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Could locavores become ‘locavestors’?

WEYERS CAVE—There’s a growing infrastructure for businesses that sell local foods, and the nation’s locavores could become “locavestors,” a recognized author and economist told farmers at the 2012 Virginia Farm to Table Conference.

“It’s been very heartening to be on the beat of writing about local economies for the past 15 years,” community economist Dr. Michael Shuman said Dec. 6 at Blue Ridge Community College. Shuman is director of research and economic development at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of several books, most recently Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity.

At the heart of many consumers’ decision to spend money with local businesses is a desire to invest in a community,” he said. “The locally owned business spends more of its money locally,” and the impact on the local economy is greater for every dollar spent. Local businesses also promote entrepreneurship, political participation and volunteerism and are critical for tourism and “walkable” communities, he added.

In short, Shuman said, they provide “a very profound list of advantages” for their communities.

He outlined numerous opportunities to invest more directly in communities, the first of which was moving money to local banks, which he said are responsible for more than half of the nation’s small-business lending. Other opportunities he cited included investing in cooperatives, participating in peer-to-peer lending systems and investment clubs, and buying stock in local companies.

Shuman also outlined investments that small business owners can make as alternatives to a 401(k) plan: starting bank accounts that help avoid using credit cards; buying a home or farmland instead of renting; paying off a home or farm mortgage loan ahead of schedule; improving energy efficiency at home and on the farm; and pursuing education that can boost earning power. All are “things that you control,” he noted. “You are your own hedge fund manager.”

During a panel discussion on alternative markets and marketing, grain and livestock producer Dickie Morris of Rockingham County reminded farmers that tracking production costs is key to getting a good price. “You can’t sell something if you don’t know how much it costs to produce it.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture economist James Barham recommended working with an effective distributor and generally keeping an eye out for new market opportunities. He cited fruit growers who have found institutional buyers for smaller apples because they’re a good size for school lunches and fit well on stacked, covered hospital meal trays. Other farmers have worked with schools, office complexes and other venues to provide convenient pick-up locations for community-supported agriculture shares.

“We’re seeing that really skyrocket,” Barham said. “A lot of people don’t buy local because it isn’t convenient.”

Contact Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.


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