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2009-04-09

North Carolina Town Prints Own Currency to Support Local Business

Guests

Lyle Estill, community activist and writer in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He is president of Piedmont Biofuels, which runs the largest biodiesel cooperative in the United States. He is also involved in sustainable farming and is a leading supporter of the Pittsboro Plenty, a local currency. He is author of two books, including Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy.

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We take a look at how one North Carolina town is trying to become more self-sufficient by moving toward being able to feed, fuel and finance itself. The town of Pittsboro houses the nation’s largest biodiesel cooperative, a food co-op, a farmers’ market and, most recently, its own currency, the Pittsboro Plenty. Pittsboro is one of a number of communities across the country printing their own money in an attempt to support local business. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to look now at how one North Carolina town is trying to become more self-sufficient by moving towards, well, being able to feed, fuel and finance itself. The town of Pittsboro, North Carolina — we just passed it yesterday — it houses the nation’s largest biodiesel cooperative, a food co-op, a farmers’ market and, most recently, its own currency, the Pittsboro Plenty. Pittsboro is one of a number of communities across the country printing their own money in an attempt to support local business.

We’re joined right now by community activist, entrepreneur and author Lyle Estill. He is also the author of Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, and he’s founder of Piedmont Biofuels. He is also author of another book, as well.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us, Lyle.

LYLE ESTILL: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Plenty — where is that currency? I had it here somewhere. How could I lose that? Ah, here it is. Here it is. This is a — looks like — a little bit like Monopoly money. And tell us about Plenty. What does it stand for?

LYLE ESTILL: It’s an acronym for Piedmont Local Economy Tender. And it was started by a group of activists in Carrboro, North Carolina back around 2001. And it is predicated on the idea that by having a role in our own monetary circulation, we’ll all be better off. Our local economy will be better served.

AMY GOODMAN: Who prints this? What is it? It says “one quarter.”

LYLE ESTILL: That’s an old Plenty. One Plenty used to be $10, and so a quarter-Plenty was $2.50. The new Plenties are at par, so they’re coming out with a new one, five, ten, 20, 50.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does it work? How do you get it? How do you spend it?

LYLE ESTILL: You get it down at Capital Bank, which is a locally owned bank in Pittsboro, North Carolina. They issue it. So if you show up with Federal Reserve notes, they’ll give you Plenties in exchange.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lyle, you haven’t had any inflation problems with the currency?

LYLE ESTILL: Not at all.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the eco-industrial park. What is that? And what is the community attempting to do there?

LYLE ESTILL: Piedmont Biofuels bought an abandoned industrial park back in 2005. It’s a fourteen-acre campus, where we started with a biodiesel plant. We had some extra buildings, and we filled them up with Eastern Carolina Organics, which distributes organic vegetables. Piedmont Biofarm has formed a sustainable agriculture project and farm in the side yard. We have ECO Blend, which is a bio-herbicide and bio-pesticide company. There are about eight businesses inside the fence. And there seems to be a lot of interlocking relationships, where one is selling products to the other or living on the co-products of other, etc.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Have you gotten much support from local government leaders in these activities?

LYLE ESTILL: Moral support, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how businesses and people work with the local currency. I mean, how does it really help local economy?

LYLE ESTILL: OK, so one measure of the vitality of an economy is monetary circulation, that is, how many times a dollar goes around before it leaves town. So if you buy a book at our locally owned bookstore, they’re going to take that dollar, and they’ll spend it on the local bookkeeper, and they’ll buy an ad in the local newspaper, and someone will go out to dinner at the local restaurant, and the dollar will go round and round and round before it leaves town. If you take that dollar and send it directly to Amazon, it leaves town immediately, never to be seen again. The nice thing about the Plenty is you can’t spend it in China. So the only place that it circulates is in our local economy. And so, the more circulation there is, the more enriched we all are.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how many firms within the community take, accept the tender as — in place of money?

LYLE ESTILL: Today, there’s a smaller number. This is a revitalized effort. There’s probably a dozen places. You can buy your fuel and your internet service and your groceries and lunch at the general store cafe. Now that Capital Bank has agreed to exchange Plenties for Federal Reserve notes, I don’t think it will be long before every merchant in town starts taking Plenties.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the overall sustainability community, Lyle. Who is involved in it?

LYLE ESTILL: We have a —-

AMY GOODMAN: Don’t worry about that.

LYLE ESTILL: Don’t worry about that. We have a bunch of people from our -— let’s see, at our Central Carolina Community College on the edge of town, we have a sustainable agriculture program, which is instrumental to our community, and it graduates a new crop of sustainable farmers every semester. They also run a biofuels program, and the biofuels program graduates a bunch of biodiesel activists every semester. So you have the farming community, and you have the fuel community, and then you have Chatham Marketplace, which is our co-op grocery store. And the co-op grocery store is really a hub to Pittsboro. You know, it’s funny. The co-op grocery store is located in an abandoned textile mill on the edge of town. And sort of, globalization cost us our mill. And it’s —-

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

LYLE ESTILL: Well, I guess if you can make a woven label cheaper in Malaysia, then you don’t need North Carolina textiles. So you’ve got a big empty mill, and it’s local businesses that are bringing the mill back to life. And that includes Chatham Marketplace.

AMY GOODMAN: Anything else you’d like to tell people around this country and around the world on this global broadcast that very much is about grassroots community media all over the country linking together?

LYLE ESTILL: Well, I think that self-reliance is important. And what we have been working on is trying to explore ways of being a self-reliant community. And that includes how would we fuel ourselves and feed ourselves and finance ourselves. The less dependency we have on the rest of the world, I think the better off we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lyle Estill, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His latest book is called Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy. Can I get a copy -— can I get one Plenty? Is that alright?

LYLE ESTILL: Oh, dear, it’s supposed to circulate. You’re not supposed to put it on your bulletin board. Sure, you can have one.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much for joining us, as we bring out the voices of the grassroots.

Juan, this has been a fascinating trip. Last night, we celebrated a number of community media outlets. I don’t think they were ever together in one place at one time, but we were all together in Durham. Democracy Now! broadcasts on WNCU every evening. That WNCU is an NPR station in Durham at the historically black college NCCU, which is North Carolina Central University. We were also celebrating the People’s Channel in Chapel Hill. The People’s Channel is public access TV. We learned about Lyle, actually, when I was on a low power FM station yesterday called WCOM-LP in Carrboro. And they were talking about Lyle Estill and all his remarkable work. And finally, we’re celebrating a group called Balance and Accuracy in Journalism.

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