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Elephant Journal

10 Paths to Localism—the Wendell Berry Way

By March 12, 2013February 12th, 2021No Comments

The earth is what we all have in common.” ~ Wendell Berry

On a recent Monday morning over coffee with a local artisan/entrepreneur, the subject of the poet Wendell Berry came up. I credit Berry as the guru of the local economy movement, a man whose poems and essays are not only useful for direct quotes on farming, community, and economies in grant applications, but also as meditations to start my day. Berry’s comments on the local economy movement, place-based economies and the love of community are the fuel in my gas tank.

But on this particular day, my work of deep localism to inspire business owners, government leaders and organizations to dig down to the root of their communities and find the meaning in their local economy touched a nerve with my friend. I was accused of being an “optimist.” Gasp! (I gasp in mock exasperation at this notion quite often.) Yes, I am an optimist.

In these days of great change (you know you’re feeling it, too), you must take action—in your own lives, your work, in the world, in whatever you do. If you don’t, who’s going to do it for you?

You never know where the idea will come from to start over, start new, restart. It is Berry’s message and the message I gave to my friend who was overwhelmed by the question of whether doing anything would do any good.

Take action. Be the change.

Insert whatever mantra you need to get yourself motivated to make the world a better place for all of us. I’m a localist. Localists take action. See if you can be one, too, with a couple simple changes in your life, in your community, in your work, in your business, in the places you visit, in the place you love to live.

  1. Move Your Money.

Go to your nearest credit union or community bank. Now.

  1. On-shore Your Products.

Own a manufacturing business? Learn how bringing the jobs back home is the new American way, here. Don’t own a business? Support one that practices on-shoring.

  1. Buy Local.

That means more than you think. Food, clothes, whatever you can—although socks and underwear are not easy. I get it. See on-shoring.

  1. Grow Local; Eat Local.

Grow it yourself; pick it yourself; start a community garden; frequent the restaurants that support local producers; shop at farmers markets; go out of your way to support a local food producer. Ask for locally-made products you love at locally-owned places you shop. The more you demand, the more power you have as a consumer. And know that you are helping to change the world, one tomato at a time.

  1. Support Your Community.

Volunteer; give back. Doing it is worth more than a dollar in your pocket, and double that to the organization you show up for.

  1. Go Green.

Go beyond buying local. Being green can also be a way to be local. Buying close to home helps reduce your carbon footprint, but what about the products you are buying? How green are they? Where are they produced? How far did they have to travel to get to your own organic kitchen? Mother Nature Network can get you down the green lane.

  1. Renewables = New Economy

Fuel your car with biofuels; support businesses that power up with solar. Because climate change is for real, and if you don’t believe me, watch this—the climate change documentary “Chasing Ice” will blow your mind. Go see it in theaters.

  1. Think It Through and Think Local First.

Think: Where can I get it? Do I really need it if I can’t get it locally? Can I ask a local business owner to get it for me so I won’t have to go online? Ask yourself what you are doing to help your neighbor’s business stay in business. And grow. Because local businesses are the beating heart and soul of our communities. My friend, and localism researcher and writer, Stacy Mitchell recently lit up the TEDx stage with a talk on why we can’t just shop our way to a better economy.

  1. Start Now.

Are you thinking about starting a business/project/program/organization, but something keeps stopping you? What is it? Get over it. Share your idea and ask for feedback. You won’t know unless you go, someone wise once said to me. Just start. Maybe it takes you nowhere, maybe it takes you somewhere. Start with an idea; get creative; dance to your favorite song; write to your favorite music. Shake it out. “Step it up and go.” (Bob Dylan said that.)

  1. Be a Localist.

Check this out. Spread the word about why you are a localist. Tell someone the importance of a dollar spent in your community and why you support local first.

I’ll leave you with a quote of inspiration for becoming a localist:

“We must proceed with a clear-eyed awareness of the social, political, and economic context in which we live and practice. Once we awaken to where we are, we must take the responsibility to transform that world into a matrix of opportunity for wisdom and compassion, not just for ourselves but for all others.”

~ David Patt, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The Commodification of Buddhism in the American Marketplace”

And this, a stanza from a poem by the great Wendell Berry from his book Leavings:

Hope then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end.


This article originally appeared on Elephant Journal.