Transition Whidbey takes action for a better island economy

Money means roughly the same thing to everyone. It helps if you have it, it stinks if you don’t.

Money means roughly the same thing to everyone.

It helps if you have it, it stinks if you don’t.

But what if the value of money was directly related to the future productivity of the community and everyone had an equal chance to sustain themselves?

That’s the idea behind the Whidbey Terra, a local currency that can be traded for goods and services between members of the Whidbey Community Exchange.

It’s a program that is being introduced by the team from Transition Whidbey and its Local Economy Action Group at the monthly Transition Whidbey potluck at 5:30 p.m. tonight. The potluck is at the Langley United Methodist Church.

“The Terra is a way to get our needs met and stimulate movement in our local economy via our own expertise and creative offerings, without our spending or earning being singly dictated by dollar bills, which are hard for many of us to acquire or pay back,” said Britt Walker, director of Transition Whidbey.

The idea was researched heavily by two of the group’s members, Mark Wahl and Ron Ward.

They discovered that, similar to the local currency programs that were popular during the Great Depression, communities around the world are discovering how a local currency program can boost a local economy. Keeping money circulating within a community can cushion people from the blows of the larger marketplace.

Ithaca, N.Y. uses “Hours,” the towns of western Massachusetts in the valley of the Berkshire Mountains use “Berk-shares,” Detroit spends with “Cheers,” and a North Carolina community uses “Plenty.” All told, about 50 other currency exchange programs are operating in North America.

“It’s important to begin a functioning system so people can see an alternative to the current monetary system,” Ward said.

Ward said they’ve been talking to other currency exchange founders for more than a year and are ready to initiate one here.

“We’ve done our homework. We need to get a significant number of about 60 to 100 people to adopt the system to have it work well,” Ward said.

The time is right because people are thinking a lot about money and the economic crisis, he said.

Indeed, because Wahl said that as of Tuesday morning there were already 70 people registered.

Vicki Robin, a Transition Whidbey team member and author of “Your Money or Your Life,” has spent her career counseling people about money and how to manage it, rather than having it manage you.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a community that has a sophisticated local currency exchange, not just something like a simple barter system,” Robin said.

“Although I’m mainly a saver, in the Terra system I can be a spender and know that somebody in my community will be benefitting from my spending Terras; that I’ll be creating a sense of well-being for my neighbors.”

This is how it works.

Businesses and individuals form a network to print currency that is essentially scrip. Members buy it at a discount of perhaps 95 cents on the $1, or offer services in exchange for Terras. Terras can be spent at local stores and service-oriented businesses that are also members of the exchange.

Workers with dwindling wages can pay for groceries, yoga classes, gas and even portions of medical or dental care with Terras if those stores and professionals buy into the program.

People who get in on the ground floor will get an added benefit. Traders who register before or on Aug. 5 will receive a bonus of 10 percent added to their account.

Some local currency programs have set the bar high with their proven success and positive effect on the communities.

Chiemgauer is a regional currency in the Chiemgau region of Germany. The 3,000 members of that exchange have circulated more than $370,000 Chiemgauer since 2003 and have raised about $103,000 euros for the nonprofits of the region.

Ward said eventually the team would like to introduce the Whidbey Buck, which is basically dollars spent locally. Local businesses would use the bucks or convert them back into dollars with the usage fees going to their favorite nonprofit.

Terras, on the other hand, cannot be converted to dollars, but will have a significant impact on the community, organizers said.

“An important side effect of a currency exchange is that it’s a tremendous community builder,” Ward said.

“It’s human interaction with people, not just throwing down paper on the counter.

“Historically, currency exchanges have worked well, but tend to go away when everyone is wealthy again,” Ward noted.

As Transition Whidbey works toward a viable sustainable future for Whidbey amid the looming threat of peak oil and the consequences of a world marketplace in crisis, Ward said he sees a future in other local currencies in addition to Terras and Whidbey Bucks that include nature savings, healthcare and education credits.

Robin is stoked by the endless possibilities she sees for the future.

“The more I think about it, the more amazing it becomes,” she said.

“This is a way for people at the lower end to get the engine of buying and selling going in their lives again.”

Register for the currency exchange; click here.

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