Northfield Community Exchange Brings Barter Into the 21st Century

Have you heard the expression "Time is Money?" Now it really is.

Need a babysitter, a body massage or a bale of hay?  If you live in Northfield, chances are you’ve already posted a notice of need on the entry walls of bulletin boards throughout the city.

But what if there was a way to exchange goods and services at home with just the click of a mouse, using units of time instead of money?

There is a way.

Putting the time in

Transition Northfield has launched Northfield Community Exchange, an online program that matches those with needs to those who can fill that need; the hours required to provide the service or goods is put into a “time bank” to be used for other transactions. You can do it all by computer, so there’s no danger your notice will be lost among posters for the latest lost cat or local concert.

“You shouldn’t need money to fill the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, water—that’s what community is for."

The advent of the exchange puts Northfield on the cusp of a national and international movement for moving currency away from our global banking system.

According to Bernard Lietaer, co-inventor of the euro and author of The Future of Money: Creating New Wealth, Work, and a Wiser World, the value of barter transactions—exchanges that do not use money—totals more than $6.5 billion in the United States and Canada, and is increasing three times faster than normal exchanges.  

“Money is no longer the central organizing principle,” said Paul Sebby, who installed the computer program for Transition Northfield that allows subscribers to coordinate exchanges and keeps track of time units. “You shouldn’t need money to fill the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, water—that’s what community is for. We need to get away from the idea that you’ve got to have lots of money to get your needs met.”

Sebby is a member of Transition Northfield’s initiating group, part of a national network of communities dedicated to tackling global issues such as peak oil, climate change and economic crisis by acting locally to build greater community resilience in the face of these challenges.

Though no exchanges have been made in Northfield yet, Sebby says 25 people have signed up since the website went live this fall and a variety of goods and services are already offered—including supplying backyard chicken eggs, dog training and snow shoveling. Others have requested house cleaning help, assistance with plumbing and a chainsaw to cut wood.

Sebby said he believes it will take a little time for people to make changes in how they get goods and really embrace the idea of a community exchange.

But the spark is there—and that's all the group can ask for so far.

"I feel that one of things in our culture that really has been missing is that element of community," Sebby said. "I think if economic times get more difficult that we’re going to need frameworks like this more and more."

Bringing the exchange to Northfield

With Transition Northfield about two years old, Sebby and other initiating members began talking this spring about possibly bringing an exchange program or local currency to Northfield.

The need for a community exchange was obvious to Mary Jo Cristofaro, an initiating member for Transition Northfield. 

"It always comes back to how we want to move forward as a society,” she said. "The economy is such that people are thinking about other ways in running our lives and not letting the economy running our lives."

For Cristofaro, the exchange program was just one more tool to help the Transition movement and removing the "they" out of everyday life when it comes to the economy, energy and food.

"This allows us to build a sustainable and resilient community," Cristofaro said, adding that 58 percent of the food her family eats is provided by their hobby farm. Her family also benefits from 12 kilowatts of wind energy. "It's a lot of work, but a great feeling to strive to walk the talk."

With that in mind, Sebby turned an eye to Transition Los Angeles, which had released an overview of different local currencies and exchange systems. The Northfield group settled on the Local Exchange Trading System.

Sebby said avoiding currency of any kind was important.

“We like the fact that (LETS) makes it a system that can be used by anybody—even if they’re unemployed or retired," he said. "It can really appeal to a broad spectrum of people in the community."

LETS is used in Great Britain, Canada and Australia for the thousands of similar exchanges that have sprung up over the last decade. 

Sebby, a software designer and programmer, offers his knowledge about the Internet to those looking to leap into cyberspace. Also a permaculture enthusiast, Sebby offers consultation for sustainable landscaping and gardening.

Cristofaro has been bartering her skill as an American Sign Language interpreter for years. With the start of the community exchange program, she said this is the first time she's been able to put that effort into a formal, organized and potentially far-reaching network.

"This is great because it gives itself a face," she said of the exchange program. "To have it out there is really exciting."

A growing trend

Nationwide, there are 103 transition initiatives in 31 states, according to Transition United States, and there are nearly 400 initiatives in 13 languages across the world.

The Northfield group is now planning a community gathering to launch the service and have subscribers meet face to face as they introduce the potential benefits to the community.

The buzz is already building—not surprising for a community known for its volunteer culture, its penchant for recycling as evidenced by online Northfield Freecycle users, its and shops, and loose trade of talents via community bulletin boards.

“I see it as a way we can build community, where people can give and receive outside of the money system,” says Jenny Gamer, owner of , who is already signed on to the service.  “It’s a real win for people with more time than money—the un- or underemployed.”

“Everybody’s time is valuable. Everybody has some skill and can provide some service—everybody is equal in that sense,” says Karen Olson, a member of Transition Northfield who helped organize the exchange. “I have a disabled neighbor—a retired piano teacher. She clearly has a lot to offer, and will do so once she has a way to connect and be of use.”

Though Olson says she has heard some hesitation from folks fearing that bringing back the bartering system is “too fringe”—or perhaps out of shame about being short of cash—she remains enthusiastic.

“The appeal goes across the political spectrum,” she says. “Those on the left are interested in going outside and beyond the political system. Those on the right appreciate how it supports the values of family, community and self reliance.

“We need to sidestep that shame. It’s just a lot of fun, and it works.”

Visit the Northfield Community Exchange page

You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing Amerian Dream” from across the country
at The Huffington Post.

Betsy Gasior November 29, 2011 at 03:20 PM
I think this is fantastic! My friends and I barter all the time for things...sewing skills, gardening, cooking, childcare etc. People taking care of people...the way it should be.
George Kinney November 29, 2011 at 03:37 PM
I've been in the Exchange for a few weeks. Easy to sign up and get your offers posted, and you are gifted with 25 hours of credit. By the way -- I DO need that 'bale of hay' that Azna mentioned at the beginning of the article for covering some tender perennials. So -- log on!
Daniel Porter November 29, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Great stuff! I actually barter on Barterquest.com. I think these are all great initiatives.
John Durrant November 30, 2011 at 01:21 PM
These ideas based on barter seem to be a natural extension of the kind of peer-to-peer relationships that we've been building up in our everyday use of the Internet. Perhaps the money of the future is more likely to be based around peer-to-peer trust than via a centrally issued and controlled mechanism which, as we have recently seen, is so prone to mismanagement and devastating consequences of 'boom and bust' economics. In the UK I am launching a peer-to-peer currency called a 'Fava' (see http://www.favabank.co.uk) where people can barter their time, skills, items and resources. I think this will be in interesting space to watch in the future...


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