Three Stories, Three Ways To Give: Redirect Spending

This year please consider (either in lieu of or in addition to a donation), redirecting five or ten dollars of your weekly grocery budget toward the purchase of local sustainable food. Studies show that if everyone changed even this modest amount of their spending there would be a sizeable positive impact on the stability and overall health of our regional economy.

I blanched at a recent party when I saw my “green” friends approaching. “Oh gosh,” I thought, “I haven’t set up a rain barrel yet, or bought a hybrid car, or switched to solar or any of the things they are doing. What will I say when they look at me expectantly…?”

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in all those things and more, but how can I, on a limited budget, make the most effective, most powerful choice for positive change?

In working with farmers, ranchers, food processors, distributors and chefs as WSE’s Market Connection Program Director, it has become obvious that the way we spend our food dollars can impact not only our health, but that of our economy, community, and our environment. The food contamination scares, from spinach to burger to peanuts, have raised the awareness of even the most thoughtless eaters. How can we ensure our food’s safety? A step in the right direction is to know something about our food.

Most of our food travels thousands of miles and passes through the hands of countless people. It becomes insurmountable to trace the source of any problems. Putting a face and place on your food creates accountability, traceability and security. Purchasing local food has other benefits as well. Economists speak of the “economic multiplier effect,” a complex formula that says locally spent dollars circulate several times in the community. That increased circulation bolsters the community’s economy. It’s estimated that if every Montana household spent just $10 per week of their grocery money on locally produced food it would put $189 million annually into Montana’s economy. Talk about a stimulus!

When Montanans band together to improve their health and local economy by purchasing local food, a renewed sense of community happens — a connection between the folks that produce the food and the people that purchase and consume it. A visit to any farmers market showcases the mix of rural and city dwellers mingling and visiting while shopping.

Farmers and ranchers control nearly 2/3 of the land in Montana. In fact, they have influence over much of what we most love about Montana, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or you just enjoy the clean air, water, and incomparable view. The stewardship practices in place on those farms and ranches can preserve the integrity of land and resources. Sustainable stewardship practices protect the region for future generations.

So even though I don’t drive a hybrid, I choose every day to contribute to my health, the health of our economy, our community and our environment with my purchases of sustainably raised, local food. I’m pleased to say to my friends, “Yes, I’m doing something every day to make a difference,” and I just might order a rain barrel.