PART I of an economic sustainability study
by: Karen Jeffery
“We’re tiptoeing into sustainability,” Tom Ward joked the other day at a permaculture workshop. But we all knew it was true. We’re definitely taking our time learning new habits to serve ourselves and our community better in these tough times, and we can do better. In fact with few (if any) safety nets in place, we need to help each other, and leaving more of our money in Ashland is one place to start. As unemployment rises to 14% (some say it’s over 25% if the long term unemployed and underemployed are taken into account), raising our awareness of spending and hiring locally is paramount. For too long we’ve been hearing the giant sucking sound of our dollars going off to Wall Street or China, rather than the sweet music of economic sustainability in our own valley.
I agree wholeheartedly with our Mayor, who recently said: “The best thing you can do for yourself is strengthen your community.” But beyond the obvious: spend less, clean up any credit and start saving, do the R words (reduce “ reuse “ repair “ restore “ renew “ replenish “ regenerate“ recycle“ reinvest “ reconnect“ revision), and much of what many of us are already doing, how can we help ourselves and our town? By being aware of all our spending, banking, hiring, and other habits“ habits that have to change if we are to continue to experience and transform the Ashland we know and love.
It seems pretty easy for those of us already conditioned to take our bags to the market, recycle our newspapers, bottles, cans, etc. But do we shop as close to the source as possible? Keep the money circulating right here at home? Ask our friends to help out too? That would mean using our own back yards and the Farmers Market as first food sources, followed by Ashland’s own Co-op, then local markets, and lastly grocery chains“ which send profits back to their headquarters, leaving the Valley forever. By sourcing food locally we maximize our money’s impact while minimizing fuel usage and CO2 production, since produce from the supermarket travels over 90% farther than locally-grown food.
Recirculating money locally for as long as possible is a key to sustaining ourselves and our community. Due to the economic multiplier effect, every dollar which stays here in Ashland grows exponentially. Obviously the more people spend locally, the more the benefit. But most dollars sent away go for good. So while some say they shop online or out of town to save money, they do so at the peril of their community and themselves. Just imagine if each of us increased our local spending from 50 to 80 percent. That 30% more than doubles the effect. Our businesses would be thriving and hiring (hopefully locally), we wouldn’t need the meals tax, alternative transportation would be easy, safety nets would expand, and all of us would be enriched.
After our local Citizens Council researched alternative economic models and met with valley bankers to discuss their business practices, I decided to switch my bank account to one which, instead of being part of the problem is part of the solution. Instead of my money going to shareholders on Wall Street and paying huge salaries and bonuses to the bosses, a local credit union circulates funds into car loans, home improvements, and student loans for my neighbors right here in town. Any surpluses accrue to members here in the valley not shareholders elsewhere.
Have you ever watched the traffic jam of cars leaving Ashland for Medford and parts north at the end of the work day? Lots of businesses here hire from other areas, leaving many unemployed or under-employed right here. I called several businesses and the big 5, and none had a mandate, policy or preference to spending or hiring locally. Wouldn’t that be prudent?
Rebecca Adamson, Cherokee leader admonishes: Apply your values to every dollar you spend. We find abundance through hard times when we find each other. When we do these things “ live by our values and include others, we’re empowered. And we’re less fearful about what happens on wall street when we take care of main street.
Here are some practical steps all Ashlanders can take:
1. Live within your limits, seasons
2. Go green!! Walk and bike, weatherize your home, use energy-saving bulbs and appliances (and turn ’em off), cold wash/hang dry
3. Grow some food (and extra for friends and neighbors)
4. Shop locally ~ Farmers Market, Co-op, garage sales, thrifts, locally owned markets and shops (doing what you can to shorten the supply chain multiplies benefits, is better for the environment, and recirculates money through our community)
5. Use cash when you shop. That 4-5% the credit/debit card companies charge the local business could be the difference between laying off one of your neighbors or keeping the business in profits
6. Bank locally (credit unions and smaller banks are more socially responsible than major corporations and keep the dollars here).
7. Invest locally (have you bought a solar panel? helped a student or a start-up?)
8. Communicate with family, friends, community, land be in relationship
9. If you an employer, hire locally (and pay at least the living wage of $12.96 per hour)
10. Ask the local businesses you support to re-think hiring, procuring, and investing policies to benefit our community
Don’t forget to keep informed locally and globally about economic and sustainability issues (have you been to a Transition Town meeting?) and take positive action whenever you can, re-think systems, volunteer, try random acts of kindness the list is endless really.
Until we’re part of the solution, we’re part of the problem so ask yourself regularly: how will my actions affect my community and our commonwealth. To transform, we can (and must) support our community. Not only can we turn this economy around, we can thrive again here in our little paradise.
More about the multiplier effect and Ashland’s Big 5 next time
In the meantime, take the Rx and watch what happens.