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Trader's Coops: Where Kombucha Equals Currency

Friday, June 03, 2011 by: Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D.
Tags: Portugal, village, health news

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(NaturalNews) I was in rural Portugal a few weeks ago, visiting a tiny village that I have known for decades. I have watched it gradually change since Portugal's admission to the EU. On this visit, though, the cumulative change was striking. It was a "modern" culture now -- no longer practicing the old, rural (sustainable!) ways that it had known for centuries. Automobiles raced along the streets instead of bicycles and donkey carts. People were in a hurry, rather than sharing a leisurely afternoon cup of coffee together. The Country, of course, was also in debt and on the brink of economic collapse. And, so were its citizens.

Most noticeable, though, was the lack of the old street markets. Back in the day -- during Portugal's "local", sustainable years -- craftspeople used to lay out their wares on the streets. There used to be a whole block in Lisbon, open to pedestrian traffic only, where artists, gardeners, weavers, bread-makers and other artisans had set up little stands and bartered and/or traded their things with one another. It's gone. In its place are homeless, unemployed beggars. Crime has increased. So have the incidence and prevalence of degenerative diseases. People are working longer for less remuneration. Portugal's economy -- inflated beyond sustainable levels of local well-being -- has collapsed. They have forgotten that Small is Beautiful.

When I asked my host what had happened, he stated it very simply. He said that, upon entry into the EU, the Portugese fell into the imperialist trap of valuing profit over happiness. They had traded their gardens for supermarkets! Now they all had "stuff" and purported "convenience" -- but they also had debt levels that were staggering, anxiety disorders, divorce and relationship failures, crime and unemployment. Since the change had taken place in less than a single decade for them, they were able to remember "the old days". It wasn't several generations away. It was right up close and personal. So, the good news is that they are "headed back to the future". My host and I took many long walks where he showed me large, new domestic gardens being prepared. We talked to local people about re-emerging local food networks. We went to a woman's house, where bread was being baked in a solar oven on the roof, and traded for some. We bartered some of last Fall's vino verde, still in the wooden barrel, for some spring kale. I asked him if the street markets would come back as a part of this transition. He hoped, as did I, that they would.

My hometown, Mount Shasta, California, is participating in the international Transition Town movement. We are officially a Transition Town and are actively trying to build a strong, sustainable, healthy, local economy. We are approaching this from multiple directions, but one of the key things that we are doing is sponsoring monthly Trader's Coops. Street markets! Anyone may come and bring their own homegrown or crafted goods to trade with others. In the past few months, I've traded frozen green beans from last year's garden, kombucha, raw vegan cookies, homemade artisan paper, vegan cashew cheese and dandelion jelly for artisan porcelain buttons, Danish bread, sun-roots, seed potato, garlic, vegetable seeds and a delicious bright orange turban squash!

Our Trader's Coop is based on the idea that we all need to learn to 'go to market' again. Americans -- with our over-stocked, consumerist supermarkets -- have forgotten how to trade, barter, haggle and negotiate. Our monthly Trader's Coop is a training ground in these essential Transition Town skills. How do I know how many kombucha cultures to offer a fellow who has some good looking seed potato that I have my eye on? The fact is that we have to talk. We have to bargain. We have to figure this out between ourselves. So, we both walk away with more than just our goods. We have made a personal connection. I am not a "consumer". I am a friend. He is not a "client". He is a neighbor.

We need to realize that we all have talents and skills to trade. It is very common for people to think that they "have nothing to offer" because they have been so culturally conditioned away from their own value by consumerism. Once they begin to think about taking money out of the equation, they realize that they, for example, hook rugs, build birdhouses, grow sprouts, bake bread, have fresh eggs, have garden produce and so forth. And, that all of these items are "currency" in a trade environment. Super healthy, vital kombucha cultures were my currency at last month's Trader's Coop. This month, my "money" will be some greenhouse lettuces that are ready to cut.

And, traders can swap services as well as goods. A friend of mine traded having some tax consultation done in exchange for preparing dinner for the tax consultant's children. The point is to step outside of monetized systems, where profit outweighs happiness, into barter systems, where happiness is more important than profit. I always come home -- on my bicycle, incidentally--from our monthly Trader's Coop happy! I've visited with old friends, made new ones and experienced a give-and-take that has COMMUNITY written all over it!

How about giving it a try? Just locate a venue -- especially outdoors -- and invite people to bring homemade goods and services to swap. No commercial or manufactured items, of course, are appropriate. You'll be surprised to learn how many talents and skills your neighbors have. Once you get over the initial awkwardness, you will really enjoy the process of trading. I'm thinking that I might even try to trade a few of my better charcoal sketches for a couple of deep tissue massages. What's not to like?

About the author:
Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D., is a socially engaged philosopher and cultural sustainability advocate. Her new book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle explores critical issues from this perspective. At the end of each chapter is a list of things that you can do to create a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. For more information: http://www.sherryackerman.com

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