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Higher gas prices have some benefits, at least

Once again oil prices are pinching the pocketbook so I'm doing my part, lowering demand by working at home today. Not a bad deal — setting up shop with the laptop out on the porch where the welcome distraction is the battle between the blue jays and the cardinals over the backyard feeder.

Ah, telecommuting. One of the benefits of being in the scribe's trade is the ability to cast your thoughts where you will. Words can come together in the most unlikely places — when doing the dishes, working out at the gym, weeding the garden or lazing around on the living room couch in the company of youngsters who are entranced with endless episodes of Japanese anime or America's Next Top Model.

Better to be out on the screened porch where you can take in the spring air and chase the jay's angry call from tree to tree.

Sounds more like frolicking than work. In a way, it is — the upside, so to speak.

It could be much worse. I could be stringing thoughts during the 30-minute drive to the office in my four-cylinder SUV that's getting more expensive to run by the minute.

So now we're back to our never-ending dance with big oil and our own sorry dependency. Try as we may, we can't seem to get ourselves off the stuff.

Much as I like the idea of it, we couldn't afford the hybrid when we car-shopped earlier this year — even with the nice tax break. Ethanol, which once seemed promising, turned out to be another subsidy for farmers. High-speed rail, which looked like a start in the right direction to some, bit the dust in Florida a couple of weeks ago. Clean coal doesn't seem all that clean to the environmentalist. Natural gas has all that controversy over fracking and groundwater contamination. Nuclear power looks like a rather precarious alternative right now.

So we say another prayer for the Japanese, shake our heads and waltz to the pumps — the pumps at the discount store down the road where there's always a line because it's a whole seven cents a gallon cheaper than the station right around the corner.

It's the kind of effort you make to right your own ship in the rising tide. Pack your own lunches, grow your own vegetables, walk to the neighborhood pizza joint, brew your own coffee, stretch that solitary tea bag into three cups.

Been doing that for a while. Now what?

Stretch even more. Shop local.

We're all in the same boat after all.

Lent is a blessing for the Trinity Seafood Market, where I buy fish when the kids will eat it. But when I wince at the price of the favored northern flounder, the clerk at the counter suggests I try the basa, which turns out to be a fair substitute and a fair bit cheaper.

Down the street at Honeybee Farmers Market, the rising cost of gas and the recent cold weather here and in California and Mexico have turned into a double whammy for owners Ming and Jeff Pruett.

While Jeff, 37, supports the family of three as the manager of a nutrition store in Wesley Chapel, Ming, 43, who runs the farmers market, has yet to draw a paycheck.

They do their part to be competitive, purchasing most of their produce from local farmers markets in Tampa and Plant City.

"We're local, so we like to support the local farmers," Ming said.

And three weeks ago, when iceberg lettuce was going for $54 a case because the cold weather killed crops in California and Mexico, Ming refused to stock it.

"People are definitely shopping around more these days," she said. "We pick and choose our battles, too, and I just couldn't see charging my customers $4 a head for iceberg lettuce. We'd never sell it."

Even so, the two are chasing the American dream as they slowly expand their business into the organic health food market.

"In this economy it might seem crazy," Ming said, "Anyone who shops knows that organic is a pricey alternative."

Their solution was to start an organic produce co-op. So far they have 25 families on board.

"More people buying in bulk means a better variety," Ming said. "And it gives us buying power. That will bring the prices down — make it more affordable."

That would be the upside, so to speak.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com.

Higher gas prices have some benefits, at least 03/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:56pm]
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