Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media

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February 26, 2007

Local Currency: 'BerkShares' Encourage Commerce

BerkShares are a local currency used in Southern Berkshire, in the State of Massachusetts. Like the German UrstromTaler, which recently made BBC news, and the Ithaca Hours, arguably the granddaddy of local currencies in the U.S., the idea is to promote local commerce.


UrstromTaler Image: BBC

Globalization has Americans shopping at Walmart and similar huge retailers, buying Chinese or other foreign made goods, while local business languishes and many small shops are forced to close down.

Reversing that trend is the goal of local currencies around the world, and there are a growing number of them in many countries. The movement towards a currency that sustains local economy is not new, but with the BBC recently reporting on the German Urstromtaler and now ABC news doing a piece on BerkShares, it seems that some mainstream attention is finally focusing on the phenomenon.


BerkShares Image: ABC

ABC also has a video on line, which you can go see if you have the bandwidth. You just have to get past the publicity and then the fun starts...

- - -

New England Town Prints Up Its Own Currency

'Berkshares' Are Intended to Encourage Local Commerce
(See original here - ABC News)

Berkshares are available in five denominations. The bills are printed on high-quality paper and feature local heroes and landscapes of Southern Berkshire. $835,000-worth of Berkshares have been printed.


SOUTHERN BERKSHIRE, Mass., Feb. 25, 2007 — Susan Witt is an unassuming middle-aged woman who drives a Volvo around her quaint Rockwellesque town and has somehow managed to foment a small revolution.

After years of planning, Witt started printing her own money and spending it around town.

She is not a counterfeiter. She is the founder of Berkshares, a local currency that was introduced last fall in Southern Berkshire, Mass. (where Normal Rockwell lived out his later years).

"The Berkshares are pretty simple to operate," she said. "You walk into a local bank, put down $90 federal and get 100 Berkshares, and then those Berkshares are spent at full value at regional stores."

$835,000-worth of notes were printed on fine-grain paper and distributed to banks that agreed to participate. The notes are now accepted at 225 businesses in the area, and the program continues to grow.

Berkshares were created to stimulate the local economy by giving people incentive to shop in their own neighborhood, rather than drive the distance to large chain stores.

"We want to encourage everybody to do their business locally rather than going to a mall or shopping online," said Sharon Palma, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "Using Berkshares, you have to do business locally, and the other really nice piece of that is it's face-to-face business."

Several communities across the U.S., Canada and Europe have developed similar programs, but only Berkshares are fully-backed by the U.S. dollar. Several banks in Southern Berkshire have agreed to exchange Berkshares for dollars.

Ursula Cliff was spotted using Berkshares at Guido's grocery store, a 27-year-old family business in the town of Great Barrington.

"I don't think that whether or not a merchant accepts Berkshares really affects my decision if it's something I really want to buy," she said. "On the other hand, almost everywhere I go the stores use Berkshares, and I do certainly have a warmer feeling for them when they do that."

It is that warm, fuzzy feeling that makes a regional currency scheme operable.

Witt, who spent years dreaming up a local currency project, said it "takes a local population that understands and is committed to supporting the buildup of their own regional economies."

That is certainly the case in this picture-perfect town with its Main Street lined with mom-and-pop shops. It's the type of community where people seek out locally-produced food, and where buying into a program such as Berkshares is, in itself, a sort of social currency.

Some business owners have reported an increase in foot traffic and customer loyalty. Because the Berkshares users get a 10 percent discount at the point of exchange, merchants say customers have incentive to use them.

Steve Carlotta, the owner of Snap Shop, a photo store said, "We find that there are some people doing business with us at this point who are very, very loyal customers because we accept Berkshares … without any restrictions."

But the system is far from perfect. The discount may be difficult for businesses that have thin profit margins, such as Guido's, to absorb in the long term.

Witt said the Berkshares board will re-evaluate the program down the line and make necessary adjustments.

The individuals behind Berkshares have even higher hopes for the project. The next step is developing Berkshares into an electronic debit-card system, to replace or supplement the cash notes.

In the long-term, the non-profit Berkshares, Inc., would like the capability to offer loans in Berkshares to start-up businesses, thereby promoting small-scale manufacturing that has been lost to the global economy.

"We think that by strengthening the piece of the fabric of this country, this world, that you're strengthening the whole," said Asa Hardcastle, the young software engineer who heads Berkshares, Inc. "We definitely hope that this grows and this becomes something that flourishes across the country and the world."

Similar programs are in place in a handful of other American towns — the most successful program being in Ithaca, N.Y., where 900 businesses accept "Ithaca Hours."

The Berkshares program caught the eye of Sam Anderson, a community activist and black history professor in Brooklyn, N.Y. He thinks an alternative currency could be a tool for reviving black and Hispanic businesses, which he said have been "locked out of capitalistic development."

Anderson suggested that a "Blackshares" experiment could start in a community such as Harlem or East Los Angeles, and eventually have a wider inter-state reach.

"In the slavery period, you had this economic relationship developing," Anderson said. "It was more bartering between enslaved Africans, between plantations. … That tradition was carried on in the Reconstruction period, and during that period you had the most powerful economic development in the black community coordinated in the South."

Anderson said the introduction of Jim Crow laws set black businesses back so far, they've never adequately recovered to compete with mainstream white businesses.

"By the time [of the Civil Rights movement], the economic development between white development and black development was so disparate … that by the 1960s, when black business folk were trying to do something, there was already a monopolistic structure in place," he said.

Anderson explained that while a racially-based currency might appear to discriminate or isolate, "if you want to support black economic development, no matter what race you're from, you'd get Blackshares."

Like Berkshares, the idea behind the still-theoretical Blackshares is to challenge the current tide of globalization. It is, at its heart, a way for the disenfranchised communities who have missed out on the fruits of global capitalism to have their piece of the pie.

Regional currencies can also be seen as part of a larger environmental movement. In many cases, local production and consumption makes more sense in terms of energy efficiency and with warnings about global warming and dependence on foreign oil ubiquitous these days, the argument for "local living" is especially relevant.

"By making sure we have a vibrant local economy with local production, then we are creating a more sustainable future for our region," said Witt. "If other regions do the same, then we are creating networks of more sustainable regional economies that certainly want to trade with each other outside, but have within them the resources to support their own economies in the future."

It's a big vision for such a modest person, but Witt is not too far off. The chambers of commerce of three neighboring towns recently contacted Witt to see how they can bring Berkshares to their communities.

See also:

They don't just shop local in Totnes - they have their very own currency
The Totnes pound was pioneered by a group of local environmentalists led by Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande. They set up a system in which £1 coins are exchanged for 1TP at one of four "change" points around Totnes. There are now 6,000 Totnes pounds in circulation and plans to introduce further denominations.

The idea was partly based on a US model. "BerkShares" were launched in the Southern Berkshire region of Massachusetts in 2006.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday February 26 2007
updated on Monday May 26 2008

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

I would like to know about your laws of printing berkshares currency...

Posted by: susan vang on March 4, 2007 09:48 PM


Hi Susan,

you will have to contact the BerkShares people themselves.

Here is their website:

Posted by: Sepp on March 5, 2007 04:25 AM


If you consider this an interesting article, I recommend the website of a project about possible future economies and the alternative role of money, called "KashKlash"
The discussion group also developed a questionnaire, which debates possible scenarios:

Posted by: helena on December 1, 2008 09:37 AM


Yes Helena, I have seen the kashklash site and have their rss feed now. Thanks for posting the links here for readers who may happen onto this article. Sepp

Posted by: Sepp on December 1, 2008 10:34 AM


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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