Exert influence with purchasing choices and ‘vote with your purse’!

This is one from the old #local4lent blog – written March 2013.

We’ve enjoyed talking to lots of different people throughout the #local4lent campaign and have been interested to discover the different ways people support local businesses. Everyone we’ve spoken to has discovered different challenges depending on where they live and what amenities are available.

So we’ve been chatting to Yorkshire mum, Lydia Buckle, and we wanted to know if shopping for a family of six presented an issue for budget, convenience and variety of produce when keeping it local.
Like a lot of you doing the challenge, Lydia explained that she already shops local most of the time. This challenge doesn’t come with strict rules because even just changing some of your shopping habits is great, so most of the time is good enough for us!

“Even small regular purchases make a difference; when a whole community makes small, regular purchases it contributes to a thriving local economy where money is kept within that community.”

We agree with Lydia that supporting local independent businesses protects and preserves the local character of the community. How many times do you hear the phrase ‘use them or lose them’ – this is so true and we believe that by using these shops and services they are more likely to remain there! Lydia told us that she feels valued as a customer in many of her local shops, and indeed has formed friendships with staff after years of repeat business. Many shops and services survive by their reputation and repeat business, which means a higher standard of service.

So we know that shopping local can be hard if your area doesn’t have a good food market, farm shops or butchers and greengrocers on the high street. We asked Lydia – does having a family of 6 make shopping locally difficult and do you think supermarket shopping would be more convenient?
“In all honesty, yes – shopping solely from a supermarket would be more convenient! You can buy practically everything from them. I would be lying if I said I didn’t use them sometimes, but I try to only buy the things that I know I can’t buy elsewhere. Once you have trained yourself not to think purely in terms of convenience then supporting local shops can become part of your shopping culture.”

With all this talk of budget cuts, recession and unemployment we often hear people say that shopping locally is too expensive. There has been a recent increase in people using food banks and lots of people were caught out with the horsemeat scandal. The reality is people will always want to buy things cheaply but are we more concerned with cost over quality?
 “Price is obviously a big factor for many people, but in the main shopping locally is not vastly more expensive. For us personally, the meat is probably a bit dearer, but we don’t eat so much meat so it balances out for us.”

We asked Lydia, do you shop around for a bargain or is supporting local businesses more important that price? She admitted that she’s done both! Lydia explained that she knows from which supermarket to buy the cheapest recycled toilet paper (which you could say was shopping around), and buys that. But on the other hand she also shops around within smaller local shops. Sometimes it can take a bit more time but we have found that once you find who does what at a better price within the local shops then shopping at these independents can become part of your routine. At the end of the day every penny counts which Lydia highlighted when se told us that she can buy cheaper Fairtrade raisins in Oxfam rather than in the Fairtrade shop! So do you think shopping around in your local independents can result in saving money and a clean conscience, Lydia definitely thinks so.
“Supermarket shopping would be significantly cheaper if everything was budget-price ‘betta-buy’ stuff, but let’s face it, that stuff is the lowest possible quality.” 

We do know that for families it can present an issue if your local area doesn’t have great amenities and it may take more time splitting shopping around various places rather than the convenience of doing it all in a big supermarket, but do they really need your business? The benefits outweigh the negatives, provided you manage to find time to source stuff elsewhere.
As we’ve said all along, #local4lent was started with a challenge which was fun but the underlying factor has to be an individual’s principles. We’ve talked about shopping around and budgets but like Lydia we try to buy as cheaply as we can without compromising our principles. We don’t lay out rules in this challenge and there’s only you to decide what is more important but we think that shopping locally, getting better quality produce and boosting the local economy can only be a good thing.

Lydia told us: “Fairtrade and organic are very high priority for me, and I try to buy where at all possible. The whole Fairtrade ethic is so important to me, and there has been a huge increase in awareness toward it in the past 10-15 years, which has such a positive impact on small producers in poorer countries.” 

So back to what is available where you live, we wanted to find out what selection Lydia had in her area.
“In my immediate local area, many shops have gone. When we first moved here there was a greengrocer and Post Office, but these have long since gone (grrr). We faithfully support our baker, and there is a butcher and Co-op too, which seem to be thriving. Within town – 15 mins walk – there is a good selection of pretty much everything.”

Something we’ve definitely been hearing loud and clear from all your tweets and emails is that once you’ve broken the initial fear of going to your butcher and having no idea what to order, or buying muddy potatoes from the greengrocer, you have gone back time and time again. Why? because of the service and quality. Your butcher doesn’t expect you to know exactly how many pounds of beef mince you need, a good hand gesture and description of who you’re feeding usually works fine! Lydia explained that her family regularly use the same butcher and baker, and buy an organic vegbox from Goosemoor Organics (which they have done for over 15 years), the contents of which are grown near Wetherby.

Lydia told us she has also bought on organic meat box online on occasion.
#local4lent does have a strong food vibe but we are also huge advocates of supporting local crafters and other independent businesses. We had a great selection of businesses at our event last year and our challenge does involve considering birthday presents or local beer. Lydia told us that she buys fairly-traded cards and gifts from the Fairtrade shop in town, and a whole manner of other things from independents such as toiletries and clothes.

“Shampoo I have always bought from my health-food shop as it is cruelty-free/paraben-free etc., and I recently discovered Oxfam sell it too, but cheaper! (Brand: Faith in Nature) However, if you do some homework it’s amazing what you can find regarding sourcing alternatives. I recently started buying rubber gloves from the Fairtrade shop in town and recycled pan-scourers from Oxfam.”

It can sometimes be hard to take that step and find the time to discover local shops but we know through this challenge many of you have done just that. Some of you on Twitter and Facebook have told us that the #local4lent challenge has really helped as most years you give up something for Lent anyway and the challenge factor encourages you to keep going. We asked Lydia – for those who haven’t yet committed to shopping locally, what would you say are the main bonuses? We couldn’t have written her response better ourselves!
“The whole experience is invariably better: better customer service, and competition and diversity leads to more customer choices. A community that is teeming with small businesses is the best way to ensure low prices over the long-term. Going local does not mean walling off the outside world, it means nurturing locally-owned businesses which use local resources sustainably. They employ local workers at decent wages, and serve primarily local customers. And we as customers are valued so much more highly than in supermarkets, which are owned by distant corporations who don’t know us from Adam!”

We’ve been asking you to share your favourite local shops and products on Twitter which has been great to discover hidden gems and pass on to others. So here are a few of Lydia’s:

  • Oil of Aldborough! Virgin oilseed rape oil, produced nearby in Lower Dunsforth (nr. Aldborough), purchased directly from the farmer himself! (Steve Metcalfe) Delicious rich yellow, high in Omega 3.
  • Rare-breed Gloucester Old Spot pork, lovingly made into sausages by our butcher who also feels passionately about sourcing his meat as locally as he can. These pigs are reared just outside Thirsk.
  • Goosemoor Organics vegboxes, which contain a delicious and varied selection of seasonal, locally-grown organic vegetables.
  • Kingfisher toothpaste/dried fruit/nuts/shampoo/soap/spices/Barleycup etc. from our health food shop. Not produced locally but sold locally, and another thing less to buy from a supermarket!
  • Fresh eggs from our own lovely chickens.   😉

Lastly we asked Lydia has #local4lent challenge made you re consider how you shop for some items?

“The local4lent campaign is an excellent tool to challenge and galvanise people into a different way of thinking. As a ‘convert’ I’m not sure I have changed my purchasing habits because of the campaign, but it has reinforced to me the importance of it all, and I hope it is the catalyst for change in all those taking on the challenge! Good luck, and well done!”

P.S Lydia had a lot to say which is great and if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this very long blog post then she just wanted to add, “Last but not least, the best ‘local’ is home-growing and home-baking! I’d recommend this, if you can find the time….”

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