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Rural area eyes “buy local” initiative

A mix of community pride and fear for the future is driving more small towns to promote the concept of buying local – and not just at Christmas.

“I think people are starting more and more to realize the importance of it,” said Sharon McNeily, who came out to listen to a mid-October presentation on starting “think local and buy local” campaigns.

McNeily owns a heritage building on Carberry’s Main Street that has housed a tea room, bank, jewelry store and other enterprises but currently stands empty. She said she thinks rural communities have reached a point where they don’t take their town for granted anymore. “They are realizing the importance of the local community,” she said.

She was one of about 75 people in Austin who came out to talk about how small-town chambers and municipal leaders could work together to create “buy local” initiatives.

Virtually all small towns’ business groups run campaigns at Christmas, encouraging people to spend some of their Christmas cash at home.

Angela Pearen Burnside, a rural leadership specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) at Gladstone, urged participants to consider adopting more of a year-round buy local campaign, perhaps using slogans like “Buy Local First” or “Buy Close By.”

One strategy is to impress on residents how shopping local fosters more local entrepreneurship and creates local jobs. It also reduces the cost and hassle of out-of-town shopping. Get people to think about searching for a service or a product locally before they leave town for it, she said.

“We want people to start thinking ‘can I get the product or service locally?’ and then look at it on a regional level, or can they get it in the community beside them,” she said.

About $45 of every $100 spent in a small town stays and recirculates in local economies, Pearen Burnside added.

Ken Meter, a U. S.-based food system analyst and president of Minneapolis think-tank, Crossroads Resource Centre, which studies rural and agricultural economies told the meeting building local food systems may be the best path for local economic development.

“The partial answer to this question is that there’s a large market for food,” said Meter, the author of a study in southeastern Minnesota called Finding Food in Farm Country. The bad news is that food systems right now are stripping wealth from rural and agricultural regions. It’s a case of farmers earning less than what they spend to farm, while local citizens buy imported food, he said.

The good news is there is growing interest in buying direct. He shared several examples of collaborative efforts among food producers in rural areas of Minnesota who have started further processing their production and selling to a more regional market.

The question farmers need to ask is what’s going to sustain them in the long run, he said.

“Which is the more reliable market… the global commodity market that hasn’t rewarded you very well over 40 years and people who really don’t care if your farm survives or not, or would it be local consumers who might actually value a farm down the road, and who might want you as a taxpayer?”

Reeve of the Rural Municipality of North Norfolk Neil Christoffersen said his council wants to pull together a committee or coalition to look at some ideas for local economic development. “We strongly endorse this as a municipality,” he said.

Don Makinson, Austin’s Chamber of Commerce president and a retired farmer who now runs a computer business, says doing something is a matter of survival for small towns like his. People in Austin have been asking ‘what’s next?’ ever since their grain elevator disappeared, Makinson said.

“We’ve said, if we try, we can survive. We’re inspired to do this for the love of the community. The community is slowly dying.” [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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