Monday, July 27, 2015

How you live -- sustainable local economy

How many independently owned shops exist in your area?


For this question, let's assume that "area" focuses on Chisago County but extends to its environs. That's befitting since much of the shopping we do occurs in Washington County (Forest Lake, Marine and Stillwater) and Isanti County (Cambridge) as well as in Ramsey County (St. Paul) and Hennepin County (Minneapolis). The question seems so simple but, as you can see, it isn't.

Marine on St. Croix, general store
Marine on St. Croix, general store
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the US Census folks, there are more than 1,200 business establishments in Chisago County, plus approximately 3,800 nonemployer businesses. Based on personal observations, I think most of the "shops" are independently owned, depending on how we define "shop." The U.S. Census Bureau claims that, on a national level, "Sole proprietors and partnerships constituted 94 percent of nonemployers in 2010...." The classification of businesses tabulated by government doesn't fit neatly into "independent" and "big box" which is how I frequently think of businesses. In the past, I've been an employee of a home-based C corporation (see Figure 7 on the PDF linked immediately above) which says more about the form of business than about whether it's local and independent.

Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

The "area" does have local coffee shops and numerous other independent businesses (not franchises [small box?] nor controlled by corporate management [big box]). There is also an outlet mall about 10 miles north of home, in the midst of corporate and some independent business strip mall development and, as with several other local business dustricts, the "big box" stores are located on the highway outside "Main Street." Unfortunately, from my perspective, Minnesota in general, and my area in particular, seems to have few members of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies). I'm still pondering how it is that an area known historically for its cooperatives and labor organizations appears to be far behind the curve on other aspects of creating a new, sustainable, local economy. I suppose it's possible that we already have it and I just can't see it yet, but I don't think so. We still are a long way from giving serious attention to reflecting the following bioregional tenets in our local

Economy
  • Human agency is reintegrated with ecological processes, especially through careful understanding of carrying capacity, preservation and restoration of native diversity and ecosystem health.

  • The goal of economic activity is to achieve the highest possible level of cooperative self-reliance.

  • Reliance on locally manufactured and maintained appropriate technology, devised through an on-going program of ecological design research, is favored.
There are some other resources that I've found particularly useful in working on the local economy question. One is the book Small Is Possible, life in a local economy, by Lyle Estill, set in Chatham County, North Carolina. Despite the south-north geographic differences, folks involved with the IRRRB should read it if they haven't already. Another is Going Local, by Michael Shuman. Last, and far from least, is using an Economic Gardening strategy.

Revolution

By Anne Waldman 

Spooky summer on the horizon I’m gazing at
from my window into the streets
That’s where it’s going to be where everyone is
walking around, looking around out in the open
suspecting each other’s heart to open fire
all over the streets
                              like streets you read about every day
who are the network we travel through on the way to the center   
which is energy filling life
and bursting with joy all over the screen
                                                             I can’t sit still any longer!

I want to go where I’m not feeling so bad
Get off this little island before the bridges break   
(my heart is a sore thing too)
No I want to sit in the middle watching movies   
then go to bed in my head
Someone is banging on it with a heavy stick like the enemy
who is he going to be turns into a face you can’t recognize
then vanishes behind a window behind a gun   
Like the lonely hero stalking the main street   
cries out Where are you? I just want to know
all the angles of death possible under the American sky!

I can hardly see for all the buildings polluting the sky   
until it changes into a barrage of bottles
then clears up for a second while you breathe
and you realize you’e still as alive as ever and want to be   
but would like to be somewhere else perhaps Africa   
Start all over again as the race gets darker and darker   
and the world goes on the way I always thought it would
For the winner is someone we recognize out of our collective past   
which is turning over again in the grave

                                    It is so important when one dies you replace her   
                                    and never waste a minute


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