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Nothing New Here

By January 1, 2011February 12th, 2021No Comments

This article appeared in the Sustainable Santa Fe Guide 2011

Everything old is new again, so the saying goes.  In a recent conversation with a friend the subject of purchasing some rather useful but not entirely necessary items came up.  “It just costs less at Big Box Mart,” she said.  My retort?  “What else did you spontaneously buy while you were there?”  They suck us in with end-cap aisle items, loss-leaders and “great deal” prices.  But the truth is, big box stores hurt our community in the long-term.   With more than 85 cents of your hard-earned dollar going out of state for their accounting services, HR outsourcing, marketing, and corporate headquarters–not to mention that the national chains are publicly traded–wouldn’t you rather think community first, before you buy?  In northern New Mexico over 60% of a dollar you spend at locally owned independent businesses stays right here, giving back over and over again in our community.  Makes economic sense to me.  To my friend, it’s still a matter of price and convenience. I suggested that she recycle some old cardboard boxes, cover them in pretty fabric and use them as storage containers.  “Oh, my grandmother used to do that!” She was delighted at this reminder that generations before us have been smarter and more conservative with their money.  Back then, a $45,000 house was paid off with one income, vegetable gardens were plentiful in yards all over town, and most likely your neighbor was a local business owner from whom you purchased hardware or other supplies.Credit cards were used in emergency situations, not to finance furniture, or to pay off yet another credit card.

We’ve moved so far away from conscious decision making at the register that we prefer to open the local newspaper not to read the news but to see what deals and coupons are being offered.   But what I’m witnessing is that with the disconnect, comes a reconnect – a replugging into our community.

Look around Santa Fe while you walk your dog, ride your bike, drive your car.  Neighborhood community gardens are popping up at parks all across our City of Faith.  The Santa Fe Farmers Market now has four markets a week in season.  Local businesses are opening up every day; more restaurants have opened in the past year than in the past five years, many with the commitment to buy from New Mexico farms, creating a regional food flavor.  Solar panels are being installed in homes all over town.  As I walked out my front door one Sunday afternoon, my neighbors were gathered in the street chatting about how to deal with water run-off on our neighbors’ property.  “Time to collect it!  We all need it, we should share it,” one neighbor declared as a chicken strayed from his backyard coop to join the crowd.  I don’t live in a rural neighborhood; I live down the street from Santa Fe High School.  To me, this is not only community, but community in action, thinking community first.  And it’s nothing new–it’s a return to what we knew in the past and what worked.  It’s what we define as a local living economy; ensuring that economic power resides locally to the greatest extent possible, sustaining vibrant, livable communities and healthy ecosystems in the process.

Reaching deeper into our community economy, educating consumers on the power of local purchasing, supporting initiatives for local ownership, greening our businesses, supporting climate change initiatives and health care reform, localizing our food purchasing and creating energy independence—these are the ways we create a stronger local economy.    Every time we buy vegetables direct from a farmer, order a NM beef burger in a restaurant, turn off a light, conserve water, put up a solar panel, we are making our Santa Fe community even stronger.  That’s a local living economy – putting your money where your house is.

Santa Fe has weathered the recent economic storm with relative calm, digging into its community resources rather than looking for outside stop-gaps to survive.  What has always intrigued me about Santa Fe is its strength of character, its richness in making things uniquely local, its ability to see that relationships between neighbors and co-workers are what makes a community, that thinking community first is thinking local first.  Our community holds the key to sustainability and community itself is sustainable.