Back in 2008, when I was living in Surrey, BC, I stumbled upon a grassy, vacant lot and an age-old idea: a community garden where the area’s townhouse residents could grow their own veggies and compost their food scraps. It never materialized beyond a blog post, “Community solutions for food security and urban health“, and today — I did some Street View sleuthing — there’s another cookie-cutter house on the lot. So be it.
Fast forward to 2020. We’re currently 6 months into a pandemic, there are issues with food security (still), and seed sales are through the roof. We need each other more than ever, but we have to stay apart. That doesn’t mean we can’t come together on solutions.
As Cyber Monday and the Black Friday weekend chaos comes to a close, I’m reflecting on a weekend where I practiced Buy Nothing Day on Friday, and bought things only from local makers and small businesses since then. My year-round preference is to shop local, but I’m writing about this now because it’s the start of BC Buy Local week.
As you plan your holiday shopping — or any shopping — keep local businesses top of mind. Here’s why:
1) Buying local keeps more money in the local economy. According to LOCO BC‘s 2013 stats, for every $100 spent at a local business, $46 goes back into the local economy. That’s 2.6x more than at multi-national chains ($18 out of every $100).
2) Supporting local businesses also translates into more jobs for locals. In fact, “a 1% increase in BC consumer spending creates 3100 jobs and $94 million in annual wages to BC workers” (LOCO BC). Those wages in turn recirculate if spent locally.
3) Supporting local businesses supports a network: local businesses tend to buy from other locals, including producers, services providers and credit unions/banks. According to LOCO, local businesses also give five times more per dollar of revenue to charities in their communities.
4) Local businesses are more personal. As a repeat customer at several local shops, the owners and staff know my preferences, buying history and sometimes my name — and I know theirs. (“How was your trip?” asked Maria who co-owns the deli, several days after I told her about weekend plans.) The relationship makes shopping there a pleasant experience, in addition to the more relaxed atmosphere. This is one way of building a vibrant and trusting community.
5) Belonging and pride of place are enhanced when a neighbourhood has the conviviality of public life. Local businesses are a great way to meet other locals and newcomers and build social connection. They also contribute to a more meaningful experience outside…
6) Local small businesses contribute to a vibrant streetscape. Architect Jan Gehl, interviewed in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City, says: “… what attracts people to stop and linger and look, will invariably be other people. Activity in human life is the greatest attraction in cities. … If you make more space for people, you get more people and of course then you get public life” (pp150-151). And Montgomery writes that “studies of seniors living in Montreal found that elderly people who lived on blocks that had front porches and stoops actually had stronger legs and hands than those living on more barren blocks.” The latter could include streets with big-box stores. “Meanwhile, those who could actually walk to shops and services were more likely to volunteer, visit other people, and stay active” (163). I can’t think of a better reason to make sure we keep small businesses healthy.
7) Local businesses offer another great social advantage: meeting the makers. Farmers markets and craft fairs are great examples of this, but there are others with brick-and-mortar shops such as Melk art & design on Clark Dr., which I visited during the East Side Culture Crawl, and Under the Umbrella on Lonsdale Ave. where the makers take turns tending the co-operative shop. This offers opportunities to hear the story behind objects and learn where materials come from. (The handle on my razor is made from cherry wood found in West Vancouver.) And there are plenty of places to find higher-quality and sustainably-made goods among the locally-run shops. My client Second Nature Home Boutique stocks plenty of goods by local makers year-round.
What if our economic system was modelled after natural systems? What if business operated collaboratively instead of competitively? What if companies’ shareholders and beneficiaries were their own community?
Most of us live in a broken system where the distribution of monetary wealth is becoming increasingly top-heavy, and the consequences of this push down and exploit the people at the bottom of the ladder instead of uplifting everyone. But there are entrepreneurs around the globe working with a different set of values and a different idea of what wealth means. Named after this alternative vision, A New Economy is a heavily-researched film from director Trevor Meier looking at democratic, cooperative and equality-driven ventures in various cities, mainly in Canada. It asks: “What if working together for the good of all was the most common business model?” The team pored over hundreds of case studies and whittled them down to seven inspiring social innovators for this film, including Vancouver’s own Sole Food farms, where employee and interviewee Lyle speaks with heartbreaking candour. Profiled ventures also include a cooperative brewery, an innovative independent hotel, and an open-source tech company.
David Suzuki pointed out that the economy is a human invention that we anthropomorphise and worship. It becomes the centre of everything at the expense of not only our planet but our people. It’s not sustainable (endless growth is not possible on a finite planet), and is given higher importance than what we truly value or need: family, friends, food, clean air and water, culture, community. The new economy innovators turn this on its head for a sustainable, human-centred approach.
Another approach not explored in this film is the gift economy. I recently listened to a very inspiring Permaculture Podcast interview with permaculturist Ethan Hughes in which he talks about this alternative form of sharing and spreading wealth. It’s well worth your time.
Ticket proceeds from the first film screening were donated to Sole Food — $2,742.90 that stays in the local economy and helps 35 people to keep making a big difference in a small city.
I’ve been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver) this summer, which puts great emphasis on how food — specifically local in the case of this book — brings people together, in celebration and as part of their culture. With that in mind, I’m pleased to tell you about an upcoming, worldwide event that uses the occasion of dinner toward making positive change. (Two of my favourite things in one — how could I resist?)
The Feast Worldwide is a day of global dinner parties in 40+ cities across 6 continents. The goal? To spark collaboration that drives local entrepreneurs and social initiatives forward.
On October 18, we’re inviting Vancouver to explore the global theme of progression through food and sharing. Join us in envisioning, “A world where growing and eating healthy food connects people.”
The idea is simple. Come for an interactive dinner that explores connections between food, community, technology, sustainability, business, health, design, and more! We’re inviting incredible entrepreneurs to share their work to inspire greater discovery and ideas. Let’s sit together over dinner — and instead of talking about problems, talk about ways to support each other, collaborate, and make things work better.
Gather Round Roundabout at St George St at East 10th Ave. Image from Google Streetview.
A few years ago I wrote about a Mark Lakeman event, which I did not attend, so my interest was piqued when a friend of mine mentioned an upcoming event with Lakeman’s name on it.
“Cracks in the pavement: Placemaking and the remaking of the modern city with Mark Lakeman” (tickets still available at Eventbrite) will be Lakeman’s public talk this Friday evening “on Placemaking and Redesigning The Commons” ahead of a 9-month course on the subject.
Placemaking, the creative reclamation of public space was the brainchild of Mark, an urban designer, and his neighbours in 1996 when they transformed their own intersection into a place for community gatherings and interaction — starting a mini revolution in Portland, OR that has spread throughout the city and inspired the creation of City Repair, an organization that engages citzens in transforming places. (Read more.)
Come collaborate, brainstorm, and meet other green keeners (like me!) at the Greenest City Camp on Saturday, March 5th!
The “unconference” is “a full-day of learning, connecting and finding allies and collaborators to make Vancouver the Greenest City in the world by 2020. This is your chance to connect with Vancouver residents and organizations that are passionate about making this a green city and find out how we can move forward together. It’s about finding people, and the resources, to do what you always wanted to do”, like creating a laneway community garden with your neighbours or reducing waste at work.
If that didn’t already get you stoked, there will be food. Mmm, food! the connector of people.
And there’s more…
If you’re baffled by camp idea, sign up anyway and check out this camp prep webinar March 3.
The Greenest City Webinar on March 4 is kind of a “The Plan: 101” so if you’re not up to speed on this (which you should be, cos it’s awesome and exciting), this is your chance to sit back and get educated before the unconference.
And there are a couple zero waste events on March 2nd, with more info on the Talk Green Vancouver events page.
You’re probably familiar with 350.org‘s global citizen engagement on climate change at the local, grassroots level. I love hearing about these social and environmental change actions and, similarly, what self-propelled groups are doing in their own communities to improve their urban spaces, make cycling safer and save beached whales. The power we have as individuals is even greater when combined into collaborative forces. I highlight here some efforts in making our world better that may have been initiated by one person but thrive best with at least one other. I can remember in particular a community garden in Vancouver started by two women that not only resulted in local food, but better relationships between neighbours.
I made the observation recently that each of us learns to walk, then virtually everyone learns how to bike, then we’re taught to drive. At that point, it’s like the first two are reduced to merely leisure activities or, to some people, hard work. Curious, isn’t it? Culturally, being able to drive and having a nice car is a measure of success. You know, because the bus is the “loser cruiser.” At the same time, being fit and skinny is attractive. They’re a bit at odds with each other, are they not? Sorry, can’t come over tonight — gotta drive to the gym. Whew, now you’ve got car payments, parking fees, insurance, AND a gym membership to keep tabs on. Better get some cheap take-out for dinner.
Whoa, hold up!
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Cities are designed for cars, not people.
It figures it’s been a month and a half since I wrote Part 1 and said it would be “a couple weeks.” I have a legitimate excuse, however: the topic on which I desperately wanted to write was (is!) getting bigger and bigger as news stories and blog posts flooded the papers and internet on the topic. An overwhelming amount of information to sort through, half of it’s out of date by now and much of it I haven’t yet read.
My blogging has been sparse at best lately, and this behemoth of a topic isn’t helping. Of course I’d also like to write about everything! But whilst I muster up the energy/time to do this, here are my key points:
– global food crisis overview
– modern agriculture… permaculture… what our monoculture system + pesticide/herbicide use did to our natural systems: reducing yield, damaging and polluting the earth, losing diversity, bringing in GMO which is proven to harm humans
– developers get (potentially large) tax credit by turning land into “public land” while waiting for a project to get underway, then can install a community garden, makes them look socially responsible
Well, now that I’ve got a few hours of my life per week back from the brain-sucking, life-wasting machine called the Television (I watch mostly intelligent programming, but it’s TV nonetheless), I should have few excuses not to sit down and churn this out. Unless, of course, I get distracted by Stephen Rees’s blog.
And now it’s time for bed, but I will leave you with this tidbit and links, and inform you that I’m still alive!