The benefits of buying local make it worth the price tag

From food to furniture owners argue that local is better in the long run

“Local” is a flexible word. When you are starting out on a path to shop “locally” does that mean local ownership? Locally constructed? Must all the materials be locally sourced and how closely must the business or product originate?

“Somebody once asked me if it’s from Alberta do you consider it local? Northern Alberta past Edmonton is further away than the Okanagan…. Local is interpretive” admits Andrew Winfield the chef for Calgary’s River Café and Boxwood Café. His main concern is finding the best local food available for the two restaurants both of which only serve food made from locally grown seasonal ingredients.

Winfield promotes locally grown food because he believes the quality is invariably better. “When people try a local product they realize the flavour is so much stronger and better that they have a hard time going back and getting something else” he says.

Calgary Farmers’ Market spokesperson Amanda Langbroek knows what Winfield is saying and she points out that it doesn’t only apply to local food.

The market is home to 11 vendors that have nothing to do with food and Langbroek says buying goods made by local producers is appealing because they are unique and offer more variety than the “cookie cutter” options at big box stores as well as a personal connection.

Goods and art made right here is “definitely going to capture our local culture and community” she says.

Plus it’s good for the economy. “If you’re purchasing maybe say from a big box store or someone that’s a chain… 10 to 15 per cent of [that money] is staying in the local community and most of it is leaving to a larger entity. So when you shop locally you’re definitely ensuring that your local community your dollars are going towards promoting local Calgary artists and family” says Langbroek.

Mary Moran vice-president of marketing communication and research at Calgary Economic Development agrees. “Local retailers manufacturers organizations are really an important part of the social cultural and economic fabric of the city” Moran says. “Local business help define a city.”

There is general consensus that locally grown and manufactured items are often more expensive than what’s available from overseas in Walmart but Winfield Langbroek and Moran all insist buying locally is worth the price.

“When people flood the markets with cheaper foods the problem is they’re kind of undercutting the value of everybody else” says Winfield. “If I have the choice to buy something from a closer proximity even though it costs a little bit more… I’d rather do that because I’d rather support them because they’re going to be here for years from now. If I don’t support them then eventually they’ll fade away.”

Locally produced goods often have higher price tags in the short term because they’re not made and shipped en masse but the investment can pay off. They “are artisan products that command a premium regardless” says Moran. That means buying a higher quality product made right here will save you money in the long-run.

Len Wasik of newly established Calgary manufacturer Refined Rustic Furniture also says the higher quality of many local products makes them last a lot longer. He adds that even he thought he was getting a deal when he bought a $300 coffee table from The Brick but it quickly wore out and the particleboard interior couldn’t be repaired. That was when he realized it wasn’t much of a deal.

Wasik says local craftsmen like him can give you a better deal because you can come to the shop in person and get what you want made to order. He and his partner even source deadfall tree trunks that are too large for the city to cut up and use them to make furniture — and they can do the same for individual customers.

“When you have a storm-damaged tree or tree that’s dangerous and has to come down we can take your wood and turn it into an outdoor bench and put it in the spot where the tree was. What gets better than that?” he asks.