Community Currency, Swales and Permaculture

Posted by on February 21, 2013

BAA Board member and local Permaculture designer Conrad Juraschka has written this piece looking at Community Currency, Swales and Permaculture.

Community Currency, Swales and Permaculture

Many of us have heard about the importance of buying local. While this does indeed support local business initially, buying local is only one piece in creating and maintaining a healthy, resilient, diverse, vibrant, local economy. The failure of buy local campaigns often comes down to what economists term “leakage”. There is nothing in place to ensure that those dollars do in fact continue to circulate and remain within the community for any length of time, for mutual benefit. Oftentimes once spent, those dollars are completely removed from the communities they are used in and sometimes siphoned right out of the country.

Community currency can help keep money in a local economy similarly to how a swale works in a permaculture design on a landscape, maximizing energy flows and supporting the diversity of relationships in a natural system for the mutual benefit of the elements connected within the cycle.

Okay…. What is a swale and what does this mean? In permaculture design a swale is a technique of creating a water harvesting ditch on contour, planted on the low side, which acts to catch and slow the flow of water and nutrient over a landscape. This allows a flow to sink in supporting multiple relationships for the maximum benefit of the system.

Here’s an illustration:
If we think of water (money) as a flow across our landscape (community) community currency can function like a swale to capture and store that energy and ensure that it remains within the system (local economy) for as long as it possibly can, mutually benefitting everyone involved. This is designed into the system since the currency can only be used within the community.

If we think of economic activity within our community as a flow of energy we can capture and help to slow it down by designing that into the system with community currency.

So…here’s how it works.

1. Someone buys hay from a local farm using community currency.

2. The hardworking farmer at the local farm needs a much needed massage and takes their community currency and uses it at the local massage clinic.

3. The local massage therapist is baking a cake so they in turn take their community currency to be used at the local organic food store for eggs.

4. The local organic food store uses community currency to buy eggs from a local producer.

Since this currency can only be spent locally this cycle of mutually beneficial relationships can go on and on and on, similar to how a natural ecosystem works. The more diverse the network is and the more connections there are in the web of activity the more resilient the system is with many elements supporting multiple functions, and multiple functions supporting many elements.

The difference between community currency and simply choosing to “buy local” is that at any point in this cycle those dollars, like water flow can “runoff” and be completely removed from the system. There is nothing in place to ensure those local dollars do indeed stay within the local economy and are allowed to seep in and continue to circulate. This can be likened to the water in wet months simply flowing off an island without being utilized in a design for maximum benefit.

In permaculture we look to natural systems and often think of the landscape and our designs in terms of maximizing connections with efficiency to create abundance, and resiliency in the system, similar to how a natural ecosystem works. Although community currency will not completely replace conventional money it is one way in which the people of our communities can make a co-vestment in each other to truly create, support and deepen, the diverse network that is all of our talents, skills, dreams and gifts.

Conrad Juraschka
Permaculture & Regenerative Design
conrad (at) edibleavenue (dot) com

Creative Commons License
Community Currency, Swales and Permaculture by Conrad Juraschka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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