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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Local Alternative Currencies Making A Resurgence

Jordan Bober is a co-founder of Seedstock, an alternative currency available in the Vancouver area.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst , VANCOUVER SUN


Vancouver’s Seedstock system allows people and businesses to exchange goods and services using either paper currency or as ledger transactions.

VANCOUVER — Pioneered in B.C. during the early-1980s, local alternative currencies are enjoying a renaissance, with a fledgling system operating in Vancouver and new organizations springing up in Surrey and on Vancouver Island.

Nearly a year old, Vancouver’s Seedstock system ( allows people and businesses to exchange goods and services using either paper currency — coupons that spend dollar for dollar like real money — or as ledger transactions.

More than 80 local businesses are accepting Seedstock for all or part of the price of goods and services, according to co-founder Jordan Bober.

The list of participating businesses has a decidedly New Age flavour, including permaculture instructors, yoga studios, organic grocers, and urban farmers.

“Most accept Seedstock for 50 per cent of the purchase price, and a handful like Homesteaders Emporium do 25 per cent,” he said.

About $25,000 worth of Seedstock is in circulation, approximately $8,000 in coupons. But Bober expects to take a great leap forward when a new smartphone app is released that will allow people to pay for purchases directly from an online account.

Founded two years ago based on First Nations cooperative economic principles, Cowichan’s Tetla Tsetsuwatil Dollars are accepted at 53 local businesses, according to founder Meaghie Champion, a member of the S’amuna Nation.

Tetlas can be purchased for cash or trade and with a variety of other coupons from Candian Tire Money to Sports Trader Bucks. Proceeds help support traditional cultural and language programs.

Vancouver Island Dollars will be the next community currency to be issued in B.C. User registration opens Oct. 9, according to organizer Michael Linton.

One of the world’s first community currency systems — often called LETS for “local exchange trading systems” — was founded by Linton in Courtenay in 1983 and spawned a handful of similar systems in other B.C. communities such as Salt Spring Island and, more recently, in Nelson and Cowichan Valley.

The systems have found much wider popularity in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia, where more than 1,000 local currencies are used, often as a way to strengthen small-town economies by encouraging local trade or to attract customers to sustainable businesses or social enterprises. LETS may also facilitate local barter, allowing people to trade their labour for other goods and services.

A business can join Vancouver’s Seedstock network simply by agreeing to honour the currency.

“When people spend the Seedstock, it comes back to the businesses and they can use it to buy things from other businesses in the network or to bonus their employees, so they can spend it,” said Bober, who is also a lead organizer for this month’s Living the New Economy conference on Granville Island.

For each business that joins, Seedstock currency is issued and donated to one of the organization’s non-profit partner agencies.

“The amount is based on the size of the business, but the rule of thumb is about $1,000 per employee,” said Bober.

The non-profits — which include the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Healing Cities Institute and Food Not Bombs — can either sell Seedstock at face value for Canadian dollars as a fundraising exercise or distribute Seedstock to their clients and volunteers for them to spend.

“For private citizens to buy Seedstock is a no-lose situation,” said Bober. “They donate to the non-profit and they get the same amount back in Seedstock to spend.”

Encouraged by Seedstock’s early success, Surrey publisher Linda Prai and the sustainability organization Village Surrey are hoping to create a similar system south of the Fraser River.

“We can either try to change the international monetary system or we can do something here, ourselves,” said Prai. “This is a way to create local resilience, encourage local business, and make sure donations get to community groups.”

Prai would like to create a currency that complements the Canadian dollar and gains acceptance in the mainstream business community.

“This needs to have a serious business model. I don’t think it can be a bunch of granola crunchers sitting around having a meeting, printing bills and hoping that it works out,” she said. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to spend them at Walmart.”

“There are 4,000 (LETS) in the world, so clearly some of them are working.”

Interested businesses and community groups are invited to attend a meeting at Surrey’s City Centre Library at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28.

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