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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Greensboro’s Best-Kept Secrets: Greensboro Currency Project offers economic hope

If everything goes according to plan, Greensboro will soon be home to the largest alternative currency project in the United States. The Greensboro Currency Project (GCP) aims to print the currency by the end of the year, offering savings to residents and incentives for local consumption.While it might sound crazy at first, establishing an alternative currency is a viable way to keep more money that benefits local businesses and consumers in the community. Successful currencies have been created throughout the country, most notably Ithaca’s (N.Y.) “Hours,” “Berkshares” in the Berkshires (Mass.), and the Pittsboro (N.C.) “Plenty.”

Last March, senior Alyzza Callahan and longtime organizer Signe Waller Foxworth realized they shared an interest in addressing the root issue of class inequality in Greensboro and met to do something about it.

“We met, ironically, in a Starbucks,” Callahan said. “I didn’t buy anything, I swear.”

From there, Foxworth and Callahan started the GCP, holding weekly meetings and reaching out to businesses. Callahan had visited Ithaca the previous summer and was familiar with their currency, and the GCP has since visited Pittsboro and met with the executive director of their currency project to learn about their efforts.

“Money is central to everything,” Foxworth said. “I found myself being passionate about money and how people who haven’t got it, need it.”

Over the summer, “Plenty” board member B.J. Lawson visited Greensboro to meet with the GCP and share advice and experience about the process. Since last year, the GCP has presented their ideas to over 100 businesses, many of which have responded positively. This fall and spring semester, students in Associate Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Sherry Giles’ Community Problem Solving class worked with the GCP.

“It’s such an opportunity to get involved in such a big way,” said sophomore Barbara Dougherty, who got involved through Giles’ class this spring. “This addresses (the root of the problem) in such a fundamental way.”

Local currency projects take different shapes in different parts of the country, and Greensboro would be no different. Foxworth emphasized that people here will have to figure out what works best here rather than simply copying another model, but the GCP has studied other success stories for guidance.

“Pittsboro initially modeled it after Ithaca and that didn’t work for them,” Callahan said. “We’re definitely fond of the Ithaca model, but we’re pretty malleable. We can create a currency but without people it’s not going anywhere.”

In some currency models, including the one in effect in the Berkshires, the local currency is pegged to the dollar with an exchange rate of 9:10. People are able to trade $9 for 10 “Berkshares” at a local bank. Berkshares can then be spent at participating local businesses, passing on a savings of 10 percent to the consumer. Local businesses benefit too, because the currency cannot be spent at large chains.

In other words, a local currency in Greensboro could hypothetically be spent at Deep Roots Market, but not at Food Lion or Harris Teeter. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that businesses like Deep Roots have expressed initial interest in the project.

If everything goes according to plan, a bank or credit union in Greensboro would back the currency, allowing residents to freely trade it for U.S. dollars. Callahan described it as an unfortunate necessity of the process to rely on a bank to give the currency legitimacy, and while a bank hasn’t been found yet, Foxworth didn’t think it would be hard.

“If we do our work right, the banks will be coming to us,” Foxworth said.

The GCP needs some initial funds to start up the project, particularly for outreach and printing the currency. Callahan said they are looking into a loan from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. On April 10, the GCP held a fundraising dinner at junior Jordan Auleb’s house.

“I wanted to be a part of something that helps build community and also helps people meet basic needs,” said Auleb, who is also the teacher’s assistant for Community Problem Solving.

The fundraising dinner, which raised $150 for the project, consisted of food donated from India Palace, Greater Expectations Catering, Panera, and Deep Roots. Foxworth spoke to the assembled guests, including roughly 15 current and former Guilford students, about the project and answered questions about how the currency would work.

“There were some really enthusiastic people who had never been involved in the currency project before,” Auleb said afterwards.

With meetings continuing on a weekly basis and support growing, the GCP appears positioned to make significant strides towards creating an alternative currency in the coming months. The GCP is already planning another, larger benefit in June.

“I think if more people hear about it they will want to be involved,” Dougherty said. “It’s just something made to help people.

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