Editor’s note: below is the forward Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote for Neal Gorenflo’s 2021 book, “A Year of Living Locally,” a chronicle of his efforts to live hyper-locally in 2020. Please download Neal’s book below.
Last January, when Neal Gorenflo announced he was committing to a Year of Living Locally, he had no idea the COVID-19 pandemic would hit and keep most of us indoors and rooted to our local communities.
But, Neal had already been thinking about ways that living hyper-locally would change his consumption habits and have a meaningful impact on his community.
Reading Neal’s posts over the past year, I’ve appreciated his commitment to learn in place and explore familiar surroundings with new eyes. Challenging yourself to adopt new consumption habits, as Neal did, is a great way to investigate the workings of your local economy and become a more thoughtful inhabitant of your community. Rather than the soulless anonymity of one-click purchasing on Amazon, a trip to the local hardware store supports your neighbors and fosters face-to-face interaction
While I admire Neal’s commitment to be a more thoughtful and responsible consumer, it’s his dedication to becoming what he calls a more “engaged citizen” — one who spends more time thinking and working to improve his community’s civic life and political atmosphere — that carries the power to enact real change.
At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we advocate for solutions that keep money, power, and decision-making in local hands. Shopping local rather than shipping our dollars out to Amazon is part of our DNA. But while we recognize the value in supporting local businesses, we believe we need to do more to enact the kind of change we need in the economy.
Put simply, individual consumers lack the collective power needed to undo decades of federal and state policies that have favored large monopolies at the expense of local businesses. Even the most competitive local businesses, farms, and banks face structural disadvantages that make it an uphill fight to succeed. That’s why so many of our Main Street enterprises have been disappearing.
More than responsible consumers, we need more engaged citizens. Shopping local is great, but working to influence local, state, and federal policies is the solution to reining in corporate power and building strong local economies and vibrant, self-governing communities.