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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Living Locally

One Green Generation 2008


Since I started thinking about the idea of living locally, rather than simply (or not so simply) eating locally, it has changed the way I think about our lifestyle.

What Local Means…

In the local eating movement, generally the goal is to create a 100-mile food diet, where everything you consume comes from a radius less than 100 miles from your home. Some people go with a 250-mile diet (particularly in northern climates where the main summer growing season is shorter and hardiness zone numbers are lower). And still others just get as close as they can – for instance, they may have eggs from chickens in their backyard, but their closest flour is from two states away.

For me, local means as close as I can get, starting with my own home. The idea is to reduce the amount of oil used and CO2 emitted in order to get an item to us. And to improve the environment, individuals (people and animals), community, and infrastructure around us.

What Living Locally Means…

Angelina defines it very well (in her amazing comment here):

“We are so used to saying ‘if I can’t get it here, I can get it somewhere else’ but what if you just made your choice more often from what is available where you are?”

[Living locally is] “getting into a mindset where the first place you look for everything you need is from your own back yard (figuratively) outward. I think it’s about being present in your own community…. I think settling down enough to say ‘this is where I am, how I can I help make it better than it’s ever been’ is integral to living locally.”

When we strive to live locally, we help our local communities become more sustainable as we reduce our footprint on the planet.

Our Ten Steps To Living Locally:

1. Going Slow. Walk or bike through your neighborhood, take in your surroundings and get to know the landscape of your place. As Katrina says, “the plants and animals chart the passage of time in a way that the calendar cannot.” The idea of going slow is to become an intimate part of the place where you are.

This might be difficult for some of us, as we’re a part of a larger society that rushes to pack a lot into one day. But sometime when you sit down to watch a television program, stop yourself. Instead, put on your coat and walk outside, maybe around the block. You could even try making it a family routine to take a walk before bedtime, or to bike on Sunday afternoons, or to walk to the local bakery for bread on Saturday mornings.

2. Being Neighborly. Some of our best friends just had a baby. We went over Friday to cook them dinner, help them with a couple things around the house, and give them a small dose of friendly adult talk. And we were amazed: their kitchen counter was full of homemade baked goodies, and their fridge and freezer were full of homemade pot pies, casseroles, stews, and other tasty foods – all from various neighbors.

  • Being neighborly can be as simple as smiling at someone when you’re walking down the street (as Melanie says, this is “the smiling at strangers concept.”) Or opening the door for them as they walk into their building, overloaded with groceries. Or crossing the street so that your kids can meet, or your dogs can greet.

  • Or it can be more: lending a hand or a better tool when your neighbor is struggling to trim a tree, trading backyard produce, baking a second pie for a neighbor who seems to need a little love at the moment, taking care of one another’s children on alternating Fridays (or sharing a babysitter), taking food to a new neighbor who hasn’t had time to unpack their kitchen yet, starting a conversation (at the bus stop, the sidewalk, or over the fence) about great local finds…

  • And then there’s more: Belinda, a self-proclaimed “innate introvert,” recently hosted a successful blogging meet up at her place. Green Bean started a local green book club. Make community connections any way you can. It makes you and others happier people (always a good thing), it strengthens community bonds which tends to help keep people in the neighborhood, and you know that someone will be there if you need them.

3. Working Locally. There are a number of ways to have your work become something that benefits your local community: work within walking or biking distance, work for a local company, work on a job that benefits your local community…

For instance, Matt just started a new job in our new city. He’s working with a local business on a project that benefits the local community. And his office is located just 7 minutes away by foot!

Deb G sells her locally-made crafts to her local community. I work from home on projects that benefit my local region: in addition to my documentary work, I write grants for local and regional communities to obtain federal funding for community development and homeless programs.

4. Volunteering Locally. Many of us can’t afford to move closer to our jobs or change them, and/or just plain love what we do and where we are and don’t want to change it. Working locally is just one of many ways to live more locally. Another option is to volunteer your time to improve your local community. is a great source for finding local volunteer options. Pick something you feel very strongly about, and look for local groups who are working toward that goal.

Green Bean and Chile both help their local CSAs. The Shibaguyz have been helping build a local farm. Katecontinued has been helping build a local community garden. In the past I’ve been a youth soccer coach and referee, served on a Youth Accountability Board, worked in soup kitchens, helped children in housing projects … there are an endless number of local volunteer options. I’m looking for good volunteer work in my new local community: working with Seattle Tilth (a local gardening resource), Sustainable Seattle, the local P-Patch (community garden) Program, or something I haven’t found yet!

5. Supporting Local Businesses. So far we have supported the local video store, food co-op, grocery stores, public market, bookstores, bakers, nurseries, coffee roasters, dessert company, several restaurants (most serving local and/or seasonal food), thrift stores, farmer’s markets, local compost company, and pet stores. Kendra reminded me that this category includes entertainment as well (eg, seeing a local play versus watching a non-local movie).

Basically when we need something (or, truth be told, when we want something), we look within walking distance first, and then work outward from there. If there isn’t much around you within walking distance, treat this the way you would your local foodshed. Call it a local business-shed if you like!

If you must order items online, choose business that are within your food mile radius. This may be within 100 miles, or 250 miles, or just as close as you can get. The idea is to minimize the miles an item takes to get to you. So in an ideal world, you’d be buying from local businesses who make items locally, using locally-produced materials. But don’t stress if you can’t satisfy all of those things, just do what you can to get as close as you can.

6. Supporting A Local Barter Economy. I loosely define a barter economy as any system of trading things without exchanging money… or a little more liberally, this could include buying locally used items at a reduced price. The idea is to keep goods and services within your own community in order to keep down the amount of miles a good travels, to support the local economy, to keep down personal costs, and to create connections within the community.

I include local libraries, Freecycle, Craigslist (there is a barter category under “for sale”), garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and lending/trading between neighbors and friends.

Bartering could take the form of simply lending something to a neighbor (knowing that when you need something your neighbor has, she’s likely to return the favor), trading seedlings or garden harvests, trading services (my expertise for yours), and so on.

Our friends that recently had a baby had hardly bought a thing for the little one. Their entire baby room was full of furniture, clothing, cloths and toys from friends, family, and neighbors. When their baby has outgrown her furniture, toys, baby seats, and clothes, I’m sure they will go to the next newborn on the block!

7. Supporting Local (Green) Infrastructure. We have the ability to create change within our communities simply by choosing to utilize the public resources currently available:

  • Transportation: This includes buses, trains, subways, vanpools, and carpools. For an inspiring story, check out Arduous’ public transportation experience in Los Angeles.

  • Local Government: Make sure to keep up on local politics and VOTE in the mid-term, special and interim elections as well as the November presidential elections.

  • Green Power: Your local utility company may have the option to opt into green power – make sure you support these, as our consumer support is the main force pushing these power companies toward green power solutions.

  • Public Works: Utilize and advocate for parks, bike trails, community food gardens, museums, urban wildlife corridors. In my community, a group of neighbors got together and asked the city to tear down a parking lot to create a park. (The opposite of painting paradise and putting up a parking lot.) Next year we’ll have another green space in Seattle!

  • Support Sustainable Development, aka Smart Growth: Advocate for more and better public transportation, public works, sustainable city planning and development, and so on. You can do this by signing petitions, attending public hearings, doing some local armchair activism, or simply voting and making sure your friends and family are knowledgeable about the issues and vote, too.

8. Going to Community Events. These include town hall meetings, PTA meetings, flea markets, garage sales, public hearings for new construction in the neighborhood, neighborhood potlucks, parades, school plays, and much more.

For lists of events, check out your local Chamber of Commerce, community center, church, neighborhood newspaper, or ask your neighbors what’s going on.

Neighborhoods all over Seattle – and all over the country – block their streets for an annual block party on National Night Out. Promotional materials are included on the website if you’d like to host one in your neighborhood – it’s a great way to meet your neighbors in a relaxed setting!

9. Eating Locally. Basically, this means learning what is in your local food shed and supporting those businesses. It will probably take some time to find local foods in your area – probably more time for those of us in the northern climates where most things do not grow year-round – so be patient, and keep at it.

Shawna asked how to find local foods (other than the produce and eggs she grows in her own backyard). Here is how I find them:

  • Grow/raise my own if I can – you can do this in your backyard, front yard, balcony, or a community garden. Some things will even grow indoors or in a window box.

  • Communicate via email with other local bloggers, as some of them have found local items that I haven’t found yet. Some bloggers (like Katrina, Lori and Laura) even list items in their local foodshed directly on their blogs.

  • Local Harvest lists CSAs, farmer’s markets, groceries, farms, and co-ops. They don’t list all of them, but a lot of them are listed.

  • Local food co-ops and grocery stores are often helpful, as they usually try to carry local items (the buyers there are often quite knowledgeable, too). If your local grocery doesn’t carry local items, make sure to talk with the produce and dairy buyers and request that they buy local items. And when they do, tell all your friends to go buy them (so that the buyers continue to stock those items).

  • Contact local farms directly – they may sell direct, or tell you where they sell their products. Talk with farmers at your local farmer’s market as well, because they usually sell at several markets in the area and may have some ideas.

  • You can try your local Slow Food USA Chapter, as they may be able to help and/or connect you to other people interested in local food.

  • When local is not available, buy organic. When it comes to commodity crops like sugar, coffee and spices: buy organic and fair trade, and buy from a local company where it’s locally packaged, and in the case of coffee, where it’s shade grown and locally roasted.

  • Occasionally there just plain isn’t a local source for something, and you just find the one that is closest to you. The more we push for local food, the more resources will become available in the future!

10. Find Your Own Way. When I posted this information in a post at our old blog, I asked readers what #10 would be for them. Rhonda Jean suggested “lobbying local politicians to organize and support the greening of your community.” Katecontinued suggested acknowledging acts of kindness: “It is the glue that makes it all work. When we recognize in another their goodness, it is showing respect. Building respect for one another throughout our communities will give us the strength to accomplish miracles.” Katrina suggested supporting local radio, to prevent our airwaves from becoming yet another monoculture in our society.

In truth, there are many more ways then ten to live locally. This is just the beginning, just a way to start down that path. Once you begin walking, number 10, 11, 12… they will all fall into place.


Helpful Articles In This Series



Read more of our posts about living locally here.

If your are local to me, here are some Resources for Living Locally In The Northwest.




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