How to Make (Insert Name of Your Country Here) Great Again

My local butcher, from his facebook page

The world I want to live in has markets instead of supermarkets, and little local stores and cafes where you can buy everything you need within walking distance of your house. I want to buy beautiful and interesting things made by artists and crafters. I want to be able to stop by and see the people building my furniture and making my bread. I want to have relationships with the people who make my food, and chat with the old ladies of the neighbourhood in the post office and meet friends at the greengrocers.

I am blessed to live in a neighbourhood where all these things are possible. I can and do shop locally and by the choices that I make about where to spend my dollars on a weekly basis, I am aiming to make my country great again, a place where neighbourhoods provide jobs that are also meaningful work and we all have safe, liveable communities.

I would like to be able to say that I never venture into the giant, ugly dens of iniquity that house the mega corporations of death, destruction and despair, but that would be a rank lie. Damn, those supermarkets are convenient! They stock everything under one enormous and extremely ugly roof. It's cheap. It's there. But it is evil incarnate. They look so innocuous. They will sell you wholesome things that you need like apples and bread and socks. But don't be fooled. They exist to make enormous profits for their owners and shareholders. That is their only mandate. And if you live in Australia it is very difficult indeed to avoid spending your dollars at one of the two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, or at one of their many subsidiaries - Target, Kmart, Myer, Big W, Bunnings, Dan Murphy's, Liquorland, Officeworks. In fact, there would be many Australians who rarely shop anywhere but at one of these stores.

So why is this a problem? Again, these major publicly listed companies exist to make a profit. They are not investing in local products, they are hunting out the cheapest products, and driving down prices at the farm gate to win more market share with cheaper prices for their customers. Farmers are being forced off the land because there comes a point where you can't produce an apple or a celery stick any cheaper.

There are numerous stories of nefarious deals when one of the big chains arrives in town - local hardware stores forced out of business when Bunnings signs exclusive agreements to prevent suppliers selling to the locals. "Brand bombing" when more big chain retail stores are opened than can be sustained by the local population - once the local opposition has closed its doors, the big retailer closes all but one of its stores as well, and that is the end of any alternative shopping experience in town..

And yes, there should be some serious government regulation to prevent this, but honestly, we have done it to ourselves. We have let Coles and Woolworths take over our country and turn it into a giant, dreary suburb where everything is the same. Where is the joy and interest of small family businesses? Where is the fun of tiny quirky shops with interesting jobs for our teenagers? Where are the fair prices that will keep farmers on the land? It's up to us to keep our local shops open and our farmers' markets running. An enormous diversity of small business gives millions of people a chance to live their own dream and make a dignified living with meaningful work. That is a really good place to start to make any country a great place to live..

So this is my challenge to myself. Less convenience, more adventure, colour, interest and good conversation in my local shops. Which means I need to pop out now to walk the dog and buy some bacon before the butcher's shop shuts..


Sherri said…
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for writing this. You describe the world I want to live in and as you say it is possible now for many of us to do that or to start working towards it. Aldi's is also making headway into many local communities, and though the convenience and opportunity to save household money is certainly apparent, it is easy to forget the money we spend at the major supermarkets leaves our community. Money spent in local businesses circulates within the community for longer and does the community as a whole a lot more benefit.
Unknown said…
I couldn't agree with you more, Jo. Here in Canberra, we had a small chain of local supermarkets called Supabarn. They were owned by a local company, donated quite a bit of money to local causes, and had a much wider choice of products. I did a lot of my shopping there. But last year, they decided to get out of the business, and sold out to Coles! Now I can't find half of the things I used to buy, and am on a crusade to find small businesses who will listen to their customers. Wish me luck!
Jo said…
Sherri, sometimes I feel so helpless in the face of the stupid mess our society has gotten itself into, but there are ways to change it, and this is one of the simplest - celebrate and support those parts of our community that we want to preserve. Use it or lose it..

Hazel, doesn't it make you want to cry? Hopefully there is a butcher, a baker and a greengrocer somewhere local for you! In Tas we still have an independent grocery chain that I patronize for things like toilet paper. I really hope it can hold on in face of the opposition..
mereth said…
In South Australia we have a chain of small independent supermarkets under the Foodland banner. The one in our small town is fantastic, open from 7 in the morning till 7 at night every day, they open checkouts so that no-one is ever kept waiting and will stock anything if you ask for it. I hate the big two, being forced to buy their brands which only means they've shafted some producer somewhere. When my kids were home I had to shop where it was cheapest, but now I can use my dollars to support local business and stay out of the big stores.
Jo said…
mereth, I am hearing you: sometimes we have to shop where we can with the dollars we have, but so many of us have wiggle room in our budgets, and I can't think of a better place for it than circulating around our local community making our neighbourhood a nicer, safer, more human place to live.

My first little flat when I left home was opposite a Foodland in Seacliff in Adelaide. I shopped there nearly every day:) And the great thing about the locals - somehow they often have cheaper prices on some items than the big chains. If I only ever shopped the sales or the markdowns of meat and bread in my local, independent supermarket (IGA here in Tas) it would actually be cheaper than Coles or Woolies..
Unknown said…
Actually, I have found a local butcher who is the most amazing character. He remembers his customers, always has a joke and a natter, and all of his meat is grass-fed! Also, the former marathon champion, Rob de Castella, has a couple of bakeries for the gluten-intolerant, which are not only grain-free, but are delicious. There is a local producers outlet run by one of those local producers. So I'm well on the way to finding all the local shops I need. But they are all miles away from each other (like everything else in Canberra), so I won't be walking to the shops any time soon.
Jo said…
Hazel, I am well aware that I am incredibly lucky to be living in a walkable neighbourhood - they are SO rare. Still, the more people who buy local, the more small businesses that will open - hopefully in a locale near you! Still, it's great to know there are places you can visit, even if they are far and few between. My favourite whole food shop is a 15 min drive, so I tend to stock up once a month or so. PS the mind boggles at a grain-free bakery - although almond-meal lemon cake is my favourite:)
Unknown said…
Jo, I thought the same about Deeks bakery when I heard of it. Grain-free? But he apparently teamed up with a local naturopath, and they developed a range made mostly of quinoa and tapioca. Their cafe even has chocolate fudge brownies and jam cream sponge cake! I thank heaven every time I buy their stuff, because I detest standard gluten free bread!
Jo said…
Hazel, I have had chick-pea brownies and tofu brownies which are yummy, but I must admit to never having tasted a gluten-free bread which I would happily eat.. thankfully I don't have to, but I am so pleased you have found one!
Anonymous said…
I agree with so much of this, Jo. I shop for groceries at the local small independent supermarket. Buy my meat from the butcher and my fruit and veg from the green grocer. We also buy food directly from Aussie Farmers which guarantees to give farmers a fair drive. We pay more for our milk than the stupidmarket. I do go occasionally into Woolies for some items not stocked by the IGA and must admit to an Aldi addiction for their special buys. And Dan Murphies stocks my drink of choice at a much cheaper price than anywhere else.

Still Woolies and other big companies do employ lots of people. And many super funds invest so our future depends on their success.

We could do better. As usual you inspire and challenge me, Jo.

Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Beautifully written and I do believe that those two giants get 70 cents in every retail dollar in their collective markets. It is a bit scary really and the new German opposition which its adherents seem mildly and creepily "cult like" to me is a limited partnership and from some anecdotal accounts in the media it apparently pays no taxes in Australia on its income. No wonder it is cheap. But fear not, I read recently its even cheaper opposition is considering setting up down under. I shop at the small independents and also the mildly awesome Queen Victoria Market which is sadly in the process of being messed around with. But I feel I must out myself here as I love Bunnings. There you go, I have said it and now feel slightly sullied. From my earlier experience the older hardware stores were not particularly easy to deal with for me as a guy, let alone for females, and I have had to suffer through many humiliating experiences way back in the day. Of course, I also pick up things from the local hardware store nowadays, and they are much better these days, but the business pain it took for them to get to that point...

Thank you for writing this. I have experienced a massive world and also a much smaller local world, and I can tell you that life in the smaller local world wins out every time.


Jo said…
Lucinda, it sounds like you have a great small business routine going on. Despite all my best intentions I have been to Coles this week due to child French lesson emergency (remembered vital baguette necessity at 8pm..).

I have hardly any super, and am trying to work out where to put some spare money, because most super funds invest in all sorts of unethical ventures. There must be a solution..

Chris, another thing that makes me spit is mega corporations that don't pay tax in the countries in which they operate. Death to the corporation!

And the terrible thing about my town is that there is NO independent hardware store left. There are 2 Bunnings (Coles) and the rest have been bought out by Wesfarmers (Woolworths). Sigh. The nearest indepenent hardware shop is about half an hour's drive up the river.

I agree - I like my self and my life when I am living in my local world..
Meg said…
Hi, Jo. These words of yours echo how I feel about supporting local businesses. Every time a local business closes, I feel we are all the poorer. Where I live, there's little shops within walking distance and others a very short drive away. I love to go in and see what they have and in doing so regularly I've gotten to know the owners and staff. They've gotten to know me. There's always time for a quick or a long chat! There's diversity in these shops and within the origins and experiences of those who open their shop doors to us. This doesn't mean I don't ever go into those big two but it means I spend a lot less in there. That's a conscious choice.

Anonymous said…
I'm having a red hot go at supporting local - I use the local bakery, butcher and fruit shop plus the supermarket and the German Establishment. My local shops has a couple of cool gift shops and a decent newsagent as well. BUT shopping local means the fruit shop guy knows me by sight to say hello, and when my fine young son wants a part time job next year, he's in with a chance for a job with civilised hours that's close enoughto home he can get himself there. Win on all counts
Jo said…
Meg, I truly believe that those relationships we have within our neighbourhood help us to feel valued and grounded and settled in place. Being an anonymous nobody in a giant supermarket just doesn't feed our souls.. and when we are old, it is those lovely small business owners who will help us carry our shopping to the car, and chat to us when no-one else has time to.. and I agree, it is very hard to avoid the big two altogether, but everything we buy at our locals helps..

Miss Maudy, exactly! Local business owners win too when they know you and your kids, and know that they are likely hiring a responsible young man with sensible parents. They like that security as much as you like knowing your kid has a job with someone who will keep an eye on them, and not exploit them.

German Establishment - love it! Hasn't made its way to Tas yet.

Anonymous said…
Many in our town travel to the nearer big towns for the Big 2 or the German shop but for us, most out of our town travel involves a child or 2. We much prefer to shop when we are kid free and that means small and local - IGA. What we pay more for in food cost is balanced by the petrol we don't spend to do the shopping.
Our local supermarket also has a few good local items stocked, including a local free range egg farms eggs. And they are truly free range as I've seen the green grass with hens upon it from having driven past.
We also have a local hardware store which is awesome, and the funniest flirt of a butcher too! A visit there means we leave with a heart full of laughter and flattery and a bag full of locally raised meat. He grows some of his own meat or buys from local farmers, i believe, occasionally sourcing for further afield - about 30kms (and he made it sound like it was a real burden to go so far afield too!) Sadly no greengrocers in town but we have 2 markets each month - a makers market with fruit and vegs sold and then the farmers market the week after. I wish the farmers market was weekly or even twice a week. Now THAT would be a perfect world.

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