by Laura Covello
What if there were one easy way to put more food on the table for less money, grow your business while reducing expenditures, experience more of the natural and cultural riches of the Hudson Valley, and support local nonprofits? Shopping with the Hudson Valley Current, our very own local currency, can do all this.
There are upwards of 100 local currencies in the United States, and our is a project of a nonprofit by the same name, the Hudson Valley Current (HVC). Hundreds of area businesses already accept Currents, and according to HVC records, in the last three years Current transactions have grown exponentially.
In addition to issuing Currents, the organization functions as a barter facilitation platform. Members offer their services or products — or items they don’t need — in exchange for Currents. They then spend their Currents on the goods and services offered by other members, who in turn spend the Currents at other local businesses, and so on. This creates new reciprocal networks and new unsolicited business.
Reinvesting the Currents in local businesses strengthens the local economy is strengthened through what economists call the “multiplier effect.” An increase in spending produces an increase in both income and consumption greater than the initial amount spent.
Membership is free and comes with 300 Currents to get you started. (One Current is equivalent to one dollar.)
Money Without a Bank
While using a local currency has elements of micro-lending, “We’re not a bank; we don’t charge interest,” says Chris Hewitt, the organization’s executive director. “We’re a nonprofit; anything we make has to go back into the system.”
This sometimes takes the form of donations to other local nonprofits with complementary missions, such as the African Roots Center, Community Action, Kingston Midtown Rising, Seed Song Center, and Wild Earth. HVC also partners with some of these organizations on ambitious revitalization projects — such as a food security initiative in Kingston’s Ponckhockie district that is set to launch in 2020.
Hewitt also explains, “We don’t offer lines of credit. What we offer are lines of trust. This is a mutual credit system, based on reciprocity, which is not how a bank operates.”
To create a stable system without the backing of a bank, the organization has created several stabilizing mechanisms to prevent this micro-economy from collapsing, including creative use of advertising in their publication, Livelihood Magazine. A non-member restaurant, for example, can pay for ads with gift cards that are then sold to members for Currents. This has a ripple effect: the member benefits from access to a new venue they can pay (indirectly) in Currents. The restaurant benefits from any new business generated by the advertisement — and may also get additional new customers if the member dines with clients or friends.
Moving Beyond Ulster County
The HVC began in Ulster County in 2013, and while most of its membership is still there, that is changing. The organization is continually negotiating with established businesses in other counties to become what Hewitt calls “satellites,” businesses that partner with HVC to become anchors in their communities. Hawthorne Valley Farm in Columbia is a recent example. They accept Currents in their store, they pay willing employees partially in Currents, and they now host “Current events” on-site.
These events, such as a pizza party (with safe distancing), give locals a chance to learn about both the farm’s store and Currents—and to have some much-needed fun and community connection.
Community connection is both the reason for and the driver of the HVC. In a region as rich in talent and natural resources as ours, there is no real limit to what can be acquired with Currents.
That’s not hyperbole. The organization frequently acts as a matchmaker.
If a member needs a product or service — say, toner cartridges or lawnmower repair — David Cagan, Director of Member Engagement, will make it his mission to recruit new members who can meet that need.
Since COVID-19, the two primary needs in the Currents community have been food and housing. In response, HVC launched an online Resilience Marketplace offering food from farms, restaurants, caterers, and stores. They have also negotiated with landlords in Beacon, Kingston, and Poughkeepsie about taking rent payments in Currents.
In addition, they are launching a Currents Community Protection Plan (CCPP), a locally focused response to the CARES act and the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) that will offer Current lines of trust up to $100,000 with no interest or fees and free training in establishing exchange circles for key organizations and agencies
For more information on the CCPP, Currents, or other Hudson Valley Current programs, visit hudsonvalleycurrent.org.