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How to Bootstrap an Informal Local Economy

Today’s Resilient Community letter is from Marcus Wynne.    He’s been on the road, looking at fiercely independent, rural communities across the US, to divine what makes them tick.

In this dispatch, he digs into how an informal local economy gets started.

It’s important to understand how these economies work.  Why?

Time Bank wall e-flux documenta 13

 

There’s been an explosion in the use of community time banks, local currencies, and barter networks all across the US and EU.  In some cases, like depression ravaged Spain and Greece, informal local economies are starting to displace the global financial economy.

So, this dispatch is well worth the read.  Hope you find it as useful as I did.

Sincerely,

JOHN ROBB

 

The Resilient Nomad in Vermont

“What’s a resilient community?” “P” (to protect her privacy) asked me. “Sounds to me just like people helping each other out.”

“That’s pretty much what makes a community resilient, ” I said.

“Well, hell!” P said, slapping me on the shoulder. “Then we’ve got a resilient community! Let me show you around…”

Think of a wagon wheel. The wagon wheel = a resilient community. The hub of the wheel is K&P’s homestead, which covers over 60 acres of Vermont hollow. Fresh water springs, forest, hills, abandoned orchard and a nice terraced piece topped by their house. They raise goats, chickens, turkeys, cultivate their forest for firewood, restore the abandoned orchard, forage for herbs and wild greens, grow a nice organic garden, use solar to supplement their minimal grid power use, and raise what minimal cash they actually need for things they have to pay for, like insurance, gasoline, medication, etc. through K’s artisan business and P’s part-time job as a grocery store clerk.

Pretty great, huh? Sure is. But as K&P learned early and well, no one gets through hard times alone. Vermont, like everywhere else in the US, is suffering as the economy melts. That means people on government benefits, or working minimum wage jobs in the service sector, or conducting business that doesn’t require them to tie it to their locale, or cobbling together many different revenue streams to make it work.

Back to the wagon wheel. You got spokes coming out from (or into) the hub, right? Each one of those spokes is someone who offers help or a necessary service into the hub, or needs help or a necessary service that comes out of the hub. How do they find their way to the hub? Through a Connector. Enter “P” — bubbly, energetic, smart as hell and an all around “people person.” A woman committed to Service, to helping other people. She looked around one day at the grocery store she worked in, and saw all the bruised produce, dented cans, past date food of various kind…all of it being tossed. Can’t donate it — legally — but it’s still good to eat. P packed it up, took it home, sorted it out and contacted people she knew who were either unwilling to take government benefits or unable to qualify. She made sure they ate, and she did it with no strings attached.

Some of that network wanted to show their gratitude in a material way. “P, what you need? Need some work done? Need some lumber?”

And P said, “Well, no, but I could use some fencing. You got some?”

“No, but I know somebody who does and I’ll get it for you.”

That’s how it started. And then it continued to grow in the unwieldy chaotic fashion that such social networks tend to. Someone else has some gas in a car he can’t drive and trades that for some fresh eggs and turkey meat. Another resident down the road has a ton of gravel sitting around and spreads it along the shared road to maintain the roadbed. Everyone else chips in and buys him gas for his truck, feeds him, or gives him a reiki treatment.

And that’s how the spokes connect to the hub that makes up this resilient community, just merrily rolling along.

What Makes this Community Resilient?

A resilient community is a community or social network that can thrive during tough times. This community is already weathering tough times very well. It’s what I call the “organic” community (not because they trade in organic meats and produce, though they do). It’s a community/network that springs up spontaneously in response to need.

What was the need? People need to eat. Some don’t have money or benefits or sufficient self-sustainable resources to provide all they need for themselves. So they trade what do have, or else make or manufacture or provide a service. It’s local in structure, defined essentially by proximity and personal acquaintance with the hub. It provides all of the basic elements of a resilient community: security, food/water, transportation, medical/health, energy.

How this differs from “intentional communities” is that this community sprang up out of need. It wasn’t a group of people who decided one day to go and start this; it grew out of need and trust established through meeting needs over a number of years.

Organic Networks and Connectors

“Organic” resilient networks/communities are *ALREADY* in place all across the United States. I’ve visited dozens in the last four months. You can find them cropping up around farmer’s markets, Maker Spaces, alternative health and lifestyle conclaves, in neighborhoods, or centered on a food co-op, or an artisan business.

What makes this one work? A Connector. Though she won’t call herself a leader, P is a Connector — she knows everyone, knows what they do and what they are up to, what they have and what they don’t. She has the essential people/social skills to reach out to people in need with dignity and grace, and in return, those people return with what they can offer.

When K&P were asked how they started their “resilient community” they both laughed and said, “Is that what it is? We thought we were just helping our neighbors.”

That’s resilient community in a nutshell. Start where you are, and grow it.

Cheers,

Marcus Wynne, The Resilient Nomad

 

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  • Maryl Gajda

    Marcus
    I appreciate your lead on the barter concept. I have been thinking about how to set this up in the Chicago suburbs, with a emphasis on health.

    • Marcus Wynne

      Hi Maryl! You’re most welcome. For health, in many areas that have an alternative health community, something like this may already exist. There’s a lot of informal barter and trade and referral between alternative health practitioners already. I know of at least two practitioners who barter regularly with clients; they exchange treatments for labor or other services.

      One way to start would be to poll your local network in health — see who would be willing to do what. For instance, general physician and dental services are very much in demand…but most of them have issues with billing, rates, and insurance, and so are hesitant/reluctant/resistant to exploring barter/exchange. Not so in small rural communities, and it was only a generation or so ago where it was common practice for the local doctor to have his home paid for, utilities provided, and meals cooked by locals who paid what they could for his services, but knew he would always be there for them.

      I encourage you to explore it!

      cheers, m

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