If you’re like me the summer through to autumn are some of your favorite times of the year. Not only is the glorious sun shining, bringing us out of the cold, dark winter, but it also means farmers market season. Utilizing the farmers markets and other local businesses is a great way to live a more sustainable life. When looking at sustainability as a theory, it is important to know that it encompasses three pillars often referred to as “the triple bottom line”.
The triple bottom line is a framework often used in accounting that consists of three parts; social, environment and economic. However this framework is becoming popular in the sustainability industry due to the nature of living sustainably, where one meets their needs (socially, environmentally and/or economically) in the present without compromising the needs of the future.
To be truly sustainable one must consider the environmental, economic and social factors and effects that their actions have. By shopping locally, you are supporting all three of these pillars, meeting the triple bottom line to living a sustainable life.
Shopping locally means that the travel and transport distance between you and the products you are buying. This is important if you are looking to lower your carbon footprint. By shopping from local producers or artisans, the need for trucks, airplanes and even refrigeration is greatly reduced, sometimes even removed completely. Large transport trucks and airplanes release immense amounts of greenhouse gases over the time that they are bringing products to stores. Not to mention the energy that is required for keeping the products fresh by keeping them refrigerated.
Have you ever tasted a store bought tomato and a homegrown tomato, together? If not let me tell you what the results are: homegrown tastes waaaaay better. Buying from a local producer means you get products that are almost as fresh as growing it yourself. Being able to go and pick your own produce or be able to buy it fresh from the farmer at a market is the best way to go. Oftentimes produce coming from far away is picked and then sits in transport for a few days before reaching us. That’s why some of your avocados may be ripe and others may need to sit for a day or two. Eating fruits and vegetables at the peak of ripeness ensures the highest nutrient density along with the many other benefits.
Local farmers are more inclined to protect the land due to the benefits they receive when they are working in a healthy ecosystem. Large developments are more concerned with making as much profit as possible which often means that the environment is exploited and used very heavily. It is in the benefit of farmers to protect the land they use by using high quality practices so that they can continue farming. By using zero-tillage, drip irrigation or other sustainable agriculture practices, farmers are creating a better present as well as protecting our future. We need farmers and they need us.
Have you ever seen the pictures of fruit that have been wrapped in plastic wrap at grocery stores? I know it’s crazy, but it does happen, and for what reason I couldn’t tell you. Buying locally helps to reduce the amount of packaging that is being used to transport the products as they simply do not need as much. Farmers markets usually have pretty minimal packaging. If you are headed out to the grocery store, try using reusable bags or none at all. Shopping at a local clothing or gift store, try bringing in your own bag or not using one at all. Because let’s face it, our fruits and vegetables have natural packaging on them that will get them through the till and into your fridge.
Shopping locally creates a sense of community. Simple as that. Whether it is within the larger city or town or a smaller group. Connecting with other people that have similar interests and values always makes for a feel good time. Staying within your local area, defined as whatever you like, is a great way to boost your connections while also helping others learn and develop. Being sustainable is all about meeting the needs of the present, beyond just the resources we so often hear about, while protecting the needs of the future.
Not only does shopping locally create a sense of community, but it builds relationships directly with the people who make the products. Being able to interact with the person who grew your food or created your new plant pot is a highlight of shopping locally. Oftentimes there are back stories you wouldn’t necessarily hear when buying from a larger store. You get to learn about why the coffee mug you bought is a little misshapen or about how your new sweater was sustainably made and looks great on you! Building relationships and creating connections with the people who create the products you buy, is a lasting effect of living a sustainable life.
With the increase in salmonella and e.coli outbreaks occurring in imported foods, consumers and producers alike are becoming more accountable and aware of their products. Shopping local creates a better awareness of the foods we are eating and where they are coming from. The same goes for other products as well. When we know where the products we are using come from, it creates an accountability to do better. It also in turn gives those creating or sourcing products accountability because they know that their customers care about what they are selling. This cycle of accountability between producer and consumer helps create a cohesive, sustainable future.
By shopping locally you are supporting your local workforce. The local workforce is what helps keep the community economy going. Oftentimes local businesses are the ones that struggle the most due to economic downturn, competition with corporate stores and high costs to run them. By supporting your local workforce, this ensures that the small mom and pop shops stay open to support the community. It ensures that those in need of work, receive the earnings they need to make a living. Without the locals working for these businesses, we would be overrun with corporate stores that take business away from the community.
Local businesses support other businesses within the community, helping to keep the economy going. When a farmer’s equipment breaks down, he contacts his local mechanic to come out and fix it. Your favourite local restaurant then uses the produce from the local farmers to make your date night dinner along with the flowers your significant other bought for you from the florist up the street. Local supports local in a cyclical nature that keeps the economy rolling and the community bustling with business.
When large corporate stores establish themselves in the community, the community tends to lose money. The money generated in their stores goes back into the corporation and far away from the community. While some corporations have begun to recognize this and change due to public pressure, shopping locally is still one of the best ways to keep money within the community. The money spent in local shops goes to the local workforce, to other local businesses and oftentimes to local projects. The money you used to pay for that new painting created by a local artist, is now being used to help fund an art program in a local school. Contributing to the circular economy by shopping locally, helps keep money in the community so that it can benefit from all the actions of residents.
The term sustainability is often attached to actions relating to the environment. However, when looking at the true definition of sustainability, we must consider all three pillars in order to be truly sustainable. Remembering the environment, building social connections and creating a strong economy are not separate from each other, they must be considered together so that our future can continue to be sustainable. Recognizing that sustainability is a collaborative endeavour is an important step in meeting our needs while also protecting the needs of the future.