Building Sustainable Local Economies Seminar 2005

Tools for Change Training Program

The Schumacher Center has a long history of developing and promoting regional economic institutions that link citizens and producers in the task of shaping their own local economies. The Schumacher seminars, Building Sustainable Local Economies, have provided an opportunity to explore these “tools for change” in depth. The first training session was held May 25th-29th in the Southern Berkshires of Massachusetts. The seminars focused on successful citizen-driven strategies for reconnecting people, land, and community. Faculty (including Michael Shuman, Chuck Turner, and Susan Witt) and participants examined how communities can regain economic power and create vibrant local economies by addressing the following issues:

  1. Structure, ownership, and community accountability of businesses
  2. Access to land for housing, farming, and appropriate-scale industry
  3. Financing new initiatives that meet social and ecological criteria
  4. Retention of capital within a community

In addition to workshop sessions, participants had access to the books and papers of the Schumacher Center Library. In addition to Fritz Schumacher’s classic book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, we referenced:

  • Why the Village Movement? by J. C. Kumarappa, the Gandhian economist;
  • Paths in Utopia by Martin Buber, author of I and Thou;
  • Cities and the Wealth of Nations by the regional planner Jane Jacobs;
  • Mutual Aid by Petr Kropotkin; and
  • World Economy by Rudolf Steiner.

These books form part of a collection of writings that reconsider basic economic principles and assumptions. They constitute the foundation blocks for rebuilding local economies.

The seminar program then turned to practical examples for implementing value-based economies. A community land trust is a tool used by a regional community to take land out of the speculative market while providing private equity to leaseholders in the buildings and improvements on the land. Farmers Alex Thorp and Elizabeth Keen gave us a tour of Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in this country. The land is owned by the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, The Nature Conservancy holds conservation easements, and the farmers own the buildings.

Michael Shuman examined how to structure business ventures to ensure accountability to local place and local community. He analyzed areas of capital drain from local economies and described various methods, both tried and in planning, to stop those leaks and create “import replacement” businesses. The Schumacher Center’s micro-credit program (SHARE) and store scrip (Deli Dollars and Berkshire Farm Preserve Notes) are examples of how citizens can band together to finance businesses identified as needed by a community. In addition Michael described plans for a “local stock market” to provide capital to local businesses—in start-up phase, refinancing stage, or expansion—by taking equity positions in the businesses.

Eric Harris-Braun and Christopher Lindstrom reviewed the theory and practice of issuing local currencies, including a discussion of Time Dollars, LETs mutual credit programs, Ithaca Hours, and programs such as Salt Spring Dollars and Cheimgauers that depend on backing in federal currency as an initial way of starting. Eric and Chris then went on to argue that each of these systems serves a different function in building a local economy. Ideally a local community would adapt a combination of these systems. Columbia County Alliance for a Sustainable Local Economy (CCASLE) is proposing just such a combination currency program under the leadership of Eric and Chris.

Chuck Turner, an elected representative from the Roxbury/Dorchester communities to the City of Boston, reminded us of the roots of our activism for just economic systems. He finds strength to do the hard work of local economic reform through an understanding of our history and our responsibility as cosmic citizens. He then described the Mondragon system of cooperatives developed in the Basque region of Spain, a system that has incorporated a commitment to people, land, and community.

Equal Exchange, which distributes Fair Trade coffee, tea, and chocolate, is a well developed model of worker ownership and management. Seminar participant Erbin Crowell, a worker-owner of Equal Exchange for ten years, described how the cooperative has helped the coffee and cocoa farmers purchase their own processing and transportation equipment in order to retain additional income for the farmers. Equal Exchange provides a fine example of applying the coop model throughout a distribution system.

The seminar forums moved from the big room of the Schumacher Center Library to Blodgett House at neighboring Simon’s Rock of Bard College, which also provided accommodation in dorm rooms. Martin Ping gave us a tour of Hawthorne Valley Farm in Harlemville, New York, which integrates a working bio-dynamic farm with a Waldolf School and a retail store serving its Columbia County neighbors. Adventurous attendees climbed to the top of Jug End Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, beginning from the path outside the Schumacher Library. Merrian conducted silent morning walks through the woods and fields surrounding Jug End.

Together we explored the practical steps for building a new economic system that values local culture, local ecology, and human-scale. To learn more, read the full report of the seminar here.


Seminar Program:

Wednesday, May 25

Schumacher’s Philosophy of Small Is Beautiful —Introduction of seminar participants with description of the regional communities they represent. Presentation of the philosophy underlying the work of building strong regionally-based economies, shaped by the democratic participation of citizens with a goal of achieving greater economic self-sufficiency. Discussion of the evolution of this concept here in the Berkshires into the complex of regionally based, democratically structured organizations working together to foster a climate of consumer support for local producers. Tour of the 12,000 volume Schumacher Center Library, and explanation of cataloguing system, so that it may be an easily accessible resource for seminar attendees.

Thursday, May 26

The Community Land Trust Model—A presentation of the community land trust model describing how a community can create affordable access to land for housing and other purposes; an explanation of the use of long-term leases to ensure equity in buildings to the home owner, while excluding land value at resale (thereby keeping homes affordable to future year-round residents); discussion with local home owners/leaseholders of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires.

Discussion of the application of the community land trust concept to farmland and farm residences. Example: Indian Line Farm, a 22-acre organic Community Supported Agriculture farm. How a partnership between the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, The Nature Conservancy, and two farmers enabled the community to acquire the land of this historic farm to ensure that it remained in active production. Site visits to Indian Line Farm and Forest Row, an 18-unit neighborhood of affordable owner-occupied homes.


Friday, May 27

Building Blocks for a New Local Economy —This section of the course will introduce course participants to a theory of economic vitality grounded in LOIS enterprises – businesses that are locally owned and import-substituting – and how global trends are, surprisingly, expanding the profitable opportunities for such enterprises. A variety of models of local ownership will be contrasted and critically analyzed. Then, several broad toolboxes for promoting LOIS will be discussed, including local planning, local investing, local purchasing, and local policymaking. Local planning will cover tools for assessing community needs, assets, leakages, and subsidies. Local investing will cover new strategies for moving capital into LOIS businesses, including local banking, credit unions, the Community Reinvestment Act, local investment funds (venture, hedge, pension, mutual), and proposed state stock markets. Local purchasing will cover a variety of buy-local strategies, including business-to-consumer (local currencies, time dollars, local first campaigns), business-to-business (the WIR, Oregon Marketplace), and business-to-government (school-to-farm programs and other selective procurement efforts). And local policymaking will examine cutting-edge ideas like smart growth, smart schools, subsidy reform, green taxes and split-level property taxes, and devolution.

Community Development Financing & Local Currencies —An introduction to Community Financing Systems. Examples of successful micro-credit programs from villages around the world. Principles of creating community (or regional) development financing systems utilizing local banks as administrators. Introduction of SHARE Micro-credit Program with examples of businesses started. Discussion of self-financing techniques – how a business can finance its product or technology without the need for outside bank loans or credit. Examples: Deli-Dollars and Berkshire Farm Preserve Notes. Local Currencies as a vehicle for communities to regain control of issuing credit. Discussion of successful local currency models.


Saturday, May 28

Towards Community Self-Management and Diversification of Wealth—Diversifying Wealth: defining how a community can become a “social entrepreneur,” the role that producer/consumer associations can play in establishing new business initiatives and community accountability. An examination of the Mondragon model from the Basque region of Spain and other worker-ownership models.


Sunday, May 29

Developing Action Plans—Presentations by participants of how they plan to apply the tools for community economic development they have been learning about in the training sessions to their own communities. Clarification of programs discussed in earlier days; discussion of perceived problems involved with application; discussion of ways the complex of organizations in the Berkshires works together to support each other



Wednesday, May 25
5:00 – 6:00 PM Registration at Simon’s Rock College
6:00 – 7:15 PM Welcome dinner, Introductions
7:30 – 9:00 PM Seminar overview, Background


Thursday, May 26
7:30 – 8:30 AM Breakfast at Simon’s Rock College
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Morning session at Schumacher Center Library
12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch at Schumacher Center Library
1:30 – 4:00 PM Community tour
4:00 – 5:00 PM Afternoon session at Schumacher Center Library
6:30 – 7:30 PM Dinner at Simon’s Rock College
7:45 – 9:45 PM Evening session at Simon’s Rock College


Friday, May 27
7:30 – 8:30 AM Breakfast at Simon’s Rock College 
8:30 – 9:30 AM Optional morning walk from Schumacher Center Library
9:30 AM – 12:00 PM Morning session at Schumacher Center Library
12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch at Schumacher Center Library
1:00 – 4:00 PM Afternoon in library/hiking/shopping
4:00 – 6:00 PM Afternoon session at Schumacher Center Library
6:30 – 7:30 PM Dinner at Simon’s Rock College
7:45 – 9:45 PM  Evening session at Simon’s Rock College


Saturday, May 28
7:30 – 8:30 AM Breakfast at Simon’s Rock College
8:30 – 9:30 AM  Optional morning walk from Schumacher Center Library
9:30 AM – 12:00 PM  Morning session at Schumacher Center Library
12:00 – 1:00 PM  Lunch at Schumacher Center Library
1:00 – 4:00 PM Afternoon in library/hiking/shopping
4:00 – 5:00 PM  Afternoon session at Schumacher Center Library
6:30 – 9:45 PM Free evening in Great Barrington


Sunday, May 29
7:30 – 8:30 AM Breakfast at Simon’s Rock College
9:30 AM – 12:00 PM Morning session – Action Plans
12:30 – 1:30 PM Lunch at Simon’s Rock College



Event Speakers

Michael H. Shuman

Michael H. Shuman is an economist, attorney, author, and entrepreneur, and a leading visionary on community economics.  He’s Director of Local Economy Programs for Neighborhood Associates Corporation, and an Adjunct Professor at Bard Business School in New York City.  He is also a Senior Researcher for Council Fire and Local Analytics, where he performed economic-development … Continued

Eric Harris-Braun

Eric Harris-Braun designs and builds software infrastructure for the new economy. He is a co-founder of the MetaCurrency project, which is creating a platform for communities of all scales to design and deploy their own currencies, and Holochain, which will host a full array of asset-backed, value-stable currencies, setting a new class of cryptocurrencies that will … Continued

Christopher Lindstrom

Christopher Lindstrom is committed to his work to help transition the economy from a paradigm of extraction to one of regeneration. He has had an interest in and passion for the area of alternative monetary systems and local currencies since 2002. In 2003 he became a volunteer staff member at the Schumacher Center for a … Continued

Charles Turner

Charles (Chuck) Turner was a community organizer and civil rights activist in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1963 with a B.A. in government. After a year spent in Washington, D.C. reporting for The Washington Afro-American Newspaper, he moved to Hartford where he joined the influential civil rights group, the Northern Student Movement. … Continued