Judy Wicks is co-founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and founder of Fair Food, two pioneering organizations that enhance and promote the concept of local living economies. An international leader and speaker, Judy also founded White Dog Café, which has been purchasing sustainably grown produce from local family farmers for over twenty years.
Ethix Merch: Fair Food, an organization you founded in 2001, works to build demand for local food in the Greater Philadelphia region. Based on your experiences with local food, what does it take for someone to change their consumer habits? Do you think these lessons are applicable to other consumer-driven movements, like the movements to end sweatshops and human trafficking?
Judy Wicks: In my experience, there are a number of ways to change consumer habits. The one I believe applies to ending sweatshops is teaching the concept that our dollar is our vote – that we as consumers have power to create the world we want by voting with our dollar – buying to support what we want more of in the world, and not buying what we don’t want. When we can help consumers see this cause and effect, we raise consciousness that can be used to support local farms, sweat-free clothing and other things of value, and boycott the products that have a harmful effect on other people, animals and/or the environment. This takes a lot of education of the consumer to help them see and remember the connection between their purchase and its effect in the world.
There are other incentives to buying local food that translate to the movement to end sweatshops when the alternative to sweatshops is promoted as local, green manufacturing. I believe the consumer interest in buying local food comes from the desire to know personally the people who grow our food. It feels good and brings enjoyment to build community. It also comes from the belief that local food is more nutritious, healthy and flavorful because it does not travel long distances. I believe that it also comes from the instinct to increase local self-reliance in these uncertain times. When the alternative to sweatshops is presented as local, green manufacturing, we can help the consumer feel a connection to the people making their clothes, help them understand that we are building local self-reliance by manufacturing the basic need of clothing locally, and if the clothes are eco-friendly help them see that these clothes are healthier to wear and healthier for the environment.
Ethix Merch: One of the goals of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, (BALLE), another organization you founded in 2001, is to create networks of independently owned local businesses. What do locally-owned businesses bring to a community that multinational corporations do not?
Judy Wicks: Locally owned businesses bring economic power back to communities from far away board rooms. They help build community wealth by providing jobs and building greater local self-reliance, so communities are not dependent on long distance supply routes to deliver needed products. Buying from local companies keeps capital circulating within a community rather than being drained out. Local business owners often are civic leaders and typically contribute more to local non-profits. Locally owned businesses create unique local identity and personal relationships between consumers and business owners help build enjoyable community life.
Ethix Merch: What role, if any, do you think American manufacturing could have in building a local living economy?
Judy Wicks: Manufacturing is crucial to building a local living economy. We need to produce basic needs as close to home as possible – food processing, energy production, green building supplies, clothing manufacturing. These are all needed to build vibrant, self-reliant local economies. Manufacturing using local supplies and local labor for local consumption is at the heart, but also manufacturing unique products for export to communities who do not have that product also builds the economy. Local living economies are not isolated, but rather are connected by fair trade with each other to get products that are not available locally.
Ethix Merch: Is there a place for international solidarity (like fair trade) within the BALLE framework?
Judy Wicks: Absolutely, fair trade is a basic principle in BALLE, both domestic and international. BALLE envisions a global economy comprised of a network of local living economies, which are self-reliant in basic needs, yet connected by small to small fair trade relationships spanning the globe for what is not available locally. BALLE values cultural diversity and trade among communities in what is unique to each.
We need to support local self-reliance around the globe. If every community had food, water and energy security, this would provide the foundation for world peace.
Ethix Merch: Can you please list a few books or other resources that our readers should check out, if they want to learn about sustainability and local economies in more detail?