There are a lot of people out there who are starting to question the current economic system that is based upon constant growth and limitless consumption of finite natural resources while concentrating wealth into fewer and fewer hands.
Since last September, protests have sprung up all over the world that express a clear and unifying message – the system is not working. The economy is rigged to benefit those at the very top and the political system has become so corrupt that it is nearly impossible to imagine meaningful change coming from standard political channels.
The results that we have seen in recent years - governments spending trillions of dollars to bail out financial institutions that continue to fight any kind of significant financial regulation or social assistance to people who have lost their homes through foreclosure, tax breaks for the wealthiest while cutting back on basic social services, increasing exploitation of finite natural resources in the name of short term profits - are the natural outcome of a larger problem: the control that corporations have over the political and global economic system and the unrelenting focus on unsustainable economic growth.
Economic growth in the current system is neither desirable nor possible over the long term. Our future cannot always be bigger. Beyond a certain limit, economic growth becomes detrimental to human well being an to the to environment. In fact, economic activity is increasingly devoted to fixing the problems of economic growth. We are spending more time, effort and money to fix crumbling infrastructure, to clean up pollution and to deal with the social problems of always striving for more. We are running faster and faster to stay in the same place. The current system is, in a very technical sense, unsustainable and to survive on this planet, we need to develop new ways of organizing economic life based upon ecological sustainability and social justice.
One of the most basic ways of working toward this goal is to develop alternative institutions that provides for people’s basic needs within appropriate ecological constraints and allows people to contribute their skills in a way that strengthens human community.
This has always been central to the mission of D Acres and in 2012, we are looking to expand it with our theme this year which is “The Year of Local Economy”. Our goal is to add to the growing efforts of people around the world to build an alternative economy based on real relationships, shared values, systemic cooperation and a belief in human community.
We believe that one of the most important elements of building an alternative economy is to locate maximum economic power at the local level – communities should, to the greatest extent possible, be self-reliant and self-governing. To this end, whatever is produced locally should be consumed locally. As residents give priority to locally produced goods and services, a strong economic foundation is built that can meet most basic human needs while at the same time, reducing wasteful, environmentally destructive transportation. Of course, some goods and services cannot be produced locally and some trading between communities should take place. But it should be minimal and when done, should reflect the same principles of fairness and mutual responsibility that characterize economic relationships within a tight-knit community.
This is the kind of economic growth that is sustainable over the long term - growth in terms of human connections and community resources instead of money. Economic activity should be principally dedicated to meeting peoples’ basic needs and should not dominate every facet of society. It is an economy of slowing down – of not always to striving for more, of valuing simplicity over excess, of moving away from the idea that the more material items you have, the better your life will be. As Gandhi said, “A certain degree of physical comfort is necessary but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help; therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them, seems to be a delusion and a trap. The satisfaction of one's physical needs must come at a certain point to a dead stop before it degenerates into physical decadence. [We] will have to remodel [our] outlook if we are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which we are becoming slaves."
This vision of an alternative economy is intended to stand in direct contrast to the centralized, mechanized, industrial modes of production that typify the global economy, where people and nature have no value beyond their monetary value, where everything is for sale but there is a total lack of information about the human and ecological cost of production.
In many ways, this is the philosophy that we put into practice on our own farm. We focus on work we can do with out hands and do not use mechanized equipment on the farm because we would lose the intrinsic material, ecological and spiritual benefits that come with relying solely on our own labor power.
We focus on our own productive capacity – we do not buy what we can produce ourselves and we only sell products after our own basic needs have been met. When we do buy products, we do our best to ensure that the products were not the result of human and ecological degradation elsewhere. When we sell products, we do so to our friends and neighbors, all of whom can come to our farm and have the security of knowing where their purchase comes from.
But as stated above, we are dedicating this year to expanding out efforts to build a local economy that is grounded in a basic sense of justice, fairness and environmental stewardship. To this end, we will launch or expand three programs that are dedicated to strengthen the local economy.
First, in the beginning of February, we will begin a 10-week multi-farm Winter Community Supported Agriculture project or CSA. CSAs operates like a magazine subscription for food. Members pay for all of the food up front and then receive a box of food every week.
CSA are one of the most popular ways that people have found to put the idea of building a local economy – shortening the distance between producers and consumers, building real connections between the two and making local economic activity benefit the local community into practice. CSAs allows producers to capture a larger share of the profits, keeps money circulating within the community, gives consumers a say over the kind and quality of food the community produces, the way land is used, the way the local landscape is preserved and the conditions under which the food they consume is produced.
Those who support CSAs don’t so much “buy” food from particular farms as become members of those farms. CSAs provide more than just food but is a way for people to become connected to the ecological and human community that farms the land around them.
D Acres’ Winter CSA will begin on February 1st and go through April 4th. Details of the program are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 786-2366.
Second, D Acres will be launching a community exchange or mutual credit system. The goal of this program is to create a system whereby local residents can exchange goods and services without using standard currency. It addresses three fundamental problems inherent with this currency: a) its always scarce, b) it comes into the community from outside and c) it easily leaks out of the community and often ends up in the hands of those who already have enormous amounts of it.
A mutual credit system gets around these problems by setting up a system where a group of people can exchange goods and services between themselves for credits and debits within the system. People can trade a wide variety of goods and services such as bread or organic vegetables, bricklaying, house painting, babysitting, etc earning credits for sales and taking on debits for purchases. Debits and credits are entered into a database and which is available to all participants. In communities where this system has worked well in the United States and around the world, participants strive to contribute as much as they take.
Such community exchanges are another way that allows communities to take control of their own economic activity. Today, every community in this country has an enormous number of skilled people – carpenters, potters, builders, weavers, farmers, teachers, musicians, artists – who cannot find work. Community exchanges create an environment where people can find each other and access the skills and resources of others in exchange for their own without using a conventional currency that drains too quickly from the community.
We will be holding an initial discussion and planning meeting on February 25th at 12pm. More information about the program is available on our website.
Third, D Acres is collaborating with Stacey Lucas and Artistic Roots to produce the 6th edition of the Local Goods Guide this spring. The guide serves as a resource for residents of the Pemi-Baker and Upper Valley region of New Hampshire to access local food, wares, and businesses within their community, and as a means for encouraging a revitalization of the local economy and promoting the artistic and agrarian abundance of our locale.
The 2012 Guide will include an expanded list of categories including agricultural products (local sources of wood, hay, fiber, nursery stock) and handmade goods shops, in addition to a comprehensive listing of farms, artists, crafters, galleries, and studios in central New Hampshire. We will begin distributing 12,000 copies of the Guide to over 200 venues on Memorial Day weekend. For further information on listing or advertising within the guide, contact Katie Cristiano at 786-2366 or at email@example.com.