Buy Local

Farmer’s markets and roadside food stands are on the increase for good reasons.
Farmer’s markets and roadside food stands are on the increase for good reasons.

This is another short post that will go right to the point – buy local. As obvious as this is, it’s good to be reminded of basic principles/truthisms from time to time. This post was sparked by a recent experience that I wanted to share. There’s a food stand on the highway about 2-3 blocks from us. We go past it every day. I noticed they had some rather unusual looking mangoes for sale, but never stopped for a close look. The other day my girlfriend bought some and said they were really good even though the peels are partially green. (Normally a sign they’re not ripe.) I wasn’t expecting much because they’re not nearly as perfect looking as commercially available mangoes, which are delicious. [I confess to being fooled by appearances.] The mango I tried was about half the size of store-bought. Little did I know I was in for the best mango of my life.

After cutting it open I knew right away it was going to be a treat. The fruit inside was a deep orange color, in contrast to pale yellow commercial mangoes, and quite aromatic. The flavor was rich and very sweet — absolutely the best mango ever for me. Needless to say we’ve stocked up on mangoes from this food stand. Not only are they the best tasting mangoes, they’re also far less expensive. They’re half the cost of supermarket mangoes, and one-third less than mangoes from farmer’s markets. Buying local means we’re getting fresh picked produce with all the nutrients intact. Produce is highly perishable and quickly loses nutrients. Who knows where the store-bought mangoes came from and how they were grown. Most everything is sprayed and grown with chemical fertilizers nowadays. And, think of all the energy wasted in transporting food from afar. Plus, we’re supporting our neighbors and keeping our money circulating in the community tax free. Buying locally means our neighbors, who we get to know better in the process, will be inclined to grow and sell more produce in the future. Same is true with buying building materials and other items if possible. We all benefit by being happier and healthier. Buying local is the right thing to do.

Image source: Godspace

17 thoughts on “Buy Local”

  1. I just thought of another big advantage to having multiple food stands near our home — saving time and gas. Driving to any of our four farmer’s markets takes time and is often not convenient. Who wants to drive downtown for instance if you just need a couple items?

    And, I just realized you don’t need 100 items in the roadside stands I’m talking about. Even 10-20 common items would be a big plus. What are the most common items people would be most likely to buy in your area?

    Another advantage to working with local farmers is you can more easily find out how the food was grown. Is that GMO corn? What kind of fertilizer do you use? How much DDT did you use? That sort of thing.

  2. It’s also worth pointing out how farmers benefit from all this. There are no middlemen involved and so they don’t have to sell at a steep discount. Farmers end up making more money by selling direct.

    And, the whole process is very low key. Most farmers only work the food stand at certain times of day when traffic is highest. Many times their kids are there to help. Many times customers are from the area and the food stand provides social interaction.

    We’re busy planting our food forest now and are already thinking ahead of what we can grow to make a little extra income; what’s easy to grow, in demand and most profitable? Right now we’re planning on growing some extra banana plants, lemon grass and a type of native apricot.

    • I would also suggest that the direct interaction with the customers would help farmers decide what items customers want the most. That may impact what items they plant for the next season.

      • Good point. That would create a positive feedback loop to continually improve sales. It’s hard to know for sure what people want otherwise. This would take a lot of guesswork out of things.

        Also, I’m just thinking about the benefits of offering at least some unique products. Note how the mangoes were not ordinary mangoes, but obviously some type of heirloom variety. Products like this will surely create repeat business. People wouldn’t know what’s available if they zoom past. But like I said, people would be more inclined to stop if there are 5-10 stands. Then the farmers would have an opportunity to give people their sales pitch and maybe a free sample.

        Just a quick comment about heirloom varieties in case some readers don’t know about this. Reworded from Wiki:

        Heirloom fruits and vegetable are old cultivars that are still maintained by gardeners and farmers particularly in isolated or ethnic communities. These may have been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but are not used in modern large-scale agriculture.

        Most food today is the result of centuries of hybridizing plants for desirable characteristics. This is done to reduce loss to disease and insects, and maximize yields and profits. One problem with hybrids is they may lack the flavor and nutrition of heirloom plants. Have you ever had one of those small super delicious apples from an old farmer’s tree? They are way, way better than mushy apples in the store. Another example is grapes. The best grapes I ever had were small and dark purple (concord grapes). I couldn’t stop eating them they were so good. That was 30 years ago and I still remember them clearly. I don’t buy grapes today because they’re nearly tasteless in comparison and almost surely sprayed with chemicals. Some modern grapes are the size of quarters and look very weird to me. Weird and unappealing Frankenfood.

        • I don’t know what land prices are like, but this may be one of those instances where it is easier for an individual to simply buy an appropriate piece of land and improve it for farmers market use.

          Then just start inviting farmers to come use the space, and ask for a small fee for them to come congregate together and use the space, but provide a nice incentive rate for farmers that want to come for an entire season. That would encourage some long term vendors.

          Either that, or talk to a farmer that already owns land along the side of the road, and see if there is an area that he might be interested in turning into a marketspace.

          • That could work in some instances. However, we have a large farmer’s market just two miles away. And, farmer’s don’t want to sell their land in this area. It’s close to the city but not in it, and they can make a decent living off the land, so there’s not much incentive to sell.

  3. Nice post about buying local.

    No photo of one of your mangos?

    You instead imported a photo from half way across the planet instead of using a local photo of the exact mango that inspired your post?

    No photo of your local mango stand?

    I can’t speak for all of your blog readers, but I enjoy seeing local flavor from someone’s blog. How much more local flavor could one get than to show a photo of a locally grown mango, without actually posting a http://www.owensmango.flv flavor file for everyone to download and actually taste through their digital flavor port?

    Here is a wild and crazy thought.

    As you get to know your local farmers, you might find opportunities to work together with them for common benefit. Perhaps they would like to build a roadside farmers market that would attract regular repeat customers? I wonder where they could find someone that could design and help construct an inexpensive, efficient, appealing, and attractive market using local materials and local volunteer labor?

    I wonder?

    • I thought of using a mango photo or a photo that compared our standard mangoes with the ones from this roadside food stand, but it just seemed too simple or boring. And besides the main point isn’t about mangoes. It’s about buying all types of food, building materials, etc. locally. Overemphasis on mangoes would distract from the main point. Multiply the benefits described here times dozens of purchases on a routine basis over time and now we’re talking about a major impact. That’s why I wrote this blog post.

      The roadside food stands here are just junk, scraps, rusty sheets of roofing, bamboo, etc. all thrown together. No one feels it’s necessary to spend money on food stands.

      Things can get interesting though when numerous farmers combine their food stands. Having a range of goods for sale greatly increases the chances that people will pull over. Instead of stopping for say only mangoes, it’s much more compelling to stop when you see numerous appealing items you might want to buy — honey, sweet corn, melons, baskets, eggs, etc. All the colorful fruits and veggies are eye catching. Some locations are very popular and attract lots of traffic. Scenic locations between cities where people naturally want to get out and stretch their legs are most popular. Many people pull over because they’re looking for bargains or they want to save a trip to the supermarket. The most popular food stands offer a variety of products, not just one thing. Yes, food stands often sell the same items as the others, but a synergy is created when numerous ones are located together. For one, they’re more visible than single food stands. Clusters of food stands offer more variety and allow for comparison shopping. You could buy the best bananas from one stand and the best squash, etc. from another. The end result is everyone benefits by putting food stands together. (Although I’m sure there’s a saturation point.)

      And again, this isn’t just about food stands. The same thing applies to roadside building suppliers as explained in this blog post and video: Building Supply Centers of the Future

      • I was just messin’ with ya on the photo bit… mostly. It is true that I enjoy seeing local flavor on various blogs, though.

        As far as nobody seeing the need to spend money on food stands…
        Perhaps you could get them to pay for your design in mangos? ;)

        • Yeah, I know. Now I’m thinking what it would take to make an area by this mango stand where people could pull over. (Now it’s on their driveway and there’s no space for other stands.) It’s very close to where we live and in a fairly good place just outside of town. It would be great to have a cluster of these food stands just down the road. People in the area are already growing extra produce for sale. Might as well sell things right there. But I’m not sure what it would take to get permission. It’s a county road. We’d have to get permission to fill in the ditch along the side of the highway and put a big drain pipe. Other people do this so I’m sure there’s a way.

          • Well…

            The beginning isn’t really designing the space, but the beginning is determining if there is sufficient interested customer base and sufficient local vendors to support such an enterprise. It won’t matter how well designed a space is if there are insufficient customers or insufficient product. It is a business, after all. Only after the supply and demand questions are answered with more than just a personal perception can something of this nature move forward with any confidence for success.

            Once the local market conditions are deemed sufficient, it’s all about the food. If potential customers are made to believe that they will get high quality food, they will stop. Seems to me that every design decision should be based on enhancing that reality as well as that perception.

            Speaking for myself, the first thing I look for in any food environment is a clean, healthy, space. There is never a substitute for good hygienic habits. The site plan, layout, and architecture can simplify those habits. This goes beyond the obvious of having good clean restrooms with clean handwashing facilities, (and locating the restrooms downhill and downwind from the prevailing breezes.) Simple things like easy to keep clean vendor stalls. The cleaner the stand appears to the potential customer, the more likely they are to stop. A dust free environment is also important. That may mean landscaping nearby land just to keep the dust down. Pay attention to where the vehicles pass, and whether or not they will be kicking up dust. It won’t matter how awesome the food stand looks if every passing vehicle or every vehicle in the parking lot creates a cloud of dust that covers the food. Will there be animals? Where will they be displayed and where will their manure go? Where will their stall runoff go in a rain? Will it be downwind and separated from fresh produce?

            Probably next is whether or not the food is displayed in a manner that keeps cooked food hot, produce cool, and pest free. If there is cooking, where does the smoke go?

            The next most obvious may be traffic flow. Will it be a pain in the butt to stop? Will it be a long wait? Will I get stuck in the mud after a rain?

            After that it’s all about creating atmosphere. That should come mostly from the local culture, but the food stand can enhance and encourage that experience. Is this going to be a place where people stop and enjoy themselves? Is there a good area for a local street musician to play for tips? Is there adequate shade, shelter from the rain, and windbreaks?

            Of course, I’m confident you already know these things. I’m just kinda brainstorming. It’s a fun thought experiment. One can take it as far as you want to, or you can keep it simple.

          • It’s on a relatively low traffic county side road, not a main highway. There’s enough traffic to support individual food stands. More food stands = more people pulling over as mentioned previously.

            This wouldn’t be an actual business, just a way to build connections among neighbors. After all, no one would own the land. It’s obviously highway property. Produce stands like this are all over the place, so I don’t see any major problems if we worked with the highway department.

            I was just thinking of something simple:
            – road base infill over large culvert pipe (road base doesn’t cause much dust, and doesn’t cause problems with mud)
            – try to get 5-10 farmers to pitch in to cover the basic costs
            – farmers put up their own food stands as they wish (no one will spend money on this and so there’s no point in trying)
            – local food is obviously available. It’s just a matter of finding out if the farmers want to sell it right where I’m proposing. They may prefer to sell at a farmer’s market (which has more customers, but also requires paying a fee since it’s on private land). This roadside stand idea would be closer, more convenient and avoid long term fees at farmer’s markets.

          • There is a reason that most businesses look for sites at or near the interesection of two high traffic roads. You get a lot more people passing by the same spot.

            It might be worthwhile to consider looking at the land near such intersections.

            If someone (perhaps a kid) spent some time counting the cars that pass by on each road, you can get an idea about how many cars will pass by. Also, already existing vendors could count how many cars pass by where they happen to set up, and then count how many actually stop as well as how many actually purchase something.

            Using those numbers, one can get an idea what %age of people that pass by will tend to stop and spend money. Using those counts, you can begin to get a very rough idea what the customer base for a particular location might be, and what the potential earnings might be.

            Yes, I know. This isn’t exactly architecture.

            This is BUSINESS.

            However, what’s the saying?
            “Location, Location, Location”

            The point is to pick the spot that maximizes income while minimizing expenses in travel, shipping/hauling and time.

            This is where a farmer, an architect, and a business accountant can work together. It’s a merging of everyone’s expertise.

            Of course… it doesn’t hurt if the food stand has the best produce around and the “prettiest/handsomest” sales clerks.

            I don’t think it requires a huge investment in money. Build with the local resources much as has been discussed repeatedly on this blog. It requires an investment in time to set it up and to build a reputation among the customer base.

          • For our situation, there are probably 3-5 cars per minute. Probably double that during peak traffic. The key point is people keep selling produce there, so obviously it’s worth their time. Merging 5-10 food stands together could easily double business for everyone involved. Why would people stop at a lone food stand 1/4 mile away when there’s a much larger selection right here? (And no similar bunch of stands nearby.)

            Although the place I’m talking about is not an ideal spot, it’s actually fairly good. We’re just outside of town and we could catch people before they accelerate to full speed. The surrounding area is quite good agriculturally. A quick look around and you’ll see specialty crops for sale — sweet corn, green beans, fruit trees, flowers, etc. It’s not all mono-cropped (although a lot is).

            The main intersection — where this highway joins the main highway — is congested and filled with all sorts of larger businesses. There’s no place to sell produce there.

            And yes, this wouldn’t take much money. The fill dirt could be obtained from 1/2 mile away and then capped with road base. The main expense would be culvert pipe. I’m sure the highway department will require it to assure proper drainage. Divide the cost by 5 or 10 families and it should be do-able. I think the practicality is obvious. Farmers could sell their goods just a minute or two away from their front door.

  4. You’re right. They are the best places to buy your fruit and vegetables PLUS you’re helping local growers and I’m all in favor of that. Government and big business has driven the best out of our society for the almighty dollar. Even if it’s a bit out of the way, go there and have a much better food without the chemicals and the corporate greed. Thanks for the posting. People need to read and think about this for their own good health.

    • Most of the time you have to pay extra for higher quality such as organic food. Look at prices at Whole Foods Markets, etc. Wow. That gets expensive in a hurry. Buying local saves money and often is higher quality. It’s win-win for everybody except the vultures.

  5. Buying local is more than just a good idea. It’s important to buy local to stop abusive/destructive corporations such as Monsanto. As impossible as it may seem, there are efforts underway to prevent us from growing our own gardens. The article below is about European legislation, but the same thing could happen in the US before too long if we don’t get informed and organized to resist this injustice.

    European Commission to criminalize nearly all seeds and plants not registered with government

    Learn more:


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.