Tag Archives: Buy Local

Buying Local and Foraging to the Extreme

foragingI have nothing against the “buy local” crowd, the foraging crowd, or the urban gardening crowd per se.  I have no problems with people liking each of the concepts. My complaints and problems with each of the groups stem from absurd and cult-like adherence to each dogma as if it were its own religion, forced on others, or taken to the extreme.

While buying local might be worse for the environment in some cases, or more expensive than mass-produced items shipped from a distance, people should be free to pursue the best course of action they see fit. Even if it means more harm to the environment and their wallet. Urban foraging, provided you’re not stealing from your neighbor — like chefs in local-food-crazed Portland are doing — is a little weird, but if that’s what you want to do, fine.

This recent story I read in Bloomberg Businessweek is an extreme example in buying local, urban gardening and foraging craze — or as I call it, going Authentically Amish (with apologies to the local furniture store.) A half hour outside of Albany, NY is Earlton. Here, there is a restaurant with a five-year waiting list.

The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y ., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef. Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself. However what makes Baehrel’s restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. “I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property.”

By that math, if this restaurant is open five days a week, with 12 tables and two people at each averaging $255 a head, Mr. Baehrel is raking in close to $1.5 million a year.

Bloomberg notes that it’s about half that, but still:

This hyperlocal, hyperunderground strategy is paying off. Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000.

For foodies, visiting the so-called “Michael Jordan” of the movement has to be a big treat. There are similar restaurant concepts here in Washington.

But it is a cautionary tale of foodie-ism taken to the extreme. A five year waiting list? Must be nice if your last name is Baehrel, but to those wanting to go to a nice restaurant, pay a more modest price, and not have to wait five years, it’s good that the market offers other options.

The world would look a lot more like this if the extremist-type locovores were able to impose their whims on the rest of us, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. More likely, the locovores wage smaller, more winnable battles. And what start out as suggestions often become requirements later.

If you are among the Manhattan elite and can afford to pay and wait for such food, I hope it’s worth the wait. And to some, I’m sure it is. Nobody should begrudge Baehrel his success in offering something that clearly has high demand.

As for me, I’m happy to get my corn from where it’s most efficient to grow corn, beef from where it’s best to raise cattle, and my high-fructose corn syrup from the plant best able to deliver a quality product to the Coca Cola bottler near me. Or Mexican coke with that cane sugar. Delicious imports.

So long as the market isn’t unduly inhibited by regulations, locovores and free traders should both be able to enjoy the fruits of the harvest in harmony. bsig


Why Does New Jersey Need Farms?

urban farm nj

At work today I noticed an interesting blast fax on our fax machine. “New Jerseyans Support Farming Initiatives” read the headline. It was from Farleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll and it was co-sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

And according to this poll, 80 percent of New Jersey residents “support the continuation of public funding for the preservation of … farmland.”

Yes, you read that right. Public funding for preservation of farmland. Market forces be damned!

The reason? You guessed it. Buy Local!

According the poll, 77 percent of New Jerseyans say “they or a family member have purchased locally grown produce at a farm stand or farmer’s market in the past 3 months.”

To New Jerseyans, what does “local” mean? The poll tells us. 44 percent say anywhere grown in the state should qualify, while 17 percent think it should be within 30 miles of the store, and 13 percent think it should be within 50 miles. The remaining 24 percent were a little more liberal with their definition of what truly counts as “local.”

The poll went even further, asking whether New Jerseyans would be willing to pay extra for locally grown produce. Amazingly, 66 percent said they “would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ likely to pay 10% extra” while 56 percent would be “‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ willing to pay 25 percent extra.”

New Jersey Farm Bureau President Rick Suydam closes the blast fax with this gem: “We always believed that New Jerseyans understood the importance farming has in the state and the collective results from this survey confirm that our residents fully support farmers and agriculture in the great Garden State.”

If it were true that residents “fully support” New Jersey farmers by choice, they wouldn’t need the public funding.bsig

Update: A friend writes:

New Jersey also redefined what it considers “farmland” in the last year or so to increase their tax base and to stop suburbanites from selling tomatoes to their neighbors to claim tax breaks. (Farmland is taxed at a very low rate, much lower than homes or businesses.) They’re playing both sides of the fight

Merry Christmas, even to protectionists

Dear Jason:

Assuming you are real (I’m guessing not), I wish you a Merry Christmas, even though your economic views are about as old and debunked as Santa himself.


P.S.- Nikhil, bringing back Christopher Hitchens would be awesome.


h/t reddit

‘Tis The Season

Happy Holidays!

‘Tis the season to exploit seasonal holidays as a reason to promote economic nonsense and tell the many people who are employed by multi-national corporations (or national ones like franchises) to go fly a kite.

Because, according to “Locavores” anyone who isn’t employed by a local business or self-employed isn’t “real.” Right.

Remember kids, your neighbors who work for franchisees or even own franchises aren’t “real people” that support your community.

This holiday season, Bomble.com encourages you to shop for goods and services that provide you with the value you seek at a price you’re willing to pay, wherever that is.

Where will Locavores get their power?

Here’s a letter I wrote to the Alexandria Times.

To the editor:

With the closing of the Alexandria coal-fired power plant this week, one wonders, how will the buy local crowd power their homes? How will they, in good conscience, flick on that light switch knowing that the juice isn’t coming from somebody down the street?

Why don’t billionaire Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Euille and the chattering classes care about good, blue collar middle class jobs for Alexandria? Is Alexandria becoming some outsourcing, 1-percenter, Mitt Romney fantasyland where all the good blue collar jobs are shipped to other places?

What’s next? Will Misha’s stop selling locally grown coffee? Will we have to buy things from people located in lands far and not-so-far away? Wait, hold on. Never mind, I’m told coffee isn’t grown locally anyway.

One worries, are chain stores coming next? The horror! Maybe, just maybe, with the closing of this plant, the locavores might discover there are benefits to eschewing the silly theory of “buying local.”

Jim Swift

UPDATE: The Alexandria Times published my letter.

Local Breweries Shouldn’t Buy into “Buy Local”


As much as it pains me to post this, I have to be frank you with: I am really annoyed by local brewers encouraging people to “buy locally.”

When it comes to beer, what does “buy local” mean?

For the record, I love microbreweries. I am a big fan of Great Lakes in Cleveland, Schlafly in St. Louis, and Port City and D.C. Brau in the D.C. metro area. However, I can buy all of those brews here in Washington, D.C. and in northern Virginia — less than a mile from my house.

When microbreweries become successful, does “buy local” mean anything anymore? In a slanted documentary, the founder of Dogfishead — a great brewery — really goes hard on the “buy local” concept and against mass brewers. That bothered me because I think it is disingenuous.

What spurred this post tonight was a facebook post from a brewery where a friend of mine is the brewer. He, like me, has libertarian leanings. I’m not sure about the owner.

As it turns out, a local business entity in their town — a non-profit local business development group — holds happy hours in this big metropolis. And an alternative weekly pointed out that the beers at said event aren’t from local breweries. Rather, they’re from a local distributor (gasp!) that isn’t offering locally brewed beers. THE HORROR!

Regular readers of this blog know I am skeptical of the “buy local” fad du jour. (Especially those dipshits in Maryland.) When people move, I argue, the cult of buying local presents a challenge.

If I, a Cleveland native, moved to Saint Louis — should I only drink St. Louis beer? If so, I’d have more choices than most people, seeing that there is a large multi-national brewer in town, not to mention the numerous local breweries. If not, I’m not “buying local” — especially if my hometown brewery starts selling beer there.

Should I buy Great Lakes or Schlafly? Which is more applicable to the “buy local” cult? I don’t know. Despite the fact that I think these people are loons, I have never had to solve that riddle because Great Lakes wasn’t available in St. Louis when I lived there and, more importantly, I don’t believe in “buy local.”

Fast forward to 2012 when I live in Washington, D.C. — a liquor store two blocks south of my office sells both Schlafly and Great Lakes. It also sells a few local brews. Except, for some reason, Great Lakes is $2 more expensive per 6-pack. What’s a guy to do?

Should I only buy beer brewed in Virginia and D.C. now that I live here? That is what advocates of “buy local” would tell me. But what about my brethren in my former home towns?

Anyways, so in this non-story the local alternative publishes, the comments are depressing:

Here’s one:

“I’m very confused about the ‘sponsoring’ that is going on here. If they are charging for the beer & they are a non-profit, why would they need sponsors with deep pockets. What else is going into these ‘events’ that they need money for?”

One commenter on the brewery’s facebook page (it shared the story) said this, and he got it:

“Just keep making good beer and we will keep drinking it. Their loss in my opinion.”

The first commenter is woefully ignorant of how non-profits operate. Non-profits aren’t structured in a way that they don’t generate revenue: that’s the whole point. Similarly, this person might be surprised to learn that local beer distributors of national brands employ locals.

The second comment that I posted was somewhat refreshing. In today’s politicized culture, people love saying they’ll boycott events or groups because of things they do/don’t do. Rational people will judge the event by its goals and decide to attend based on their incentives and desires.

I have no doubt that my friend’s brewery makes some of the best beer in his town. Why? I’ve tasted his beer and he is a genius. But, is not attending an event that is intended to promote local commerce — and has alcohol supplied by a local alcohol distributor — because they aren’t offering local beer hypocritical? I say yes.

Don’t like non-craft beers? Good for you. However, local distributors are local businesses and employ locals. Is that hard to understand?

People should buy beer they like because they like it and it’s offered at a price they are willing to pay. They shouldn’t buy into other arbitrary criteria like where it is brewed.

This is the main argument I have against “buying local” for locals’ sake. At the end of the day, people will have jobs delivering and selling the beer people prefer most. If it is locally brewed that’s swell. Buying locally for intrinsic reasons just doesn’t make economic sense.

And in today’s economy, it’s bound to leave a lot of people pretty darn conflicted. So I’ll use rational criteria like taste and price. 

Bravo, RTA Staff!


Dear Editor,

Kudos to the RTA staff for recommending that it use the best firm to conduct the joint RTA-Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency study.

In picking the best firm — and noting “this isn’t like buying pork chops”– RTA’s staff has done a valuable service for taxpayers: pick the best firm.

Of course, local politicians and their aides — namely Valarie McCall — are encouraging RTA to “buy locally” and use a local firm instead of the firm in Olathe, Kansas they’ve recommended. (Despite the fact no local firm with this specialization exists.)

Nonsense. Surveys like this must be done right, especially since they will determine how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent. Firms specialize and earn a reputation because they do a good job and want to grow their business.

The same can’t be said about “buying local for locals’ sake.” I don’t want a bunch of inexperienced people doing the job just because they’re from Cleveland.

You wonder why Cleveland has brain drain? Articles like these make this native never want to come back. It seems Cleveland is governed by people with the economic sensibilities of peasants from the Middle Ages, when everybody bought locally and everybody was poor.

Cleveland must shake itself of its obsession with “buying local” and join the the rest of the country in trading with other people.

Jim Swift
Alexandria, Virginia

Buy Local’s Intellectual Supreme Leader

I was reading with interest the other day in Bloomberg Businessweek about a prominent politician who favors the flawed (but hip!) fad of “buy local” — whereby people pretend they are living in the middle ages and just buy things from local producers.

This politician believes so much in the cause, and that buying local will improve the economy. A claim which is false.

This leader went so far to say “You must seek [locally]-made products…It’s in your hands, the hands of the people. When you consume, consume indigenously.”

This Businessweek article noted that a judge fined a smuggler $765 not so much for smuggling, but rather because this individual spurred this politician’s “directive on favoring local products over imported ones,” even going so far as to say: “Are you looking to annihilate [country’s] companies?”

Who is this brilliant, patriotic leader who knows so much about economics and world trade? Can’t we get this guy to join the ranks of Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman for great economic thinking? Shouldn’t our politicians be more like him? Can’t we get him a Nobel prize?

Well, despite the fact that this politician’s views would be popular among many on the American left, it seems he’s not so popular on the world stage.

Why? Because he is Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei of Iran.

Despite Iran’s horrible record on pretty much everything, we shouldn’t forget that Ayatollah Khamenei is a leading intellectual force behind the “Buy Local” movement. Who, among other politicians at his level, believes so strongly in the cause?

Don’t forget, dear readers, you should “Buy Local” because Ayatollah Khamenei can tell you that this policy works. 


Maryland’s Buy Local Mandate

I was paging through my google reader earlier today when I noticed a Washington Post story about how Maryland is struggling to catch up with Virginia in microbreweries.

The story was titled: Maryland beer: New law is a license to swill (onsite). How cool, I thought, that Maryland was finally playing some catch up on this.

That is, until I scrolled down and read this paragraph:

They [the breweries] don’t actually have to be on farms, according to the legislation. But they do have to use Maryland-grown ingredients — grains, hops or fruit — in their beers. (No minimum percentage is specified, however.)

Wait, what? Let me see if I can get this straight.

Maryland is allowing breweries — who use its water, pay its property and income taxes, employ its citizens, pay a mortgage/rent, utilities, sales taxes, sin taxes — to sell beer on premise ONLY IF they use a Maryland grown ingredient in the beer?  If true, that is a horrible, no good, backwards-ass policy. Could it be true?

I looked up the bill and what did I discover? It’s true!

See for yourself on page three. Well, limiting what ingredients a beer can have is a dumb way to limit the choices of Marylanders who want to support local breweries. It’s anti-competitive, too.

Readers, this is what happens under the cult of buy local. It could happen in a state near you. If you don’t speak up about it, it’s going to get worse.

Maryland Senate Bill 579

Buy Local Terrorists

Sometimes those in the cult of “Buy Local” take things too far, like borderline domestic terrorism akin to the actions of Greenpeace and their ilk.

Let me introduce you to Randol Stebner, who took buying local to new levels: by trying to burn down a Home Depot.


The Seattle Post Intelligencer explains:

“I am upset with Home Depot because they are making business difficult for my friend,” Stebner said in a written confession, according to charging documents.

“I know there are people in the store now,” he continued. “I don’t want to hurt them, but I have to get their mother fucking attention. I only set one fire, but I want to set a couple more.

Buying local to stick it to the man is just the beginning, it would seem. Protesting Walmarts is the second phase. Somewhere a few degrees away, and once you’ve had enough kool aid, you may just start trying to turn those evil chains into Dante’s inferno.

Or, turn into Milton: