Why Shop Local?

chapala farms

It may seem as trendy as the Paleo Diet, but buying locally grown and produced foods is more than a passing fad. Explore why spending your dollars within your own city limits creates a win-win for producers and consumers.

To say that Mark Von Dollen wakes at the crack of dawn is no hyperbole; by the time his long limbs make the short trip from mattress to floor, he has already mindfully walked through the myriad steps he will take over the next 72 hours to mix, proof, rise, bake, and sell the crusty sourdough loaves he sells under the Standard Loaf label. And that’s only a small fraction of his work week.

In fact Mark will spend those many hours to bake and sell only 20 or so loaves in any given week. “I love it.” he says matter of factly. “I look forward to baking all week long.”
That refrain rings true for Santa Barbara and Central Coast artisans across the board, many of whom rarely see a profit from their labor and dedication to producing the highest quality foods possible using mostly local ingredients. These individuals are committed to a higher principle of communal sustainability, based on a hypothetic, though not-too-distant, future where the world’s food demand by its 10 billion residents threatens to exceed the available supply.

According to the new comprehensive and cautionary documentary 10 Billion: What’s On Your Plate? by German Director Valentin Thurn, the tenuous economic balance between agricultural supply and demand is poised to implode by the year 2050, without some drastic interventions over the new few decades. Thurn’s conclusion? We can vastly improve our odds of meeting food needs by growing, raising, and producing food within the very communities we call home. Not only that, but 75% of every consumer dollar spent goes directly back into the local economy for improving other infrastructure, including schools, byways, events and more. Some towns around the world are taking this a step further and registering as “Transition Towns,” built on sustainable measures that meet the needs of current citizens without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

While most cities in the US currently define “buying local” as purchasing products grown or produced from within a 200-mile radius, more progressive Transition Towns, like Totnes, England define it as those foods produced from within a 30-mile radius. Regardless of the perimeter size, the intent remains the same: Cut down on the energy consumed to deliver a product long distances while ensuring that it was produced using small plots of land with sustainable and organic growing and cultivating procedures, all while keeping money within the community where it originated. Michelle Chavez and her partner Jason Banks of Chapala Farms in Santa Barbara are prime examples of this intimate model. The couple craft their own jams and marmalades from produce primarily grown on their urban backyard farm in downtown Santa Barbara.

But growers and producers are only one half of the equation; they require distributors to get their goods to market and into the hands of consumers. In some of the smallest towns (and even some more liberal cities), the old-fashioned roadside stand still serves it’s quaint purpose, while many more locales now host weekly or more frequent Farmers Markets that allow those producers who locally-source their ingredients to sell to the public.

Even Farmer’s Markets are not without their drawbacks; dozens of well-qualified artisans vie for only a handful of coveted spots and waitlists can be years long. Counties like Santa Barbara go a step further by requiring that the vendors be certified farms in order to sells at local Farmers Markets. As a result, some towns are harkening back to the days of down-home general stores and cozy co-ops where familiarity, comfort, and hospitality are the name of the game. Shopping at small mom-and-pop shops has a trickle down effect, where money spent is going back to the small-batch artisans while simultaneously going directly to the community in the form of taxes and other local retail-associated expenditures, like advertising and marketing, decor, and professional fees.

The next time you’re deliberating a local food purchase, take a moment to consider the far-reaching implications of your choice – for the grower, for the storefront, for your health, and for the community at large. In an era where the food practices that connected us to our past are rapidly becoming extinct, it is incumbent upon us an individuals to remain connected to our roots and traditions, by tracing the journey our food takes to reach us. It is, in fact, the the very lifebone of our food supply for years to come.

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