free.

But buying close to home may be more than a feel-good catchphrase. A number of organizations and even state governments are taking a real interest in how money flows. It turns out that keeping money in town has a profound impact on many communities. And in some of these same communities, their fate actually depends on local commerce.

The Capital Region is no exception. One of the best examples of the buy local mantra is the Troy Farmer’s Market, open each Saturday morning throughout the year. Starting with just 20 vendors in the year 2000, the market, now in its 17th year of operation, boasts more than 80 producer-only vendors from within a 100-mile supply radius. Roughly 8,000 customers visit the Troy Farmers Market each week.

The Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) is another of the area’s shining examples of support for the local economy. The store has an astounding 470 local vendors from New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Depending on the vagaries of the food supply chain and the changes of seasons, HWFC’s local vendor sales account for between 27-35 percent of total store sales each week.

The most direct impact of local buying is clear: it’s a simple process of spending more money in the area to ensure we accumulate more money locally. The process quite literally keeps the local economy alive. You could even think of the dollars that flow in and out of the economy as blood circulating through the ‘body’ of our local communities. Money – or blood – needs to keep flowing in order to maintain a thriving, local economy. When locals spend elsewhere, say any large supermarket or big box store, dollars are diverted from the local economy and create the equivalent of a gaping wound to the body of our community.

Diverting dollars from our communities creates wounds that are not just economic, however. The costs to local economies are also realized in the raw currency of human interactions, in the sacrificing of locally-based interpersonal relationships that can only be fostered by direct support of the local economy. Even from a mere shift in the way we normally buy things, favoring the local economy with your purchases equates to supporting farmers, artisans, and all types of local productivity, from the business sectors they represent to the families who run the local businesses that thrive on our dollars.  Simply put, consciously focusing spending locally amounts to reclaiming an economic framework that doesn’t involve getting a box in the mail from a national retail hub.

So the next time you drive through downtown Troy, or on Pearl Street in Albany, consider the critical role that local spending has on keeping our local versions of Main Street vibrant. Surely, local goods cost more out of pocket, and big-box stores only became big because their prices are low. But considering the increase in local employment and production spurred by local spending, and the thousands of customer-to-vendor interactions at the local farmer’s market or a regional co-op, perhaps higher prices need not take precedence here.

Thomas Washington is Head Librarian at the Albany Academy for Girls. He has been a Co-op member since relocating to Albany from Washington, DC in 2015.