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Buy Local | January 10, 2010

I’ve been poking around the “Buy Local” movement in Louisville, Kentucky. I was curious about what motivated people here to support local businesses, particularly local food producers. Is it because they find locally produced goods to be higher quality? Is it a form of social activism—a way to go green or to raspberry big box stores? Is it related to the regional identity of an agricultural state? Perhaps it’s simply convenience or habit? I wanted to hear directly from the people doing the growing, the buying, and the supporting before assuming any of these conjectures to be accurate.

So, to the farmer’s markets I went, with the intention of asking questions as customers marveled at pumpkins and fondled peppers. “Why do you come to the farmer’s market instead of Kroger or anywhere else?” Most answers fell into the following three categories: Quality, Knowing the source, and Supporting alternatives to big-box stores. This is the first in a series of posts. You’ll see more analysis in the ones that follow.


Quality and the variety of foods available were the most commonly cited reasons. I heard many stories of people feeling like they had discovered food for the first time after cooking with fresh, organic produce.

“Real food makes you feel so good,” says Amber, mid-twenties, as she and her boyfriend have brunch at a picnic table in the middle of the market. He smiles at her and tells me that his very favorite thing is when she comes home from the farmer’s market on Saturday morning with fresh eggs and peppers and makes hella good migas. Apparently, it’s the best cure for a hangover.

“I mean seriously, have you ever tasted a real banana? They’re amazing!” Greg, early thirties, explains that, despite having grown up the rural area of Paducah, Kentucky, all he had experienced before was trucked-in or canned foods. Bananas that tasted like banana were a revelation to him.

Knowing the Source

“It’s like you can trust it,” explains Karla, mid-forties. People showed they value the source when talking about all locally produced goods — gifts, household items, paper, records, clothing, whatever — but particularly food.

The knowledge of the growers is a huge asset to the success of markets. People frequently said that their primary reason for shopping there is being able to discover new foods and having the growers there to answer questions about where they’re grown and how to best cook them. One shopper wagered that the guy in the produce department of a chain store is not likely to know the nuances of where to slice a habanero pepper to find the best flavor, or what the heck that beautiful and strange looking thing over there is, much less how to cook it.

Many interviewees revealed that they value having a connection with the growers and raisers of their food, either directly or indirectly. Several expressed feeling disenfranchised when shopping at larger stores, where their selection is limited to whatever an anonymous, absent person decided to order that week.

Supporting alternatives to big box stores

“I hate Wal-Mart. It’s the lowest common denominator of American culture. Over-sterilized, over-advertized and impersonal. Everyone there is miserable, especially the person working there.” Peter, late twenties, softens and offers a smile. “Now, when you go to the market, the seller hands that squash over to you like it’s precious, as if it were his life’s work. And it is, I guess.” He goes on to say that customers feel like they are valued and that what they’re buying is valuable.

“It’s definitely political,” says Joe, early thirties. Shopping at farmer’s markets can be viewed as social activism. It favors a smaller, regional economic system over the national corporate model. Buying local cuts down on the social costs of trucking goods cross-country and of a country growing sick from an excess of processed foods. “It’s worth a few extra dollars to support local,” says Amber. Why? “Because then my money stays here, instead of going to some company somewhere.”

Those who expressed this near disdain for corporate food sellers where firm about it. However, many shoppers mentioned they are happy that their neighborhood has both the convenience of Kroger and the luxury of the farmer’s market.

That’s all for now, but there is more to come. If you’re a market shopper, please feel free to comment with your reasons.


1 Comment »

  1. For us it’s a combination of all three, avoidance of the big box stores, knowing the source and environmental concern. Good post!

    Comment by breedermama — January 22, 2010 @ 12:22 am

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