Buy Local. But Not To “Keep Money in Your Community.”

Chris Newman
5 min readJan 9, 2023

Let’s keep it simple: “Keeping money in your community” is one of the linchpins of the small-farmers marketing toolkit.

It’s also (arguably) bigger than all the lies and half-truths told by regenerative agriculture combined.

The notion of keeping food dollars local has two problems. One: it doesn’t actually work, and in many ways works against the interests of the community. Second: even if it did work… we’ve done this before, and the long-term consequences were horrific.

Let’s talk about it:

Problem 1: It Doesn’t Actually Work

Here’s the onion of the problem, economically: small farms are usually asking their communities to pay a higher price to a business that doesn’t actually keep that much of the money in the community, even (and perhaps especially) when compared to larger businesses. This is where the “smallness” aspect of alternative agriculture bites us square in the ass.

For example: right now, my farm is small but reasonably efficient, generating $300K revenue with an average labor requirement of 65 person-hours/week. The local Food Lion, meanwhile, employs at least two-dozen people year round, with prices that are far lower than mine. This is a big deal, considering that payroll is the largest spending item in most businesses. Compared to purchasing at Food Lion, local people who buy from me will be devoting up to 4X their share of their income to an enterprise that’s only 10% as efficient at converting that customer’s spend into local wages.

Beyond payroll, small farms aren’t necessarily better at spending that money locally than the grocery store. A lot of the money that’s paid to me gets yeeted out of the community just like it would be if they bought from Food Lion. It’s going to a feed mill 3.5 hours away, to a national insurance company, to hatcheries as far away as Ohio, to the oil companies that refine the fuel we use, and to the global corporations that manufacture our t-posts, greenhouse covers, electric fence wire, insulators, boxes, labels, egg cartons, and other supplies.

Of course, I do take advantage of local services and products whenever I can: my mechanics, refrigeration techs, landlords, etc. are local……

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Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms