Local Currency Helps Communities Decide "Who Tells Your Story"

The smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton is careful to remind us that it really matters “who tells your story.” After all, who tells the story also determines which stories get told.
 
On Wednesday last week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a plan to redesign the $5, $10, and $20 to include scenes from the fight for women’s suffrage, Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and a portrait of Harriet Tubman. It's too bad we have to wait until 2020 to start spending money that reflects the diversity of our country…
 
Or do we?

“What’s so nice about BerkShares is that they’re telling stories about the community through the currency,” says Beryl Jolly, executive director of Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, one of the 400 businesses and organizations that accepts the local currency which was first issued in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts in 2006.

While artwork by local painters graces the back, the front of each BerkShare features the portraits of a different local hero. A Stockbridge Mohican, civil rights activist and founder of the NAACP W.E.B. Du Bois, pioneering woman farmer Robyn Van En, writer and environmentalist Herman Melville, and beloved illustrator Norman Rockwell are all celebrated. Now everyone can carry these stories around in their wallet, start conversations while in the line at store, and think about what their money stands for.

One fan of BerkShares was inspired by the opening song from Hamilton to write his own introduction, in verse, for the woman that we celebrate on the 10! Thanks to Scott Grimm-Lyon for sharing his version of the story of Robyn Van En.
 
The ten BerkShare female farmer with just a prayer,
saw land controlled by the millionaire,
considered the general welfare,
knew food should not be grown elsewhere,
went into the town square,
preached against local laissez-faire,
and started the world’s first farm share.

But the stories of our local economy are not confined to the past. Every day, business owners, students, consumers and retirees are creating new ones.

Each month, BerkShares, Inc. publishes a BerkShares Business of the Month article that highlights the achievements of one of the locally owned businesses that accepts BerkShares. This month, arboriculturalist Winthrop Barrett shared a few tree care-related rhymes, and explained that it is a sense of "Berkshire Pride" that motivates him to accept BerkShares at Barrett Tree Service.

And on April 12th, new growth peeked above the Berkshire mud when students from this winter's business planning program for young people, Entry to Entrepreneurship, presented their business plans to the public. These students, ranging in age from 13 to 23, were taught, mentored, and inspired by members of our business community as they developed plans for businesses that would fill gaps in the local economy. The Schumacher Center and BerkShares, Inc. were proud to award each of the 15 graduates with 200 BerkShares in seed money.

Monocle Magazine recently took notice of what is going on in the Berkshire hills. Their May 2016 issue named Great Barrington one of the top five villages in the world, a "thriving community that is getting it right." Monocle cited BerkShares and the Entry to Entrepreneurship program as evidence that this community has dedicated itself to "a vision to build a sustainable economy," one that celebrates local culture, values local ownership and democracy, and invests in its future.

Here in the Berkshires, we are giving new meaning to the old saying, "money talks!"