Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buying Local

On average, cyclists tend to be a little more environmentally sensitive than the average folk. A few don't even own cars and rely entirely on bicycle or public transportation to get about. Others make a conscientious effort to buy as much of their food from local growers, and organic if possible. Renewable sources of energy is another area some cyclists try to make an impact, whether buying electricity from a wind farm or putting bio diesel in the tank. While there is little doubt humans impact Earth's climate, I feel a good bit of our behavior is of the "keeping up with the Jone's" phenomenon.

It's like if you don't have the latest iPhone or wear the latest style shades, you aren't with it. Some wear environmental stewardship just like these other vain commodities. It impresses people.

So a few weeks ago, I was pressed to furnish our spare bedroom before my wife's sister came out from Michigan for a week. I wanted to buy quality furniture that we would keep the rest of our lives. I really wanted to check out Gardner, MA, the furniture capital of New England, but schedule just wouldn't let us get there in time. Jordan's in Nashua was the next closest bet, a mid-level retailer.

Having built a number of pieces of fine furniture myself, I would not accept products with veneered components. This eliminated 95% of the show room. I wanted 100% solid wood, meaning even the sides are solid hardwood. Many of the top brands will use a quality veneer on the sides. This isn't Walmart grade veneer (plastic), but natural wood veneer. I still didn't want that. I scored a nice 100% solid oak master bedroom set when we moved out here 13 years ago from Furniture World (now defunct).

Jordan's had a nice solid oak bedroom set for reasonable price. Very solidly built. It was made in China! I imagine that red oak trees were harvested here, sent to China where they milled the logs and assembled the furniture. Now I'm not a militant environmentalist, but something seemed terribly wrong with that. The price couldn't possibly reflect the total cost (material + labor + environmental impact).

So Jordan's had another suite of furniture that was solid hardwood, with a choice between maple or ash. It was made by Tubb's of Vermont, right here in New England. Trees harvested here, local craftsman building it, and very short distance to ship it to me. You'd think something that is so big and bulky would be more expensive to build overseas. Not when labor cost is practically zero over there. The Tubb's set was nearly twice the price of the Chinese set. With the economy the way it is with several friends out of work, I thought if I bought locally made furniture, maybe some guy in Vermont gets to keep his job another week.

So we compromised. To control cost, Cathy and I decided a full hardwood bed frame was not necessary. We opted to get just the finely crafted headboard and forgo the foot board and frame, getting an inexpensive steel frame (USA made) instead. This got the price down to only 50% more than a full-featured imported set. The Tubb's quality is superb.

So we furnished our bedroom without guilt. Or so we thought. Did we cave in to the current fad of "Think globally, act locally?" Should we feel guilty about being influenced in this way? Not all trends prove to be healthy. 25 years from now the next generation may know that trade imbalances and climate change were all hype and nothing bad came of them. And I will have foolishly spent more money and got less for it. You just don't know though. Today's hype is accepted as fact. It becomes part of our social fabric. We all are meme machines. That basically means we are designed to be susceptible to any new idea, fad or ideology that drifts by. It's unavoidable. So now I'm propagating this silly "buy local" meme. Maybe a reader will be influenced in making a local buy decision they are faced with. Perhaps in this case, buying local just makes sense on its own merit, regardless of any trendy fads. You be the judge.


Anonymous said...

My wife & I are also very much into the buy as much local/USA as much as possible. Our reasons are similar, but also have some added concerns. With 2 little one running around the house, we try and buy our toys that are make in the US. The reasoning is trust on the ingredients. How many times have you heard about toys being recalled due to lead and other toxic substances being on toys made elsewhere. It is our belief that the toys made here will be inspected better and made with pride. But, how does one really know. So, for a little more money we are also buying a perceived comfort level. That is worth it in our minds.

I think our next furniture set will Amish made if possible.


solobreak said...

Fat Doug would have just ate the guests for lunch and spent the furniture money on donuts for desert. He is the real hero.

plum said...

Take Doug's lesson to heart, and apply it anywhere you can. It is incredibly easy. Support your local merchants. Can you buy this or that cheaper somewhere else? Probably 9 out of 10 times, of course you could. But think about where your money is really going. Any day of the week I will overpay for something if my dollars are going into the pockets of someone who is just trying to make it. Or someone who had the courage to go into business to do what they love. Chances are, they're not making a fortune. Chances are they are not only working a hell of a lot more than you to provide you what you need, but they're probably also making a hell of a lot less than you are. So much has been written on the topic of local economies, so I'll bring this to a halt, but great story, great message, couldn't agree more.

Early Bird said...

I am always encouraged by others who take the time and effort to overcome the challenge of finding local, environmentally sound wares. Thank you for doing so and for taking the time to showcase it.