Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Buying Local

Buying Local for Fun and (Community) Profit

This year’s winter holiday season offers potential shoppers an opportunity to strengthen local businesses and communities. By now, hopefully most of us have heard about the importance of spending our money locally. Not convinced? A 2006 report commissioned by Maine Businesses for Social Responsibility and completed by the Institute for Local Self Reliance documented the job creation, entrepreneurship and tax benefits of locally-owned businesses to the rural mid-coast region of Maine. The economy of Upstate New York is similar in many ways, and the findings in the Maine report that locally-owned businesses tend to support higher-wage jobs, generate more local economic activity and demand less in tax-payer funded social programs are generally applicable.

Maintaining a diverse local economy in difficult economic times can make a community less vulnerable to a downturn or collapse in a single sector. The initial out-of-pocket cost for buying locally might be a bit higher, but keeping those dollars circulating through the local economy and encouraging job creation through entrepreneurship can offer benefits through lower taxes and a more attractive market for investment and growth. Perhaps in the spirit of both the holiday season and a nationwide concern about our financial priorities, buying less overall to spend more locally makes sense.

If you are interested, where do you start? Try low-tech first, and pick up a copy of the Hilites, Pennysaver or Shopper. This can be a great place to locate u-cut trees and seasonal wreaths. Prefer shopping online? Try the website Local Harvest, where you can search by zip codes for locally-grown farm produce, livestock and handcrafted items available for purchase. The South Central New York Agriculture Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension publishes a guide on foods produced in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region , and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets offers an online Farm Fresh searchable locator.

Food and farm items not your thing? If you are looking for something in particular, but don’t see it, you can also try asking a retailer that carries similar items. There are also multiple outlets for artwork, often directly from the artist themselves. Take a tour of the websites of member artists at The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, or contact an artist featured in the Greater Ithaca Art Trail. Some seasonal outlets, like Skyland Farm Gallery and Café, offer holiday hours.

However, supporting the local economy through holiday shopping isn’t just about stuff. If you feel strongly about an organization, event or local amenity, you can often make a donation or provide a gift membership. Options include (but are certainly not limited to): Friends of the Catharine Valley Trail, the Schuyler Health Foundation, or a 2009 Empire Passport that covers admission to our many state parks.

Reviving an economy in times of a recession is not simple, and certainly local buying isn’t going to solve all of our financial woes. However, consciously supporting a diverse local economy can certainly help and it can be fun to boot. So help your community profit and prosper in 2009, and resolve to buy more locally.

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