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Dave Bartholomew | Why ‘buy local’ is a part of a sustainable community

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We are regularly encouraged to buy local, but why?

Some have political motivations, suggesting that if we do not buy locally produced goods we are helping the enemy.

Others have economic motivations; why give our money to others when we can give it to neighbors?

But there are also sustainability-related motivations as well. We can categorize them into efficiency and environmental impact.

Think about the number of transactions that occur when you buy something at the store: The store you buy it from likely bought it from a distribution center. They in turn may have bought it from an importer, that bought from an exporter. The exporter bought it from the manufacturer, who hired people to make the product and package it. Your purchase of that product could be the sixth transaction in the process.

Each one of those transactions entails a mark-up, packaging, transportation, inventory, spoilage and taxation. This is not efficient.

Think also about the environmental impact of an elongated supply chain like that. The packaging that is necessary consumes scarce resources to produce, and creates waste to be disposed of (or recycled) afterward. The transportation is almost always petroleum powered, a resource that is also scarce and causes pollution when consumed. When the product travels thousands of miles — over land or over sea — the transportation cost and the environmental cost can be significant and often greater than the cost of the product.

In contrast, go to the local farmers’ market and buy an onion from the farmer. Neither of you had to drive far so the transportation cost is minimal. In many cases there is no packaging, or the packaging is re-used. There is one transaction, and in Washington state it isn’t even taxed. The actual price you pay may not be much different from the product that has many links in its supply chain, but more of the money goes toward compensating the producer and less goes to non-value-added steps like packaging and transportation.

The Wenatchee Valley is blessed with many opportunities to buy locally produced goods. Agriculture is a great example of this, but not the only example. Many other locally provided goods and services are available.

As you can see, there are many reasons to buy locally.


Dave Bartholomew and his wife Nancy are retired and living outside of Leavenworth. The last 14 years of his career were served as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities.