How do you feel about visiting your local large, big box grocer? I don’t know about you, but I tend to dread most things about such an act: from driving to its location perched just off the highway to piloting the car (and a car’s a must…these establishments are typically not pedestrian friendly) through the football field sized parking lot to dodging traffic on foot to get to the front doors to navigating a cart through isle after isle of brightly colored packages, searching in vain for something that fits with my family’s organic, non- processed food preferences and then scanning what I do find through the automated check- out line while the people behind me wait impatiently because my apples are rolling around because I don’t like to put them in the plastic bags the store provides. In short, it’s stressful, over stimulating and isolating all rolled into one “convenient” experience. I typically leave big chain stores feeling depleted even though the goal upon entering was to procure some nourishing, life sustaining food. I leave feeling like a consumer; like just another one of the numbers on an economic check list.
Yesterday I had a few unexpected hours to myself in the afternoon, so I figured I’d use the time to get some things done that are easier to do without a toddler in tow. I needed some flour, some broccoli (our toddler’s veggie of choice these days) and some cream. I needed to clean the bathroom, do the laundry and bring in some firewood. I thought about heading to the local chain store on my way home from dropping Eva off at her grandparents’– it is right on the way and the act of going in and purchasing a couple items would have been a quick detour. It would have been over and done in 15 minutes, and I would have been on my way to the next thing on my list.
But I didn’t. Instead, I drove a little out of my way, over the river and through the downtown area of St. Croix Falls, WI, a little town that’s partially perched on riverbanks of St. Croix River. I drove just a touch north of town to the Wert Nature Preserve (450 beautiful acres that have been dedicated to providing space for creatures to thrive and humans to visit by treading lightly and respecting the natural state of the area.) and poked around on the newly melted trails. The errand list, well, that could wait. Somehow the choice to avoid the pull of a house in need of cleaning and the convenience of an enormous parking lot plus some shiny pre-packaged goods inspired me to head to the woods instead. There was water running in the creek beds, but due to low snow levels this past winter, it was dry enough to hike around on the trails that wind up the hillsides. I meandered around for a few miles, reveled in the strangely warm March air and made a point to notice the sounds and textures of what I was immersed in. Since I did still need flour, broccoli and cream, I took one final deep breath of the forest air and made my way back into town.
And instead of driving up the hill to the local big box chain that has everything one could possibly need within the same four walls, I went to Fine Acres Market. Situated in the midst of a quaint downtown stretch of mostly local businesses, there’s only street parking, and I sometimes have to walk a ways from where I find a spot. It’s a small shop, with just enough room for bulk bins of things like flour, spices, and other grains, another for supplements and body care, and an area for dairy and produce. It’s encouraged to bring your own bags, and I also try to remember to return the glass milk bottles that the local organic dairy uses. It takes a little extra time to wash my hands and scoop flour, assemble the other bulk items in the array of used bags that I have stashed at the bottom of various canvas totes and write down the prices for the cashier. Sometimes I don’t find every single thing on my list. After all, a store that likes to source things locally just isn’t typically always going to have broccoli in March. (But they did this time!) But everything is organic. I get to choose how much I want. Many of the goods come from someplace close by. And there’s always a kind person working the till, happy to answer questions or just chat about the day. In short, the feeling of the place is life-giving and sustaining. It’s not stressful, and I always find myself lingering. I leave the store feeling uplifted and good about my place in the world. I leave feeling like I was just part of a positive exchange of energy instead of just another economic transaction that feeds an unsustainable system.
So my errands on this unexpectedly free afternoon took longer than anticipated, and I didn’t get everything on my to-do list done as a result. But at the end of the day I felt like a complete person. I could have spent the afternoon buying convenience and time, but instead I chose to use that time to be an intentional part of the aspects of my community that truly align with what I value most. Do I always make that choice? No. I wish I did, but sometimes ease and hurry get the best of me. But every time I do choose intentionality over convenience? Well, I guess I’m just that much closer to my wish. I suppose then I’m shopping with integrity.