Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Feb 14th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Santa Cruz Cash?

news_1One group pushes for a local currency plan

Imagine opening your wallet, shuffling past your Washingtons and Lincolns, and pulling out a crisp Santa Cruz dollar. The idea for a local currency is gaining momentum, and, although alternative currencies are increasing in popularity throughout the country, a Santa Cruz version promises to be unique.

An enthusiastic crew of health care providers, wellness educators, and local food activists are drawing up plans for a mutual discount network that is tentatively being called the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative. The group wants to infuse the county economy with an alternative currency (a “Santa Cruz Wellness Buck,” perhaps), designed to bolster business for local health care providers and food producers. The currency network would incorporate the mission of New Earth Exchange, a membership network for local businesses committed to environmental sustainability and mutual-aid, but would have an expanded focus and a greater reach.

“This is bottom-up, grassroots economics,” says Langdon Roberts, sitting in a circle of people in his small Soquel office. Wedged between a certified hypnotherapist and a self-employed ecological landscaper, Roberts outlines the details of the currency network to the eager gathering of alternative healers, organic food producers, and local business owners.

Roberts’ knack for integration and innovative makes him a well-suited spokesperson for this complex and constantly evolving project. As the Director of the Center for Transformational Neurophysiology, he fuses traditional healing methods such as massage and meditation with cutting-edge biofeedback technologies. The resulting therapies are designed to help people manage anxiety and pain, overcome addictions, and cope with conditions like Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder.

“It turns out a lot of people are thinking the same thing: a local currency,” he says. “Why hasn’t it happened yet?”

Funny Money

It is legal to print and circulate an alternative currency as long as it looks different than a U.S. dollar and using it is voluntary. Doing so can kick-start a sluggish regional economy by boosting sales of local goods and services. Because it cannot be spent at chain stores or online shops, it stays in the community instead of disappearing to out-of-area banks and corporate coffers. In addition, the nonprofit that manages the currency can issue loans and grants to community groups.

Popular during the Great Depression, local currencies resurfaced in 1991 when Ithaca Hours debuted in Ithaca, New York. Detroit Cheers, the Humbolt Community Currency, and the Piedmont Plenty are other contemporary examples. BerkShares of Great Barrington, Massachusetts trump them all, however. With nearly 2.5 million bills issued since 2006, it is the largest alternative currency network in the United States. The colorful BerkShares are available in five denominations, sport portraits of local figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Herman Melville, and are accepted at more than 350 area businesses.

The currency network proposed for the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative would be unique among these forerunners. “The entry point for currency should be something that is common to everyone, so what could be better than healthcare and food?” asks Roberts.

Buck Breakdown

L. Roxanne Evans is a multifaceted Santa Cruzan whose dedication to community collaboration, education, and networking makes her especially enthusiastic about the local currency plan. A landscape designer, horticultural consultant, and certified permaculturalist, Evans first met Roberts as a patient in his neuromassage practice. The two discovered a common interest when they decided to barter for services instead of exchange cash.

“We discussed how we were interested in creating a model for formalizing this type of exchange between practitioners,” says Evans. An informal barter economy already operates among Santa Cruz health providers and small businesses. The plan now, says Evans, is to codify this system with printed money so more Santa Cruzans can get involved.

Although details are still in the works, Roberts reports that the currency network will likely be a multi-tiered, membership-based system that would revolve around a health and food program comprised of participating health care practitioners and local food growers.

Participants would pay a monthly membership fee in exchange for an allotment of local currency. A freshly printed local dollar would have to first be used at a participating health or food provider. These “primary providers” would then stamp the currency, thereby making it eligible for use at non-health- or non-food-related businesses. Providers could choose how much local currency to accept, and members would be eligible for discounted goods and services.

This arrangement would ensure that the currency first enters the local economy through health and food providers that are committed to sustainability, wellness, and community. After that, it could be used to purchase goods and services through other types of participating providers—think electricians, lawyers, furniture makers—remaining local all the while.

“Everyone can become a provider of some sort, not just the businesses with a store front,” says Roberts. “It could also include people like unemployed carpenters or those who grow organic produce in their backyards.”

As for the look and variety of the potential bills, the group is undecided. “It has to be a physical piece of paper that is difficult to counterfeit. There are a limited number of printers who can do it, but it’s possible. Maybe we’d start with one or two denominations and expand as we go,” says Roberts. The group may even host a public contest to find the perfect image for the bills.

Meeting Local Needs

Advocates of the project have identified several under-served populations as potential beneficiaries of the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative. Among them are at-risk children and youth, those with substance abuse issues and dual diagnoses, the elderly, and trauma survivors.

One proponent is Henry Iasiello, who sits on the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA) California State Council and is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) committee chair. Although not voicing an official VVA position, he feels strongly that local veterans could benefit from a community-focused health network backed by a local currency.

According to the Veterans Health Council, less than 20 percent of the approximately 24 million living veterans access health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “Having to confront the VA is an adversarial experience,” says Iasiello. “You have to argue over what is compensable and sometimes there are fine lines.” Health problems resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, are rarely covered.

“The bottom-line for vets are the concepts of readjustment and social trust, and that means reconnecting with the local community,” says Iasiello, a Vietnam veteran himself. “The idea of having this wellness exchange, of keeping it local, would be really very helpful to the veterans and their families.”

Looking Ahead

So, when will a Santa Cruz dollar be as good as gold at your neighborhood produce stand or acupuncturist’s office? Perhaps ironically, a lack of regular old greenbacks is the main challenge facing the currency network. Although Santa Cruz County Mental Health Services is currently reviewing their ambitious funding proposal, Roberts says the group is prepared to seek funding elsewhere.

Apart from the initial capital required to set up the system, print the money, and manage a searchable online database of participating providers, the people behind the Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative are hoping to raise enough funds to support a paid staff. The success of the BerkShares network notwithstanding, local currencies have been known to fizzle out due to mismanaged growth and overworked volunteers.

“I think it’s a matter of organization, really,” says Roberts. “The willingness and interest is here. We’re going to organize it and make it happen.”

 


LOCAL MONEY, fewer PROBLEMS? Santa Cruz Wellness Exchange Cooperative organizers (L-R) Daz Haela, Stephanie Winn and Langdon Roberts hope to introduce a local buck to Santa Cruz. Visit newearthexchange.org.
Comments (2)Add Comment
Count Me In!
written by Benton Giggledork, December 13, 2009

Obviously this will take some work. I subscribed at newearthexchange.org. (The website does not offer a discussion board...so I guess this is it for now.) We'd better get started!

- Bent

I Signed Up!
written by Jennifer Alexander, December 10, 2009
I just went to www.NewEarthExchange.org and signed up! This is an amazing project! Let's all support the health of our community and work together to make this happen! smilies/cheesy.gif

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 12

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pub Watch

Mega gastro pub-in-progress at the Old Sash Mill, plus the best pasta dish downtown

 

How do you know love is real?

When you feel the groove in your heart and you’re inspired to dance. Becca Bing, Boulder Creek, Teacher

 

Temple of Umami

Watsonville’s Miyuki is homestyle cooking, Japanese-style

 

How would you stop people from littering?

Teach them from the time that they’re small that it’s not an appropriate behavior. Juliet Jones, Santa Cruz, Claims Adjuster