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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stimulus Writ Small: Tiny California Town Prints Its Own Currency

Written by: Keith Wagstaff

Josh Freeman of North Fork, CA sure took President Obama’s talk about providing help to “Main Street, not Wall Street” seriously. The tiny town of 2,400 people, located near Yosemite National Park, sits in a county with a staggering 15.7 percent unemployment rate. Seeing his town struggle, Freeman did what any red-blooded American would do: create his own currency. North Fork Shares, emblazoned with pictures of a butterflies and hummingbirds, are worth $12 per share, and are available in half and quarter shares.

This idea actually isn’t new; Ithaca, NY has its own currency, Ithaca Hours, which it launched way back in 1991. There are plenty of other local currencies around the United States: BerkShares in Massachusetts, the Plenty in Pittsboro, N.C., etc. The idea is to keep money in the community by encouraging spending only at local vendors who accept the money, like Disney Dollars, except less evil. Freeman explains his motivations to the L.A. Times, stating that ”In a small town, you tend to look out for each other …. With the changes in economy, the more we support each other in positive ways, the better the quality of life is for everyone.”

It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea, but it’s definitely a smart way to keep things local. If you had, say, a wallet full of $6 North Fork half-shares and you were trying to decide between the local coffee shop and Starbucks, chances are you would head over to the local coffee shop to spend your cash. Each bill is legal and printed on washable, synthetic paper called yupo.

Will North Fork Shares help revive the local economy? Only time will tell; if anything, the residents of North Fork will have undertaken a community building exercise and in this economy, hey, anything is worth a shot.