#OurWorld: Shopping Local & My War on Wal-Mart

Sam av

Before we begin, I need to address the elephant and donkey in the room.

In light of the impending [doom] election in America, there is plenty to touch upon. Our two major parties just nominated the two least well-liked candidates in American history. One is portrayed as the second coming of Hitler. The other’s greatest asset is that she isn’t him. Neither care more about the people than they care about themselves. Neither is what could be considered a public servant. I could go on about this all day. But today, I won’t. To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t had the time to put the effort into how heavy a post that would be. The reason for it will be covered in my [late] #WriteTip post (spoiler alert: my mom was in the hospital).

All I’m going to say on the matter this week is that if you’re discontented with the candidates, look into Third Party candidates–Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and don’t be shamed into feeling forced to vote for one of the larger two parties that is more likely to win. We vote for people who are supposed to represent our interests. Failing to do that means your interests don’t receive representation. I WILL cover this in an upcoming blog post. I promise. Between now and election day, it’s probably going to take up a majority of my Tuesdays.

BUT! For this week, I want to talk about shopping local.

My Home Community: Kalkaska

Since I moved to my new little town, I’ve felt a shift in my humanity. I love my little community and I’m trying to fit in. I want this place to thrive. Kalkaska is trying to grow, trying to attract intelligent young people who work in Traverse City. It’s marketing itself as a cheaper alternative to living in Traverse City with most of the amenities. For starters, you can have three times the home for the same mortgage. Not too shabby!

Since I’ve started to really give a damn about this community, I’ve been paying attention to the people. I’ve started kind of talking to my neighbors, I’m going to my first township meeting next week, I’ve met other Pokemon Go trainers out and [skulking] about at night. I’ve even spoken to the police a little (apparently, I wasn’t supposed to be in the park after nightfall…oops). After I got a passive aggressive Homeowners Association [invitation to the annual meet-n-greet dinner] letter, I’m even considering jumping on board that little committee…

I’m doing my best to shop nearby. Kalkaska is thriving labor community. There is a lot of manufacturing, farming, and heavy equipment. I think the town has four or more bars, a few hotels, several grocery stores, several hardware stores…but it also supports my habits. There’s even a Chinese restaurant and a brand new video game store!

My favorite place by far is this little marketplace on the corner on my way to work called Cherry Street Market.

As you can see, it’s an open air marketplace that sells…everything. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, herbs, handmade chocolates and caramels, sandwiches, cold salads, eggs, milk, gardening supplies, plants and fruit trees, dried fruit, pies…seriously. This place is amazing, AND reasonably priced. I think we go at least once a week just to grab a few things. We almost always get some apples, peaches, and a loaf of bread. This is where I’ll be buying my fruit trees next year when I’m ready to plant them.

Most of their goods are locally sourced. However, in the interest of having everything that one might need for cooking, they sometimes get their produce from other states. I know we got tomatoes from Arkansas a couple of times, and today’s eggs came from Ohio. But, I am fairly confident that the fruits and vegetables we get are from small farms, not the large commercial farms that value quantity over quality.

There are several things I simply can’t stand from a huge grocery store. Tomatoes, for one. They’re usually shipped green and chemically forced to turn red. They’re often crunchy, with more grainy tomato flesh than the rich, juicy red of a vine-ripe tomato. Peaches, for another. They’re usually too hard and mealy from the grocery store, but a farm fresh peach makes a big mess when you bite into it.

My other favorite place to shop in Kalkaska is the farmers’ market every Tuesday. Ours is pretty small, but each of the vendors sells very different things, so it doesn’t matter. Ours offers:

  • handmade wooden bowls, birdhouses, chopping boards
  • handmade jewelry
  • canvas paintings
  • fresh honey
  • maple syrup
  • granola
  • bread, pies, cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls
  • chicken eggs
  • duck eggs
  • fresh rabbit, pork, duck, chicken, beef (you can order 1/4-1/2 cows if you want!), mangalitsa pig
  • fresh milk, ice cream, butter
  • jams and jellies
  • tomato butter
    • side note…this shit is amazing.
  • salsa
  • tarts
  • fresh peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, corn, strawberries, cherries, raspberries
  • handmade soaps, chapstick, face products

Usually on Tuesday, I get a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and something new to try. I will probably have to stock up on tomato butter for the winter though. Honestly, I can’t overstate how delicious it is.

Wal-Mart

I used to love Wal-Mart. They have cheap things and they’re pretty much always open. You can find anything you need there at the lowest possible price. That’s great for someone who’s operating on a low budget. It is solely for this reason that I have a hard time getting people to swear off of Wal-Mart.

Let’s talk about something very, very real. If you can get all of your items in one place rather than having to go to several smaller shops, what would you do? If you could get all of your groceries for less than $150 rather than spending more for higher quality food, what would you do? If you can go to a 24-hour mega mart rather than waiting until morning or planning ahead, what would you do? Would you pay rock-bottom prices for lower quality goods, or go across the street to the grocery store that has always been there to shop? Who are you supporting, and why?

Unfortunately, with the squeeze on as hard as it is right now, most of our actions are dictated by our bank accounts. If we can’t afford fancy baked goods this week, we’ll go buy bread that’s 2 for $3 instead. Fresh peaches are wonderful, but feeding five people on less than $100 a week is better.

Why do fast food restaurants thrive in poor communities? It’s cheap.

Why does Wal-Mart flourish? It’s cheap.

So if the choice is suddenly made available to you, if Wal-Mart randomly appears in your town one day, what shock to the system does it create?

As it turns out…quite a big one.

Wal-Mart is owned by one of the richest families in America (the Waltons are firmly embedded in the Top 1% of America’s elite). How do they make so much money on such cheap stuff? Here’s the breakdown:

  • They pay their workers low wages
  • They offer shitty benefits packages
  • Their goods are mainly manufactured overseas
  • They dodge taxes

Let’s rephrase that:

  • They pay their workers as close to slavery as they possibly can (darn that pesky minimum wage!)
  • They don’t take care of their employees or their families
  • They’d rather pay foreign workers pennies to make their products than give any American a decent career. 70% of Wal-Mart’s goods are made in China, not the USA.
  • They’re too rich to have to pay taxes

Wal-Mart gets into your community by duping your planning commission. They spin this pitch like they’re going to bring your community a bunch of jobs, pull in business from surrounding areas, and boost the economy.

Here’s what will really happen:

  • The ‘jobs’ they bring in will be mostly minimum wage. Many employees of Wal-Mart rely on government assistance (food stamps, WIC, etc.) to supplement their lives.
  • The small businesses in the vicinity of Wal-Mart will lose business to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart doesn’t have to compete. It will outcompete all small businesses in the area. This will force those businesses to cut employment and cut prices, and most will go out of business as a result. Forever. For every two jobs Wal-Mart creates, your community will lose three.
  • The people Wal-Mart supposedly attracts are not the kind of people you want to bring into a growing community. This is not meant as a dig to low-income families…it’s merely fact. If you’re trying to seed a community with young, intelligent innovators that are going to bring the entrepreneurial spirit and energy to your town, Wal-Mart isn’t going to bring that. It will attract people who can afford to shop at Wal-Mart…and only Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart keeps less than 50% of its income in the community. The rest of it goes into their bank accounts. By contrast, small businesses typically keep about 63% of their income in the community.
  • Wal-Mart undercuts suppliers, which forces them to reduce prices. Because it is such a big retailer, it is often the majority of a supplier’s business. So if Wal-Mart decides it would rather pay less for goods, the supplier is stuck with a difficult choice: lose their largest customer, or sacrifice product for less money?

Other reasons to avoid Wal-Mart? People like to hit your car in the parking lot, and checkout lines are awful.

I’m going to our township meeting for the first time next week. I recently learned a Wal-Mart has been approved to be built soon. I just moved here, so I kind of missed the party. I hope I’m not too late…It’s just been pushed back a year due to planning concerns. There’s a member of the commission that told the local paper that he was concerned about the effect Wal-Mart will have on small businesses. I’m hoping he’ll listen to me.

Also, let’s see that little market again…

I’m trying to imagine life without this place now.

Wish me luck.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

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About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on August 3, 2016, in #OurWorld and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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