I had the privilege of spending time in Nicaragua this summer with other CU students in INVST Community Studies' Community Leadership Program. We traveled there to learn about the global economy from those perhaps most affected by it: locals who work to produce many of the raw goods and materials, forming the basis of international trade. It was an awakening experience to see the true implications of participating in a globalized market as consumers.
For me, this understanding of international economic injustice didn't come from a presentation; it came from a homestay experience in El Regadio, a farm town of just a few thousand people. El Regadio is situated in the hills a few hours away from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. We arrived to our homestay community with bags of rice, beans, vegetables and jugs of water to give to host families in exchange for supporting us. Before my partner and I arrived, our facilitator told us that our host mom, Doña Mina, makes cheese. Or facilitator explained to Doña Mina that neither of us eat meat.
"Not even chicken?" she asked, confused.
We smiled and shook our heads, then figured now would be a good time to mention that my partner also didn't eat dairy products (vegan doesn't translate well). Looking at all the cheese-making equipment spread across the tables, our cultural differences suddenly felt real. Nonetheless, Doña Mina served us cheese at every meal, which we gratefully consumed.
I left El Regadio especially charmed by how the town's local economy functions. Doña Mina exchanges her cheese for the raw milk of a neighbor's cow. She trades another neighbor cheese in exchange for cookies. If nothing can be traded, she sells it for a few pesos. The system seems flawless: each member of the community has their own specialty and produces that good or service to the rest of the community. The network of economic activity stays as close to home as possible, with less resources utilized to transport goods. Everyone has what they need, and each family depends on the next in order to support the community.
Buying and producing locally is a very holistic economy. I think of Doña Mina and her beautiful family often. I wish I could visit my upstairs neighbor to exchange a sac of cheese for cookies. But since I can't, buying from local and independent businesses is the next best thing. Local business generates 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than big-box retail. If every family in the U.S. spent an extra $10 a month at local and independent businesses, instead of national chains, more than $9.3 billion would be directly returned to our economy.
You can support farmers in Boulder County and receive produce directly from the farm by getting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share (check out Farmshares for a list of CSA options). Also be sure to take advantage of Boulder County Farmers' Markets every week in Boulder and Longmont from April-November. Keep it simple and sustainable by spending close to home.
Drew Searchinger works at CU's Environmental Center.