Last week I came across emails and articles about our local dairy (1)(2), Bushy Park Farm Dairy, having to close down. I find this rather disturbing considering the bumpy road we are on in terms of rising energy costs. If our local dairy goes, and the input costs continue to soar (if not the whole system collapsing), where will we get our milk, cheese, and ice cream from? I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of parting with my ice cream!
Ok, but hang on a sec. What exactly is the problem here? How is the supply of our dairy products (along with pretty much everything else) so vulnerable? And how might we do something about it?
The problem with centralized supply
The availability of cheap fossil fuel energy allowed many things to happen. We saw an explosion of mass production, and goods were able to be transported great distances at minimal cost. It also allowed for production and distribution of goods to become far more centralized. Now this would all be great and dandy if fossil fuel energy was infinite, and if its extraction and utilization didn’t have significant impacts on our biosphere. Sadly, that is not the case.
Burning fossil fuels to produce goods en masse and distribute them all over the world puts huge amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and, to sustain this, countless ecosystems are destroyed just to supply the resources needed. The result: climate change (and all that comes with it). Now that should be enough to inspire some sort of change in how we do things, but for many, it isn’t.
Those who aren’t willing to make changes are in for an even bumpier ride. Remember those resources you needed to produce and distribute all these wonderful products? Well not only are they becoming more costly, but also more scarce. We can already see things getting more expensive in our supermarkets, but at this rate, we won’t even have the energy to get those goods from one side of the world to the other and onto the shelves. We’re not quite prepared for that are we? No; but we can be.
Going Local just makes more sense
So if all my groceries, furniture, clothes and all the rest are going to be costing a whole lot more because of the energy needed to get them from one continent to the next, would they be cheaper if that distance was radically reduced? I think you’re onto something there!
If these different things were being produced, processed and distributed in and around my town (or even just the country), that whole cost of flying them around the world is cut out. Keep in mind that not all goods are produced and processed on the same continent never mind then same town, so the total flyer miles accumulated on the final product could possibly exceed those of some of our top businessmen.
What about the impact on the local economy? All these expenses for processes taking place outside your locality are obviously having to be covered by you, the consumer, leaving very little behind to develop the local economy. It looks a little something like a leaky bucket, but as Rob Hopkins stated in a recent article (3): “…every outpouring is a potential local livelihood, local business, training opportunity…”. These are opportunities to plug those leaks and allow incoming money to continue to circulate within the bucket. More money in, less out; a growing, more resilient local economy.
Back to securing ice-cream supply…
Now with all that in mind, lets take look at the situation with our local dairy. I’m sure very little of our milk and other dairy products are produced outside of South Africa, but none the less, having a producer within your locality is extremely valuable and deserves support. Better to realize that now within the context of these global challenges than having to start form scratch later down the line.
Now this is where your power as the consumer comes in. Its your decision to purchase a local product from a business you can easily visit yourself over another product which has had to travel a lot further. Its your decision to purchase from a producer with a good reputation and is so involved in your community, than from another you know nothing about.
There are other factors involved in the case of Bushy Park such as rising energy tariffs (which will be putting considerable strain on many businesses within the next few years, if not already) so rectifying the situation may require a whole lot more than just a boost in consumer support, but it sure is worth a shot.
So give some thought before your next purchase. Give preference to local products where you can and in so doing contribute to securing local jobs and a stronger local economy. If not because of climate change, then at least for the economic benefit to you and your community.
(1) Dairy farm could close soon
(2) Sometimes the e-mails are Correct
(3) Transition Network empowers local groups to promote sustainable issues