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Decentralist Conference

Anguilla: Small, Beautiful, and Complex

Leopold Kohr hoped that the Caribbean island of Anguilla would develop into a self-managed city-state, an elegantly small nation amidst clumsy giants. In the late 1960s he worked in an advisory capacity with the island’s revolutionary leaders.

Ronald Webster at the United Nations in 1969. William E. Sauro/The New York Times.

The most important of these leaders was Ronald Webster. As a boy in the 1930s Webster left his home of Anguilla to work on a prosperous St. Marten’s farm just seven miles away. Anguilla was poor. The soil was hard to work, the vegetation sparse, and fresh water in short supply. Years of drought caused great hardship for the island’s predominantly black residents. Anguilla’s largest export was its own people, seeking jobs elsewhere.

Webster proved an industrious and capable worker, winning the respect and love of the childless Dutch couple who owned the farm, but he dreamed of returning to Anguilla. Upon the death of his employers he inherited the valuable St. Marten’s property. Webster sold the farm and moved back to Anguilla in the mid 1960’s determined to help his people with his newly acquired wealth.

Anguilla was a colony of Great Britain administered from the larger island of St. Kitts. Webster’s first concern was to establish road, water, and electric systems for the thirty-five square mile island. He intended to use his own money to leverage British investment but found that funds allocated for Anguilla infrastructure were diverted in St. Kitts, keeping his people impoverished.

In 1967, with British agreement, St. Kitts called for independent statehood in association with Nevis and Anguilla. The Anguillans preferred colony status over dominance by St. Kitts and therefore refused to participate in the new state. Under the leadership of Ronald Webster they were beginning to experience pride in their own heritage, landscape, and customs. They were not prepared to compromise that pride under the strong arm of St. Kitts.

So began a determined but peaceful revolution, with an appeal to the United Nations for the establishment of nation status and a separate flag for Anguilla. Anguilla’s struggle for its own emerging identity captured the hearts of many people, including Leopold Kohr, mentor of E. F. Schumacher and author of the decentralist classic The Breakdown of Nations. Kohr met with Webster and other leaders of the revolution to map a course for greater self-sufficiency for the island.

Much has been accomplished towards that goal. Anguillans now have their own democratically elected government with teachers, police force, health department, postal service, and environmental affairs department. Webster’s wife, a renowned seamstress on the island, made the uniforms for the first Anguillan police force, distinguishing them from the earlier St. Kitts force. The majority of land in Anguilla remains locally owned. By law, no more than 10 percent will ever be held by nonresidents. The island-wide road and electric and phone systems are now fully operational. Rain water is gathered in rooftop cisterns and solar panels are used to heat it.

Webster established an Anguillan owned and operated bank so that money generated on the island would recirculate there in local investments. With the bank’s help many Anguillans have started their own thriving small businesses. Supported by local administration officials local craftspeople organized a cooperative market to sell their products. The curriculum in the schools now reflects Anguillan history and culture rather than that of Britain or St. Kitts. The newly formed National Trust is identifying and protecting ancient Amerindian sites, purchasing and restoring historic buildings, and with the help of Massachusetts botanist Mary Walker is working with local self-trained botanists to inventory the plants of the island and identify their most sensitive habitats.

Leopold Kohr.

Anguillans have prospered from a thriving tourist economy, but one that is consciously restrained to reduce impact on the tiny island. Leopold Kohr noted that rooms in resort areas were not filled. When he asked why the owners did not lower the per night charges to draw more people, he was delighted to hear that they did not want more people. The pricing helped regulate numbers while still producing a fair income for Anguillans.

Though much has been achieved since Webster’s return home, much that was planned has not been achieved. For example, Kohr’s initiative to launch an island-wide currency, the Anguillan Silver Liberty Dollar, failed in the press of events following the revolution. Webster bemoans the fact that the children have no memory of conditions before the revolution and so do not properly appreciate the spirit of achievement of the Anguillan people.

We invited Ronald Webster to tell his own story of Anguilla at the Decentralist Conference June 28th through 30th at Williams College. He is still considering the request. It is a story of careful nurturing at many levels-land ownership, finance, education, ecology, health, government, enterprise, and appropriate technology-all developing with a new spirit of commitment to the people of a region and the carrying capacity of its natural resources. Each of us can point to an innovative project where community effort solved a difficult local problem. But it takes more than one project to build an economy of permanence. Schumacher Center staff would like to dedicate this newsletter to the people of Anguilla, who, motivated by a deep love for their island community, developed, through trial and error, programs that worked together to lay a foundation for the island’s renewal.

Consumer/Producer Associations

LEFT: Susan Witt, Peter C. Webber (State Senator for Berkshire County) with his son, and Joe Savage, founding board member of SHARE, in 1985.

Members of the Schumacher Center have read of the Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (SHARE) in newsletters and articles. SHARE is known primarily as a micro-lending program in which people pool passbook savings accounts in order to collateralize loans for small businesses that otherwise would not qualify for bank financing. SHARE’s legal documents are available through the Center’s publication service. They have been used to help start SHARE-like programs around the country and in Canada.

The original purpose of SHARE was to create an organization that linked consumer and producer in a spirit of mutual support. SHARE members become advocates for the products of the small businesses they help finance and in the process become advocates for other locally owned businesses. SHARE is a tool to make visible the mutual benefits of a healthy local economy.

In 1983 SHARE members started a little newsletter called SHAREcroppers. It was vehicle for small farmers to advertise equipment for sale or trade and for consumers to organize to buy produce locally. SHAREcroppers started its pre-order with squash and root crops. Several buying clubs in the area were ordering organic carrots trucked in from California; SHAREcropperswanted to place these orders with local farmers.

In the spring of 1984 SHAREcroppers collected orders for a ton of carrots and then contracted with a Berkshire farmer for fall delivery. The farmer established two prices-one for carrots dug and placed in a bag, a second for carrots left in the ground. Most consumers chose “in the ground” prices. The farmer called when the carrots were ready, “Come get them or the deer will get them first.” Most of the people who ordered were busy that week and could not possibly spend a morning in the field digging, especially as the weather had turned cold and wet. We asked the farmer to dig them all and delivered the carrots to the root cellar of the building now used as the Schumacher Center. It was several weeks before all the carrots were picked up. We learned that it is easy to state a commitment to local buying, but harder to change years of habits to enact that commitment.

In 1985 Jan Vander Tuin returned to the United States after several years in Switzerland. He heard of the Schumacher Center and the SHARE program through Rodale Press and came to visit. He had an idea for community support of farmers that he had seen successfully applied in Switzerland and wanted to try it out in this country. We gave him the SHAREcroppers mailing list and introduced him to two neighbors on Jug End Road. One was Robyn Van En who owned a large underutilized farm that she was hoping to place in market production with some cooperative help. The other was the Root family who worked with handicapped adults and were seeking appropriate productive work for them. The community supported agriculture movement in this country grew out of this cooperation.

Robyn Van En (facing forward at right), her son, David, and other founding members of Indian Line Farm. Photo by Clemens Kalischer.

It was too late in the 1985 season to plant a crop, but Jan Vander Tuin, a champion biker, set up a pedal-operated cider press in the apple orchard next to the Schumacher Center’s building on community land trust land. The cider was offered as shares to the first CSA members. The land trust’s current orchardist, Bernard Kirchner, inherited the press, and every fall he makes organic cider from the apples. Robyn Van En now heads CSA North America (Jug End Road, Great Barrington), which together with the Bio-Dynamic Association in Kimberton, Pennsylvania has helped establish over 600 CSAs around the country.

Sam and Elizabeth Smith of Caretaker Farm (Hancock Road) in Williamstown, Massachusetts, delivered bulk orders of squash to SHAREcroppers subscribers for two years. They now operate their farm as a CSA and have an active apprentice program. In February of 1995 the Smiths travelled to the Olkhon Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Lake Baikal in Siberia for the Schumacher Center, sharing their local marketing experiences with their Buryat counterparts. The Smiths will lead a tour of Caretaker Farm and will join Robyn in a discussion of the CSA method at the Decentralist Conference.

Local Currencies

Food is only one area where consumers and producers working together can influence their local economy. The same cooperation could lead to increased regional production of clothing, shelter, and appropriate technology. Consumers organized together can guarantee the purchase of locally made products, thereby sharing in the risk of new enterprises in order to help secure a more stable regional economy.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Berkshire Farm Preserve Notes, Berk-Share, Deli Dollars

Local currencies are one way that consumers have organized to support their local businesses. Schumacher Center members know the story of Deli Dollars and Berkshire Farm Preserve Notes. They know that when Frank Tortoriello, owner of a popular restaurant, turned to SHARE in 1989 for loan collateralization, we recommended that he turn to his existing customers for a loan by issuing scrip. Frank raised five thousand dollars in thirty days and kept his business going. Deli Dollars are transferable dated notes, redeemable in deli sandwiches. From Deli Dollars grew Berkshire Farm Preserve Notes, Montery General Store Notes, and BerkShares—and a movement was born.

Paul Glover listened to radio coverage of the Berkshire scrips, contacted the Schumacher Center for more information, and subsequently issued Ithaca Hours. Over fifty thousand dollars worth of Ithaca Hours are in circulation in Ithaca, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars of new local business. His Ithaca Hours kit has sold around the country, and twenty communities are now issuing their own hometown dollars.

Paul Glover, Edgar Cahn of Time Dollars, Tom Greco author of New Money for Healthy Communities, George Washington University Law Professor Lewis Solomon author of Rethinking Our Centralized Monetary System, Diana McCourt of Womanshare, David Boyle of the New Economics Foundation in London, and other local currency activists will join in discussion of the common goals, achievements, and problems of local currencies at the Decentralist Conference. Please come with your questions and stories.

Land

To some of our members the Schumacher Center’s advocacy of decommoditizing land seems the most radical of its interests. After all, didn’t Jefferson declare that it was the small landowners, mostly farmers at the time, that formed the backbone of American democracy. Certainly housing can be kept affordable through community land trusts, and perhaps farming; but why an overall decommoditizing?

Our interest stems from a concern for the economic well-being of small communities. Accumulated capital can return to a local economy in several ways: through the purchase of consumer items; through gifts to charitable institutions such as schools, libraries, churches, synagogues, art centers, and social service organizations, which then pay salaries so that their employees can purchase needed consumer items; through investment in new production; and through purchase of land.

When capital is tied up in land, it stagnates and is not available for new productive activities in a community, nor is its excess available to support needed cultural institutions that help weave together the fabric of the community. If currency were kept local and restricted from investment in land, then street festivals, riverwalks, botanical tours, historical restoration, language studies, soup kitchens, and even our public education system could be funded by gifts from local residents.

This is just one idea for the renewal of local communities. Bring your ideas for discussion to the Decentralist Conference at Williams College.

Keynote Speakers

Kirkpatrick Sale and John McClaughry will be the keynote speakers at the Schumacher Center Decentralist Conference June 28th through 30th. Quoting from Nancy Jack ToddÍs excellent introduction to Sale’s and McClaughry’s essays in the upcoming book of collected Schumacher Center Lectures to be published by Yale University Press:

It is vital, if humbling, for members of a culture more powerful and more advanced technologically than the world has ever known to understand what it has destroyed in order to have achieved this pinnacle. It is equally important to be reminded how transitory is such power, how shaky its foundations, and how disempowered all but an elite few. Many scholars offer similar critiques, but Kirkpatrick Sale does not rest with pointing out what is wrong. His response to the present crisis of postindustrial culture is a bioregional vision. He does not look to those in authority to bring this about: like E. F. Schumacher, like Kropotkin, like Thomas Jefferson, he suggests that “we can do the job ourselves . . . redefine and reconstitute civil society, build alternative sources of power.”

John McClaughry brings to the grass-roots citizen activism espoused by E. F. Schumacher a uniquely Yankee twist. Adamantly independent and an individualist in his political views, McClaughry has described himself as a libertarian, agrarian, distributist, Jeffersonian, Republican decentralist. As such, he believes strongly in “that peculiarly American spirit of creative self-help, mutual aid typified by the frontier barn raising.” Much of his thinking is based upon his experiences in Kirby, with its population of just under three hundred. There he has learned, as he says, that “the good of everyone is tied together in an interconnected web that is ruptured only at the peril of everyone in the community–that is where citizenship lies.”

Mr. Sale is author of Human Scale and most recently Rebels Against the Future. Mr. McClaughry is author, with Frank Bryan, of the Vermont Papers. They will each speak on the history and promise of decentralism.

Of Note

Thanks to the generosity of members of the Schumacher Center, staff has begun to catalogue the books and papers of Fritz Schumacher’s personal library, recently donated by his wife to the Schumacher Center. We read the margin notes and wonder at the richness of ideas that shaped the essays now collected in Small is Beautiful. Much work is still ahead to complete this archival task. We will keep members informed of progress.

The Sixteenth Annual Schumacher Lectures are scheduled for October 26th in the Berkshires. Helena Norberg-Hodge of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, Don Anderson of the Association of Southern Poor, and David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance are the speakers. Registration material will be mailed in September. The work of the Schumacher Center is supported primarily by its members. Membership in the Center is thirty dollars per year.