“Local” is clearly not just geographical. Even at the Halifax Farmers’ market – the cathedral of all things local – I’ve watched in puzzlement when avocados make a produce experience. This obvious vegetable outsider has led me to question the more subtle components of my local loot: what about the flour used in the pastries I indulge in regularly? Exactly how local is local? And how, as consumers of these delights, do we decide?
Since “local” is currently swimming in the pool of its own popularity, it is only natural for an individual like myself (who, like most of us I gather, identifies as skeptical of mainstream anything), to unpack its meaning and investigate some of its trailing assumptions.
Michael H. Shuman offers the kind of holistic definition of “local” that I’ve been looking for. In his book, Going Local, he states that to choose local “means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at a decent rate and service primarily local consumers.”
Shuman rightly points out that local engenders a meaning much larger than a geographical location. The word is also moored to a set of ethics. In this way, shopping local means caring about whether the ingredients are sourced closed to home and if they’re sustainably procured. It means knowing that the people involved are treated fairly and that the wealth generated is circulating back into the communities in which we live.
And then there’s the reality that we clearly can’t track down the ethical composition of each and every product to buy. There isn’t enough time in the day to be that thorough. Instead, we have to rely on a general sense of trust that what we’re taking home aligns with our values. So what to do? How do we develop this kind of trust?
It comes down to relationships.
This kind of trust is not easily built within the corridors of packaged produce at big box grocery stores – even if they are making the effort to source local strawberries (I will begrudgingly concede that it’s a good first step).
But we can sift through this conundrum in the connections we build with our local artisans/producers/service providers. Through direct relationships with them, we have the opportunity to listen and learn about the achievements and obstacles they encounter, and as we contribute to their livelihoods we can offer our own words of encouragement, appreciation and suggestions. In this way, we are actively creating the community that supports a holistic notion of “localism”.
So back to that avocado – the instigator of this post.
Next time I see one at the market I’m going to buy one. During the moment of exchange, I’m going to learn about the origin of this fleshy green fruit and the life of individual selling it to me. Perhaps she is making a profit from reselling produce at the very Superstore I frequent to feed her family? Perhaps he is starting a fledging greenhouse that employs Nova Scotians and is powered by renewable energy? Through these kinds of moments over time we can begin to collectively create what it means to be truly committed to local, both as individuals and as communities. Now that’s a vegetable I can buy!