Tools for Community Economic Transformation

Responsible Impact

David Orr and Kevin Lyons are featured speakers at the Twenty-Second Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, Greening the Campus: Values in Action.

Our regional colleges and universities are just one of a number of local institutions whose purchasing policies could be directed to more responsibly impact local economies and local communities. As active members of such institutions how can we help effect the change necessary to invigorate regional economies while employing environmental safeguards?

This year’s Annual E. F. Schumacher lecturers, and panelists David Ehrenfeld, Grace Wicks Schlosser, and Julian Keniry, come with practical suggestions. We look forward to a lively and productive discussion.


Peace Not War

Susan Witt, Bob Swann, George Benello, and others at training seminar in Eugene, OR, 1983.

In the early 1980s, the Schumacher Center conducted a series of weeklong seminars around the country titled “Tools for Community Economic Transformation.” The convening statement read:

How can communities (or regions) restore to themselves the power to revitalize the means of production of basic necessities (food, energy, shelter, etc.) in face of deepening economic, social, and ecological crisis? The answer to such a question will be multi-faceted and will of necessity deal with issues of: the structure, ownership, and community accountability of businesses; access to land for housing, farming, and appropriate scale industry; the financing of new initiatives that meet social and ecological criteria; and retention of capital within a community.

The seminars treat each of these topics individually, providing case studies of practical community based programs that address these issues in new ways. . . . Taken as a whole, the concepts and case examples presented, describe a new way of thinking about economics, a new paradigm that is based on the decentralization of power to the community, is responsible to ecological and human necessities, and is democratic in form. Such a new economy would foster relatively non-violent living patterns without the necessity or basis for large-scale war.

The Schumacher Center, in partnership with other organizations and individuals, continues to build tools to strengthen local economies. We envision a future in which rural and urban villages around the world attain greater economic self-determination, providing necessities of food, clothing, and shelter from local resources for local consumption in a more equitable manner. It is how we work for a peaceful future. Our thanks to Schumacher Center members who have supported this vision with their contributions.


Workplace Democracy—An Alternative to Hierarchical Corporations

George Benello was one of the core faculty members at the “Tools for Community Economic Transformation” seminars. An author, professor, and consultant on workplace democracy, George was influential in bringing the Mondragon industrial cooperative model from the Basque region of Spain to US attention. In that model, ownership and management of an industry remain with the workers. Stock is not sold outside the company. By charter a percentage of all profits must be returned to the local community to support cultural and social initiatives. The Mondragon system has proven an engine for creation of new, locally based worker-cooperatives. Successful enterprises deposit funds in a local bank creating a pool for reinvestment in new cooperatives.

George believed that not only should the structure of an organization build towards a new social future, but its products should also reflect well-considered social and ecological criteria. At his death in the late 1980’s, George was working on the development of a fuel-efficient car that could be produced regionally using off-the-shelf technology. His goal was to limit the “The Arrows” patent only to self-governing businesses in which both workers and representatives of the local community serve as managing stakeholders. His untimely passing was a loss to all those concerned with the issue of corporate responsibility. A fine educator by word and example, George devoted his life to creating alternatives to the hierarchal, profit-driven, corporate model.

In May Allen Benello called to offer his father’s collection of books and papers to the Center. The two thousand volumes represent an outstanding resource on workplace democracy, gathered by a respected academic/activist. We are grateful to the family for this substantial gift. The books remain shelved together so that visitors can view the collection as a whole.


Helping Hands

When the moving van arrived with the twenty-four boxes of George Benello’s books, the Schumacher Center’s librarian, Claudia Knab-Vispo, was not daunted. She knew she would have help from the Tuesday Volunteers.

Jean Dillard and Wanda Weigert unpacked, dusted off, separated, and placed Schumacher Center Library bookplates in every book. Meanwhile Tony Weigert began the long task of creating catalogue sheets for each title. He records information garnered from the book itself, so that Claudia can quickly determine what she still must search through the Library of Congress.

Claudia Knab-Vispo, Librarian.

In addition to its computer-based cataloguing system, the Center maintains a card catalogue file, the kind you remember using at your local public library, stored in a big oak chest of many small drawers. The Schumacher Center Board of Directors felt it was essential to have this physical record of books, both for the convenience of those unfamiliar with computer use, and to encourage the valuable hand written notes of researchers. The maintenance of the card catalogue file is the responsibility of Jean and Wanda. Wanda also keeps an eye on the physical condition of the collection. Books tend to move when in use and Wanda makes sure they return to their ordered place on a clean shelf, inviting the next researcher to take them down to read.

While successfully growing a consulting-business to socially responsible enterprises, Billie Best and Claudia Weldon remain active Schumacher volunteers, representing the Center at conferences and to the press. Concerned with productive use of limited resources, Claudia worked with staff and volunteers to develop and implement a chart of tasks with time frame for the upcoming lecture program. Billie assumed responsibility for staging the event itself, an easy task after her years as manager of a rock band!

Marie Cecilia Deferrari was a court translator in New York State before slowly moving to the Berkshires over the past year. She has a gift for languages, an empathy for people, and the ability to notice what has to be done without asking. She tackles small to large office projects as needed. In her spare time Cecilia works with local food system producers, saying that growing organic food is a radical political statement.

Katherine Reynolds is a Masters candidate at Simmons College focusing on archival studies. She came to the Library to design a cataloguing system for Schumacher’s papers, but in the process she has become involved in other tasks. When your lips smack because of the delicious box lunch at the Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, you can credit Katherine for the choice!!

Lisa Rodgers is the newest Schumacher Center volunteer. She met Orion Society staff members at a writer’s conference in the spring and then visited them in the Berkshires during the summer. Lured by the beautiful landscape and good fellowship, she gave up her teaching job in Brooklyn for a life in the country. Lisa is creating a list of campus groups that have changed purchasing policies at their institutions to more positively impact the local economy in an ecologically responsible manner. She is inviting representation from the groups at the “Greening the Campus: Values in Action” lecture program and will publish the list at the Schumacher Center’s web site.


A Registry for the Schumacher Center Library

This spring’s work on the foundation of the Library left the building stronger and drier with new underground telephone and electric service, but it meant a disruption of the landscape. The grass is again thick and green, welcoming children’s romping, and dreams of new plantings. We have chosen an edible landscape, edible for humans, but also for birds and the other critters that live with us on Jug End Mountain.

Craig Okerstrom-Lang developed the site plan with an eye to nestling Bob Swann’s simple, organic building design more gently into its mountainside perch. The plan calls for crab apple, hawthorn, plums, sour cherries, pears, many blueberries and currants, holly, Russian sage, black-eyed Susan, and a fiesta of color in a variety of native perennial flowers. Windy Hill Farm in Great Barrington created a “Schumacher Library Registry” of plants. The planting party is planned for mid-November, weather permitting. Our neighbor Richard Stanley offered his backhoe, young friends will bring their shovels and rakes, and older friends will prepare the food.

The proposed new deck shown on the south side of the building solves a landscaping issue by lightly building over the location of underground utilities. It ties the Library to the existing concrete circle used as a courtyard, and provides a sunny gathering/outdoor study area. Starling Childs, a forester and board member of the Schumacher Center, suggested northeastern white cedar for the decking because it is regional and renewable if harvested responsibly. Our local lumber supply company had no source for white cedar decking and suggested redwood (brought in from California) or a farm raised tropical wood instead.

Cecilia (a Tuesday Volunteer) followed the decking saga and chatted about it with her friend Stephen Borns. Stephen is a photographer collaborating on a series of books for children. The latest book in the series is about a family-owned mill in northeastern Vermont that trades exclusively in white cedar. We called Goodridge Lumber in Albany, Vermont at Stephen’s suggestion. Colleen Goodridge verified that they had white cedar for decking. It would take up to 6 weeks to fill an order and we would have to pick it up. The estimated cost for the wood is $1,200, approximately one third that of other options. Our talented carpenter, Paul Salanki, a former Schumacher College student, estimated seventy-five hours of labor to build the deck for a total construction cost of $2,200.

We visited Goodridge Lumber this summer to see the production process and to pick up samples of the decking. Goodridge is a family owned business. They specialize in white cedar because the soils in the region are especially suitable for healthy trees. Goodridge buys only from loggers cutting within a 60-mile radius of Albany, and they only buy wood cut in the winter. Cedar tends to grow in wetlands and it is best not to have logging equipment in the wetlands when the ground is soft. Colleen’s three boys, all in their twenties, work in the business and the family wants to ensure a sustainable quantity of cedar into the future. They have learned to work with the cutting tools to use all parts of a harvested tree. After planing the decking boards are one inch thick with corners rounded on the upper part.

The deck will be fifty feet by ten feet. Each square foot of the constructed deck will therefore cost $4.40. A gift of forty-four dollars will purchase ten square feet of decking. We hope you find the plant and deck registry a fun way to support the necessary work still ahead on the Library building. Thank you for your contributions.


British Partners

In April Schumacher Center President Olivia Dreier and Executive Director Susan Witt traveled to England to discuss collaboration with British organizations influenced by Schumacher’s work.

Gideon Kossoff manages the library in the lovely old gatehouse, which is home to Schumacher College in Devon. The “Postern” is just one of several buildings on the 800 acre medieval estate of Dartington. The College was in the process of deciding how best to catalogue its extensive collection. At the encouragement of Anne Phillips, Schumacher College’s capable director, Gideon visited the Schumacher Center Library in July to talk with Claudia Knab-Vispo about our method of cataloguing. Gideon recognized the simplicity of the system and the desirability of having the two catalogues compatible. As a result the College will be employing the same library software as the one used at the Schumacher Center Library, enhanced by the customized subject listing which we have developed over the past ten years and which Claudia is further streamlining. In the future we expect other related collections will be similarly catalogued and grouped for searching over the Internet.

In London Olivia and Susan met with staff of the New Economics Foundation which is a leader in the European challenge to the influence of global economic institutions. New Economics has the ear of England’s Press. At the same time key staff people such as David Boyle and Pat Conaty are hard at work building local economic institutions including adapting the community land trust program and local currency initiatives to the realities of Britain. Ed Mayo, the New Economic Foundation’s executive director suggested that the Schumacher Center and the Foundation join together in a “Training of Trainers” seminar series to introduce a new generation to the democratically structured, local economic tools that we have worked so consistently to model. It will take a thorough understanding of these new structures to build a viable alternative to the global economy.

The reinstitution of the seminar programs already had top priority for Schumacher Center staff. The New Economic Foundation’s suggestion of collaboration is most welcome and brings a new dimension, additional staff, and resources to the initiative. Please let us know if you would like to be kept informed of progress on the seminar project.

During the week of Olivia and Susan’s visit to England, the British Schumacher Society  graciously arranged a meeting of the “Schumacher Circle” in Bristol. Green Books, The Soil Association, Resurgence , Intermediate Technology Development Group , and Centre for Alternative Technology were all represented. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet staff and board members from these sister organizations.


Elements so Combined

Probably the most frequently asked question at the Schumacher Center is, “How’s Bob?” For the past two years, Bob Swann has been living at an assisted living community in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts. Bob is very much at home at Cameron House with a high-ceilinged sunny room to himself, pals in the dining room, and a team of caregivers who are attentive to his needs. His large desk, piled high with letters and projects, is at the center of his day and he walks into nearby Lenox center for occasional treats.

On September 11, Cameron House held a public event to honor Bob. Following is a shortened version of reporter Kate Abbott’s account of the event published in the The Advocate .

“Cameron House Honors Activist Bob Swann” by Kate Abbott, September 20, 2002

Wednesday, Sept. 11, while 60 mph winds whipped the flags along the canvas tent walls, a crowd gathered at Cameron House in Lenox to honor Bob Swann. They brought potluck dishes —lentil stew, potato salad with pecans, eggs stuffed with olives, pumpkin muffins, baked ziti, orange cake, trifle, fresh bread —and prepared to share their memories of a lifelong activist.

Judy Artioli, activities director at Cameron House, said Swann was a carpenter by trade. In the 1950s, he built houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Michigan. But there were controversies in his life. He went to jail as a non-cooperating conscientious objector during World War II. He built a trimaran, the Everyman, and tried to sail it into nuclear testing areas in the Pacific. During the Civil Rights movement, he rebuilt bombed churches. He developed the North American E. F. Schumacher Society [now the Schumacher Center for a New Economics]. Today he lives at Cameron House, and attends meetings of the local Society of Friends.

Scott Herrick, a sailor and activist who helped Swann build the Everyman, came to speak at the lunch. “Swann was not a boat builder,” Herrick said, “but he built a sound boat.” Herrick said he had chosen to lead a double life of comfort and privilege and sporadic confrontations. Not so Swann. Herrick said, paraphrasing Shakespeare: “the elements are so combined in him that nature may stand up and say to the world, this is a man.”

Herrick also brought with him a letter from Bradford Lyttle, who developed and organized the San Francisco to Moscow walk for peace and the Polaris Action Project. Lyttle praised Swann for his courage in many of these protests, and also for his work with land and currency reform.

Donald Lathrup, a professor at Berkshire Community College, set up the philosophical context in which people like Swann become activists. Activism is not new, he said: the tradition spans Buddha, Christ, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Objectors surfaced in the American Revolution. The Quakers have conscientiously objected to war since the religion was founded. Abolitionists protested slavery at the time of the Civil War. Activists have been involved in two world wars, the Korean War and Vietnam.

“Weep not for the atrocities that took place, but for the silence of good people,” he said, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. The best recognition of Swann’s life is to work for what he worked for.

Juanita Nelson lives next to Trap Rock Peace Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts. She and her husband have lived in simple style, without electricity in a house they built themselves. She has known Swann since the 1950s. It was he that taught Wally carpentry when they worked together on the first integrated housing project outside of Philadelphia.

Nelson said she thinks of Swann as a builder of innovative spaces. He built the A. J. Mustie Center at the farm in Voluntown. He built the Brown House, which is now the peace center at Traprock. He built the Schumacher Center Library. He built the foundations of structures of true humanity. Nelson shares with Swann a vision of a world in which we don’t kill each other, exploit each other, or devalue the land. “Swann tries to be what he advocates,” she said.

Rabbi Everett Gendler of Great Barrington has participated in peace walks with Swann. “Previous speakers have laid claim to Bob Swann as one of us,” he said. “That is no small claim on a day like this. What can the fourth speaker say? Luckily, clergy are accustomed to filling blank spaces. I want to exercise generosity of spirit, as exemplified by Bob . . . Bob is not just one of us. He may be the trendiest guy in the United States.”

Gendler wanted to reframe Bob as a profound patriot of the day, he said. “When I hear high alert and home security, my weird neurons come up with Bob Swann. Bob lived a life of high alertness, focusing on the real basis of homeland security. ”

Swann worked for local sustainable agriculture. “I love beautiful phrases,” Gendler said; “I could curl up with them . . . Bob insisted on putting them into practice.” Swann struggled to make security practically available through well-nourished, accessible, workable land. He worked in high alert on concrete details, making acreage available to kids who wanted to cultivate it. “He has struggled to give us honest measures.” He has focused on local activism, but has never forgotten international troubles, Gendler said.

Gendler ended the talk with a passage from Isaiah: “The palaces shall be forsaken . . . until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the forest shall become a fruitful field . . . and the work of righteousness shall be peace. . . .”