Local Is The New Black

June 29, 2009 003
It is soapbox time at the Fairegarden. Sometimes a thought gets pushed to the forefront of the cerebral cortex and jumps up and down until it, the thought, gets to have its say. Often this jumping happens at the beginning of a new year when there is little actual gardening going on outside to distract us. (The above shot is meant to suggest a box, perhaps that once held soap. Work with me here.)

This thought began when we were visiting offspring Brokenbeat and his lovely wife in Asheville. We are co-owners with them of an ice cream shop there, two locations now, The Hop and The Hop West, click on their logo on the sidebar to find out more if you wish. Brokenbeat was getting ready to go to work, opening the Hop West location which is very close to their home in West Asheville. How convenient it is to be but a few blocks away, talk about a short commute time. He can bicycle there.

Showered, he grabbed a t-shirt from the laundry and pulled it over his head. It was black in color and on the back it reads “Local is the new black”. As a local businessman, it makes perfect sense to advertise how important the small locally owned shops are to the economy. In these times of huge conglomerate big box stores with multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns, chains of restaurants and yes, even chain ice cream shops, keeping the dollars in the area is a worthwhile goal. The little guys need our help.

Next time you are shopping in one of the large stores, check the labels for the location of manufacturing. You will most likely see the words “Made in China” on nearly every single item. It is my goal to be more aware of where stuff is produced, including our food and produce.

German butterball potatoes

If you can’t grow it in your own backyard, the most local of all, there are local farmer’s markets with plenty of good stuff available. As gardening consumers, we are lucky that most of the plant material for sale is grown in our region. Sometimes the greenhouses where propagation and germination occur are right on the premises of the nursery, like at our beloved Mouse Creek Nursery, to read more about it, click here-OOTS-Mouse Creek Nursery. This is where my plant budget dollars will be spent. Last year a conscious effort was made to drive on by the big box store, even though it is quite close to my house, when on the mission of fulfilling the plant buying addiction. Mouse Creek is a treasure and the owner Ruth is a friend. I want them to stay afloat in a tough economy and will help them when at all possible.

One day late last fall I needed a few more violas and some more swiss chard for the container plantings. Ruth was away and her husband was at the helm. I had never really had any contact with him other than seeing him working behind the scenes, repairing one of the greenhouses or cutting the field behind on his tractor. The selections were made and I was ready to pay for the purchases. I wrote out a paper check, one of the only checks written anymore to pay bills since most things are done online now. When he saw my name in the upper left corner, he shouted aloud, “So you are Frances!” Since he handles the bank account, making the deposits of checks collected each week, he knew my checks well. In fact, one of my checks was left in a pocket and washed in their washing machine last summer. Ruth called me with this bad news and I dashed out there to write another to replace the shredded paper. His gratitude was heart warming and it helped me realize how important it is to be a regular customer at a locally owned business, whether it sells plants or ice cream.

And so, dear and gentle readers, may I encourage you to patronize your locally owned businesses whenever possible? Help keep them in the black ink with your hard earned dollars. And if you are so inclined, think of it as being part of the latest fashion trend, cutting edge ΓΌberchic, for buying local truly is the new black.


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38 Responses to Local Is The New Black

  1. Couldn’t agree more – here in the Uk there is an increasing awareness of the cost of transportation, as well as the need to support local traders.

    Hi Henry, thanks for joining the conversation. I was wondering how this is considered in Europe. The world is shrinking and that is not a bad thing, but these small businesses need our support.

  2. Randy Andrson says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks on getting on your soap box for the small local merchant. My youngest son is the manager of a small garden center which competes with the large box stores. They offer service more personal then you’ll ever get at those stores. Thanks again for standing up for our local friends! Randy

    Hi Randy, thanks for dropping by and adding to the conversation. The small garden centers especially need our support. I do think they can more easily read what the buying public needs and wants, while still offering new things. Ice cream is the same, keep the favorites but add new things as well. My son uses social media to annouce new flavors and special events, too. It has paid off in customers who know what is on offer and who even order things via twitter and facebook for pickup later, like an ice cream cake. It is so much more personal.

  3. Donna says:

    here, here Frances!!! I try to patronize local for everything we can…my biggest issue is finding locally grown organic produce…but I will comb the Farmers Market again for organic produce I don’t grow…sooo thx for reminding us all to help each other and stay local!!!

    Hi Donna, thanks for joining in here. This is something that is personal to me, as a co-owner of a small business, but even without that, helping our locally owned small businesses, and large ones, too, makes sense. Our Farmer’s market is short on organic, but if we keep asking for it, they will get the message. That is how small businesses can react more quickly to their customer base. Mouse Creek stocks more of the plants I want to buy, even asking my opinion on them. I appreciate that.

  4. Great post Frances, buying local where you can makes sense, and where I can’t buy local I try to buy from people who operate as sustainably as possible and who are at least British businesses, in my case. Good luck with the ice cream stores.

    Hi Janet, thanks for adding in here. Sometimes and with certain things, it is not possible to buy local, but awareness helps. I now look at most labels, including the country of origin of the produce in the grocery. Some countries do not have the same standards of cleanliness in their growing methods, and I will no longer buy their products. I hate to give up that asparagus and those blueberries, but can wait until they are in season in the US or buy frozen. Ice cream in winter can be a tricky business, but the Brokenbeats are working it. πŸ™‚

  5. Randy Emmitt says:


    WE buy local whenever we can. Meg started an organic farm nearly 30 years ago and has been a local buyer long before it was the ‘fashion’. Must be a tough time of year to be marketing ice cream.

    Hope you don’t get too bad of snow and ice in the storm approaching.

    Hi Randy, thanks for joining here. We are still working on getting the local farmers here to try organic, the old guys are set in their ways. Shining light on the need will help raise awareness. The first winter at the ice cream shop was tough. They have gotten creative in ways to bring in customers now. The espresso machine is a good thing, as are special events like Mother’s Day Out, etc. The snow is upon us right now, it will be a record breaker, since we have lived here anyway.

  6. I so agree Frances, but I have to be honest here, I do come home with ‘made in China objects’. It is hard to find somethings made in the USA. Just try a TV now a days. Even my Chrysler Jeep has parts made overseas and in Canada.

    But, my husband, the union worker, will not buy anything not made in the US. He even takes back something I may have bought him. Plus he spends a crazy amount of time and gas finding ‘made in the US’ products. I give him credit, but I tell him it costs him more in gas then the object he wants sometimes with all his comparison shopping. πŸ˜€

    I support local business almost exclusively with purchases. Like you, I prefer the comfort of neighborhood and knowing I am helping to support a local business. And my grower, I go out of my way to make sure his trees and shrubs make it to all the IGC’s in WNY.

    Glad to hear it, Donna. I like that you are helping a local grower, it just makes so much sense. I have to buy stuff made in China too, but am more aware of the origin of things now. I have seen web sites with lists of stuff made in the USA, I believe it is a growing trend.

    • Donna says:

      So glad there are websites with this info. I will be finding them. My husband will be so appreciative and it will cut down on his motoring.

      Hi Donna, yes. It will save many miles! I stumbled upon them while looking for something else one day. It was one of the things that got me thinking about writing this post, beside the t-shirt and some photos from Mouse Creek in the archives. I really feel that we need to wake up to what is flooding our stores, most of it is junk we don’t need anyway. Just because something is cheap does not mean we should buy it.

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am a firm believer in the local shopping. I work for a small independent store. Every day I work I see how this support comes together and helps the community as a whole. Love seeing all this green and the blooms. They look like a breath of fresh air.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. The local businesses need our support, no way can they compete with the advertising dollars of the big boys. Sometimes, cheaper prices are not the best shopping criteria. How about making do with less stuff, that is of higher quality and local. The view out the window right now is a white out. Color welcome here! πŸ™‚

  8. Valerie says:

    Frances you are spot on this morning. I buy all my plants locally. I then know they are grown for my area and I establish a relationship with my local nurseries too. V

    Hi Valerie, that is the way to do it! Thanks for stopping by. Maybe I am preaching to the choir here, still it is a message worth repeating. πŸ™‚

  9. All true, and I’m generally happy to pay a bit more (when I can afford to, which is not all the time) at locally-owned businesses or for locally-produced products. But: there are a few locally-owned garden centers that have treated me, their plants, or their employees badly enough that I go out of my way to shop elsewhere, rather than give them my money. My desire to support the local economy only gets you so far: after that you still have to provide goods and services like anybody else.

    Hi Mr. Sub, so nice to see you and thanks for adding your experiences here. I agree, just because a business is local doesn’t mean it can only rely on goodwill from locavores, you have to work hard to please your customers. That is true for any business. Price is a consideration too. The Hop prices as low as they can and still make a profit, with lots of giveaways and charity functions, especially for animals. Asheville has a tight knit group of young business owners who help each other by promoting on social media. It is a model for areas across the country, I believe, but I am biased. πŸ™‚

  10. Rose says:

    Amen, Frances! I buy almost all my plants at local garden centers, but in truth that isn’t a noble gesture on my part–they have the best plants, the best variety, and the most helpful staff anyway. But I also shop at our local grocery store as much as possible, too. I know many people here drive the 9 miles into Wallyworld for all their groceries, but my thought is that if you don’t support your local store, one day they may close down. Besides, have you ever tried to get someone to help you in those big stores??–They’re nowhere to be seen.

    Oh dear, you’ve touched a nerve with me this morning, Frances, and I’m in danger of going on and on. Thanks for getting up on the soapbox! And just a thought–if the ’12 Fling is in Asheville, a stop for some yummy ice cream one day sounds like a great idea.

    Hi Rose, thanks for joining in. It sounds like your local garden shops have it figured out! Customer service and a good offering will bring people in, at a reasonable price. Without the conscious effort, these small businesses will close, they cannot compete with the advertising budgets and doorbuster specials that the big boys have. As for Asheville 2012, we need to get to the Seattle 2011 fling first! Help spread the word! πŸ™‚

  11. commonweeder says:

    Buying local and eating local is a big – and getting bigger – part of our local culture. This has been going on for a few years and one happy consequence is the creation of some new farms – and rejuvination of some older farms as the next generation decides that this is a good place to be with good prospects for a reasonable financial return. Farmers markets and farm stands are everywhere. It is wonderful to have so much good food, and beautiful flowers so available.

    Hi Pat, thanks for dropping by. Glad to hear the local movement has legs in your neck of the woods, especially the farms being reborn with younger farmers. I love it! More little stands are sprouting here as well, I am happy to report. πŸ™‚

  12. Janet says:

    Well said. Buying local also gives that small town feel—knowing the customer.
    Love the Black Barlow at the end….lovely Columbine.
    oh and one day soon I will check out the Hop! ok, maybe not SOON, but come spring.

    Thanks Janet. The Hop will be glad to see you, at either location! HA Thanks for noticing the columbine, we love it too. We are a garden blog, after all. πŸ™‚

  13. I love this…Local is the new black…clever. Good job on the potatoes. I want to try them this year. H

    Thanks Helen, I liked it too, makes a good slogan. Home grown potatoes are so good, but they were quite small due to the drought. That crop needs lots of water. Good luck with them! πŸ™‚

  14. Barbarapc says:

    Frances, good for you for talking about this. Kevin & I went to Buffalo last year and saw just how depressed things were – wanted to make a point of buying local to help folks out. Asked shop keepers for something at least made in the US? nada. However, the more people ask, the more likely they’re going to be encouraged to comply. Who doesn’t like the idea of helping neighbourhood businesses thrive? Excellent news on the second icecream shop!

    Hi Barbara, thanks. You are right about asking for USA made stuff, it will let people know we are paying attention to the origin of all these things. The Hop West is holding its own, a good thing for a brand new business location. πŸ™‚

  15. Frances, I couldn’t agree with you more. Not only do we need to buy local, but we also need to start thinking about buying seasonal as well. What are we doing, thinking that we can have fresh tomatoes in December? Or raspberries, or blueberries? Where do they come from? How much precious fuel is expended to get them from Argentina or Chile to the US?

    We should be re-assessing our need for bananas. We should be thinking about how the money we contribute to the orange juice industry funds the destruction of the the Everglades.

    I was looking at a sack of potatoes my husband brought home yesterday, and yes, they came from Idaho. So, how were they grown? Are they GMO? Not on the label, but as they are not organic, I’m sure they were grown in “clean” fields.

    The problem here is that we have one “local” garden center. I tend not to patronize it. Instead I order seeds and from other sources including Baker Creek (which is fairly local to us), and go to their planting festival for starts.

    Why don’t I patronize this “local” garden center? Because they don’t provide the things I need for my organic garden. They are TOTALLY committed to chemical warfare gardening, to the point where you can’t even buy bone meal, blood meal, or diatomaceous earth there, even though I ask for it. Also, they do not grow their plants. They order them in in big semi trucks. They take rootbound plants from 4 inch pots, flop them into gallon containers without even loosening the root ball, and sell them for quadruple the price. If these babies grow up in the nursery and you look at them the following year with an eye to buying them, they will be stunted and sickly and you will be buying a whole bunch of weeds along with them. Sorry. They may be small and they may be local, but I say phooey on them. I can’t afford them. And they are selling the EXACT same stuff as the big box stores. I am pretty committed to local and small, but not to the point of rewarding excruciatingly bad business practice.

    I’m not sure exactly what “the new black” means.

    Hi Hands, thanks for adding to the conversation here. I am sorry about the poor management of your local nursery. I do know that they make a profit on those chemicals, more so than plants. I hope you are able to get what you need elsewhere. We cannot buy all local here in our small town, I wish we could. I mail order a few things too, but the bulk of my plant purchases are from Mouse Creek, or local nurseries when I travel. We all can only do what we can. Awareness is the important thing to help change come about. I think the new black means it is smart and fashionable, like wearing a little black dress to a party. It never goes out of style.

  16. Lona says:

    I so hardily agree with you Frances on buying from the locals. Although we all love to find that clearance plant for 75 cents it is also important to buy from our little businesses. It is so hard for them to compete with the big box stores. I was just writing about how it was effecting our local Garden Shows when the local nurseries are going to more of the hardscaping side of the business and less on the plants. They need to make a living. When you go into a store anymore and cannot find anything that is made in America it is scary. We provide nothing for ourselves anymore and are growing too dependent on other countries. Sorry to rant but it is a touchy subject with me. LOL!

    Hi Lona, thanks for visiting and feel free to rant all you want! We are all interconnected, as you say. The local businesses support the local community in more ways than just jobs. I do think that we as a country need to reverse the trend of so much imported stuff that we used to make here. It is a touchy subject for me as well.

  17. Lythrum says:

    Just wanted to add, for those discussing the lack of locally grown organic produce. I recollect reading that for you to be able to sell your produce as ‘organic’, there is a length of time that has to have passed since pesticides, etc were used on the fields that you grow in. Since many farmers do not have the luxury of letting the fields go fallow, or dealing with the issues associated with organic gardening without the ability to get some compensation for it, they aren’t going to make the leap. I think that there are a lot of farmers that are uneasy about using pesticides and chemicals, and would like to change.

    I try to shop locally at our nurseries here also, though that has to be balanced with other considerations that I have, like saving heirloom strains by getting seeds through seed exchanges. I am sad because a local BBQ restaurant close to our house went out of business last week, and other local businesses are struggling too.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. πŸ™‚

    Hi Lythrum, thanks for adding here, and nice to see you. I would love it all to be organically grown, but understand how hard it is for our farmers to meet the criteria. If it is offered, I will buy it at the farmers market, if not, I will still buy from them. I am sorry for your restuarant closing. We need those local businesses, it helps everyone for them to stay open.

  18. Ginny says:

    Bravo for promoting buying locally! When my husband was a newspaper editor he often talked about how most of the newspaper’s advertising came from local businesses. A newspaper’s main source of revenue is advertising. The chain stores primarily advertised on TV and through direct mail. So if you want to encourage your local newspaper to stay afloat, buying locally will help them as well!

    Hi Ginny, thanks for joining in the conversation. A newspaper is about as local a business as you can get, we subscribe to two papers and try to purchase everything here in town. It is not always possible to do so, but it is worth the effort and sometimes extra cost.

  19. Hard to resist some of the mail order plants, but some years ago I decided to only shop locally and the results are much better…so it is not only the conscience that is better off.

    Hi Ricki, thanks for visiting. My wonderful Mouse Creek was started by Ruth because she did not want to order plants from far away, paying high shipping rates. She began growing them herself and decided to start a nursery. It is a treasure and we know how lucky we are to have her so close. People come from far other parts of Tennessee because she has established a good reputation and has good prices.

  20. I would love to see more local ornamental growers at our hometown farmer’s markets – don’t you think that would be useful?

    Hi Desiree, thanks for stopping by. I do like to see ornamentals at farmers markets, and crafts too. It helps bring more customers to them.

  21. I buy local for food. Local for me has to mean ‘Produced in South Africa’ not usually more specific on labels. I stretch that to Africa, our sugarsnap peas came from Ethiopia. Weird! Really local, in our town? I wish! The nursery, such as it was, is now closed.

    Hi Diana, thanks for helping us understand how local works for you in South Africa. I agree that staying within the continent works as well. I never imagined sugarsnap peas from Ethiopia though. I am sorry your nursery closed. We are so lucky with Mouse Creek. Ruth is a little older than I am, I hope she feels like continuing for a while longer. It will be a sad day if they close.

  22. debsgarden says:

    Amen! You are preaching to the choir here. I do everything I can to support the local nurseries and other shops. I always get better service. And, especially with the economic problems we are now having, I really want to buy products made in the USA!

    Hi Deb, thanks for the support! I have found that being a regular customer at the local businesses mean that they know your name and welcome you each time you visit. It makes me feel good on many levels. We have a local furniture store that I love. They sell Lazyboy chairs that are made just down the road. πŸ™‚

  23. I agree with Deborah. We’ve been endeavoring for some time to shift our dollars toward local business, not just for the garden, but for everything. All small businesses are struggling in this economy, and need all the patronage they can get. Sure, sometimes it’s more expensive, but quality, both in product, and in service, is worth it.

    Hi CV, thanks for joining in here. We buy everything we can in this small town. The local contractors use the local lumber yards over the big box store as well. They understand how we are all pieces in a larger puzzle and have to help each other. It is good to let people know that this can be done.

  24. You are so right. We have to patronize local businesses before it’s too late.

    Yes, MMD, before it is too late. We have already lost my fave restaurant here, Cuban/Italian. That woman knew her seasonings! But the line is always long at the drive through at McDonalds.

  25. Catherine says:

    Yes, I’m so with you on this. We always try to hire and use local businesses as much as possible. I rarely buy plants at big box stores and would rather pay a little more to support the local nurseries. Often what I find at local stores is much better quality and more unique than what I see in the big chain stores.

    Hi Catherine, thanks. Where we live, the only workers for hire are local. They are a good source for other craftsmen too. An uncle, cousin, brother in law always is just the guy you are looking for! lol I agree about the quality at the nurseries, too. The owners are more vested in keeping the plants alive and in tip top shape.

  26. I couldn’t be more in agreement with you as I own a truly local nursery. Not only do you keep the money local, but you should consider how those big box stores are able to sell those plants so cheaply—the “dark underbelly of horticulture” as my friend who knows calls it, where chemicals reign supreme and the underpaid often illegal help get no protection from inhaling them. So many customers told me that the deals on hostas at a big box store were so incredible that I went in to check the prices for myself. The smell of chemicals from the plants was so overpowering that I was gagging and the leaves were white from being sprayed—I do not exaggerate. What is the true cost of those plants?

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for letting us in on the real story about local nurseries! I knew that there were a lot of chemicals involved in the growing of many of those big box plants, to keep them small and yet bloom, often out of season. I will gladly pay the price at Mouse Creek for plants that have not been sprayed with anything more that plain water. She adopted a no spraying policy years ago, for her own health and that of her employees.

  27. Sharon Parker says:

    Dear Frances,

    This is my first time to write, although I stumbled on your wonderful blog before Christmas and have been enjoying it so very much! I had to leave my beloved Asheville in 2009 to move to Florida for family reasons. The Hop on Merrimon was a favorite place, as well as the many independent shops and restaurants in downtown Asheville and the farmers markets. I’m in a condo now and have no garden but I absolutely LOVE your wonderful photos and writings. Many of your photos I have right-clicked on and used them as my desktop background–changeing every few days. It brightens my day so much to open your posts to see what’s new, even though I’m no longer an active gardener, I’m still a nature lover. Although I grew up in western NeW York state, I lived many years in east TN and western NC and that area is my favorite of the 11 states that I’ve lived in. Thank you for sharing that part of the country with me, as I miss it every day. Your blog is a real blessing to me!

    Sharon–now in Jacksonville FL

    Dear Sharon, this is the sweetest comment, thanks for adding to this conversation and being a loyal reader! I do appreciate that very much. Asheville is a wonderful place, I agree. The support for local businesses there is unlike anywhere we have lived. That is what makes it unique and such a tourist destination, shops and restaurants that can be found nowhere else, with the customer service that goes with it. We agree, this is a nature lover’s dream, east TN and western NC. πŸ™‚

  28. One says:

    Great post as a reminder for all, Frances. I do agree in buying local. The thing with many local products here are that they are actually made in some cheaper countries and than pack locally. Well, I make effort to at least grow my own fruits, veggie and herbs.

    Hi One, thanks for giving us your perspective. Growing your own food is a wonderful thing, I applaud your efforts!

  29. chuck b. says:

    If I ever make it to Asheville, I will eat at the ice cream shop every day!

    Hi Chuck, I do hope I am in Asheville when you are. I would love to meet you. Are you considering going to the blogger meet in Seattle? The Brokenbeats wll be very glad to serve you all the ice cream you can eat! πŸ™‚

  30. Anna says:

    Could not agree with you more Frances and whenever possible I visit local shops. It may be that sometimes you pay a little more but on the other hand you come across courtesy, service with a smile as well as better quality. Is that aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’ at the bottom of your post? It’s a beauty.

    Hi Anna, thanks for dropping by and giving us your opinion. There are many reasons to patronize the local businesses, smiles are priceless! That is Black Barlow, I thought it would be cheering to see flowers in springtime and they fit into the black theme. πŸ™‚

  31. Carol says:

    Most excellent post, Frances! I can walk to a daylily-hosta nursery from my house where they know me well. And it is less than half a mile to another greenhouse where she grows many annuals and perennials, and also knows me well. And across the street from her is an orchard! Really, there is no need for me to rush off to a big box store on the busy highway for my plant needs/wants/desires.

    Hi Carol, thanks for dropping by with this addition to the conversation. How lucky to be able to walk to such a place, but you might need to car to carry your prizes home, or perhaps pull a wagon. Like the tv show Cheers, I want to go where everyone knows your name! πŸ™‚

  32. Alistair says:

    Well,well, local is the new black, I like that. Do you think 65 could be the new middle age. I didn’t exactly stumble upon your site, I went searching for the most popular blogs, and there you were at the top of the list. No surprise there then, once I got reading. I have good reason for shopping locally, I retired quite recently after running a small convenience store for thirty years. The new owner was unable to continue with the success which I had and within two years the shop was turned in to two flats, oh, I think you would say apartments. Living in Aberdeen Scotland, although it is a fertile area our Summers are short making it a bit more difficult to always buy local, but we do make the effort. Glad I found you. Alistair

    Hi Alistair, thanks for visiting and welcome. 65 looks younger to me with every passing year! HA I am sorry the new owner of your store was not able to keep up your good work. Our summers are long here, but the farmers markets close for the winter months. We do what we can, though. I too am glad you found Fairegarden, and hope you return. πŸ™‚

  33. Great minds … and all that – I just did a post on going local as well. I certainly try my best when it comes to local purchases. It can be a challenge in a small town though. btw, love those purple dahlias (dahlias, right?).

    Hi Jean, thanks for visiting, and also for posting about buying locally. It is a challenge, we do what we can. The flowers are the end of the post are Columbines, Aquilegia ‘Black Barlow’. I wish I could grow Dahlias that looked like that! πŸ™‚

  34. dirtynailz says:

    Right on, Frances! I applaud your post. Happily, the chorus of locavores is growing.

    Thanks DN. I do believe that awareness is rising, happy to say.

  35. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I do support local businesses whenever I can. I wish I had a Mouse Creek near me!

    Hi Cindy, thanks for visiting. Mouse Creek is a gem of a nursery. I wish everyone had one similar close by.

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