Young leaders concoct 'Green Scheme'

Shopping locally is focus of High School Leadership Montezuma project

The mantra of "buy local" has pulsed ever louder in communities whose residents see it as a way to support neighborhood businesses, build local ties and foster sustainable food and economic systems.

Now teens from across Montezuma and Dolores counties are taking up the cause with their own buy-local campaign, called the Green Scheme.

High School Leadership Montezuma is taking on a summer-long project aimed at motivating residents to shop locally through a punch card program. Customers get a punch each time they make a purchase at any participating local business. After the 10th punch, the businesses would agree to give the customer a discount at wherever they make their next purchase.

The group plans to roll out the punch card April 22. They are currently in the midst of creating advertising and marketing materials and getting commitments from local businesses.

Businesses in Dolores, Dove Creek, Cortez and Mancos all have expressed interest in signing on and honoring punches from each other.

The buy local campaign is the leadership group's culminating project of the year and is based on the concept of service learning. This year, the group of about 24 high school sophomores and juniors was tasked with picking a project related to the theme of environmental responsibility.

Buying locally saves gas by lowering the distance people drive for their purchases and the distance food travels from grower to consumer, promotes the use of local materials that use less resources, and supports a more sustainable economy, especially when it comes to food systems, the high schoolers said.

The campaign's tagline is "Be social, buy local," because shopping at local stores also encourages personal interactions among community members.

"It's different than getting online (to buy something)," said Abby Lock, a junior at Montezuma-Cortez High School.

There is a data component to the project as well. When the campaign ends, students will survey businesses about whether the program helped them and how it could improve. They will track and tally how many people used the punch cards at each business.

The group has been working with Gayel Alexander of the Cortez Retail Enhancement Association, which focuses on making Cortez a regional market hub. Alexander told the leadership group the association may help pick up some of the costs to print punch cards and brochures and may consider continuing the project in the future if it is successful, said Cindy Houston, with Southwest Community Leadership Collaborative, which oversees the high school program.

The teenagers said their project can add a unique punch to the buy local movement.

Teenagers are significant spenders and they are more likely to jump on the buy local bandwagon if they are hearing about it from their peers, said Maegan Wall, a senior at Dolores High School who is participating in the group as an alumni.

And the fact that young people are leading this effort sends a message that the next generation is committed to being community conscious, Lock said.