How to be a Localist!

Going Local is something more and more families are trying to do.

There are many reasons for this trend. They could include Social Justice, Environmental or Economic reasons.   

Here are some easy steps to assist you to localize, pick the easiest points first & If you have questions or comments or suggestions, don't hesitate to email me.


Localize your home - rent from a local landlord or take a mortgage from a community bank

Live in Local Style - Use local materials for your home and if you are building, use a local architect & builder, great furniture can be found from local artisans or from locally owned retailers

Minimize Automobiles - use your vehicle less by walking, biking, carpooling, using mass transit and living in "Walkable Communities"

Fuel Up Locally - make your car very fuel-efficient, use local fuels when they are available and gas up at a locally owned gas station

Local Car Service - find a good local independent mechanic that you trust and who charges reasonable rates.  Use the local car wash, auto parts store and a local insurance agency

Dine Local - avoid chain restaurants

Buy Fresh and Local  - Link up with local farmers; rediscover local bakers, cheese makers, butchers, chefs and caterers

Support Local Retailers - be loyal to competitive local pharmacies, bookstores, hardware stores, service providers, gift shops, and clothing retailers.  When you need something, there is a local retailer that can supply it.

Play Local - spend more time at local sporting events, playgrounds, parks, films and plays.  

Heal Local - use local doctors, dentist, therapists and alternative healers.

Minimize Household Energy use - do the 101 things that you know that reduce your need to purchases of energy.  If possible, become a micro generator of power and sell your energy back to the grid

 (Adapted from Michael Shumans - Smallmart Revolution)

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10 Benefits of a Local Food System

Everyone has different reasons for buying at the farmers market, or going to a local bakery or meat shop.  

Here are my top 10 reasons I buy local food, there are dozens of other reasons, but these are the 10 that resonate with me.

10 Benefits of a Local Food System

1 - Freshness

2 - Increased Flavour 

3 - Diversity of products

4 - Increased Local Economic Impact

5 - Increased regional Food Security

6 - Shorter Supply Chain = less shipping

7 - You know the Environmental Standards of the producing county

8 - Community building opportunities around food and food culture

9 - Diverse ownership makes the industry competitive

10 - Local owners can be held accountable for business practices 

Feel free to send me your reasons for patronizing your local food system
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Are we worrying about the wrong things?

Our city & province spend a lot of time worrying about growth & how we are going to manage it.  Oil Sands & resource development drives our economy, and our biggest concerns are how to manage the growth, how to attract and retain the skilled people we need to ensure our economy can continue to grow.  

Alberta_GDP_by_sector_-_2011.jpgI don’t think growth is our biggest issue.  I think dependency on one industry is our biggest threat.  

We often worry about “peak oil” or the $200/barrel of oil.  These things don’t worry me that much, I believe that these changes may come, but it will be a gradual change, and we will adapt and change, I also believe that we live in a bit of an insulated bubble.  It may happen, but we will feel it here after other regions have figured out how to adapt.

My bigger concern is $50/barrel oil.  We know that oil sands production is an expensive  process, and it doesn’t make economic sense unless oil is at about $70/barrel.  We know the price of oil is volatile and is impacted by a small number of factors.

What would happen if the price of oil dropped for a year, or 5 years, or 10 years? 

It would decimate our economy and our communities

We do not have the economic diversity or resiliency to bounce back from that kind of economic shock.  Our agriculture & manufacturing industry are shrinking, our tech and medical industry is highly specialized and comparatively small.  Our local retailers, the construction industry, financial services, business services are in large part supported by the activity that comes out of the energy industry.

Other places have been in similar situations, Detroit, Cleveland, Birmingham and if they saw the downfall of manufacturing, they did not prepare for it adequately. I suspect no one anticipated it and it happened faster than they could adapt.  

For every public dollar we are spending to support oil, oil sands or gas resource development, we should be spending a minimum of $5 in diversifying our economy.  In sectors that can provide our population long term, economic diversity and stability.  

 We can keep worrying about managing growth or we can use the economic opportunity the oil sands offer us to diversify.  Oil is a blessing and possibly a curse, are we smart enough to prepare for the end of oil, no matter when or how it happens.

 I really hope so.

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Economic impact of local merchants compared to retail chains

research_SP.jpgI was at a meeting in Austin, Texas several years back when I asked this question:

“Why would I pay more for a book at a local bookstore, when I can get exactly the same book online for way cheaper?”

Little did I know, I was asking Steve – the owner of BookPeople in Austin. He had been involved in this study a few years earlier and he generously took the time to explain the economic impacts of local business to me.

The study, entitled Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study – Local Merchants vs. Retail Chains, was done by Civic Economics and is one I reference often.

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10 Tips for selling local food to restaurants


Local restaurants could be a huge opportunity for local growers and food processors. If you are thinking about growing your business into the restaurant market here are a few pointers – from the buyer’s perspective.

  1. Do not call restaurants at random. Find specific restaurants that might need your product and target those.
  2. If you already sell to restaurants, let the chef know. Name names. Knowing that you sell to other restaurants makes us more comfortable in dealing with you.
  3. Find out the chef’s and the owner’s names.  The chef is the person who usually makes the decisions on what to buy. These people are frequently the same person in small restaurants.
  4. Go on a slow day – Tuesday or Wednesday – in the mid afternoon.  Do not call over lunch, dinner or on Fridays or Saturdays.
  5. You need to get your product in the mouth of the chef. Go to the restaurant with a sample of your product, a small sample, preferably ready to eat.
  6. We want flavour. We know it is hard to make great tasting food with ingredients that don’t taste great.
  7. If your product requires cooking, take you product cooked – do not season or flavour it, but a little salt is OK. Remember, you are not selling a dish, you are selling an ingredient, and the chef need to taste what you are selling, not taste what s/he can do with it.
  8. Try and understand your market and their needs. Small high-end restaurants need small amounts of specialty products. High volume casual are going to need large amounts of cost effective product.
  9. Most chefs do not want the bulk of their products on Saturday. We need the products in the restaurant Wednesday or Thursday so we can prep them for our busiest days.
  10. If all else fails, make a reservation and take a sample of you product. Go in for dinner (on a slow day) and ask to speak to the owner. They will take the sample from you, you are their customer.
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Food Security Matters

Food security is an important concept and can be looked at three ways:

  • Household food security – in our country, household food insecurity is usually a result of poverty;
  • Regional food security – insecurity is usually an issue of lack of farmers, or infrastructure to support a regional food system;
  • National food security – a country’s ability to feed itself – this insecurity results from either a lack of farmers, or farmers do not grow diverse crops, everyone grows corn, canola or wheat for the export market, and over dependence on food imports.

I like to use this video to explain national food security. (Watch for the dancing cows.)

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These kids want you to grow your own

The Missoula Coyote Choir inspires kids to step away from the TV and the electronic toys and gets them singing about the planet. Here, the kids are singing about growing your own food, to the tune of the Bee Gees Staying Alive.

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Study: Locally owned small firms increase per capita income

research_SP.jpgI am very excited about a new study entitled “Does Local Firm Ownership Matter?” by David Flemming and Stephan Goetz.

Their study clearly shows that if you want to increase per capita incomes, the only kind of business that does that is resident-owned small businesses. This is one of the first papers that clearly connects local business with measurable economic development benefits.

In the words of the authors:

“Subject to the caveat that the 2000-2007 period was unique in American economic history, results presented are remarkably robust in terms of the positive link between small firms that are locally owned and per capita income growth. Medium and larger firms appear to have the opposite effect, especially when they are not locally owned. These include big-boxes as well as other chain and nonchain operations that are owned by individuals who are not also residents of the community. Although these types of firms may offer opportunities for jobs, as well as job growth over time, they do so at the cost of reduced local economic growth, as measured by income. Small-sized firms owned by residents are optimal if the policy objective is to maximize income growth rates.”

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How to Spot a Local Business

There are lots of good reasons to shop local, but how do you know which businesses are local? To capture the full range of benefits that local businesses bring to our community, we need to be clear on what a local business is.

Local businesses come in all stripes and colours. It can be a store or a company that supplies services. A local business can also be a non-profit organization, or a farmer, or an artist.

Local businesses also come in all sizes. Many are one or two person companies and lots have under 10 employees. But local business doesn’t have to be small. We also have dozens of very successful companies that started locally, but have grown into national or multinational corporations – and we should celebrate and recognize that as success.

Local businesses have a few common traits:

  • They are community-based or started as community-based;
  • Often they are family-owned; and
  • Unless they are very successful, you don’t find them in other communities.

Attributes shared by local businesses also include:

  • It has an owner/s in the community; and
  • That owner makes all the decisions about that business.

Sometimes, it helps to defines local business by what it’s not:

  • A business with local ownership, but runs based on a formula;
  • A publicly traded company.

Our local food system is made up of hundreds of local businesses – including farmers, processors, distributors, and retailers - that all work together to feed us. Look for local ownership when you are making decisions about where to spend your money.

Local retailers often sell the same goods as multinational companies, so you do not need to change what you buy in order to support local businesses.

Localizing imported products allows our community to gain a significant economic value for that product, so bananas from the Italian Centre or Molson beer from Sherbrook beer store counts as supporting local.



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Local Food: Powerful results for small changes in our Habits

In our region, we have many farmers and food processors. Our city is filled with cafes, restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores. We all need to eat.

Yet, most of us give little thought to what we eat. We may try to eat healthy, or organic, or read labels to ensure we don’t get too much sodium. But we usually don’t understand that how we eat and where we dine or buy our groceries is a huge opportunity to have a very positive impact on us and on our community.

There are numerous benefits to a healthy local food system. Often local food is fresher, picked just before being sold. Smaller scale growers can select more varieties of vegetables and fruits to grow, resulting in diverse selection. Local Food often taste better and it is much easier to get kids to eat vegetables that taste great.

The most significant opportunity for local food is the economic benefits to our community. These benefits are far reaching and touch our urban and rural communities and the thousands of people that work in our food industry.

To fully realize the opportunity we have, we need to understand some basic things about our food system.

  1. Our entire food system has many pieces, these pieces work together to get our food from the people that grow it or make it to the people that eat it. Some of the pieces of our food system include: farmers & other primary producers, food processors, distributors, retailers, and food service.
  2. Within our large food system, there are two parallel systems. A local food system and a global food system – each of which have different costs and benefits. We have local farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers and restaurants and we have global farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers and restaurants.
  3. An easy way to identify local and global is by asking ourselves: Is this business just in my community, or is it spread across our country, North America, or the world.
  4. Our goal should be ensuring these two pieces work together to ensure we have the best of both systems:
    • A diverse, healthy and abundant diet
    • Reliable and affordable access to food
    • Maximum economic impact for food dollars spent in our community
  5. The dollars we spend in our local food system work much harder for our local economy. Emerging research is clearly demonstrating that the economic impact is significantly higher for our community compared to our global food system.
  6. The average Canadian farmers has moved from an average income in the mid 1970s of about $33,000 to losses of $10,000 per year in 20

In 2007, Alberta Consumers spent $9.9 billion dollars in supermarkets and grocery store and 6.6 billion dollars in food service and drinking establishments.

A study in Puget Sound looked at the impacts of shifting our food dollars from the Global Food system to the local food system.

“The report describes the dollar flows and economic linkages of food-related businesses in the Central Puget Sound region of Washington State. The analysis shows that locally directed spending by consumers more than doubles the number of dollars circulating among businesses in the community. This means that a shift of 20% of our food dollars into locally directed spending would result in a nearly half billion dollar annual income increase in King County alone and twice that in the Central Puget Sound region.”

How can we make Alberta’s $17.5 billion dollars of food spending work harder for our community? We can shift more of our food spending to our local food system.

How can we shift some of our foods spending to our local food system? There are hundreds of ways, but here are a few of the easiest ones:

  • Visit the farmers market and buy your groceries
  • Find a farmer and buy direct from a farmer
  • Dine in independent local restaurants
  • Become familiar with local brands, we have hundreds
  • Visit neighborhood bakeries
  • Find an independent meat shops
  • Find a local coffee shop
  • Find a local coffee roaster
  • Have local food delivered to your door
  • Find a local beer you like or a local wine.
  • Visit a local and independent wine shop
  • Localize – imports by buying them at a local independent retailer
  • Talk about the great local food experiences you find – often the challenge for local businesses is getting the word out

Currently Local food makes us a small portion of our food spending, likely less than 10%. If we were successful in shifting an additional 20%, it would change the way our community looks.

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