Galvanizing Citizen Support for Local Businesses

The Schumacher Center has a reputation for both shaping discussion regarding sustainable local economies and then implementing the results of that discussion.  During the past year, the Center’s staff has spent significant time on the development of BerkShares, a local currency program for the Southern Berkshire region of Massachusetts.

Those who have followed the Center’s work over the years know that we have, together with the late Jane Jacobs, imagined local currencies as an engine for financing and galvanizing citizen support of import-replacement businesses in a region. If our common interest is to build more independent regional economies, then it is our common concern to create conditions to encourage production of local goods for local consumption.  Local currencies are an elegant, citizen-driven tool to advance that goal.

BerkShares were issued on September 29th.  The community celebrated the event with song, dance, and story telling at the newly renovated Mahaiwe Theater at the heart of Great Barrington with over 450 people attending.

Beautifully designed, the currency honors historic figures of the area: the Stockbridge Mohican Indians, social rights leader W. E. B. Dubois, Community Supported Agriculture founder Robyn Van En, novelist and naturalist Herman Melville, and popular illustrator Norman Rockwell. They also feature the paintings of contemporary local artists and in so doing reflect the rich cultural traditions and natural beauty that make the Berkshires notable.

During the first three weeks of issue, 100,000 BerkShares were placed in circulation.  Berkshire residents exchange federal dollars for BerkShares at one of four local participating banks.  The exchange rate is ten BerkShares for every nine federal dollars.  The BerkShares circulate at over 150 participating businesses at full value, keeping trade local, and citizens conscious of “what their money is doing tonight.” The federal dollars remain on deposit at the banks to redeem BerkShares as needed.

To learn more about BerkShares, visit   A BerkShares User Guide and Directory can be picked up for free at the offices of the Southern Berkshires Chamber of Commerce, or $5 (or 5 BerkShares) from the Schumacher Center by postal mail.  Once tried and proven in the Berkshires, BerkShares will serve as a model for local currency development in other regions.

Given the attention to BerkShares, we are especially pleased to have the three outstanding speakers for this year’s Schumacher Lectures who are leaders in shaping local economies.  Will Raap is putting theory into practice in Burlington, Vermont, creating conditions to foster a local food system, a healthy environment, and a vibrant local community. Richard Heinberg’s investigation of the peak oil phenomenon has helped him articulate the urgent necessity of building local economies.  In her work as a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Stacey Mitchell has developed effective policies for communities to enact to support small independent business.

The Schumacher Center continues its innovative programs because of membership support. You can make an online donation.  Donations by checks or in BerkShares are also gratefully received.