Hardy to Zone 6

100 Mile Shopping

Many sustainability advocates encourage a wholesale shift to buying locally sourced/manufactured/sold goods, but this can be tricky.

By Jason Allen
Published March 14, 2011

I have suggested on more than a few occasions that the key to Hamilton's prosperity in the long term is the revitalization of local 'production', whether that be food, textiles, hard goods, or what have you.

Originally, I was prepared to vent at length at Hamilton Economic Development and their lack of obvious support for local manufacturers who were either starting up, or looking to make the leap from the garage to a larger facility.

This was certainly Robert Land's experience. While he was in Guelph, the "this will never fly" initial assessment of his business was typical of the reaction many small producers face in many jurisdictions.

The reason? The fact that Canadian made goods are often priced out of the range of what most Canadian consumers are willing to pay.

I may have mentioned before my experience working in a men's clothing shop in Calgary, where customers would regularly rail against the lack of Canadian made goods, until they were ushered to the back of the store where the Cline Behar shirts were waiting.

Made in Guelph, they were priced 2 - 3 times that of comparable looking shirts from overseas. The zealous customers would then inevitably mutter excuses and slink back to the discount table at the front.

Limited Offerings

For many Canadians, purchasing only locally-made, Canadian-sourced goods would be not only prohibitively expensive, but also - unless one plans to wear only hemp clothing - pretty much impossible. Canada produces next to nothing in the way of wool, and even less cotton.

The bottom line is that if you're going to dress for the winter we've just experienced, you're going to be buying something for which at least the supply chain started somewhere far, far away.

That's why the recent article in The Tyee struck such a chord. It mentions the efforts of the B.C. Public Sector Union, who are proposing that everyone purchase 10% of what they buy from either local stores, or ensure that those goods are made or sourced in Canada.

Many sustainability advocates encourage a wholesale shift to buying locally sourced/manufactured/sold goods, but this can be tricky.

Close examination of my kids' can of Roberstons's Apple Juice shows that it is 'processed' in Canada - but common knowledge is that most apples sourced for this kind of thing are brought in from China and the far East. There, low labour costs result in much better margins, even after the cost of shipping the apples 1000's of kms across the ocean.

Emails to their Public Communications department as to the origin of their apples have so far resulted in a chorus of crickets. However, my only other option at this point is fresh pressed cider from the Farmer's market. I'm still working with the taste buds of a picky six-year-old on that one.

Dramatic Lifestyle Shift

Looking at other commonly used items around my house, it becomes clear that a switch to buying all, or even a majority of items that were locally made or sourced, would result in a dramatic shift in how I live, from 'low-impact' to full blown asceticism.

It's a leap that should not be entered into lightly, especially when the only tangible personal pay-off for the sidelong glances on the playground and whispered remarks at the office is likely to be a not-very-lucrative book contract.

Granted, the 'big-picture' pay-offs are enormous, but time and time again, history has proven that humans are unwilling to experience short-term personal pain, in return for long-term societal gain.

While such a sacrifice may be palatable to the hard-core, the lack of tangible personal benefit, combined with probable ostracization, is a serious barrier to entry for the majority of the population who desperately need to become engaged on this issue.

Any solution that doesn't address this problem head-on is simply doomed to fail.

10% Local Shopping Diet

The nice thing about the 10% rule is that it's easy to calculate (this is my 10th trip to the hardware store in three weekends - don't ask - so I'm going to go to Arruda's instead of Home Depot), and it's not going to drive most people into an ascetic lifestyle of denial of everyday comforts.

That and the benefits to the local economy could be substantial, with up to 20% more of every dollar spent at a local store/on a local product staying right here in Hamilton.

Now there are some who would enthusiastically argue that an ascetic denial of everyday comforts is the only chance we have of fending off 'something very bad', but at this point it pays to remember both messages contained in Dr. Seuss's classic book The Lorax.

The first, and most obvious message is that reckless depletion of natural resources leads to disaster. The other, and probably unintended message, is that shrill denouncement of the situation leads to the message being largely ignored until it's too late.

Perhaps a "10% Local Shopping Diet" might be just the thing to reinvigorate local production in Hamilton, and help set us firmly on the road - or the rails/bike lane - to making the best of things: without the kinds of potential lifestyle shocks that usually lead otherwise well-intentioned people to sit on their hands in frustration.

this article was first published on Jason's blog

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.


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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 00:43:24

Good read. Now if we could only get local busniess to invest in the plan instead of investing over seas. I can remember when Allen Industries in Stoney Creek moved to mexico back in 1975/76. To me this was the start of a long and painful pattern of big industry looking for cheap labour elsewhere. Even Goodyear in the US moved to China but have since come back. I guess they found it wasn't all its cracked up to be over seas..

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2011 at 02:28:42

The fact that Canadian made goods are often priced out of the range of what most Canadian consumers are willing to pay.

So sadly true.

Since the early 1970s average wages have stagnated in real terms for a large majority of Canadians and Americans. As "good jobs" in manufacturing vanished and were replaced by retail, temp or other low-waged precarious work, and costs of living like housing, tuition and debt rose, our buying power has dropped. And offered a chance at cheap, mass-produced goods from afar, many had no other choice. It's a really vicious cycle.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2011 at 09:30:27

Well, there are plenty of sources for baby goods that are local - people are a lot more interested in avoiding overseas sweatshops when they're dressing infants. There are not one but two cloth diaper manufacturers in range - Mother Ease and Kushies.

People do it when they see their children's safety on the line. It's not an impossible goal to do it in other fields too.

Either way, I don't expect the world to really change until gas prices make it mandatory.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2011 at 09:51:57

We are doing cloth diapers, bought them "AppleCheeks", from a local business and hough not made within 100 miles, are manufactured in Quebec which is heavily subsidized by those living within 100miles of my location.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 13:47:26 in reply to Comment 60972

I'd be interested to hear how the cloth diapers work out. Diapers seem to be such a massive generator of 'garbage', but at the same time, ensuring babies are properly, uhhh, pampered is so important. Not an easy sell.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2011 at 14:19:02 in reply to Comment 60984

We have found the cloth diapers to be an easy go. We have the Applecheeks with the hemp inserts which can either be stuffed into the diaper shell or laid inside so as to reuse the shell.

I will confess we aren't 100%ers. We don't use them overnight as the boy was wetting through them and sleep is a precious commodity.

I am sufficiently pleased that the boy is well pampered.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted March 15, 2011 at 13:54:24

I like the initiatives of buying local -- especially the 'eat local' pushes that many restaurants even participate in. For agriculture, I think this is of utmost importance.

At the same time, I do believe that the addition of fair trade and sustainable production programs can aid the betterment of other countries through our importing of goods. Their economies and standard of living improve and the cost of goods becomes, inherently, more competitive.

In the ideal world, I shop at a Hamilton owned and operated retailer who either purchases from local suppliers or (for elements not native/ produced in our region) imports them with a conscience.

But, that sounds an awful lot like distribution of wealth. Something corporatism tends to discourage.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2011 at 15:42:45

Having used probably 90% cloth diapers over the last few years, I really can't imagine the alternative. Sure, there are unpleasant aspects, but it isn't like bag after bag of disposables are any cheaper or less stinky.

Local production is easy (as was done for nearly all of recorded history), as is simply doing it yourself.


The baby goods market in general may be filled with tons of crap, but it's also one of the more exciting sectors for home-based entrepreneurs. Whether it's wooden toys, slings, clothes or other goods, there's tons of them if you look around. Also, it's pretty inspiring to see how much of this is coming directly from young mothers, out of their own homes. It's a pretty inspiring alternative to Wal-Mart's endless array of plastic, and the products tend to be way more practical.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted March 16, 2011 at 18:31:24

A few things. 1. I'd disagree that it is common knowledge that Apple Juice labeled "Product of Canada" is not really Canadian. I think most consumers are blissfully unaware of that fact, and would be puzzled if told directly. And they don't ship apples, they ship concentrate. 2. I hate that restaurants have their "Localicious" in the late summer. That is too easy and unimaginative. They should do their "Localicious" either in January or February, and be creative with root vegetables, stored fruit, preserves, etc. They should show people eating local can be done year round. 3. Buy your local foodstuffs at the Ottawa Street Market, you can still get local apples, carrots, honey, parsnips, etc., and my favourite popcorn on the cob ;)

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted March 18, 2011 at 15:12:58 in reply to Comment 61016

@Steve - Thanks for your comments. Point 1 - You're right about the concentrate, and very probably right about the blissful ignorance. 2. Eating locally in the winter is certainly a challenge - one many people find daunting, not only to cook, but sometimes to eat as well. It took ages for me to be comfortable eating cabbage (bad experience as a kid), but now it's one of my favorite winter dishes. We recently aquired an amazing cookbook called Recipes from the Root Cellar (Andrea Chesman), which has some great ideas for local winter cooking. I'd highly reccomend it! 3. We are regulars at Ottawa St, and I've written about our friends there many times - we keep trying to figure out how to buy more and more of our produce there - I think we ARE going to break down and force the pressed Apple Cider on our picky 6 yrd old. The 4 yr old won't care, and his big brother can just get used to it! We are also subtly pressuring some of our farmer friends there to do a Milk Share (Cow Share) - so if you're down there, maybe mention it in passing :)

Comment edited by JasonAAllen on 2011-03-18 15:15:01

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