Siena Farms sells organic produce at Copley Market in Boston. Image credit: Catharine Zink.
Every single American has the power to stimulate their local economies: not by spending more, but by supporting local businesses. In economic theory, more local spending translates into less "leakage". This means a greater percent of the money spent actually stays and circulates within the region, supporting more employment, investment, goods and services. Local spending leads to economic multipliers that strengthen the regional economy.
Smart local investments also involve long-term benefits, many of them non-monetary. On the human side, here in Massachusetts, the economic crisis is hitting a lot of small towns hard. Imagine living in a place where you know exactly who in Town Hall, the fire department, or the middle school is getting the pink slip. You can picture their empty desk, the impact of their absence rippling through the community, one lost opportunity after another.
On the environmental side, some folks are saying that it's too costly to cover pro-environmental services when we have to pick and choose: like New York's Governor David Paterson who has proposed significantly eliminating funding for open spaces, parks, and educational facilities including greenways, river projects, botanical gardens, aquariums, and zoos.
How do we turn the tide? How can we support investment, in both our human capital and our natural capital? In the current economy, local investment by local citizens in goods and services that support both economic and ecological sustainability seems like a win-win solution.
Eco-patriotism - a new word that we're kickin'‚ around this week - might be part of the answer.
Eco-patriots are a group of folks with the slogan "Love for America, love for the environment." Their mission is to help us all reduce our ecological footprint, and make that critical connection between personal action and environmental consequences.
Sustained investments in human and natural capital don't have to be complex: in this case, we're talking about where you get your coffee and where you buy your veggies. Making those investments eco-friendly is easy, when you buy local from people who source locally.
Here's one story: this week a new café opened up in Maynard (a big deal for us townies, as it doubled the number of cafes in our 5.4 square mile town). La Mattina serves the usual espresso-cappucino-latte fare, plus a chalkboard listing of Middle-Eastern fare. But there are four things that set this café apart, and make it a model of eco-patriotism. It's open on Sundays, the coffee is from a local supplier, the bread is from a local baker, and the drinks are served in gorgeous ceramic mugs.
Open doors on a Sunday morning in Maynard means that La Mattina - and its genial, talkative owner, Samir - is building community. Young couples with toddlers, pairs of trendy singles, clusters of chatty seniors, and ubiquitous middle-agers were all crammed into the café last weekend. Every few moments another customer said hey to friends, caught up on the local news, or chuckled over somebody's kid. Nick and Kelli, next-door business owners, donned aprons and helped handle the overflow crowd.
Samir sources his coffee from the George Howell Coffee Company in Acton, the next town over, and his artisanal, hand-made bread from Jessica's, a few more towns over in Woburn. By using ceramic ware (instead of disposables), La Mattina saves the town a bundle of money on trash collection fees, in addition to saving trees. And those lovely cups of Samir's encourage those of us who would otherwise tend to rush in, grab our drink, and rush out, to actually sit down and chat.
So when I plunk down $2 or more for a snazzy cup of barista-brewed, frothy coffee, I'm supporting Samir and the café staff, the George Howell workers, Jessica's business, and the town of Maynard as a whole. (I'm also decreasing my ecological footprint, because I walk to the cafe.)
Here's another story: in January I paid $325 for vegetables that I won't see until June, and I'm tickled pink over this great deal. That chunk o‚ money bought a 25-week prepaid subscription to Siena Farms‚ produce for the entire season. Siena Farms are in Sudbury, the next town over (in the other direction). By paying up front in the winter months, the time when farms most need the investment income to support the next growing season, I'll helping ensure there's a viable organic farm in my community.
Farm-fresh vegetable subscriptions are called community-supported agriculture, or CSA. Currently there are more than 2200 CSAs in the USA, and a bunch are still taking subscription sign-ups.
For $13/week, I get half a farm box of locally-grown-and-picked-that-day, organic, heirloom vegetables will feed my household through Thanksgiving (the other half is shared with two of my Earthwatch colleagues).
By: Jeanine Pfeiffer
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