FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - click on the image for larger view

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Make A Choice Everytime We Buy Something

I recently attended a local teach-in on Local Economy. It was wonderful to see so many great people and speakers all together showing concern for our local community and our way of life. Unfortunately the local emphasis was somewhat lost in the end on a large discussion about global policies, politics and a general feeling that the problem was so large it was akin to trying to move a mountain. Talking about the economy is talking about our money: where it goes and where it comes from. It's not a mountain. It's thousands of small individual choices that we make every single day.

The reality is that I think it is easy to fall into the habit of blaming large corporation or political policies. It is much harder to see that these larger things are supported by individuals and those individuals are us: you and I.

Someone at the teach-in mentioned that she thought the new Home Depot (in Hadley) was a good idea because we really didn't have a local store to buy these kinds of things at. I nearly fell out of my chair and in my bones I could feel the owners and employees of the several local hardware stores cringing. It's just not true.

Here in Amherst, you can buy just about ANYTHING you need within 10 miles of downtown. This summer I spent 4 months without a car taking on the mission to shop locally and buy local whenever possible. The first week I cringed thinking I was going to have to do without. By week 3, I realized I had everything I could ever need close by. The majority of the food for my family of 5 came from our local CSA, Brookfield Farms. At the farm we could also get milk from a local farm, Mapleline and other local grown and made products such as soap, cheese, honey, yogurt and apples from yet a third and forth local farm, Cold Spring Orchard and Small Ones Farm. The CSA is 7 miles away via the bike trail. So our weekly bike trip to the farm solved our food issue. Other local stores that proved to be treasures were the Local Farm Supply store, Bike shop (Hampshire Bike Exchange), Stationary Stores (AJ Hastings) and the local toy shop (The Toy Box) solved most of our other needs. We also tried to not buy and when possible to use library loans, borrowing from friends, freecycle and to buy used when possible using the Salvation Army, Freecycle, local tag sales and trading with friends. We were able to bike and walk 98% of the time while buying locally here in our community. We bought less, lived better and saved a lot more money.

We make a choice every time we buy something. When we buy something at a larger corporation rather than a local small business. When we choose to buy something made in a sweatshop vs. something made with fair labor. When we choose to buy things that are disposable and have a short life cycle vs. re-useable, recyclable long lasting things. These are all choices that reflect what is important to us.

I would like to suggest some actions to take with the help of the Better World Handbook.
1) Resist the Urge to go Shopping (visit the Church of Stop Shopping )
2) Buy less stuff
3) Treat workers with respect and courtesy
4) Buy used (think Freecycle, Recycling centers, Thrift shops, Salvation Army, Craigslist)
5) Buy durable and reusable products
6) Buy products with minimal packaging
7) Support locally owned independent businesses (visit Pioneer Valley Local First and think CSA)
8) Buy Fair Trade (visit the Fair Trade Federation)
9) Boycott irresponsible companies (visit Ethical Consumer's boycott list)
10) Let companies know how you feel
11) Buy from socially responsible companies (see the Better World Handbook)

What's the difference if I buy the stupid mop made in China at Walmart or a local store?
Obviously it would be better to buy a made in the USA or fair trade mop made entirely with recycled and recyclable materials in the first place but we know that just is not always a possibility.When we buy the plastic made in China mop at Walmart the profit margin on the mop goes to Walmart which in turns supports Walmarts poor labor policies and corporate goals to develop a monopoly by running local businesses out of town. When you buy the plastic mop at a local store the profit margin goes to a local small store owned by and employed with your neighbors. It keeps your money in your community. It sends a message that you want to have a town with locally owned stores and not a town with only a Walmart or a supermall. (As a side note locally here in Amherst we have a Big Y store which is one of the only American owned and privately owned grocery stores in the US. They are based in Springfield, MA, bring many jobs to our local economy and stock many local products and produce from local farms on their shelves. Another excellent reason we don't need or want a Walmart superstore down the road.)

Why Buy Made in the USA or Fair Trade
When you buy goods made in the United States you send a message that you WANT goods made in the United States. The US manufactures very little these days and because of this there are less and less jobs for US workers. So if you want people to have jobs, want your children to some day have a job it's time to send the message that we are willing to pay for US manufactured goods. We all need to be willing to pay a little more to create jobs right here in the United States that have fair labor policies and safe working conditions. The investment doesn't go off to some random company. It comes right back to our communities, our neighbors and ourselves in terms of jobs and possibilities.

When we can't buy things made in the USA the next choice is Fair Trade. Fair trade can also cost more than non fair trade goods. This is really a nobrainer though. When you buy non fair trade goods your money often supports slavery, horrific working conditions, child abuse/neglect, environmental pollution, unsafe working and living conditions. Your purchase send the message that these things are OK. When you buy fair trade you send a message that you are only willing to invest in businesses that pay people living wages, offer safe working conditions and thinks about sustainability.

So next time you go to buy, stop and think first....make wise and conscious purchasing decisions.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Awesome! And serendipity. (I imagine your post was at least partially inspired by last night's community showing, What Would Jesus Buy?

So were my own two posts, What's Wrong With Recycling: The Trouble with Plastic, and What To Do About Plastic: Watermelon Pickles and String Too Short to Save.

I figured, if I was going to miss an important community event, the least I could do was write something that supports the values of that community. (And that had been eating at me for some time, too.)

Concha said...

many blessings