Shopping local this season makes a difference.
That’s the message that the Be Local Initiative wants to impress upon Calgarians as they partake in holiday shopping this year.
The initiative, run by local non-profit Momentum, is a network that connects socially and environmentally-minded businesses in Calgary.
“There’s tons of amazing local businesses in Calgary, and local business networks in Calgary, but the businesses that are part of Be Local are all trying to create a positive impact in community,” said Philip Lozano, community enterprise coordinator for Momentum.
The non-profit took over the stewardship of the business network in January 2020. Since then they’ve launched new ways to assist their members during the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of those was a Be Local eCommerce website that offered consumers, and members, a unified storefront for product sales.
Be Local’s business directory also listed the ways in which its members have engaged in social and environmental initiatives.
Businesses chasing more than profit
Membership in Be Local has required community improvement initiatives by members.
The outcomes aimed for by these businesses have varied across the social and environmental spectrum.
“We’ve got some businesses that have social initiatives, some that have an environmental commitment, some who believe in paying above a living wage, others who are working towards net zero emissions, and others who tried to source their supplies locally,” said Lozano.
Lozano said that Calgarians looking for businesses actually engaged in real commitments in environmental, social, and corporate governance are able to contact their members directly through their website.
“I can understand it’s tough to know who to trust, and how do you know who’s who’s legit … nine–times–out–of–ten, you will get the founder, or president, or CEO, and that’s the person you’re going to talk to.”
He used the example of Hope Cleaning, a local cleaning business that hires women from marginalized backgrounds, or who have been victims of domestic violence.
“If you call that number, you’ll probably get Rachel on the phone, who is their founder,” said Lozano.
“If you’re not sure who to believe, have a conversation, and I think that’s the beautiful thing about Be Local is, you know who you’re buying from, you know, their stories, and you can engage them in a dialogue.”
Be Local member eliminating locally grown fruit wastage
SunnyCider is one of the Be Local members that is engaged in reducing food waste in the city.
They have used the abundance of fruit grown in Calgary as part of their supply chain. This has amounted to about 20 per cent of their fruit sourced annually.
“That’s kind of SunnyCider’s story, and the reason we got into making cider was to use local fruit. Calgary and area fruit—so not just apples, but pears, sour cherries, and Saskatoons,” said Dennis Scanland, one of the founders of SunnyCider.
Scanland said that just about every neighborhood in Calgary has fruit trees. The amount of fruit grown can be overwhelming for people trying to make use of it.
“You pick a few and make some applesauce or apple pies, or maybe you juice them yourself, but there’s just too many to really do much with in a small household. So, we reach out to them and get them to donate their fruit to us,” he said.
The Be Local business directory shows that SunnyCider has diverted more than 10 tons of fruit that would have gone to waste. Or about the weight of 43,000 apples.
Local, for real and for resiliency
Lozano said that sometimes consumers and businesses have forgotten what it means to be truly local to Calgary.
“I think this word local is now so ubiquitous, that we’ve kind of forgotten the true essence of it. The thing that I try to remind myself of all the time is that local is closest,” he said.
“It sounds so obvious.”
Lozano said that he understands why consumers are worried about supply chain issues. Especially in the wave of the devastating floods in B.C.
“When your supplier, or when the business you’re buying from is your neighbour, there’s almost no worry about supply chain,” he said.
“The supply chain is not just convenient, and local, and super close, but the supply chain is also more resilient, more responsive, and more adaptive,” he said.
Lozano said many Be Local members are sourcing or producing their goods as close to Calgary as possible. They’re less affected by the closures of rail lines and highways to B.C. ports.
Building local business resiliency began at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic for Be Local.
They performed a survey of their members in 2020 and found that six per cent of their members increased their wages for employees during the pandemic. Furthermore, 81 per cent of their members already pay above a living wage.
“It’s a reminder of the strength that we have in the community. And it’s a reminder of all the amazing assets that we have in our community,” said Lozano.
Connecting to a Be Local businesses
Momentum has created a holiday shopping guide for this year that features products from Be Local members, and also highlights what causes those businesses are involved in.
Their eCommerce website also allows members who did not have a website to sell products on before, to sell directly to consumers.
“So one of the things that be local did to be in service to be in response to Covid is we actually set up that infrastructure for them,” said Lozano.
The online store doesn’t sell all of the products that members have for sale. AGLC rules prevent online sales from their brewery and cidery members, like SunnyCider.
SunnySide was able to connect with fellow network member Devour catering to use their cider in baking.
“They ended up making some home-delivery Turkey pies, and used our cider in them,” said Scanland.
“I don’t think they would have known about us if it wasn’t for the Be Local network.”