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Shopping, Eating Local

The global economy demands we support local business of all kinds.

Local Shop OwnerSure, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries has crowned “vape” as word of the year. But if it were up to us, we’d choose another word, not at all new, but prevalent in so many discussions we’ve had this year. We’d choose “local.” All year long, we’ve been encouraged to shop locally and support locally owned business. “Local sourcing” is the hottest restaurant trend of the year.

In the sense that all politics is local, so is economics. Without strong local economies, towns just vanish. Walmart and the other big box and franchise stores never contribute to these towns. In fact, they’re a big reason that certain small town main streets in the plains, in the mountain states, in the south and midwest — heck, all over the country — are now a shadow of their former selves. Yes, there are other reasons as well. When a town loses its school it’s most certainly doomed. But the economics of small town life demands that a small town have a lively economy of its own. That means keeping the money spent there and not siphoning it off to Arkansas or some other corporate headquarters.

Your friendly, community-supporting Planet Natural blogger goes on most every year about the value of supporting local business. We encourage you to go back and read our previous columns on the subject. But, we’re going to guess that you’re like us and already know the value of supporting your local economy and, again like us, you do as much as practical to support small business.

The reason we’d like to emphasize this year is that of community. Nothing defines a town as much as its businesses. We’re not talking franchises. Subways and Little Ceasars can be found all across the country. They do nothing to make a place unique; in fact, they’re a big culprit in the homogenization of American culture.

What remains that’s unique in the American commercial sector, the store fronts and services that help define as well as serve a particular area, are locally-based businesses. If you were dropped into an undisclosed Walmart location, would you even know where you were? Only the customers might give you a clue.

We at Planet Natural are proud to be a small, locally owned business in Bozeman, Montana, a town with its share of big boxes and franchise businesses, sure but also an eclectic array of interesting, locally owned, shops and restaurants. Our town wouldn’t be the same without them. We like to think you’ll have a hard time finding anything as unique as our retail store in Bozeman almost anywhere else in the country.

No, we’re not calling for a boycott of anything that isn’t a small, locally owned business. We know people who are employed at Walmart, who spend their salaries at local stores and put their money in local banks and credit unions. But we also know that a lot of the money we might spend there goes not only to locally paid salaries, but is siphoned off to the home office and the pockets of a very few people who may never have set foot in our fine town.

That’s not the case with local stores and retail shops.

Just as we know our backyard garden can’t supply us with everything we need for the kitchen table, we also know that shopping at big national chains can be a necessity. It’s not evil to shop there. It just doesn’t do as much good as it might.

So on this weekend of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, we plan to take time off to do some shopping at a local store we’ve never been to before. You should, too. We’re constantly amazed at the unique things we find in small local stores. We’re all for shopping on the internet, but sitting in front of a computer for all our needs, well, makes us dull boys. Get out and enjoy your community.

There are no absolutes in the shop locally movement — it’s a complex issue — and the same is true when you’re talking locally sourced food. Sometimes, getting the best quality ingredients for a restaurant or home kitchen requires (for obvious reasons) sourcing them from afar. The important thing is to know who you’re sourcing from.

As Liz Carlisle, author of the forthcoming book Lentil Underground, says in this op-ed piece, the small, specialized lentil farmers of Montana need more than just Montanan customers to keep their doors open. What’s important is to know and trust your producer, whether they’re in California or next door. It’s like that bumper sticker you see at farmers markets: “Who’s Your Farmer?” ConAgra isn’t an appropriate answer.

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