Sunday, December 9, 2012

Step 12 - Share!!

We have done it. We have reached the twelfth and final step of the "How & Why to Buy Local" 12 step program. The entire year of 2012 has been dedicated to breaking down the process into 12 relatively simple steps that can put you on the path to being a more conscious and aware consumer. We have discussed Increasing our Knowledge, Understanding Necessity, Defining Your Region, Familiarizing Yourself with Local Businesses, Boycotting Box Stores, Chain Retailers & Restaurants, Buying Less Stuff, Finding a Local Farmers' Market, Re-purposing, Reusing & Recycling, Getting Out in Your Community, Getting Involved, and Voting with Your Dollar. All of these have brought us to this final step, the journey comes full circle right now. We have to share our knowledge, and all that we have learned this past year, with others so that they may begin their journey.

Share your journey with your friends, family and coworkers. If you score a great find on freecycle, tell people about it, and encourage them to sign up as well. If you have switched your shopping habits to local businesses, share  your experience with family and friends. When asked where to get a certain product, suggest local businesses that you know of first. Invite a friend to the farmers' market with you, encourage them to buy a veggie they have never tried, introduce them to any of the farmers you know.

Creating a dialogue and opening the lines of communication are instrumental in sharing this knowledge with others. Explain the concept of voting with your dollar. The most important tool we can give others is to educate them - they will take the lesson and apply it in their life as they see fit.

With the holiday season upon us, I charge you all with the task of sharing this knowledge, the 12 Steps to Buying Local, with everyone and anyone that will listen to you. We are consumers, just like every other species on the planet, but unlike them, we produce massive amounts of waste. Each American leaves 1600 pounds of waste in their wake every year. That waste sits and lingers, poisons are soil and water, leaches toxins into the air, and clutters about our natural environment. A lot of that waste is in packaging. Think on this this holiday season, share that number with your friends, family, and coworkers and encourage them to modify their shopping habits.

Every person counts, every act matters, no matter how big or small.

You can buy The Maine Conscious Consumer at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I recognize the irony of selling my book at those large retailers, but  until people read it and bring it to the attention of local book stores and library's, this is a necessary evil. I also have copies on hand, for anyone looking to get one signed. Message me at for details.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Step 11 - Vote With Your Dollar

This step couldn't have come at a more opportune time. On Tuesday Americans will go out to vote for our next President. Right now our brains are filled with facts and fiction from advertisements selling us on one candidate or another. The two-thirds of Americans who will vote on November 6th will have done their research, to a degree, in order to vote for the candidates and ballot questions that best suit their wants and desires. Not many of us will enter the voting booth with no knowledge of anyone or anything on the paper in front of us because we understand the responsibility of using our voice to affect the direction of the political spectrum. Those who vote, do so with a belief in their civic duty.

There are other ways, however, that we vote, on a daily basis, that we don’t give that much respect to. Every single dollar that is spent is a vote because money is the most powerful part of the system in place in the United States of America. Yet how much research goes into how and why we spend our money? When you go to a store, are you sure that you want to give your money to that business, do you want to tell them that you understand how they will use your money, you have done your research, and you are in support of it? Most of us don’t think about spending money in this way. It’s simply a means to supplying us with our needs, wants and desires. The cheaper you can get it, usually the better. And that may be true for our wallets, at the moment. When you pull up to the register at Box Store A, you are most likely going to spend less money than elsewhere. But what we have learned over these past 11 steps is that there are other ways our money is being pulled from our wallets.

Businesses within our community’s take the money they earn from selling us their goods and spend them on services and employees. According to several economic impact analyses, for every $100 spent at a local independent business, around two-thirds of that money will stay in the local community. For the same amount of money spent at box stores and retailers, only about one-third of that stays. National retailers will use in house services at headquarters, from printing, to banking whereas a local business will use other local services and banks. When we shop, and spend our money, we are voting on where we want our money to go.

Not only is that vote for the supplier of the goods and services we receive, but also the product. This becomes tricky because the supply system for goods has been mostly outsourced overseas, and the goods you receive at a box store may very well be the same as at a local retailer. However, we can still vote with our dollar within that, by choosing items that are made with eco-friendly and sustainable materials. With food, we can choose to give our money to local farmers instead of industrial food corporations. We may be limited in our access to good local products, but whenever we spend our money on them, we are voting that as a consumer we want more goods like that. Our system is built on supply and demand, and it is time that the people vote with their dollar and demand companies to supply us with what is beneficial to our communities, and the planet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A World Without Bees

As the reports are coming in about the effects of Hurricane Sandy, one thing is becoming abundantly clear - there is no way to put a price on the damage. Infrastructure, such as subways, bridges and roads have been weakened. Piles and piles of debris and garbage have been strewn about unceremoniously. Personal property has been tossed about like confetti. And then there's the bees. That's right, I said bees. The Brooklyn Grange Navy Yard urban farming project was hit pretty badly by surging waters, and about 1 million of their bees were swept out to sea. They recently completed a $22,000 Kickstarter campaign which enabled them to gather some high quality, hearty bees, making them the largest commercial apiary in the city. But why should I worry about a bee business? Well, a world without bees would be a pretty devastating place, one without food.....and without food, we haven't a snowball's chance in hell of survival. There's nearly 7 billion people on the planet, all requiring sustenance, and all, whether or not they know it, depending on the most prolific of pollinators - the bee.

Without bees, our agricultural plants cannot be pollinated, which means no more plants. There are other pollinators, but none so dependable as the bee. With over 20,000 species worldwide, the honey bee remains the most economically valuable pollinators. The economic impact can be seen in the agricultural products they pollinate - the bees hard work equals about 10% of the value of human food production (UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators, p2). Natural disasters and human activities have directly impacted the bee population of the planet, and therefore putting our food system on the brink of collapse.

Bee populations worldwide have already been on a steady decline for the last 60 years. This can be linked to pesticide use, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and parasites. Ecological disasters, such as massive hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods, will continue to work against the bee population. Losing 1 million bees in a single storm may not seem that bad, considering what seems like a plethora of bees worldwide, but it is. Not just because if it's economic impact to the Brooklyn Grange, or the surrounding gardens, but because of the ecological impact. Bees are what help keep our plant diversity alive - they buzz from plant to plant, pollinating as they go, helping to maintain a biodiversity that could crumble without them.

Ecological and environmental costs of such storms as Hurricane Sandy are going to be unfathomable in value. It is extremely important that we, as global residents, understand the immensity of such a risk. Bees buzzing around a garden may seem like a nuisance to many, and to many others it doesn't even register as important, but without the prolific pollinators, our food system could collapse. As we watch the news coming in with images of building and infrastructure damage to homes in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Canada (among the several other areas in the region feeling the effects of a 900 mile storm), remember the true cost of such storm systems. 1 million bees washed to sea in a single night - like an entire sliver of the ecological global system wiped out of existence. How do we make up for these losses? And more importantly, how do we value these services before they are lost, so we understand the true need to protect them?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Or How I Learned to Love Climate Change

You know that feeling when you have been telling people something over and over again, you've even given them a manual, and no one listens. Then a hurricane the size of most of the east coast of the United States slams into you, and you look around and say "See, I told you the climate was changing and our storm systems would become more intense and severe. Let's revisit that Climate Adaptation Plan I wrote last year." It is with this "Frankenstorm" that I will reignite the fire of change within my community. Sometimes people need to be shown something first-hand in order to accept its reality. That's okay, especially in this situation, because the climate is changing, and whether or not we pay attention, it's going to suck us in and force us to adapt to it. All I am suggesting is that we go in with our eyes open, with tools, skill sets and an action plan in place. Even if we cannot predict the exact reactions of the ecosystems to the changing climate, training our brains to be more perceptive of the world around us, and being prepared to handle the changes will set us on the right track. Since when has preparedness ever failed us?

Now that I got my rant out of the way, I'd like to seriously discuss what Hurricane Sandy means for the future of the climate along the east coast of the United States. Sure, any change, in any system, inherently affects all other systems around the globe, but for now I think we need to focus on the immediate. How do we properly predict, prepare, plan, and perform accurately in the face of these changes? Whether or not you believe that the obviously changing climate - 2012 was the hottest year in recorded weather history - was caused by humans, is natural, or a combination of the two, it cannot hurt to understand it better. Basically, the atmosphere is clouded with an excessive amount of gases, like Methane and Carbon Dioxide, which is causing friction as the molecules rub together and the suns rays filter through them. The water temperature, where the sunlight hits, is getting warmer - and remember, the planet is 97% water, which covers a lot of the Earth's surface. This rising water temperature means that not only are polar ice caps melting, causing sea levels to rise as that ice turns into water, but it also means more severe storm systems, and potentially changing the entire global currents system. These currents are directly responsible for regulating the Earth's temperature, and any change in, or worse yet a collapse of these systems will have immediate and dramatic effect on the planet. And not in a positive way.

This all seems doom and gloom, and it very much has the potential to be, but I'm also an optimist. We may not be able to reverse the effects of the changing climate, but we can adapt to them. The first step is acknowledging that the climate is changing - be aware of it, take notice of the weather patterns, open your eyes to the world around you. The next step is to make the changes necessary. Period. End of story. We don't have a choice in the matter. Let's stop pretending we do and let's make infrastructure adaptations that will continue to support our basic human needs. More severe storm systems means increased amount of crop losses as we deal with excessive drought, winds, and floods; it means increased health care costs as heat is knocked out in the winter, ac in the summer; it means knocking down trees - our oxygen source - and blowing away topsoil - our agricultural source - and treating man-made infrastructure - think roads, power lines, buildings - like inconsequential twigs.

I love mother Earth. She sustains me, gives me food to eat, water to drink, people to love, animals to admire, trees to shade me, and so much more. Without her, every dollar in the world is just a useless scrap of paper. Hurricane Sandy is warning  us, and it is our duty to listen. This is the largest recorded storm in history with the lowest pressure system the east coast has ever experienced, and it's coming on a full moon. There will be damage from this storm. But it's not the only one we have to worry about because this type of weather pattern is going to become a regular occurrence. Are you going to stand up and live in harmony with planet, adapting to its changes, or are you going to stick your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening? It's your choice whether or not you will become fodder for the storm.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Getting involved in your community, and with your fellow community members, is an excellent way to not only get your voice heard about the things that matter to you, but also to feel a bit of ownership and pride over where you live. In the last 60 to 70 years, since the birth and rapid growth of suburban neighborhoods, people have become less connected to where they live, and who they live with. Oftentimes, we don't work where we live, so we get up every morning and leave, come home around dinner time, eat and settle in for the night. There is little time for socializing, and even less time for citizen involvement. But we need to learn to make the time.

There are several ways to get out and be an active and engaged citizen. You can volunteer. Soup kitchens, schools, and local nonprofits (among many other groups), are always looking for volunteers. If you have children that attend local schools, you can join the PTA (parent teacher association), or a number of other groups that help out with field trips, food preparation, and general tasks. Volunteering is a great way to feel good about helping those in need, while keeping yourself involved in the going-on's within your community.

You could also take a more involved approach by running for city government. If you want to make a change to things happening within your community, on a policy level, then running for city council can help get your voice heard. This takes more of a time commitment than volunteering, but can be more effective. Before you decide to join the next election, however, do a little studying up on who is currently running the city, what their stance is on important policies, and when the next election is. Attend open city council meetings and hear what is being discussed. Being knowledgeable about what your community is doing is an important piece in deciding whether or not you feel the need or desire to get involved in the political forum.

Perhaps the easiest way to get involved within your community is get to know your neighbors. Have a block party. Bring a new neighbor (or even an old one) a plate of homemade goodies. Invite your neighbors for dinner. Start a neighborhood watch group. Or a neighborhood book club. Meeting your neighbors will help you feel more connected to your community, which means you will feel more responsible for it. That sense of responsibility is what will bring you a sense of ownership over where you live, which comes with it a desire to take care of it, and the people that live within it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Step 9 - Get Out!

When we get out and learn about the place that we live, we will have more desire to protect it. Take a nightly walk. Spend a few hours downtown on a weekend. Visit the local farmer's market. Research if you have local land trust and visit their website for more information about trails and preservation areas. Any way that we experience the place we live improves our connection to it, and the people within the community. There's an organization in Nashville called Get Out. Be Active. (GOBA) and they highlight three ways to value your community - 1) Volunteer; 2) Get Healthy in Your Community; 3) Build Relationships Through Shared Interest. Each of these will get you out of your house, out into the street, into the woods, and engaged in the activities of your community.

If you're community has a soup kitchen or hunger prevention program, volunteer to help serve a meal once a week. Or if there's local organizations that do community service, get involved when you can by helping with fundraisers and projects. Volunteering to help the community will help you better understand what is going on around you, which will in turn make you more willing to fight for the betterment of the community and its residents. You can volunteer as little or as much as time allows you. It's also a good idea to get the children involved, to teach them that where they live, and who they live with, matters. This will help build in them a sense of connection to the community and make them feel like an engaged member. To find out about volunteer options in your community, visit Volunteer Match

Just getting out and walking, biking, or running in your community will connect you to the environment, which will in turn, increase in you a desire to protect it. Understanding the natural and built environments that surround us, through physical activity, can help when it comes time for local elections. Often times the ballot questions are regarding infrastructure improvements. Without know what type of natural and built environment exists around you and your community, it is difficult to vote with knowledge of which ballot questions will actually be of benefit. Your local Parks & Recreation department can help you find outdoor activities for you, and your family. Research local walking trails around the city, and in the woods, and explore your neighborhoods. Know where you live, and what you're fighting for.

Lastly, building relationships with community members through planned activities, like book groups, knitting circles, and other social organizations, will help you better understand the people you live with. Connecting with like minded people, who have the same desire to create a better community, can benefit you both mentally and socially. Our social lives are what keep us active and bring us together. 

Getting out and getting to know your community and the people you live with will help both your mental and physical health, as well as encourage in your a desire to keep it clean, healthy and thriving. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Step 8 - Repurpose, Reuse & Recycle

We live in a culture of waste where goods are thrown away whenever they break, or no longer suit our needs. When this trash goes to this infamous "away," we tend to put it out of our heads, it is no longer our problem. But our planet is a closed system - meaning that everything that is created here stays here - so when it goes to "away" it is merely going to a landfill that will slowly poison the planet with its decay. This type of waste is completely antithetical to the natural process of life where there is no waste. Sadly, humans have altered that part of nature, and we are increasing our amount of waste on a daily basis. Americans make about 4 pounds of trash each on a daily basis - or almost 200 million tons of trash a year. These mounds of garbage take up massive amounts of space, release toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil, and

Before you toss something out, see if you can use it for something else or give it to someone. Old stained and ripped clothing can be made into rags. Glass jars that food comes in can be cleaned and used for storing food, or as drinking glasses for something fun and unique. Beat up old furniture can be refinished to something shiny and new. If you can't repurpose or reuse the old item, recycle it to someone else that can. Joining websites like helps pass along household items that we no longer need to someone else that does. If you don't want to fix your broken bureau, someone on Freecycle probably does. If you have no need for that old cell phone, someone out there does. 

Planned and Perceived Obsolescence keep us buying goods because they are either planned to break or we begin to feel that we need to update them because their are better options available. These are both marketing tools designed to keep us consuming goods to either keep up with Jones' or to ensure that we are an active member of our economic system. Neither of these are the result of constant purchasing and consuming of goods. All that really happens is we are left with empty pockets, houses full of junk, and landfills mounding up all over the planet. 

Landfills produce methane gas, which can be captured and turned into energy, but the process is expensive and communities are rarely willing or able to do it. Below is a map of Maine landfills that are active and inactive. Remember, though, that inactive or closed landfills are still landfills just sitting there with mounds of untended garbage. 

Even though some items that you dispose of in a landfill are considered biodegradable, they cannot biodegrade in a landfill because of the massiveness of them. In order for something to return back to the Earth it needs to be able to touch it - landfills are large mounds of garbage where 99% of the items within it never touch the soil. Before you toss your next pasta sauce jar or bag of torn clothing, think about how it can be reused either by your or by someone else. And for inspiration, visit the following website:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Step 7 - Find a Local Farmer's Market

Keeping a healthy food system alive is the most important thing we can do for our civilization. Without food we cannot survive. But not just any food because we are only as good as the quality of our nutrition. When our vegetables and fruit are shipped from the far reaches of the planet, they arrive on our plates lacking most of the nutrients and vitamins that make them worth consuming. Then there is the health of our food system. When we consume foods from other countries (and even other regions within the United States), we are supporting a food system that is vulnerable, leaving too much room for failure. A severe case of blight can suddenly leave us without foods we depend on. And think how easily it would be to taint our mass produced foods - just a small vile of deadly bacteria poured into one of the large milk vats could reach, sicken (or even kill) millions of people. Our food system is weak.

Then there is also the support of local farmers in order to benefit the community, land and economy. By buying some of your food from them will benefit both the farmer and consumer. First of all, supporting farmers that work the land in a sustainable way means that the land you live on and near will be healthy, not desecrated by pesticides and herbicides. This is an important piece to remember - just because a farm is local does not always make it better. Know your farmer and ask questions about their farming practices. Choose to eat foods that both benefit you and the planet.

The easiest way to get to know your farmer and to try out different seasonal foods, is to go to your area farmer's market. There is the illusion that these markets are more expensive, that they are geared to a certain group of shopper's, and that the food is not as good quality as that bought at a grocery store. In most cases, none of these are true. Buying food directly from the farmer cuts out the middle man in pricing - which means that the prices are fair, and that 100% of the profit returns to the farmer, not a business. This allows them to plant the following year, feed their families, fix their farm machinery, and pay for their household. When the food is first funneled through a grocery store, the farmer gets much less back, forcing them to struggle. Why should we not support those that sustain us and instead put them at such financial risk that they may lose the farm? Also, the food bought at the market is of much better quality than that at the grocery store, but I know that sometimes it doesn't look as pretty. That's because grocery stores have visual requirements of their produce - anything that doesn't fit their size standard, or the blemish-free policy is thrown out. Not given back to the farmer. Not donated to a food pantry. But thrown out in the dumpster because it isn't as pretty or shiny as they would like it to be. Food grown naturally isn't always pretty or "perfect" though, it grows with hooks and dents, with jagged edges and with funky curves. There is beauty in imperfection.

With new money from the USDA being allocated for low-income food accessibility, farm fresh foods are easier to come by, no matter your income. Several farms now take food stamps, as do many farmer's markets. There is also the WIC program, that gives recipients a certain monthly allocation to buy foods at farmer's markets. The movement is slow going, but it is growing, and the more people that utilize these services, the faster it will grow.

Visiting a farmer's market can also be a destination for your family - there are usually musicians, arts & crafts and kid friendly activities. Find out when your next area market is, bring $20 and the family, and meet the farmers that grow your food and support your land. It could change your life.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Step 6 - Buy Less Stuff

Reducing our purchases is the key to consuming responsibly. In America, our consumption patterns define us as a person and member of society. If you aren't buying the new and latest goods and gadgets, then you are not doing your part for the economy, and you are often seen as out-of-touch with fads and trends, which has a whole slew of negative connotations. We have all heard the radio ads that make fun of a person for having an older cell phone model, a used car, or outdated clothes. These ads are selling Americans on the idea that if it isn't new, it isn't good enough and you will be ostracized and criticized.

This step is my favorite of all of them because I find it to be the easiest, once you overcome the stigma of not being "hip" enough. Really, buying new goods on a constant basis is simple brainwashing by the media - the advertising agents at companies create ad campaigns to sell their goods to the consumer. Not because they feel we really need the latest cell phones, but because they really need us to buy them in order to make more money. They do this by making us feel pathetic and uncool if we don't buy the latest goods. And let's face it, no one wants to feel that way. But we can change this attitude. First off, don't allow the advertising agents to tell us how to feel based on the goods we purchase. Just because my cell phone flips open does not mean I'm not as good or worthy as my best friend with a touch screen. The only one who TRULY believes that is the company trying to sell me the touch screen phone.

Buying less isn't just about keeping our old phones, clunky cars and outdated clothes. It's also about keeping perfectly usable goods out of landfills. When we buy new and updated items, many of us throw out the old, even if it's still functional, or requires a little tinkering. How many times have you discarded an item of clothing because of rip? Or got a new cell phone because you saw one that had a better color? This step is about learning to accept what we have, knowing that even if it's not perfect, it's still good enough. If you have to replace an item, or want something you don't have, visit a second hand store, ask a friend, go to a flea market, or join freecycle. Ignore the stigma of old = uncool. Do not let companies tell you what you need to buy. Learn to fix things that are broken.

Take 20 minutes and watch this video by Annie Leonard. It will change how you consume.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Step 5 - Boycott Box Stores, Chain Retailers & Restaurants

Now that you learned how and why to shop locally, it's time to take it a step further by no longer shopping at chain retailers and box stores, and eating at chain restaurants. Boycotting them sends a message that consumers will not tolerate their poor business tactics and that we desire local, vibrant downtown districts filled with independent businesses. Every dollar spent at a Walmart, Circuit City or Applebee's is vote of confidence for that business. Buy spending your money there, you are giving those companies the message that you agree with the poor quality products, there unfair labor practices, and there disregard for local economies. Often, when I have discussed this step with people, I get the same response - "It's not my fault that Walmart does bad business." Everytime I have to remind the person that every dollar we spend is a vote. It would be like voting for the worst candidate on the ballot, then saying it's not your fault they got elected.

As consumers it is time we take ownership over where we spend our money and how our money is used by these businesses. As discussed in the previous steps, money spent at local businesses stays within our communities because they use local banks, local print shops, local newspapers, and typically live locally. When we shop at big box stores, that money is funneled directly out of the community and back to headquarters. Boycotting those businesses sends a signal that we cannot and will not support them draining our communities, living off of them like a parasite.

If you're used to shopping at a box store and getting your goods and food cheap, this next step may be the hardest for you. That's why I'm going to give you this tip - 20% change is better than no percent. Every little bit helps. If you usually buy your shower curtains at Walmart, reconsider and buy them at a local store. If you usually eat at Applebee's for your date night - look around your community and see what restaurants are available right there. You don't have to commit 100%, just enough to make a difference, and before you know it, you won't even remember how to find the Walmart on the edge of town because your vision will be blocked by all those booming local businesses right in your community.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Step 4 - Familiarize Yourself With Local Businesses


Open up a phone book, or take a walk downtown and get to know your local businesses. For those of us who live in towns, cities and communities that have a "Main Street" or a downtown area, we are blessed to have all those wonderful shops within walking distance of each other. But sadly, not many of us utilize this convenience and downtowns all over the country are full of empty store fronts and run-down buildings. The consequences of this are tremendous. Local businesses are owned by members within your community, they hire your neighbors, they use other local services (banks, print shops, newspapers), and because of all that, the money you spend at these local businesses stays within your community. 

The opposite is true of big box stores and chain retailers. Although they hire local people to work their stores, they pay them less and offer less benefits (many Walmart employees are on state supplied health insurance and food assistance programs), they bank at their headquarters in Arkansas, and they do all their printing there as well. Supporting these types of national stores detracts money from your community, it closes down locally owned businesses, and it does detrimental environmental damage.

So back to locally owned businesses we must go. The benefits of shopping locally far outweigh the few cents or dollars you save by shopping at a chain retailer. The American Independent Business Alliance states on their website for creating local economies through Buy Local campaigns:

Think of your favorite shop, restaurant, farm or service provider. We'll bet it's a homegrown business. Independent locally-owned businesses are essential to a vital local economy and community character. They're where the locals go. They're owned by our friends and neighbors, or maybe even by you. Community-serving businesses are the backbone of local economies, civic life, local charities, and wealth creation for millions of citizens, as well as a training ground for future generations of entrepreneurs.

The next time you need to go shopping, head downtown first. Familiarize yourself with the businesses within your community. Look at their inventory, meet the employees and owner, and find out their histories – are they from your town? Why did they open the store? How long have they been open? Every dollar you spend at a local business stays within your community, and the more money that stays in our communities, the stronger they will be.

I will give you a brief personal anecdote about the relationship I have with my local businesses in Bath. There is a toy store downtown, Papa Ghepetto's, and I have four children. My parents went into that store to buy Christmas presents the week after they opened and bought these amazing Melissa & Doug puppets. They told me about the store and I went to check it out with my children. In the years since, we have bought 85% of all our kids toys there because the benefit of doing so has been immeasurable. The owners know us, they love our children, and there have been several times they have gone out of their way to make us happy. They gave one child a fairy princess for free because a butterfly had broken off (this child did not care if the butterfly was there or not). Another time they gave us a box of Melissa & Doug castle building blocks for free because they had used them as a display. The owner called and talked to the Melissa & Doug customer service for me when I bought some wooden cupcakes that were not up to par - the result was a 2nd box of cupcakes for free! They even sold us their train table for ridiculously cheap. I wouldn't get that type of service at Toys 'R Us, Walmart or Target.

This is only one story among many I have of how shopping locally at the businesses owned by my neighbors and friends has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Please take a moment and share in the comments any anecdotes you have about your experiences supporting local businesses.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Step 3 - Define Your Region

Once you become aware of where your consumer goods and food are coming from, it is important to set your boundaries. This definition is entirely up to you. Some people do it by miles, some by hours it would take to drive, and some by their region of the country. For example, I live in Maine, so I define my region as New England – anything within this handful of states is local. Of course, it’s not always as cut and dry as that, and it’s not always possible to buy 100% local, but defining a region at least gives you a starting point, and an identity. Our global marketplace has created a global identity – no longer are we culturally bound to where we live when we can buy clothes from Bangladesh, read newspapers from Japan, and eat mangoes from Brazil. I am definitely not saying to forgo these entirely – that is a whole other discussion – but to understand that when the world is at our fingertips, we have more difficulty appreciating the people, goods and food that is right around us.

This step can be difficult, I won’t argue against that. With the modern marketplace, getting goods from places like China, India and Japan is cheaper for retailers, then getting American made goods. Wal-Mart, and other large box stores, sways the market by demanding lower and lower prices from the manufacturer, forcing them to take their business overseas to factories can offer the cheapest goods. Getting goods made in America is more costly because we have a minimum wage to be paid to workers, and because we have stricter environmental standards. However, retailers are less concerned with the quality of product, and more concerned with the top dollar and satisfying their shareholders. This said, it can be extremely difficult at times to buy goods manufactured within your region. But when you can, it is worth it.

I have spent many a shopping trip flipping over products and weighing my options about which is closer to home – if it’s not available from my established region, I find the closest one. This isn’t just about supporting local business, though, but also about limiting our oil dependency. When items are shipped from overseas, or even the other side of the country, the amount of oil used is astounding. The closer to home the product came from, the less oil – and with our rapid depletion of fossil fuels, less oil consumption is always better, not to mention the effect burning that oil has on the environment and our quality of air, water and soil.

Defining your region for food is perhaps easier. There are several resources online to find local food suppliers, to locate a Community Supported Agriculture share at a nearby farm, or to at least shop at a locally owned grocery store. Supporting your local farmer and food system is one of the most important things we can do as a consumer. Knowing where your food comes from can give you peace of mind in this day in age. Trusting our nourishment to billion dollar corporations that runs beef, pig, poultry or agricultural farms is like taking a giant gamble where the odds of winning are a thousand to one. Food is the breath of life, it keeps us going, provides us with the nutrients and minerals we need, and it keeps our civilization going. Why risk buying beef from a feedlot where cattle are exposed to numerous diseases because of excessive contact with fecal matter and fed high fat diets (including the bones and blood of the cattle slaughtered before them)? Or why eat vegetables grown with heavy doses of herbicides (which have been directly linked to diseases such as Parkinson’s and respiratory cancer), then shipped thousands of miles to storage facilities where they are ripened with ethanol gas?

Knowing where and how your food is grown can literally be a lifesaver. Every day in the United States over 200,000 people suffer a food borne illness, with over 900 being hospitalized, and about 15 who will die (Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 195). Those most at risk are the elderly and children, whose immune systems cannot fight off the poisoning of such bacteria as Salmonella and E. coli. In 1996 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the findings of a survey that tested samples of meat from a handful of meat processing plants and found that 7.5% of the ground beef was contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7% with Listeria monocytogenes, 30% with Staphylococcus aureus, and 53.3% were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens. The testing was done in 1993 and 1994, but the results were delayed two years, so any information they found, although still appalling and interesting to the general public, did not help stop any food borne illnesses that would have (and most certainly did) occur from consuming this tainted meat.

Before you go to the store to buy something the next time, think first about where your region is, what you define as local. Then do your best. If you can’t find something within your region, find the closest possible. Remember that every little bit counts and that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Word About Perfection

Before I keep going with this blog, and highlighting the 12 steps to buying locally, I want to take a few minutes to talk about perfection. By definition (according to Merriam Webster), perfection means: The quality or state of being perfect, being without faults or defects; or an exemplification of supreme excellence. I don't know about any of you, but I know I'm not perfect, nor is anyone I know. We all have our faults, and although many of us may be excellent at things, we are not excellent at everything. Perfection is a desirable, yet more than likely unreachable, goal for many. And that's okay.

My point is, when we are moving ahead in our journey to be more self-aware of who we are, what we are doing, and how we are consuming, perfection should not be the goal. If you set your goal is something that is not attainable, then our failure will come too easily because every little act of straying from this lofty goal will make us feel as though we are not good enough. I don't want that for any of you. I want positive feelings of making a change in ourselves, because it is much easier living life in the light rather than in the dark. Positivity makes us feel good about what we are doing, and that is the most important feeling in this journey.

For example, I'm not perfect. Far from it, in fact. And although I have laid out these 12 steps to buying local, don't expect that I live each step to its fullest every single day of my life. I have weaknesses just like every one else. Take my love of Guinness. That is certainly not local, and most definitely not a sustainable beer choice, but when I go out, that's what I order. Why? Because I'm not perfect. But, knowing that it is not the best choice is part of these 12 steps. And knowing that I buy it anyway is accepting that I cannot be perfect, but that every little bit I do, does count, so if I fail to be perfect along the way, I'm not a failure - just human.

Recently I received my book back from the editors, with some final adjustments outlined throughout it. One of them was a question about a statement I make regarding an apple juice product that wasn't from Maine. The editor asked why the author would consider buying the juice if it didn't fit into her agenda. My answer - because my kids asked me to. We were at the store, they were begging for some apple juice and I grabbed a frozen concentrate container and flipped it over. It stated it contained juices from 3 different countries (none of them the USA), so I didn't buy it. But I did consider it, and that doesn't mean my agenda of buying locally is a hoax, it simply means that I am not perfect.

As you move forward in your journey with me to consume local goods and food, keep this in mind. You are not perfect. But if you do your best to be aware and knowledgeable of the choices you are making, then you are on the right path. Steering off it from time to time will not get you lost so long as you remember how to get back.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Step 2 - Necessity

When you go to purchase an item, no matter where it is from, think twice before you do so, and ask yourself if you need it or not. Can you live without it? Do you want to live without it? Is there a way to buy it second-hand? 

This may be the most difficult step because it forces us to question our needs versus our wants. In a culture where we are able to fulfill most of our desires with minimal effort, it will take a good deal of willpower to step back from that culture and question these desires. But in doing so, we will gain a great deal of understanding about what we need to survive, what we need to feel comfortable, and what we want for pure enjoyment. This doesn't mean forgoing everything we have come to enjoy, however. If you're a coffee drinker, you will probably make the decision that coffee is a necessity. Or if you adore avocados, but live in a cold-weather climate that doesn't have the ability to grow avocados, then you will continue to buy them at the grocer. In order for us to re-evaluate our needs, it doesn't mean forgoing all comforts, just limiting them. It is also key to understand that even if you do keep items like coffee and avocados in your diet, there is still the opportunity to localize your purchases. Instead of buying avocados from Mexico, buy them from California. Find a local coffee roaster within your state. This way you are still supporting American businesses, while giving yourself a level of comfort.

Buying second-hand is also a fantastic way to get the things you want, and the things you need, in a more sustainable fashion. A nice comfortable chair is not always a necessity, but that doesn't mean you don't still want it. In that case, visit a Salvation Army, Goodwill, or become a member of Freecycle. Buying second-hand keeps unwanted items out landfills while providing us with the things we desire to maintain a level of comfort. Also, keep in mind when you are getting rid of items you no longer need, to donate them to the aforementioned places,  passing them on to the next person, and again, keeping them out of the landfills.

Consuming locally is important this day of age. Consuming only what we need is also vital. When we ship our foods and goods from all over the world we are using up natural resources that we no longer have to spare, we contribute to pollution, and we are giving our money to foreign businesses and industry's. Keeping our money home, within the country, will help build a stronger economy that can support us. Unfortunately, we live in a world where our food and goods are global commodity's, so finding what we need locally is not easy, and not always possible. But when it is, we should make the effort. When it is not, we should pause to question whether or not we need it, and whether or not we can find it used. Just pausing to question our choices, our needs, our wants, and our desires, makes us more conscious consumers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Step 1 - Knowledge

Over the next 12 months I will highlight the 12 steps towards becoming a conscious consumer and helping to localize the economy. Most, if not all, of these steps take a small amount of effort, but offer a big amount of change. If each of us do our best to follow these guidelines and to become more aware of our consuming habits, then I believe we can change the broken system of our flailing economy.

Flip over the products and look where it was made or grown, and look at the ingredients or products that go into it. Read up on companies and corporations you buy from most often. As many children of the 1980’s remember, GI Joe says “knowing is half the battle.” With every purchase we are making a vote for that product and who produces it. It’s unlikely that we would go to the voting polls on Election Day without having done a little bit of research on who we are voting for, so we should hold ourselves to the same standard at the store. 

CHALLENGE: Next time you go to the grocery store, or to any store, before you purchase an item find out where it came from. If you still decide to purchase the item, you have at least educated yourself and are fully aware of where the items you consume come from. That's a big step in and of itself. You may also find that you flip over an item and see it comes from Brazil, while a similar item comes from New York, and as long as cost allows, buying the closer product is a big step. 

Being a knowledgeable consumer is the first step towards making change, because without the knowledge, it's impossible to make accurately informed decisions. Every dollar spent is a vote for the company/business you're shopping at, and every product you're consuming. In order to make accurate purchases, gather all the information you can. A great book that can assist with this is The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference. The authors rate products, businesses and corporations based on a well-explained system of grading. There is a handy pocket-sized version that you can take shopping with you, too, so you don't have to memorize their rating system and what companies get A's and which get F'.