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Organic Money

Recently I was invited to a most unusual gathering. The event was not officially called a “Conference On Advanced Economic Trends” but if it had been held at a university, it would surely have been given a high-sounding name like that. Instead it was held on a working farm and was called “Our Garlic Festival.”

The farm is Jandy’s, after its owners, Andy Reinhart and Jan Dawson. They  make their living growing and selling vegetables from less than two acres of their little farm, mostly at the farmer’s market in nearby Bellefountaine, Ohio.  Locally Jan and Andy are revered organic garden farmers. One look at their crops will tell anyone who knows anything about organic gardening just how remarkably skilled they are at their craft. Sometimes a head of their bibb lettuce barely fits into a bushel basket. They don’t need to have organic certification. Their customers know that if Jan and Andy say its organic, rest assured that it is organic. They don’t sell commodities; they sell the fruit of their dedicated way of life, drops of their sweat and blood. Every year they hold an open house for friends, neighbors, customers and other market farmers looking for new ideas.

This year, with a record garlic crop on their hands, they decided to sell their produce at the open house too. They also invited a local deli owner, Nick Carter, to sell his homemade pesto and bread and a local beekeeper, Skidmore Apiaries, to sell their honey products. A local musician, Bob Lucas performed. I sold my books. Surrounded by shade trees and gardens, about 200 people, a surprising number for such a rural setting, stood around in little knots talking spiritedly about subjects that all came under the heading of Home Economics: local food; natural medicine; home-based alternative energy; home birthing; home schooling, even, get this, home churching.

It dawned on me that what I was witnessing was a near perfect example of a local economy in action.  And when Andy started talking specifically about economics, which he will do if pressed although normally he is quiet and reserved, he “brought home” the significance of what I was looking at. He and Jan delight in their frugal life style which is the main reason they can afford to keep on being such small farmers producing such high quality food. Their house, partly underground, is modest and environmentally sane. They heat it with their own wood cut and split from their own woodlot. Parts of the house and of other buildings are made from salvaged  materials. They raise most of the food they eat, obviously. They are keen practitioners of home medicine. They are very artful recyclers of material our wasteful society throws away. And they are content with their lives. “We would rather do without many things that modern society strives for,” Andy says, “so as to have the time to grow really good food while enjoying the natural and spiritual world around us. We could expand, work ourselves to distraction and make more money. We choose to avoid that trap.” I have used Andy’s observation about their life style before: “It is rather easy to live comfortably below the so-called cost of living because the government keeps raising the index.” This is something that today’s society needs to hear, especially now that the international economy has come near to collapse because so many people are so unwilling to live sensibly and have therefore borrowed  themselves into bankruptcy.

It suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning, or rather like the keen odor of garlic and roasting peppers penetrating the country air. I was taking the pieces of paper called money that people traded me for my words and using them to buy garlic and tabouli from Jan and Andy. They were taking these pieces of paper and buying Nick Carter’s bread, who took these pieces of paper and bought Skidmore’s honey. This was not pretend money cut adrift from real things but symbols of real trust directly connected to real products of real value. This was organic money.

Organic money is how we will weather the economic storm until the financial world gets back on sane feet again. Along with home food production, home produced energy, and home medicine, we can have home banking too— a lot more emphasis on the kind of local banking that keeps local money in the local community.

A farmer I worked for in Minnesota many years ago gave me a wonderful insight into the stability of organic money. Occasionally, a car would stop along the road where we were planting or harvesting, and the driver would walk out into the field and talk to my boss. Cash or checks would change hands. To my astonishment, this farmer was running a little local bank literally out of the breast pocket of his bib overalls. People were stopping by to pay on what they owed, or to borrow some more and at the same time exchange ideas about local commerce. Both were getting a bargain on money interest. Both had a practical interest in the other’s welfare.

The word, ‘economy’, comes from the Greek language. It originally meant “managing a household.”  Yes.  Far out in the quiet countryside, on a little farm, I was watching people join together in mutual trust and trade. They were managing their households. They were doing the necessary work of decentralizing a top-heavy economy. Yes. Organic food, organic energy, and to make it work in a viable community, organic money.

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