When the COVID-19 crisis hit the world, buying local was far from our agenda. Confusion, fear, panic, powerlessness were the pervading emotions.
First week into the lockdown and our reactions were different on each day. We tried to understand what was going on and make sense of all the news bombarding us from everywhere. We did our best to create a daily routine; adjust to working from home, not seeing friends and family. The realisation dawned that not only are you cancelling that weekend trip but summer holidays would be a distant dream.
Two weeks into the lockdown. Toilet paper and pasta returned to the shops. More people lost their jobs. Queueing for hours but invariably the shop shelves were stripped bare of many of the items needed.
Three weeks into the lockdown. Your mind, like a lightbulb, turned on in alert – how can I help, what can I do in this situation? What is my role in all this? If you are a scientist, a medical or an essential worker you are already doing something very important. But what can I do?
For us, the answer is simple: support your local businesses.
You can create a big impact with small actions. Friends and relatives can start doing the same. Like a ripple effect, the benefits can spread from street to street, from town to town.
1. Buying local is faster
I can’t recollect how many hours I wasted in the last six weeks standing in queues when buying anything from big retailers. All in all, I lost more than a day of my life. What did I gain? On top of the purchased fruits and vegetables, my lower back is killing me. With popular home delivery services like Tesco, it was impossible to get a reasonable timeslot.
When I started browsing and checking out where else I can buy food online, I discovered so many small businesses providing not only first-class produce grown locally but also delivering to my doorstep. In many instances for free or free with a certain minimum order. Plenty also offer a collection service.
Let’s think about the basics.
Almost every independent bakery is open for business these days. And some of them deliver. In Dublin, we have the excellent Bread41 and Tartine Organic Bakery. During the lockdown, I discovered Sourdough and Beyond (Dublin 15 only), a superb bakery which I would not have come across otherwise. None of them is on my way to the office, nor in my immediate neighbourhood.
On top of that, nearly all of the bakeries make cakes and pastries also. What better way to treat yourself at the end of a long week than something sweet? Check out Bragadeiros, a mouthful of deliciousness hand-made with condensed milk, cocoa, butter and chocolate sprinkles to cover. There are also plenty of vegan and gluten-free options out there.
Fruit and veg boxes
Before this crisis, I bought all of my fruit and vegetables at the local supermarket. My basic weekly list has been the same for years. But in recent weeks I discovered an amazing collection of businesses and farmers who prepare and deliver food boxes. What I love about them is that they put the basics, but always add seasonal vegetables that in the past I never thought of buying.
How do I love fennel! Cut some in short strips and bake with olive oil. Or chop fresh fennel and put together with a sliced orange, seasoned with olive oil and mixed herbs. Oh, Mamma Mia! I wish I knew about this vegetable before.
The Fruit People offer an always fresh and seasonal box of wonderful fruit and veg. Ardkeen is another very popular choice that is delivering nationwide across Ireland. And is you know of others just let us know.
Meat and fish
If you are a vegetarian you can skip this paragraph because I am going to talk about meat. I eat meat rarely but when I do I want to invest into something of quality.
Turns out a few restaurants in Dublin are offering meat boxes, which can also include a bottle of wine, or just fresh cuts of meat. Asador offers a wonderful BBQ meal kit for only €49. Buju has delicious a make-at-home burger kit. And to make up your own selection there’s an excellent range in the James Whelan Butchers online store. A virtual steak or burger night with friends will bring some much-needed flavour to our isolated lives.
For outstanding fish, the Connemara Smokehouse offers all Ireland delivery. Gannet are an award-winning fishmongers which started from a small stall at Galway’s weekend market, and now dispatch the freshest fish all over the country. If it’s a gift you’re looking to send to a lucky someone, the baskets offered by the Burren Smokehouse look exquisite.
2. Buying local stimulates innovation
If there is a high immediate demand for something, it signals an opportunity gap that can be filled in by local producers. Yay to product innovation! Bigger companies rarely adapt so quickly, especially if they have to make changes to a physical product, especially if a big supply chain is in place running through different geographies.
The smaller local maker manufactures a product, the client tries it out, provides immediate feedback and the maker adjusts it almost on the spot. In the current situation, I saw a lot of local businesses transform their business so fast that the end product is not even close to the original they were known for.
Take Flying Elephant for example. These guys were building booths for conferences and other events but now they sell lego-like furniture for working from home. They had the necessary raw materials (wooden boards) and cutting technology, they just transformed their approach by 360° to adapt to the new demand.
Now they produce fancy-looking desks which require zero screws and tools. They say you can assemble each of their desks in less than a minute. How great it is!
3. A unique local twist
As opposed to chain production, buying local gives your well known products with a unique twist, be it a chair or ketchup. Local artisans bring their own experiences and touches to mass produced foods and goods that you’ve never seen before.
Great Northern Larder sells a superb range of sauces which complement everything from a traditional Irish breakfast to a roasted summer BBQ burger.
For those who want to stay off gluten, a cute local brand from Galway called Gran Grans is worth checking. They sell gluten-free condiments made from organic local products.
4. Buying local is more sustainable
Sustainability is increasingly important in 2020. Locally produced goods require less transportation, meaning less pollution, meaning healthier planet and you.
While there’s no such thing as 100% sustainable clothing yet – all garments have at least some negative impact on the environment there are a number of local Irish brands working diligently to help make a difference.
Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.Vivienne Westwood
We’ve come across some wonderful Irish fashion businesses who embrace this ethos. These include Grown Clothing, an ethical and organic clothing company for both men and women. CRANN is another – a sustainability-focused fashion brand selling wooden sunglasses and watches made from recycled materials.
STÓR works with a specialist, fully certified and sustainable manufacturer to deliver high-quality basics for men. All their products are made from natural and eco-friendly materials such as bamboo and organic cotton.
5. A source of inspiration
Local businesses are a huge source of inspiration. They motivate others to try to open their own small business and make people think differently. This healthy attitude often encourages economic growth and innovation through competition.
When I was a kid I didn’t really think about small business owners or becoming one.
If I knew a freelance designer or coffee shop owner, my career would probably not be the same. I am glad to notice how many inspiring entrepreneurs are out there. There are too many to mention but I love what Alex and Joanna have done in creating Irish Socksciety.
They also can spark your inspiration in a different way. Don’t know what gifts for men to buy? Local online store most certainly will have some original ideas.
Buying local is a more humane, authentic and real feeling than ordering from giant retailers. It contributes to our neighbourhood economy and it enriches all of us when local business thrive.