Sunday, May 19, 2013
By Denis Thoet
Want a stimulus plan that would work for West Gardiner, for Kennebec County, for the state of Maine, and possibly for the rest of the country?
Buy your stuff from companies and stores that are locally owned. Buy your food from locally owned stores and directly from farmers — or even better, grow your own. Put your money in locally owned banks and credit unions. Eat in local restaurants.
Every time you spend $5 on products from nationally and internationally owned companies, four of those dollars fly out of the community, according to Michael Shuman, author of the “Small Mart Revolution, How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition,” written in 2006 and available at the Maine State Library, as soon as I return it.
Buying from locally owned companies keeps 60 percent to 80 percent of our money within the community, Shuman says. When you think you are getting a bargain at Home Depot instead of Gosline’s Hardware in Farmingdale or LaPointe Lumber in Gardiner, you are actually shipping your dollars out of the community and out of Maine.
Remember that “giant sucking sound” that Ross Perot warned us about in the 1992 election? Every time you buy from big box stores, fast food franchises — or keep your accounts in big banks — listen for that sound. Your money is flying out of your community as fast as it is coming in, perhaps faster. That’s no way to have a healthy economy.
Sorry to say, the most egregious purchase you can make is a plastic bottle of Poland Spring Water.
I know the Poland Spring Co. is held in high esteem as a great example of large corporate beneficence in Maine. After all doesn’t it have a payroll of $40 million and provide hundreds of jobs?
Poland Spring — owned by Nestle Inc., headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland — extracts about 230 million gallons of water from Maine per year, wraps it in plastic, and sells it back to us and anyone else it can. The cost of the water is virtually nothing, since Poland Spring refuses to pay even a minimal tax on it.
Imagine buying water wrapped in plastic when you can run water free from your tap that is just as good, put it in a Mason jar, and drink it at your leisure. Imagine the environmental catastrophe of hundreds of millions of Poland Spring water bottles in landfills and waterways around the world. Is that what we want people to think of Maine?
So, we are not only losing a resource that should be highly valued, but most of the cash spent on each bottle also makes that big sucking sound that means we are actively contributing to the draining of our economy.
While it is easy to replace bottled water with a cheap local alternative, that’s not the case with food, for example.
As farmers, we grow food from April through October, more than half the year. Yet we all eat year-round. Canning, freezing, drying and root-cellaring get us through the year for things like tomatoes, kale, meats, onions, dry beans, garlic, potatoes (most years), carrots and other root crops. But our personal food “system” is hardly self-sufficient, requiring purchases of dairy products, pasta, wine, beer, cooking oil, oatmeal, etc.
Ideally, a local food system would include food co-ops, year-round farmers’ markets and everyone growing their own food or participating in community gardens.
We are a long way from that.
Health care is another example. Aside from the local/nonlocal aspects of hospitals and the health-care industry in general, the billions of dollars we ship around the world for prescription and over-the-counter drugs is a huge drain.
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