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Greener alternatives to Black Friday

November 29, 2013 - 3:08pm

We’ve made it through the retail free-for-all known as Black Friday. Some say the name refers to the day that corporate retailers finally “get into the black” financially. More likely, the big box retailers actually operate in the black all year and holiday spending simply boosts their bottom line.

Rather than joining the throngs of shoppers crowding the big box stores this season, you might want to consider some local alternatives. It’s time to start thinking, “Buy Local for the Holidays”.

Lots of opportunities for local buying exist in Kona including several farmers markets. Check out the South Kona Green Market on Fridays and Sundays in Captain Cook as well as at the Keauhou Farmers Market on Saturdays at the Keauhou Shopping Center and markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay. All offer great “buy local” alternatives.

Business at the markets, at roadside stands and locally owned shops starts to pick up this time of year. Join other shoppers who are buying local products that can be unique gifts with real local impact, since most of the money stays in our local economy.

Only about 10 percent of the income of national chain stores stays where it is spent, covering things like rent, salaries and daily expenses. Local businesses, on the other hand, keep at least 50 percent of their income circulating in the community. Farmers markets with strict “all-local” policies keep upward of 80 percent of the money here at home. That makes “buying local” not only good for those who are actually selling pruducts, but also good for those buying. Those sales people are going to spend their money in the community and eventually it will make its way back to you.

Market vendors often talk about this concept. The amount of money flowing through the market is important, but more important is the “velocity” of the money flowing through the vendors. One shopper buys a loaf of bread. The baker picks up some vegetables. The veggie grower gets a slice of pizza and in turn the pizza cook buys a piece of jewelry for a gift. The jeweler now has the cash to buy another vendor’s coffee. The same few dollars have flowed through the market and created all these transactions. That is how a vibrant local economy works. Money spent locally has a chance to be spent locally again, and again and again.

Money spent at corporate retailers moves out of our community almost immediately and benefits corporate headquarters and, perhaps, the foreign country where the products were manufactured.

By all means, if you want the latest high-tech gadget, shop around and head over to one of the big boys. Our local markets don’t sell video games or flat screen TVs, but they do sell locally grown and locally produced products that are often special. When you purchase an item from someone who has been directly involved in its production, you are buying more than just the item. You might be helping the family pay for their child’s ballet or ukulele lessons. You could be helping a neighbor get his brakes fixed or making sure a friend can pay her cell phone bill. You are supporting the very base of our local economic pyramid.

There are plenty of opportunities to buy local this holiday season. Most days of the week you can find a local shop or market where the array of merchandise that local craftspeople produce will delight you. There is often much more than fruit and vegetables at a farmers market. You’ll find farmers who sew, write, bake and do woodwork and bring their value-added products to market. You may find that the perfect gift for your mother or brother-in-law is waiting for you there and it will likely be unique and memorable.

Tim Bruno and his wife, Karen, are coffee and avocado farmers, who also manage the South Kona Green Market.

Tropical gardening helpline

Don asks: I have very hard soil in most of my landscape. Some is rock, some just rocky and the rest seems to be very hard. Any suggestions for plants that can break up hard soil?

Answer: The answer to your question is somewhat dependent on how deep you want your soil to be. Most vegetables only need 6 to 8 inches of friable soil to thrive, whereas a tree might have a tap root that goes very deep. The answers also depend on how quickly you want to break up your soil. Improving soil texture is usually a long term process which cannot be achieved quickly.

To start with you might want to break up the upper layer of soil with some fast growing root or cover crops. Radishes grow quickly, and some varieties, like daikon, penetrate deep in the soil. Other root crops like rutabagas, turnips and carrots can also help break up the surface of compacted soils.

If you feel the soil is too hard to even attempt growing these, a bit of elbow grease may be called for. You may have to do a bit of hand tilling with a hoe and add some organic matter to the soil as you go so these root crops can get started at breaking up your soil.

Some cover crops can also be useful but may take a season or two to be effective. Alfalfa is a good choice as it has deep roots and is a nitrogen fixing plant. Some shrubs and small trees with deep roots can help as well, but they will take much longer to break up the soil.

The tried and true method for loosening hard soils is with the addition of organic matter, either through the use of compost and other organic mulches or by planting, mowing and mulching with deep rooted cover crops or preferably both. Frequent applications of grass clippings, leaves, organic mulches or compost can increase microbial activity in the soil which will help break it up as well.

For more information on alfalfa as an aid to breaking up hard soil go to and search for alfalfa.

Diana Duff produced this column. She is a local organic farmer as well as a plant advisor and consultant.

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