Six Ways to Shop Local without Going Out of Your Way

By Bethany Johnson in Thinking Sustainably

The local food movement is here to stay. In fact, it’s growing so quickly that many people can barely keep up. Your head is spinning, I know, but you’re not alone. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly where to start and what to look for.

More than ever, shoppers are turning to local small businesses for a reciprocal economic relationship, learning as they go. You can’t expect to make huge lifestyle changes overnight. You can learn to shop local, though, and one step at a time. Here’s how.

Friday Pitstops

Instead of driving miles out of your way for local goods, check out roadside stands alongside or near your usual commute to work, school, gym, or child playdate. Have you noticed a “Fresh Eggs” sign in your routine travels? Make this the day you pull over to check it out. Slowly work your way into a regular pitstop—on Fridays, perhaps—and swap out your usual habit of grabbing the generic dozen from the supermarket.

car mirror

Downtime during a Pickup

Each family has a morning routine—a loose one, at least. Even if you’re busy, there are a few things you can count on. I always arrive to my child’s school a few minutes early to get a good parking spot when picking her up, at which time I peruse the local candle maker’s shop and occasionally hit the neighborhood cobbler too. Take a fresh look at your routine and ask yourself, “When do I usually find myself with a moment to spare?” You may find this is the perfect time to support a local mom-and-pop shop you’ve never been in.

‘Locally Produced’ Right in the Supermarket

These days, many grocers designate a section of their produce department to products sourced from within a certain vicinity of the building. If you don’t see signs to indicate where this section is in your regular market, just ask the produce manager. Because you’ve already made this your go-to store, this step isn’t out of the way. And you’d be surprised which aisles carry these items.

Try a CSA

Once you’ve dabbled, this is the natural next step in buying local. Many sustainable farms have a community supported agriculture program (CSA) where consumers pay a lump sum early in the season and, each week, collect the resulting harvest. Swapping your weekly grocery store visit for a pickup of local veggies is as easy as it gets. You don’t even need a shopping list!

When You Can’t Shop Local, Consider Your Options

Don’t expect to buy everything local. I love bananas, and use them almost daily for a quick snack or spinach smoothie sweetener. But of course I can’t demand a locally sourced banana, since I live in Virginia and bananas only grow in tropical climates. Expect to find similar restrictions. Don’t throw in the towel if no one in your neighborhood makes artisanal deodorant, for instance. Find a sustainable, environmentally responsible company whose values align with yours, and rest assured you’re making the right choice.

Think Twice

You won’t take any of these steps if you’re not first convinced the move makes logical sense and consists within your beliefs. So, review the best reasons to shop local and holster only the ones that are most compelling to you. You can even include them on your weekly shopping list for a reminder.

hand pointing driving to farm

There are a lot of reasons to consider it. Buying local builds trust in the community by bonding producer to consumer, personally. As the University of Vermont points out, local food is better for the environment and its wildlife. Spending money on local goods ensures more of your dollars stay in the neighborhood, to be spent again.

Just as well, local produce often retains more nutrients, not having to travel so far. Thus, supporting local businesses gives your region a unique personality. Going local can even lower your own tax bill, according to the American Independent Business Alliance. Sometimes swapping products is only half the effort. Trade common misconceptions like “large manufacturers charge less” for more insightful thoughts, like “Someone always pays for cheap goods, and it’s rarely the consumer.”

When taken one step at a time, these ideas are easy to implement. Try to tackle them all in one day and you’ll get overwhelmed. So keep it simple—adopt one first, then another when you’re ready.

How do you shop local and support your community’s small businesses? Tweet ideas for convenient steps to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Flickr | Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

When you spend money at local businesses rather than large-scale manufacturers, more of that cash stays within in the community. And when you make this small, sustainable change, you don't even feel the sacrifice. In fact, it feels great knowing you encourage entrepreneurship and a sense of belonging among the families in your neighborhood.