Four Decades of Innovation in the Berkshires
Founded in 1980, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics was named for the British economist, E. F. Schumacher, author of the book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. In his book named by The Times of London as one of the 100 most influential since WWII, Schumacher argued that the most rational economic system is one in which the goods consumed in a region are produced in a region. In that way Schumacher became the spokesperson for the local economy movement.
True to the ideas of its namesake, the Schumacher Center has led local economy initiatives here in the Berkshires that have become models for other regions. Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in the U.S., is located down Jug End Road from the Schumacher Center’s offices and Library. Its model of community support of farming was developed with help of Schumacher Center staff. BerkShares local currency distinguishes the locally owned businesses from chains and encourages citizen support. When Smithsonian Magazine in 2012 named Great Barrington the Best Small Town in the country, it cited the local food movement and BerkShares local currency as reasons for that designation. The Berkshire Community Land Trust provides 24 permanently affordable home-ownership opportunities to year-round residents, all without government subsidy. Community Supported Industry and Entry to Entrepreneurship (E2E) are both initiatives to encourage new import-replacement businesses in the Berkshires. The programs were incubated and developed at the Schumacher Center.
The Schumacher Center conducts an Annual Lecture series in Great Barrington, drawing attendees from across New England. The 39th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures titled “Actionable Responses to Climate Change” were held October 27th at St. James Place. The event featured Greg Watson, the former commissioner of Agriculture in both the Weld and Dukakis administrations whose work builds upon the legacy of Buckminster Fuller, and Sallie Calhoun, whose Paicines Ranch in California is setting a model for land stewardship in a dry and mountainous environment. The lectures are transcribed, edited, and published in pamphlet form, posted online, and available in e-book format.
Stewarding a Legacy Collection
The Schumacher Center stewards a unique research library on decentralist economic thinking, including the personal books and papers of Fritz Schumacher. It is a collection as important to the growing local economy movement as Martin Luther King Jr.’s library is to the civil rights movement.
In 1993 Schumacher’s widow was planning her move from their long established home in Surrey, England. In searching for the right recipient of her husband’s library, she decided on the Schumacher Center because of the close connection between Robert Swann, the Center’s founder, and Fritz Schumacher. Not just a collection on economics, the books touch on the religious and cultural traditions of all ages. Envisioning a new economics as if people and planet mattered took reading in the humanities as well as economics.
Since then the Schumacher family has also donated his personal papers and family letters, including the materials his daughter, Barbara Wood, used to prepare her biography of her father. Then when moving out of its rambling offices in an estate in Rugby, England, Schumacher’s own organization, Practical Action (formerly Intermediate Technology Development Group), donated all of its archives related to Schumacher’s role with the organization to the Schumacher Center.
The receipt of the Practical Action material makes the Schumacher Center the custodian of a premier research collection of an economist who has done the most to encourage citizen engagement in development of just and sustainable local economies.
Other Collections of National Importance
Additional collections in the Library include: the books and archives of Robyn Van En, founder of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement; the books and papers of Professor George Benello, who first drew American attention to the worker-owned and managed cooperatives of Mondragon, Spain; the books of Henry Geiger, author and publisher of MANAS, a journal for the study of the principles which move world society on its present course, and with searching for contrasting principles-that may be capable of supporting intelligent idealism under the conditions of life in the twentieth century”; the “alternative technology” books that shaped TRANET newsletter published by Bill and Margaret Ellis; the Distributist book collection of educator Richard Bliss; and other unique and related collections.
Building for the Next Four Decades
The Schumacher Center is housed in a wood framed building located on the side of Jug End Mountain in South Egremont. The building was originally built in 1981 and was purchased by the Schumacher Center in 1989. It is located on land leased from the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, on a 98-year basis. The upper 2,000 square feet of the building has been renovated over the years to serve as office, library, and meeting room. But the high-ceilinged, light-filled space is not ideal for maintaining the integrity of the historically important books and papers stewarded there.
The project underway is to build out the ground floor level, an additional 1,600 square feet, providing a light and humidity controlled environment. By moving a significant part of the existing collection downstairs, it will mean additional room upstairs for educational programs.
Work started on April 8th with an expected completion date at the end of December.
The architect is John Fülöp Associates, Architects & Planners in West Stockbridge. Great Barrington landscape architect Craig Okerstrom-Lang donated the site plan. SS Home Improvements, under the direction of Steve Seddon, is the general contractor. Local subcontractors Andrus Power Solutions, MT Cavanaugh, Pepino’s HVAC, Mount Everett Landscaping, Ben Powers Mowing, James Johnston Masonry, Joe Wilkinson Excavating, and FH Custom Painting, all contributed to a well-crafted finished product. Materials were sourced from Herrington’s, Lee Tile and Stone, Plimpton & Hills, Decker & Beebe, and Habitat for Humanity’s resale store in Canaan, CT. The striking granite bench in the courtyard was created by Allen Williams of Chester Granite Company.
In addition to friends of the Schumacher Center, generous support has come from Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, whose family members own the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield, and from Ed Herrington, Inc., the premier local supplier of building equipment, based in Hillsdale, NY.
Additional support is still needed to meet final construction costs. Please direct your tax-exempt donation to Schumacher Center, 140 Jug End Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Donations may also be made in BerkShares local currency, stock, or cryptocurrencies.
A celebratory open house will be held in the Spring after all books and papers have been moved to their new location and the upper floor reconfigured for gatherings. To follow progress on renovations visit centerforneweconomics.org/library-renovation/.
A hearty thanks to all those who have made this project a reality.
The completion of renovations to the Schumacher Center’s Library will enable:
- Responsible stewardship of the books and papers of internationally respected economist, E. F. Schumacher and other collections of national and local significance under light and humidity-controlled conditions;
- Gracious hosting of national and international researchers and visitors inspired by the local economic programs here in the Berkshires and library collections;
- Convening of local groups in the enlarged upstairs space around issues of affordable housing, import replacement of goods, maintaining the vitality and viability of Main Street businesses, increasing local sourcing of food, diversifying access to land, creating local investment tools, increasing citizen support for local businesses, and fostering youth entrepreneurship;
- Collaboration with academic institutions to host classes and offer internships;
- Partnerships with aligned organizations to develop a new economics curriculum and offer trainings on becoming community economists; and
- In general heighten the organization’s capacity to implement education programs on the theme of building just and sustainable economies.
Staff of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics