Great question skyler87. As with many good questions, the answer is not as staightforwad as we may want it to be. The first thing to consider is what are you considering “costs”. Is it just the money you pay out of pocket, or are you including what economists refer to as “externalized costs” which refer to the costs, often environmental and social, that are incurred in the manufacture or production of a product (e.g. water pollution). Another consideration is what timeline are you considering. Are you including the costs of food production in the future because topsoils will be eroded and aquifers drained. It is important to consider these costs, in part because a straight-up price comparison between a tomato available at your local farmers market, in say, Vermont, is likey more expensive than the tomato grown in CA you can buy at the store. It is similar for other artisan crafted goods, purchasing a hand made table from the local woodworker will probably be more expensive than buying one from Wal-Mart that was made in China. The purchase cost of local is often more expensive, though not always, yet the total environmenal and social cost is often lower.
Typically, shopping local will cost you slightly more. This is due to the fact that local businesses are not frequented like big box stores, and they also have higher operating costs than the big box stores. In the end, shopping locally will help you by keeping your community afloat. It is suggested that you patronize at least three local businesses per month to make a difference in your community.
It depends on the product. Some products will be much cheaper, while others can be slightly more. In any case, it’s almost always better quality. In the end it depends on whether you’re willing to go out of your way for locally grown food.
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