May 2020 Newsletter

local business

Behind Every Purchase Is a Person

I was that early ’90s college kid who had the Think Global, Act Local bumper sticker haphazardly stuck to my dorm room door.

Back then, it was a vague concept I was only beginning to grasp. Globalism itself was still early in its wide-reaching transformation of how we eat and shop and work.

By the time I moved to Roanoke, Va., in 2006, buying local, eating local,supporting local was more than a slogan for me. I was trying my hardest to live it in every corner of my life.

But it was a struggle. Driving to a neighboring county to collect local chicken or pork took time and flexibility in my schedule and a big chunk of change. Making a trip to the bookstore around the corner meant a separate errand, precious minutes to park and browse and chat, plus a few more dollars than I would have spent clicking around on Amazon.

I believed the extra effort and expense created a world I wanted to live in, so I made it a priority as much as I could.

Often what kept me going was knowing the owners and employees of the places I shopped. My city, rooted between two mountain ranges, has a population of 100,000 on a good day. The chance that I’d see at school pickup a mom who owned a funky gift shop or a dad who ran an upscale restaurant or an artist who painted commissions was high. It felt good to compliment the new merch I’d seen in the store or the yummy meal I’d eaten on the weekend.

Then, the coronavirus arrived.

And we all caught a glimpse a dystopian future where almost no local stores existed, where the only way to interact with anyone, anywhere was through a screen, where we could click toilet paper or running shoes or that outfit for our girl who was turning 16, but we couldn’t change the message that kept popping up: Item Not Available. We couldn’t ask if there was maybe something similar in the back or if another store might have it in stock, could someone call for me or what did the helpful employee suggest as a substitute? There was nothing but a nameless interface, a warehouse where workers were likely not being treated well, an unknown wait time for a bubblewrap envelope to arrive in the mail.

It took a pandemic for me to truly understand what it means to buy local.

Now I can see how important it is that I know my baker earned a STEM PhD from a top university before he chose to create amazing bagels and buns for me. Now I get how meaningful it is that I’ve sat in meetings with the owners of the new burger joint and the renovated historic movie theater and the hip clothing store and we’ve searched for solutions to tough problems in our neighborhood — homelessness, petty crime, vacant storefronts. Now I can reflect on how much I cherish watching the children of the families that grow my food transform from sweet toddlers to enterprising tweens.

Buying local means supporting people I care for. That fact is suddenly so clear to me. Every purchase I make helps my friends pay their mortgage or buy their food. And every item I supply from a faceless corporate giant headquartered thousands of miles away … doesn’t.

In a world that is so, so complicated. This couldn’t be more simple: If I shop in stores down the street, the families that own them are able to earn their livings in the creative, independent, entrepreneurial ways they’ve chosen. If I don’t, they might not. We are all connected that closely.

Act Local isn’t just a bumper sticker favored by idealistic undergrads. It’s real. And right now — with every aspect of our economy more fragile than in decades — supporting our local businesses is more important than ever.

If we don’t, they won’t survive. And I don’t want to live in a world without them.

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These Instagram accounts are a refreshing breath of positivity: A Canadian mother and therapist tells it like it is in the most supportive and uplifting way possible. This writer-mother shares pearls of wisdom and truths discovered in the swirl of family life. This artist has reimagined children’s classics in the time of COVID-19. (So clever!)

Page Turner is an acclaimed assemblage artist who makes fabric sculptures full of detail and whimsy and provocation. Early on in the pandemic she decided to put her sewing skills and stores of beautiful fabric to work making hand-sewn masks. Reach out to her on Facebook to order yours.

Use this summer’s downtime to practice your knot-tying skills.

Celebrity chef and activist Dan Barber decided he couldn’t sit on the sidelines as the ties between local farmers and fine dining unraveled. So he began The Kitchen Farming Project, an effort to put restaurant employees to work creating urban gardens around the world.

Pick-your-own farms are open in Virginia. Here’s my guide for gathering berries in and around Roanoke this summer.

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As I am pulling together this newsletter, protestors are speaking, marching, demonstrating in hundreds of cities around the country, calling for justice and an accounting for a long history of racism. It’s easy to say: This is not my issue. But the truth is, racism touches all of us. It’s easy to say: What can Ido? But the truth is, we all must act. One tiny action that anyone can do is read, with an open mind and heart, with the aim of understanding. Here are a handful of titles that have opened my eyes over the last few years: Between the World and Me,The Underground Railroad,The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls,The 1619 Project. And there are many, many more. Pick up a book. Let’s start a new conversation.

A helpful piece on the lessons of homesteading.

Community Supported Agriculture in my corner of the world has attracted lots of new attention since March. Here’s a national story explaining the trend.

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As this strange spring draws to a close and a new kind of summer emerges, I am seeking community wherever I can find it. I’m so grateful to all of you who are reading and reaching out. I’d love for you to further connect on social media however you use it. I’m trying hard to make sure all the recipes shared here are up-to-date on my website and on Pinterest. I’ve recently spiffed up my LinkedIn account. I share more personal goings on and local resources on my Facebook and Instagram channels. Consider this your official invitation to join me in any or all of these spaces. For me, this newsletter is a moment to take a deep breath and gather the best of my thoughts and observations and writing over the last month. My wish is that it helps you reflect on this moment in our rapidly changing world, too. If there’s someone you know who might enjoy Nourishing Stories, I hope you’ll forward this email or suggest they subscribe. As always, I cherish your thoughts and ideas and feedback. 

Published by christinanifong

A writer of stories. About kale and turnips. Seeds and dirt. And, you know, life. Find essays, recipes and writing samples at christinanifong.com