Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shop Locally, Shop Sustainably

(OK, so the photo has nothing to do with the topic today, except to say that this was my first log cabin pot holder, and I still think it is pretty.)

So, we're getting into the holiday season, and it is almost impossible to avoid weighing in on how to handle it: use your frugal savings to shop a lot; cut back and shop a little; don't shop at all.  Whatever your perspective, there's probably a good strategy out there in the blogosphere.

However, I'm going to suggest that the FC&G way to handle holiday shopping is to shop locally as much as you can.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  Shopping local is sustainable:  Much of this blog focuses on things you can do to be self-sufficient, but no person is an island.  We cannot live entirely alone; human beings live in communities.  I suggest you use your money to support your neighbors' work, in the process keeping the money in your local community.  Eventually, it will come back to you.  That is a sustainable system.

Gift idea:  Rather than ordering gift baskets of food from large distribution organizations or those mall kiosks, go to the winter farmers' market and buy local jams, preserves, sausages, and cheese, and put those all in a pretty container.  Even if you are carrying the goodies a long way to Grandma's house, the purchases will support your community, and you are sure to have a one-of-a-kind gift.

2.  Shopping local is economically viable:  One way to support your community is to exchange your skill for someone else's.  Yes, that sometimes means barter, but primarily, we use money as an intermediary in the process.  So, you trade your skill as a computer programmer or a welder or a teacher for money, and then you can trade that for someone else's product.  I suggest you keep that money and that effort in your own community by buying as much as possible from local providers.  If you are in an area such as mine, which is still feeling the impact of the recession, those dollars kept at  home will do far more good than they would if they took an expensive trip to a corporate HQ.

Gift idea:  Rather than buying a mass-produced item, consider supporting an artisan who is now making a living off of his or her skill.  A local woodworker, for example, could potentially create anything from a set of coasters to a fabulous Adirondack chair, and you are sure that you are spending your money with someone in your community while you give an interesting gift.

3.  Shopping local is political:  This is not a political blog; I don't care if my readers vote or think the way I do.  However, I do hope my readers are voting with their dollars (or yen or euros) by supporting businesses that behave the way they believe is responsible.  Have you ever tried to trace the supply chain for a product from a large conglomerate?  Physical supplies come from all over the globe, as do administrative supports and marketing.  With your local businesses, your artisan is often the same one standing behind the counter, and that person can tell you in detail where the supplies came from and how the product was made.  If you agree that the person behaved responsibly and ethically, then your money is a vote to support continuation of that behavior.

Gift idea:  There are fewer worries about poor workplace conditions or questionable executive behavior when you buy local.  Quiz your local merchant about the supply and production chain when purchasing.  Try to find local substitutes for things you might otherwise buy from a faceless conglomerate, like knitwear from a local knitter who uses natural fiber yarns.

4.  Shopping local is environmental:  OK, not always.  But if you want raw honey or a product made without latex or a gift that uses as many upcycled items as possible, your best bet is the local provider.  If the large conglomerates have economies of scale on their side, then the small local provider has the advantage of overseeing the process in minute detail.  This means you can use your purchase to support a business that protects the environment in a way that you believe is effective.

Gift idea:  Think about bypassing the cookie-cutter gifts in favor of unique items that fit your sustainable beliefs.  There are many artisans in your community that work with upcycled items and create beautiful jewelry and household decorations that involve very little new raw material.

What are your ideas for sustainable holiday gifts?  Will you be shopping local this year?
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