If my stay in Los Angeles has taught me anything, it's that living local isn't just restricted to places multinational corporations haven't fully penetrated. I, like many of us, incorrectly assumed that living local in "developed" economies was a luxury, the prices of commodities naturally being more expensive as they aren't mass produced (wasn't that what they taught us in intro to macroeconomics?).
I've always been a big proponent of everything local, but before coming to L.A., this was mostly restricted to buying fresh produce at local markets in places like Antananarivo or Nairobi. Not places like Paris or L.A.
So, despite my tendency to very subjectively favor anything un-corporate, I still gravitated to the supermarket chains, cheap warehouse-style stores and other bastions of American consumerism (both in the U.S. and in Europe because, we have to admit it, we've all succumbed to the glitz and glamour of our identical shiny shoes and phones).
But this visit to the states was different. First off, I've not been here in a long time. So this whole supermarket/ superstore mentality has become more foreign to me than it may have once been.
Second, the national discussion seems to finally be shifting towards the economic structure, at least partly thanks to the awkwardly under reported "Occupy Wall Street" movement that seems to be spreading across every big city in this nation.
Third, and possibly most importantly, my sister, who I came to visit for a while, is very involved in everything local (from shopping at farmer's markets to owning a local business, which we'll get to in Part 3 of this series). So arriving in L.A., fresh off the skip, hop, and drive from Nairobi, I found myself in something all too familiar and warmly comforting, a local farmer's market. Whew, it felt like home.
So why the pictures of dogs, you say? Well, this is a piece about living local, and as I began to explore the farmer's markets, comparing prices and deciding whether the organic tomato was worth the extra buck or two, I stumbled upon a tent run by a group of people playing with dogs. Having been a veterinary assistant throughout high school, I naturally gravitated to the heaping pile of fluff and cuteness, wondering what I would have to do to be a part of that.
That, as I would soon learn, was not an ASPCA "find them a home" tent, it was Dog Walker Extraordinaire (DWE), a local company owned by Jody, a member of the West LA community, who every Sunday comes to the Mar Vista Farmer's Market (courtesy of the farmer's market) and babysits your dog while you go shopping for your fruits and vegetables. What better way to start an article about stronger community bonds than through a bunch of caring people watching after your beloved pet at your corner farmer's market? Plus, they're puppies, and really, who doesn't like puppies?
DWE is also a good case study for a much larger discussion. How is that we've become so complacent about our sense of community? Count the neighbors in your building, on your street. How many of them do you know by name? What about the corner grocer? That is, if you still have one. Where are you getting your food? Do you know who grew it? How they grew it? What they grew it with? Pictured: Sharon imitating an extremely comfy pup
A century ago we knew where our food came from. Today, all we know is it went through one too many rounds of processing, was filled with one too many preservatives, and somewhere in some seemingly unrelated space, we have one too many cases of cancer, one to many children born with autism or ADHD, and one too many cases of food poisoning traced back to a factory farm in the middle of nowhere.
And while all this is happening, our economies suffer. Our unemployment rates are persistently high (particularly in California), our youth are struggling to enter the workforce and often have many loans to repay, and our elderly are seeing their medical benefits slashed through bureaucratic twists and turns. The national climate is stark, we blame Wall Street, we blame the corporate structure, but often we do little in our daily activities to fight it. We buy our groceries in supermarkets, thinking that pesto can't be found at a farmer's market anyway (but oh, how it can), or that they won't have that one thing we're looking for and we just don't have the time. (Pictured left: Homeboy Bakeries, which sells everything from breakfast pastries to baguettes and tortilla chips)
But there's a lot more that each of us can do to support the local economy, to get our own communities out of this mess instead of waiting for corporate bailouts to magically trickle down to your chipped and dusty plate.
After having run a concierge service, Jody noticed a need for dog walking services. She started up the dog walking company servicing West LA, and hires her staff from the community she works for. Her company has established relationships with local veterinarians, self-employed groomers, trainers, other walkers, farmer's markets, shelters and a number of other community-based individuals and organizations with the best interests of man's best friend at heart.
As a local business owner, Jody is supporting the local economy. Further, since every part of the operation is local, money is circulated and redistributed entirely within the community. Every client who requests services from DWE or another local dog walking service (and there are quite a few in every community) instead of a corporation with headquarters in another state or country, is ensuring that the dollars they spend go to their neighbors, not to the faraway headquarters of the pet-chain conveniently located down your street.
That phone number someone gave you for the lady who'll groom your dog from her living room will put food on the plate of a member of your community instead of fattening the wallet of some highly paid executive. Buy the homemade natural dog food the guy down the street sells instead of the pellets in a bag that are likely ruining her intestinal system, and you'll pay for his kid's education. Buy that honey the couple at the farmer's market puts love and tenderness into making, and you'll pay for their healthcare. Who knows, you just might make a friend in the process. (Pictured left: The Grind, a local coffee shop, has a stand at the Mar Vista Farmer's Market)
Each of us can do this, and in more ways than you think. Pet foods, fresh produce and food products (like pesto, cheese, or eggs that are less than a day old!), beauty supplies, gardening tools and plants, breakfast, lunch or dinner, even your kid's Halloween costume can be bought at a farmer's market or local business without costing you more. At the Mar Vista Farmer's Market, for example, you can bring in your old Halloween costumes and swap them with someone else's. (Pictured: Batman. Yes, that is his real name)
Living local is also a great way of reducing your carbon footprint. Swapping Halloween costumes means recycling materials year after year. Buying from local farmers (some as close as 40 miles from the city of Los Angeles) means your food didn't travel for days or weeks at a time before getting to you; not only do you have fresher produce, your food didn't contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. You can often walk or bike to your closest neighborhood farmer's market, many of which are also on the forefront of green practices, promoting the use of reusable shopping bags, providing separate bins for trash, compost and recycling, and requiring that food vendors source a portion of their ingredients from the market's farmers.
It might require some changes in your habits, maybe you'll spend a little more time shopping for food, but you'll have a lot more fun doing it and you'll be supporting YOUR economy, not the one they talk about on the news.
And in the meantime, you get to hang out with some really cute puppies.