in an attempt to shop in a way that is more eco-friendly in a number of ways, i've decided to begin purchasing items which are only organic (not only food, but clothes, etc) and are at least semi-local
obviously the goal is to eventually buy some land in a couple years and become hyper-localized over a number of years
but in the meantime i want to begin — how much ecological impact does buying only (or mostly) organic and sustainable items within the usa do?
michael, this is a *really* complicated issue. Definitely buying local puts money in your community's pockets, and I'd like to see more of that! Evaluating what "local" means and how to accomplish it gets trickier.
Example 1: You buy locally made jam from an organic farmer: Did he actually buy the fruit? the sugar? the spice? What about the jar? Many health departments require a new jar every time for sales which I don't get since they used to wash and reuse pop bottles and still do beer bottles! Are the bottles sustainably produced and did they arrive via sustainable transportation. In other words, compromise is likely necessary. Perfection can be the enemy of "improvement"!
Example 2: Does organic equal sustainable? Organic started out much more sustainable than most modern farming practices, but when big business got involved, they "defined" organic in ways that allow the farmer to potentially use materials and methods that may not be sustainable. I can remember reading a chart about the huge quantity of minerals that left 10 acres of "market garden" in the form of veggies. It *really* amazed me how much calcium would leave in the form of lettuce and kale! It used to be in closed loop systems that much of those chemicals would recycle through the system, going back into the soil, but buying lettuce from California - even if organic - doesn't return the results to the farm which exported it.
Example 3: Where does the water come from? Farming and Industrial practices often use huge amounts of water. That's been raised as a major sustainability issue. There are wetlands and deltas that are drying up because too much water is being removed from a river before it reaches the ocean. Hydro power is sold as "green energy" but often behind a dam there are silt build-up issues and below the dam, silt that used to provide fertility and support deltas is not there to do so.
We have a society that seems to be built on the concept that "bigger is better" and personally I believe that in many cases, "simpler, smaller, sustainable" should be the new watchwords.
Where does the local producer obtain the raw material? As others have commented, this is complicated. Nevertheless, I attempt to do business as locally as possible and to buy products made in this country. But, I by no means limit myself to only those products.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. Mark Twain
Shopping at thrift stores is a great way to support your local economy and make use of goods that already exist. Since the goods are often donated or sourced locally from nearby residents who don't need the stuff anymore, energy that would be used for shipping and disposal is saved. Also the money you pay wouldn't go to the manufacturer, so you wouldn't be directly supporting whatever practices brought the product into existence, while making good use of it.
Not to mention community swaps, garage/yards sales, flea markets etc.
For food, when we lived in the US, we shopped at a kind of discount center. I don't know what they're called really. A place that would accept "expired" and clearance merchandise. The manufacturers might still get a bit of money, but it's the same idea as a thrift store. There were signs all over the store saying that sell-by date and expiration dates didn't meant the food was unsafe. Lot's of seasonal foods and fancy organic foods.