In the summer of 2011, Autumn Rooney, Janine Christiano and I went to western Massachusetts to visit the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. In the bucolic town of Great Barrington, we hoped to find out more about local economies, alternative currency and other powerful community building tools. The area is home to some pretty radical movements, not the least of which includes pioneering Community Sustained Agriculture at Indian Line Farm and minting BerkShares, a local currency that has helped a small community keep more of its money at home, rather than in the hands of outside corporations and interests.
After spending a few days picking the brain of the Center’s executive director Susan Witt, we came home to LA with a lot of big ideas, two of which are now in the final stages of research and development after receiving a development grant from the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation lead by artist and foundation director, Lauren Bon. This fall the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Community Revolving Loan Fund and Local Economy Incubator will launch, serving our Time Bank community.
Intended to help our community of artisans, entrepreneurs, visionaries and worker-owned cooperatives gain access to resources that often come with a great price tag in the extractive economy, the CRLF and LEI seek to educate, support and empower the Arroyo Seco Network of Time Banks (ASNTB) through micro-loans and access to professional development.
More and more, the mainstream economy offers fewer opportunities for local growth, community enrichment and personal empowerment. By supporting local small business, cottage industry and worker-owned businesses, the CRLF honors our essential interdependence and nurtures human-scale economics in our community.
Time Bank members are enterprising, resourceful and creative. Many have already launched local businesses, restaurants, co-ops and developed handmade products such as jams, jewelry, clothing, botanicals and bread. Our fund can provide them with low interest micro-loans to scale up production, upgrade equipment or purchase materials and supplies. The fund is especially supportive of women and the economically distressed, ventures that promote environmental and/or community sustainability, ventures that show direct and positive impact on the ASNTB community and social entrepreneurs or cooperatives with a social mission.
As an experiment in complimentary currency, the loan fund utilizes both federal dollars and time credits. The fund review panel approves loans of federal dollars to ASNTB members with either small businesses or worker owned co-ops through the fund’s financial partner, the Santa Fe Permaculture Credit Union. Members repay their loans with federal dollars, but pay associated loan fees for processing to the fund in time credits. The payment of these fees is calculated in time, or the time it takes fund officers to process the loan over the course of its life. As loans are repaid, more funds become available for new borrowers.