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The hottest global trend is local

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Mark Hertzberg/Journal Times/AP/File

(Read caption) Volunteers work in a community garden in Racine, Wis.

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When was it that “local” – a word that rhymes with yokel and has long been a synonym for small-time and provincial – became hot? When did a gnarly heirloom tomato replace a spotless Calgene Flavr Savr as the “it” produce? What has prompted people to enthuse over artisanal cheeses, dirt-caked root vegetables, micro-batch beverages, and sketchy-looking salsas in Mason jars? 

Bright lights and big cities are undeniably fun and productive, especially Monday through Friday. But town squares and farmers’ markets – even in big cities – are where the action is most weekends in most neighborhoods. 

Let’s go back to where it all began. (Well, since most things start locally, perhaps not quite that far.) In recent history, the back-to-the-land 1960s begat communes and a small-is-beautiful movement. Most of those experiments fizzled as idealism crashed into practicality. But something was stirring. In the ensuing decades, urban pioneering, organic farming, slow food, and a “think global, act local” ethos gathered pace. By the ’70s, preservation movements were stopping the wrecking balls of urban renewal and forcing the rethinking of neighborhood-crushing superhighway projects such as Interstate 95 in Boston and the Westway in Manhattan.

I’d argue, however, that the tipping point for localism didn’t occur in one epic battle. Localism prevailed in ten thousand places where residents began to care about the community around them instead of just launching away on their morning commutes and reentering their neighborhoods at night. The shop around the corner may not have more stuff or better deals than Wal-Mart, but it contributes to the fabric of life and is worth patronizing. 

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