Day 25:Berkshares in the Berkshires

You might not know this but it is our constitutional right to mint our own money. What? yeah, totally.

YERT just spent a day in Great Barrington, Mass, where we visited the EF Schumacher Society and learned all about a local currency called Berkshares. Ten local banks redeem or exchange these beautiful bills and over a hundred stores take them as payment for services and goods. $10 federal gets you $12 Berkshares. That’s a %10 discount for shopping locally!

Berkshares started out as a way for the community to support new small businesses who weren’t traditionally “bankable,” (ie: a woman made delectable goat cheese in her kitchen that became very popular but when she wanted to expand she couldn’t get a bank loan. She had no credit and the banks didn’t see goats as viable income. The community stepped in to help, giving her cash that she could repay in time, through Berkshares).

After little over a year, there are over a million Berkshares in circulation ( I now have $2) and more are being minted. Some shop owners are more willing to accept them than others. Steve Carlotta takes them unequivocably at his photo shop. He sees it as accepting a discount now that he won’t have to pay later in 30%, 40%, 50% off when stuff hasn’t moved off of the shelves.

Ben and I were most impressed by the unique and innovative design. Mark appreciates their simplicity, and ease of use. The bills are, quite frankly, beautiful. The front of each bill shows a person of note in the history of the area, like Norman Rockwell and WE Dubois, and the back of each note is art by a contemporary local artist. If only all money looked this lovely.

Susan Witt of the EF Schumacher Society says that they are only on step 13 of 50 in making Berkshares a substantial part of the community economy but she feels like, with a little more support from the good people of Great Barrington, Berkshares will thrive and grow to make the local economy even stronger. We will definitely be back to use our last $2.

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