The Buying Game

‘Shop Local’ isn’t just a slogan. Our survival depends on it.

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Question: Why should I “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”?

The Right Question: What is a local economy, anyway?

Most of us tend to think of “the economy” as the process of exchanging our money for goods and services, and of receiving wages for our labor, which gets plowed back into buying more goods and services. 

We might imagine this as two circles running in opposite directions—money circles one way, goods and services the other way—and often we think of them as having equal value. But in our modern industrial human economy, only money, the medium of exchange, actually cycles. 

The goods that come into our economy are on a one-way, generally very rapid, trip from extraction from nature, processing into something we want (perhaps even something we need) to disposal in a landfill or incinerator. Our large economy is geared toward making that trip faster and faster, and toward consuming more and more. Whether that makes us healthier or happier is an idea we’ve explored in other columns.

Note “extraction from nature” above. The human economy is only a small part of the global natural economy, which provides us most of our critical needs—air, water and a livable climate outside of the human, money-based economy. The natural economy works very differently. All material resources are continuously recycled, and energy is on a one-way trip—it arrives in very concentrated form from the sun to our planet, where it drives both organic and atmospheric processes, and is eventually dissipated back into space, so diluted as to be incapable of further work. 

When we think of “local economy” we generally mean exchanges that begin and end with the material resources and money never leaving a geographical region. One hundred and fifty years ago, our local economy was the dominant economic unit. Most of Philadelphia’s food and other material resources came from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. However, the explosion ofpetroleum-powered transportation has, for the moment, integrated economies over vast regions. Nevertheless, taking steps to rebuild and strengthen our presently minuscule local economies is the best investment we can make in a secure future, when the energy that powers the global economy wanes.

How do we do that?

The most fundamental way is by supporting our local food economy. That’s why I buy 90 percent of my vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat products from producers in southeastern Pennsylvania, in addition to what grows in my garden, and why flour, pasta and apple juice are about the most highly processed foods I buy. I can find Pennsylvania flour for my bread, but for rice, spice and the occasional orange or date, I have to get transcontinental. 

All of the farms that produce this food use gasoline- or diesel-powered equipmentand spend a significant chunk of their budgets on equipment and technology that comes from all over the world. The electricity running their freezers and coolers comes from a grid that covers several states. Many of those purchases are made in stores that survive by selling highly processed goods from all over the world, such as figs from Turkey and pasta from Italy. (Likely made with wheat imported from the U.S.) Still, my practices reinforce loops, create jobs, reduce energy consumption and preserve necessary skills in our region. Local thrift stores are my source whenever possible for clothes and household items, because that also recycles goods and money within the area, slowing down the conveyor belt of goods on their way from a Chinese factory to a landfill or incinerator in Pennsylvania. (I would be ecstatic if the thrift store had to close because no one was discarding still usable items, but that’s a good ways off.)  And, of course, Philadelphia has wonderful libraries and used book stores.

I pay cash at these local merchants. The cornerstone of the global economy is the financial sector, and to the extent we minimize our transactions with them, the better.  (No, my savings are not in my mattress, they are in a credit union, whose participation in the global economy is radically circumscribed by its nonprofit status and rules of operation.) 

Supporting our local economy is about accepting the limits of the resources and energy available to us, challenging the prevailing idea that we are entitled to whatever we want if we can afford it. It means that I won’t have another strawberry or asparagus spear till next spring, and I am gorging on peaches because they will only be around another month or so… but then the apples start!  

This will be the last regular “The Right Question” for the time being. I thank Grid for the opportunity to have written this column, congratulate the magazine on its 100th issue and stand in anticipation of many more. I hope you have found these columns challenging and stimulating. I would be glad to discuss what I have written and to receive any feedback you might like to share via email. Thank you for reading.

Jerry Silberman is a retired union organizer who now devotes his time to negotiating a resilient future for all of us. He can be reached at

Gray Sells Green: Specialty market Green Aisle Grocery expands westward


Liz peruses a products case at the Green Aisle Grocery on Grays Ferry Avenue. | Photos by Megan Matuzak

The electric-green storefront of local food market Green Aisle Grocery on Grays Ferry Avenue is a sign of change. Five years ago, the acupuncture clinic across the street or frozen Greek yogurt shop on the corner would have seemed out of place. But the new addition fits right into the flourishing neighborhood South of South.

Green Aisle first saw success on East Passyunk, where brothers Andrew and Adam Erace opened their 260-square-foot store in 2009. Their uncommon offerings—Zahav’s hummus tahini, Market Day Canelé, high-quality local meats and dairy—made Green Aisle a local favorite, but the brothers wanted more space. So, when 2241 Grays Ferry Avenue became available this February, Andrew says, “We moved quickly.”

Green Aisle’s Grays Ferry location opened May 3. The store is more than four times the size of its Passyunk sister, with a full basement and outdoor storage area. In the back kitchen, the Green Aisle team prepares its in-house line of preserves and pickles, healthy salads and quick snacks, which the brothers plan to expand over time.

Read More

New Kid on the Block


It looks like the wait for Kensington Quarters (1310 Frankford Ave.), an ambitious combination of butcher shop, restaurant and classroom, is about to end. The restaurant is a partnership of Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello (the owners of Cafe Lift, Prohibition Tap Room and Bufad), and a newcomer to Philadelphia, butcher Bryan Mayer.


Read More

Lunchtime Diaries: Metropolitan Bakery opens cafe in Rittenhouse

A top-crust pot pie at the new Metropolitan Cafe. | Photo from Metropolitan CafeWhile lunchtime at the Grid offices typically means a trip to Reading Terminal or a visit to one of our favorite Chinatown haunts, yesterday we took our appetites all the way to Rittenhouse Square. Our destination: the new Metropolitan Café that opened on Monday.

A chance to nosh on Metropolitan baked goods would’ve been enough of a draw, but the promise of locally sourced foods convinced us the walk was more than worthwhile.

“We decided to open a café partially because for 20 years people have been asking for us to sit down,” says Wendy Smith Born, who opened Metropolitan Bakery with James Barrett in 1993. Barrett is also the chef at the café. “But also … we felt like this was the right next step in our evolution. We’re always looking for a new way to incorporate food in the region. The café gives more of an extension there.”

Read More

A Condiment for Every Season: Kennett chef releases line of chutneys and spreads for Fair Food

Chef Brian Ricci has worked in kitchens across the country, mastered English, French, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines, and, at his current post as executive chef for Philly’s Kennett Restaurant, become an authority on cooking seasonable, sustainable and locally sourced fare. His new line of condiments—called NIFTY—which arrived at the Fair Food Farmstand last month, feature local ingredients and draw on his wide range of exotic and familiar culinary inspirations.

Now on sale for the winter season:

  • Ginger Ketchup, a spicy topping or dip made from Jersey Fresh canned tomatoes and seasoned with nigella seed, ginger, sugar and chilies. $5.99/jar
  • English Chutney, a robust, molasses-based root vegetable chutney made with locally sourced vegetables (particularly delicious when paired with English-style cheddars). $5.50/jar
  • Apple Chutney, a sweet-tart chutney made with apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm in Aspers, Pa. (the perfect accompaniment for bloomy rind cheeses). $5.50/jar

For the spring and summer seasons products will include violet mustard, made with concord grapes from Culton Organics in Silver Spring, Pa.; peach chutney, made with peaches from Three Springs Fruit Farm in Aspers, Pa.; and extra-virgin olive oil whipped cream, a savory topping for fresh summer tomatoes, made with local cream and milk.

Fair Food Farmstand is located at the Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch Streets), Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Kennett Restaurant, 848 S. 2nd St.,

PEGGY PAUL is a freelance editor, writer, and recipe developer (and part-time produce peddler) living in Philadelphia. On her blog, she shares seasonal recipes, cooking tips and inspirations.

Gift Guide: Savory

Who needs another necktie or instantly-outdated gadget? Edible gifts are among the most sustainable you can give, especially when they’re crafted by local artisans using local ingredients. Whether you’re looking for something spicy and savory or sweet and satisfying, Grid’s Holiday Gift Guide is here to help. And, as an added bonus, Marisa McClellan has turned her expertise to exquisite homemade treats for the foodies on your list.
Read More

The Food Issue: Dairy Queens

Amazing Acres Dairy produces local, artisanal chevre  
by Tenaya Darlington

Last May, Debbie Mikulak embarked on a lifelong dream—she became an artisanal goat cheese maker. With 19 goats and a little over five acres in Elverson, PA, she and her husband, Fred Bloom, now produce more than a dozen cheeses, including a French-style Banon wrapped in grape leaves and soaked in brandy.

Read More

The Food Issue: The Challahman Cometh

Michael Dolich sets out to revive the neighborhood bakery 
by Lee Stabert

On an unseasonably warm day in April, Four Worlds Bakery’s Michael Dolich is overseeing the installation of a serious oven. Three men (one of them an expert on this expensive and unwieldy piece of equipment) are straining their backs and sweating up a storm, moving a series of heavy racks made up of slender metal tubes into a box-like shape. In the middle of the floor is a massive pile of insulation. The bakery’s new crown jewel is a high-tech piece of machinery—a $30,000 oven that uses hot water to reach temperatures over 400 degrees—but it will be used to craft something simple, artisanal and perfect.

Read More

Food: In Season

Recipes for a four-course local meal

We’re still full from our food issue (last month, by the way), but we decided to continue expanding our recipe selection, along with our pant sizes. The kind bloggers at agreed to help us out by mixing up a whole meal of delicious, local dishes you can serve at home, or bring to a potluck.
Read More