This July 4th, I’ve found the love—and it’s all grassroots.
At my daughter’s public school, they raise money annually for a longstanding music program to cover critical costs that the state no longer supports, from bus transportation to sound equipment. As one of the fundraisers, the school solicits city businesses to contribute a tax-deductible donation to the program’s nonprofit arm. Donors get advertising opportunities in return, reaching thousands of prized, family-spending eyeballs.
As part of the booster group—lucky me!—I got to help the advertising program get a head start this summer.
I started my outreach with a list of big businesses in the area—most of them larger corporations and big-box stores. I soon realized that while many of them graciously contribute to large-scale projects and various charity organizations, they rarely support specific programs for which a local student and her mama are knocking on their door.
So, I switched to the local Chamber of Commerce list—and bingo! We met a local chiropractor who was interested in reaching nearby families because he had just moved to a new location. He contributed to the fundraiser and is now getting an ad in two show programs this upcoming school year. Later, we were invited to his open house and met his family and other community members at a DIY tent-and-grill. His sister had slaved over art-worthy cupcakes just for the event. It was all about getting to know one other. Unexpected bonuses.
Then, we talked to our friendly, local insurance agent and asked him if he was interested in contributing. Yep! We knew him, he knew us. It wasn’t just customer representative #54309 on the phone. Later, in a follow-up call, his secretary talked at length about how much she had appreciated the music program for her own daughter as well. This was shared, intimate knowledge of how a local school had changed her child’s life—a meaningful social experience.
Next came a local restaurant and real estate agent. With each connection, my happiness quotient increased—it was more than just checking off a task. It was local love.
Grassroots businesses are all about a sense of place and sharing, like when I use my local shipping center and ask Mary, the owner, how she’s doing—such a lovely lady. Or when I venture out early on Saturday mornings to the farmer’s market and engage in impromptu food conversation with friends. Or the high five with the sub-sandwich store owner down the street. Or the big “Hey! Long time no see!” welcome from the chef at the ma-and-pa sushi bar near the movie theatre. Or the knowledge that my yummy Sun Gold tomato plant is also nursery-John’s favorite plant too (he wrote it on the label when I bought the starter).
Isn’t this how it used to be? Or maybe, how we’d like it to be. A picture-perfect, nostalgic image of The Andy Griffith Show in which you personally know your local business owners, patron their businesses at a more leisurely pace, and engage in genuine, tangible community social life (and let’s not forget a bit of humor) through this sustainable circle of community life.
Here are some ideas for how you can find your own local love:
Make it a habit to visit your local farmer’s market each week. You’ll develop relationships with vendors, experience the ebb and flow of regional produce, and meet up with friends and neighbors. It brings appreciation, meaning, and happiness to your food.
One of the little-known secrets of food critics is that they find some of the tastiest eats in holes in the wall. Small business cafes and restaurants often have authentic cultural foods and homemade menu items, plus you’ll get to know who makes your food. It’s time to check out that little soup spot!
Smaller, family-owned nurseries are often a goldmine of heirloom, diverse, and native plants at prices similar to (or sometimes less than!) large-scale stores. The owner usually has refreshingly intimate knowledge about the local growing patterns and climate.
Be curiously open to trying new stores and services. Do an easy search for local businesses on the website of your local Chamber of Commerce. Take a leisurely Saturday stroll down areas in your community that have lots of small businesses for a fun outing with a friend or spouse. Discover!
Terra Wellington has been a guest on such programs as Chicago’s WGN, The Daily Buzz, The Montel Williams Show, WCBS’s This Morning, and Martha Stewart Radio. She is the author of The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green and the former wellness editor of Fit Body and Real. In addition to contributing to numerous magazines and websites, she’s an actress and mom. More at www.terrawellington.com Twitter: @terrawellington