One of the challenges we set for ourselves is to "buy local" if possible. According to research by The Food Institute and The Hartman Group in 2008, people tend to classify products as "local" if they are made/grown within 100 miles. Sometimes this is easy to achieve, as in the case of locally grown produce. Other items can be harder to come by.
Consider in this context two items I needed for my chicken coop: an exterior door and straw bales.
I was really hoping to find someone who wanted to sell me a used door. (Because really, it's for a chicken coop...) I checked Craigslist and Construction Junction (a nonprofit warehouse located in Pittsburgh specializing in reclaimed construction items.) Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a used door. Before making a purchase at a big box home store, Graddad encouraged me to check with 84 Lumber. (Although a chain, 84 Lumber originated in Eighty Four, PA, approximately two hours from here.) When I spoke with Jon, the manager, and described what I wanted, he led me to a door that hadn't sold due to minor cosmetic flaws. He very kindly gave me the door for $102 (including tax), instead of the regular selling price of $150.
Would I define this as a local purchase? Not really. Even though I was able to patronize a smaller store with more of a local origin, I still don't know where the door was constructed and how far it had traveled to get to there. I'd bet my eye teeth it wasn't within 100 miles!
Contrast this with my straw purchase.
I had twelve bales left from Haven's construction and needed to purchase approximately 30 additional bales for the coop.
Shortly after we purchased our property, we were befriended by a dairy farmer named Mr. B. Though I believe we amuse the neighbors with our straw house and the desire to feed our chickens organic pellets, he and his family have always been very welcoming, ready to include us in neighborhood gatherings and willing to help us figure out the finer points of living in the country.
When I called Mr. B. and M. (his daughter, my friend) to see if they had any square bales, Mr. B.'s response was, "Come on over. We'll get you what you need, load it in the back of my pickup, and get it to your house." We offered the local going price for straw, $3.00 a bale, and also gave an additional $10 for gas and time.
(To keep us up to date with the cost of the coop:
$50 for cement; $102 for the door; $100 for straw. Total = $252.00)
Here's a picture of my straw acquisition:
And here's a photo of me with my friend Mr. B. It was great to obtain the straw I needed, but that pales in comparison to the friendship I value with Mr. B. and his family.
And that, I believe, is the twofold payoff of buying local. You get the measurable benefit of supporting families in your area and stimulating your local economy. More importantly, there is the intangible benefit of depending on each other, of growing together as a community.
And that's an idea in which I can believe.