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Buying time? No, they're spending it

Want to learn how to make sushi? Looking for homemade chutneys to give as gifts? Need fire dancing lessons?

Instead of laying down U.S. dollars, Hour Exchange encourages consumers to use its alternative currency to acquire local goods and services.

"People who join the organization back Hour dollars and make them valuable," said Christina Calkins, coordinator and co-founder of Hour Exchange.

Calkins believes the organization fosters community networking, adds to local spending power, helps create local jobs and sets a standard for a living wage.

Benton County Hour Exchange started in the spring of 2002. The group currently boasts 110 members (nine storefront businesses, 19 home businesses and 82 individuals). It hopes to double membership this year, and ultimately wants to include 1 percent of the Corvallis population, or about 500 people.

Here's how it works: People pay between $5 and $15, whatever they can afford, for a yearlong membership to the group. At the next currency distribution, they receive three Hours to spend. They also get listed in the Hour Trader, which is the group's free quarterly publication.

Each Hour is worth $10. The bills also come in one-eighth Hour ($1.25), one-quarter Hour ($2.50) and one-half Hour ($5) increments.

People and businesses listed in the Hour Trader agree to accept the local currency as full or partial payment for goods and services. The group encourages people to initial their bills, so it can track how many times the money changes hands.

Individuals set the terms for their exchanges. In the case of Intaba's Wood Fired Eatery, the restaurant allows patrons to pay 25 percent of their bill with local currency.

"It's all about supporting the local economy," said Intaba Liff-Anderson, co-owner of the restaurant.

Liff-Anderson said her eatery receives about two Hours a week. She uses them to pay for spa treatments and to buy ingredients such as figs and wild mushrooms from local farmers and gardeners.

Since its inception, Hour Exchange has issued 922 bills. This means the equivalent of $9,220 added to the local economy. Calkins estimated that the circulating Hours have been used for $20,000 to $30,000 worth of trade and commerce.

The group relies solely on volunteers. It draws income from membership dues, fund-raisers and advertising in the Hour Trader.

Each year Hour Exchange donates 10 percent of the currency it issues to a local non-profit. Last year, Kings Valley Charter School received a gift of 20 Hours. The school uses them to pay guests to give weekly demonstrations of various skills, such as watercolor painting, sign language and hula hoop making.

Cassandra Robertson joined Hour Exchange after moving to Corvallis last spring. She now coordinates the group's business outreach and recruitment initiative. Hour Exchange hopes to add one new storefront business per quarter to its Trader directory.

"I like that it promotes local businesses," she said. "It's a group of people working together and sharing skills. It encourages us all to get our needs met in the community, which is socially, environmentally and economically beneficial to the city."

For more information, see www.hourexchange.org.

Editorial Notes: As national currencies, which are structurally dependent on growth, become increasingly disfunctional, new monetary models will be needed - and local currencies serving local needs would seem to be an essential part of the mix of community responses to Peak Oil. -AF

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