The phrase “shop local,” is tossed around as an article of faith, but in a small town, it’s sometimes easier said than done. What does shopping local entail and why does it seem to be such a big deal?
“(Shopping local) means staying within your community for more than groceries,” said West Point Chamber of Commerce coordinator Kristie Walker. “You can drive a couple minutes, buy a unique gift at one of the local shops or supplies you need to finish your DIY job, then finish your day by supporting a local restaurant.”
New Kent Chamber of Commerce coordinator Connie Bryan said shopping local is important to her. She strives to be a part of the movement with her own decisions as a consumer.
“For me, it means going to New Kent doctors’ offices and getting groceries from New Kent,” Bryan said. “When you go to the Walmart in Williamsburg, the taxes benefit James City County roads and school systems, but if you shop here, it’s going to benefit our community.”
Benefiting the Community
“Everyone benefits when you shop local: the businesses, the community and the shopper,” Walker said. “It is time for small towns to make a comeback, and I think shopping local is a great start.”
Bryan said shopping locally not only supports local businesses and funds improved infrastructure, but can also personally benefit consumers.
“It cuts down travel time to stay local, too,” Bryan said. “With all the construction on I-64, there can be a lot of traffic, so it’s easier to stay in the area to shop.”
Walker agreed, adding that shopping local may sometimes cost more but in reality, you’re only repurposing the money you would have spent on gas to go elsewhere.
Various community members and business owners claim there are health benefits to shopping locally, too. Kirby Sellars, of Homeplace Farm in Barhamsville, said the health benefits of local produce is one of the many reasons he is an advocate for shopping local.
“Where is the produce you’re getting coming from when you shop at Walmart? How long did it take to get to the shelves?”Sellars asked. “It’s healthier to shop local and eat fresh. That’s the biggest benefit, honestly. It’s always going to be fresh.”
In August, a wide variety of foods are in season and available locally. Black-eyed peas, cantaloupe and blueberries are all in season this month in Virginia, according to Grace Communication Foundation’s Seasonal Food Guide.
The United States Department of Agriculture shares what produce is in season based on the time of year. As fall kicks in, shoppers will find that local farms may produce more broccoli, grapes and cranberries.
Local farmers sell their produce in various ways. The West Point Farmers’ Market is open Saturday mornings, but some farms prefer their customers visit them to buy their goods. Other farmers sell their produce in stores such as Food Lion.
Father and son Matt and Quinn Smith of Woodville Farm have sold chicken and duck eggs at the West Point Farmers’ Market almost every Saturday for the past two years.
“This is authentic, home-grown farm produce,” said Matt Smith. “You need to appreciate fresh food and the value of fresh food, even though it may cost more than grocery store produce.”
Quinn Smith said about 40 percent of their customers come to the market just for their chicken and duck eggs. The others buy from them after shopping from their neighboring vendor, Homeplace Farm.
Homeplace Farm sells produce year round. They depend on regular customers and often listen to what they say they want to see on shelves when thinking about what to grow next.
“People ask me for what they want and we try to get it for them,” said Sellars, whose family owns the farm. “When it gets closer to Halloween, we do winter squash and kale. We listen to what people ask for.”
Farms such as Holly Fork Farm and Couch’s Corner Berries in New Kent and Bell Acre Farms in King William invite customers to pick their own food straight from the fields.
Depending on what’s in season, Holly Fork Farm has a variety of options for their customers. In the spring, strawberries are available for picking. As fall rolls around, the farm opens a pumpkin patch.
Couch’s Corner Berries sells a variety of foods depending on what’s in season. According to its Facebook page, the farm allows customers to pick their own asparagus, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Bell Acre Farm is open seasonally. The farm invites customers to pick blackberries from their fields.
West Point’s Food Lion offers produce from several local farms as well. A sign that says “Local Goodness” marks a display where shoppers can find a variety of produce from Virginia farms.
Locally-owned restaurants such as Nick’s Spaghetti and Steakhouse and The Blue Crab of West Point buy their food locally as well.
Niko Mantis, whose family owns Nick’s, said the restaurant’s supplier gets its produce from local farmers during the summer when it’s in season.
Owner of The Blue Crab Hillary Forrest said her restaurant gets their fresh seafood from various local watermen.
Walker shared that shopping locally applies to all businesses, including those outside the food industry.
“We have gift shops, furniture, hardware, gas, variety stores, doctors, drug stores, accessories (and food,)” Walker said. “It’s true that you will have to make more (stops throughout the day,) but you are keeping money and business in (the community.)”
Smith said their largest hurdle to attracting customers is getting the word out that they’re at the farmers’ market. Businesses across the Tidewater area come across the same problem: they are unknown to a large number of potential customers.
“If a business is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, you can find them on our directory,” Bryan said. “All our members must have some connection to New Kent. They either are located here or serve this area.”
West Point Chamber of Commerce also has a directory available on its website.
Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KassieLSimmons.