Shelby: When Berkshire Bike and Board owner Steffan Root tunes up bikes, he will accept several forms of payment — cash, credit cards…and berkshares.
Steffan Root: By using berkshares and accepting berkshares, I’m keeping my dollars here in my community.”
Shelby: What are these berkshares?
Steffan: A berkshare is a dollar-backed currency that can be used to buy and sell goods that are produced by locally-owned and operated businesses.
Shelby: Businesses in the community known as the Berkshires in western Massachusetts accept berkshares as a form of payment just like dollars.
Steffan: The real idea behind it is that it’s a way to show your support for local businesses and to emphasize keeping your money local.
Shelby: And everything about berkshares is local, including the faces and images that decorate the bills.
Steffan: The people who are on the currency are all local figures. On the one dollar bills are a Stockbridge Mohican, which are the original Native American inhabitants of the area. W.E.B. Dubois who was born in Great Barrington is on one of them. Herman Melville, Norman Rockville, and Robyn Van En who was the founder of the country’s first community-supported agriculture farm just down the road from here.
Shelby: The idea of a local currency like berkshares wouldn’t work just anywhere. The Berkshires already had a history of promoting local businesses. As Nick Kacher explains, economic conditions are different depending on where you are in the country.
Nick Kacher: So, at one time in the country, we can definitely have communities that are thriving economically, and communities that are really struggling economically. But on a nationwide scale, those get averaged out to everybody doing decent. So, the economic policy that gets pursued on a federal level is reflecting national and international conditions. And it’s not necessarily what’s best for individual communities.
Shelby: By encouraging visitors and residents to buy local, citizens in the Berkshires say that by literally printing money, they are taking charge of their own economic future.
“It’s kind of one of those things where the very fact of people believing in it is a success.“
Shelby: Other small cities like the idea of keeping it local and created their own currencies. Two towns on opposite sides of the country; Ithaca, New York and Corvallis, Oregon set up hours, which is like a bartering or trading system for goods and services.
A one-hour bill is worth one hour of basic labor, or $10. And like berkshares, hours are considered a legal form of paper money.
And does Nick put his money where his mouth is? And what is in Nick’s wallet?
Nick: I do carry two different kinds of currency. I got some federal cash in here. And I also have, I think right now, more berkshares than cash.