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Currency or Witchcraft?: Crypto Goes Farm-to-Table

In 2006, he resumed barkshares and established a non-profit organization created for the purpose of issuing barkshares. This time, the barkshares were worth $1 each and could be purchased from the local savings bank at a discounted price, a way to boost the businesses that accepted them. created. The Crane family provided the paper for the banknotes that financed the American Revolution in Paul He Libya and has provided the paper for the currency of the United States ever since.

This generation of barkshare notes is more like a national currency. But instead of the deceased president, local luminaries like Great Barrington-born civil rights activist Webb du Bois and writer Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby Dick” on a farm in nearby Pittsfield. It was a portrait of a person.

The renewal, like Burlington Bread in neighboring Vermont, came amid a wave of local currency experiments that began in the 90s, but most of which have since faded.

The new barkshare didn’t revolutionize the local economy either. But it survived. In the process, it has achieved the more modest goal of promoting local businesses and contributing to Berkshire’s quirky charm. Witt estimates that in the county’s more populous south, his 10% of residents, or several thousand, use currency, and all have heard of it.

Adam Bornstein, head of financial innovation for the Danish Red Cross, has studied the US local currency experiment while working on blockchain-based community currency projects in Cameroon and Kenya.

He said most of America’s currency amounted to exaggerated marketing promotions that money is spent once and never again. He said it’s vision and focus on keeping money in circulation by encouraging owners to use the notes they receive.

“If it’s just a marketing campaign, it has no economic value,” he said. “Susan’s group has been able to be part of the fiber of the community.”

fiery manifesto

W.itt has continued Using lessons from the sustainable food movement, she refines the financial vision she and Swann have created.

“Decentralization and diversity have the advantage of preventing failure on a large scale,” she wrote in a 2017 article updating a previous collaboration with her late partner. “This applies to banks as much as it does in nature. will be

The article, in places, is a fiery manifesto. It’s a nostalgic reminder of the free banking days of the 19th century. During this era, state-chartered banks issued their own banknotes backed by silver and gold, and a decentralized system would facilitate Jefferson’s ideal of Yeoman farming. (In contrast to Thomas Jefferson, intellectual descendants of Alexander Hamilton, who advocated the creation of powerful central banks, prefer the term “wildcat banking” to characterize the Bohemian Age). condemned the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 for promoting a process of industrialization that depleted rural areas, and affirmed Friedrich Hayek, a member of the maverick Austrian School and Nobel Prize-winning economist. are explicitly quoted.

In his criticism of the Fed and adoption of the Austrian school of thought, Witt had much in common with early adopters of Bitcoin. As the topic of cryptocurrency spread, Witt became interested in it.

She began attending cryptocurrency rallies starting at the Miami Bitcoin Conference in January 2016. Witt, now 75, remembered being the oldest in her room, dressed in pink among a sea of ​​hundreds of black youths. “I loved it,” she said. “I learned a lot.”

Because of Barkshare’s status as an alternative currency pioneer, she enjoys a modest reputation among cryptocurrency enthusiasts, and Witt is close to some of the anarchist impulses that fueled the development of Bitcoin. He said he was feeling it.

However, she also questioned the trend of financial speculation and globalization surrounding technology, rejecting several proposals to convert barkshares into cryptocurrencies.

Ultimately, the limitations of paper notes and a series of conversations with Bornstein and Fenny Wang, exiles from decentralized finance (an early industry built around blockchain technology), and her own With the manifesto, Witt came to take the plunge.

“We had to go digital,” says Witt. She explained that the digital system will allow for more and bigger trades while generating detailed data about how barkshares are being used.

None of these features require a blockchain per se, but the technology has spawned a myriad of systems designed to issue custom digital currencies.

“In that sense, it’s a bit of plug-and-play,” said Wang, who designed the system under the auspices of Humanity Cash, a startup she founded to build a universal basic income and community currency system on blockchain. said. Wang said she cites the blockchain system’s instant payments and peer-to-peer capabilities to provide the closest digital equivalent to cash.

Witt cited the low transaction fees of Celo, the blockchain network ultimately chosen to host the cryptocurrency.

Digital revolution?

D.igital Berkshares released a smartphone wallet app in April.

Ryan Salaam, a 28-year-old Berkshire native and executive at FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange, has donated $50,000 to get $10 worth of free Barkshares for early downloaders. provided to

Additional Berkshares can be purchased for dollars at a 1:1 rate within the app. Berkshares covers Celo’s transaction fees on the backend, allowing businesses and customers to trade currencies for free. However, there is a 1.5% fee to convert your Bark shares back into dollars.

Since it runs on the blockchain, all transactions are publicly available online, but Wang hopes to introduce more privacy features in the future.

So far, Wang said, about 400 people have downloaded the app and set up accounts. “There’s definitely room for growth,” said Wang, adding that he’s refraining from extensive marketing of Barkshare while an initial rollout is being explored.

For now, the list of vendors that accept it is capricious. In addition to the scattered organic farms and independent bookstores, you’ll find itinerant performance artist Roger the Jester and Magic Fluke, his company that makes banjos, ukuleles and mandolins to order.

The most important business to sign on is the co-op, a pillar of the community and a hotbed of localist sentiment. Marketing his manager Devora Sawyer said the currency project and the cooperative were a hitch. “It hardly matters if it’s trendy or not,” she said. “It helps keep the friendships of the local shops alive.”

In addition to buying with digital barkshares, co-ops now pay some vendors more with thousands of barkshares, which is not practical in a paper-based system. was.

As for the retail experience, it changed over the course of our two-day gastronomical tour of the region. At the co-op, when buying hard kombucha, the cashier had to ask for help with a walkie-talkie, waited a few seconds, and then another employee brought a device dedicated to barkshare transactions. At North Plain Farm’s self-serve farmstand, purchasing a jar of local honey was as easy as scanning his QR code on a bulletin board and entering the purchase price into his Berkshares app. At the diner GB Eats on the main drag of Great Barrington, it was easy to pay for lunch at Barkshares, but tipping remained cash only. At the SoCo Creamery around the corner, several unsuccessful attempts to scan his QR code on an iPad forced me to buy ice cream with American Express.

face frustration

Mena world awash in With fewer payment options, even the slightest hiccup requires extra effort to obtain and can limit the attractiveness of money that becomes worthless across county lines.

“I think it’s about the rich,” said 20-year-old Charlotte Ivy, recalling receiving paper barkshares “instead of real money” for Christmas as a child.

Ivy, a retail employee, spoke on condition that she was not affiliated with her employer. She said she thinks the digital upgrade is just an inconvenience.

“It’s really about creating more jobs for small businesses,” she said.

All-around dollar guardians may not be shaken by the prospect of digital barkshares being put out of business, but at least one of them is paying attention.

Wang discussed the project in a private conversation about technology and money with senior officials from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is responsible for overseeing America’s banks…in action. The chief’s office declined to comment, and Wang declined to answer additional questions about the conversation.

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