Friday, July 17, 2009

Community Currency

Money is something that we all have a relationship with...for better or for worse, it is a definite part of our ecology. Tangibly it takes up space in our wallets, purses, pockets, and piggy banks, and symbolically it buys us everything from food and drink to heart stints and toe nail clippers. We rely on the Federal Government to supply it, one way or the other. Well...not all of us do.

This region of the USA, The Berkshire Mountains, has its own currency called a Berkshare.
Berkshares made their debut in 2006 as a means for the community here to explore an alternative economy based completely on local industry. Today over 370 businesses accept this currency, and over 2 million Berkshares are in circulation. Uncle George has a friend who even pays her monthly rent in Berkshares. Each bill is a work of art designed by premiere local artists, and celebrates a hero of this region, and of our nation.

The Mohican Indian is the given the honor of being the face of the 1 bill of Berkshares. The Mohican tribe was 20,000 strong living along the Hudson River before European settlers arrived in the seventeenth century. The Stockbridge Mohicans were only one of two tribes to side with the colonists against the English during the Revolutionary War, and George Washington gave them a commendation for their service. Now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans, they live primarily on a reservation in Wisconsin, but they still see the Berkshire Mountains as their true ancestral home.

The 5 Berkshare bill is dedicated to Dr. W.E. Du Bois, which is fitting because Great Barrington is the birthplace of this great intellectual who founded the civil rights movement. From a young age Du Bois had a innate understanding of not only the ecology of humanity, but also our relationship with the natural world, much inspired by the beautiful landscape of the Berkshire Mountains. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Dr. Martin Luther King described Dr. Du Bois as "a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths."

Co-founder of Indian Line Farm, Robyn Van En established the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the USA in 1984. She sparked a revolution in the USA by reconnecting Americans with the culture and heritage of their food. In 1997, Robyn Van En passed away unexpectedly at the age of 49 leaving behind a legacy that continues to flourish as CSAs continue to sprout up across the nation, building communities based on the foundation of sustainable agriculture and economics.

A whale of a story teller, Herman Melville's mug graces the face of the 20 Berkshare bill. Mariner, author, poet Melville wrote
Moby Dick here at his home in Pittsfield, MA. While he was never recognized for this work of literature while alive, it is now apart of the American cannon. It was considered experimental for its time because of the manner in which he delved into the biology of whales and today it is recognized as an early example of environmentalism in literature.

Last but not least, the 50 bill celebrates the quintessential American artist Norman Rockwell who also lived in this region. His comedic depictions of small town America are iconic, and a true testimony to the America our grandparents remember. Later in life, the civil rights movement and the war on poverty became the subjects of his work. A true patriot, Norman Rockwell deserves a place on a bill more than most Presidents.

The Berkshire Mountains are so rich in American history, and as a region they have decided to commemorate their heritage with currency. It is that innovative and pioneering spirit that brought so many intellectuals and artists here throughout the centuries, and it is good to see it alive and well today. Driving through this area you feel as if you have stepped into a place that is truly authentic, and that authenticity still holds true in little pockets across this country. I think this is what politicians are referring to when they speak of "Real America."

1 comment:

Andalee said...

Pittsboro, NC in Chatham County also has it's own currency, called "Plenty" or "Plenties."

I really like the idea of of buying local and supporting your community. However, I do worry that things may become fractured and it will decrease the value of our federal currency.

I'm currently reading Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier and the character talks about how at the trading post they accept all forms of money from gold Spanish coins to cotton bills...and that Georgia money was worth practically nothing. Imagine how much effort it took back then to figure out what something was worth!

And now with online bills and all this computer stuff, we may be nearing the end of currency as we know it!