Until recently, the main streets of Otsego County’s towns, villages, and hamlets were densely populated with various commercial concerns that provided local residents with the majority of the goods and services they required to live full and productive lives. The money exchanged circulated within the communities, and local economies were vibrant and self-sustaining. Food was locally grown; that you could only get certain food at certain times of the year—like sweet corn—only made that food sweeter.
Today, those vital shops have largely disappeared, replaced in some towns by businesses catering to visitors, and in others by empty, decaying, and boarded-up storefronts. Where commerce still exists, mainly in outlying commercial strips, it is comprised largely of enterprises based in faraway places. While our shopping dollars do cover low-paying local jobs, most of it returns to the “head office” in God-knows-where.
Buying locally is not a new concept, but today it is an important, even critical, component of revitalizing our crippled local economies. We are not just doing our local merchants a “favor,” we are favoring our communities and ourselves by giving our localities a chance to survive and thrive. It is not just about buying local food from local farms; it’s about buying local goods and services from the few local shops and merchants that still exist, and creating the opportunity for our citizens—particularly the young—to have a viable reason to live here and prosper. Our dollars remain with us, supporting our towns, villages, schools and churches, our old and infirm, and our remarkable quality of life.
To buy locally means just that: it keeps the money in the community; it stimulates the economy; it creates and retains jobs; it supports local craftspeople, artists, and farmers; it enables local families, businesses, household services, not-for-profits, and cultural institutions to grow and thrive; it brings the towns back to the people, and the people back to the towns. It also offers businesses an opportunity to support fellow businesses, to make new connections, collaborate and succeed.
Today, with climate change threatening our environment, our population diminishing and our sense of community vulnerable, the Buy Local movement has gained an even more pressing importance. Community resilience and environmental integrity are at its heart. In respect to our farming community, buying locally gives the consumer a chance to buy food from people who actually care about producing it. Local food is better, fresher, often safer, often organic, and its production is transparent; it keeps our farmers farming, which keeps our agricultural region beautiful, preserves open space, and supports and protects wildlife. It also reduces packaging and the carbon footprints, fuel consumption and air pollution created by overseas and cross-country transportation.
There are no excuses for ignoring the importance of keeping your money at home. The main protestation, of course, is, “I can’t get what I want locally” which is, of course, the result of years of not buying locally. Buying locally is an investment in your community and yourself, your children, your friends and your neighbors. The treasures of local products—food, goods and services—are here for our nourishment, use, and enjoyment, and to remind us that Buying Locally helps us confront and perhaps even solve the mounting environmental, economic, and social challenges of our world and our cherished local communities.