Interview: Rob Assels (Local Currency)
What is the LETS program?
It is a membership based trading system that uses a local currency (the Northumberland Note) to facilitate transactions.
How long has the trading system been effective in Tatamagouche, and how has it developed since then?
It was officially launched in June 2005, although the first transaction took place on May 13, when Avi Lewis and 25 others had a five course meal at the Sunrise Beach Golf course. We began with only 20 businesses. I refer to them as businesses because everyone in the program must be both a buyer and a seller. In our first month we traded $750 worth of goods. Three months later we allowed another 12 businesses to join. In March, we accepted another 21. In June of 2006, one year since it started, we transacted for $9,000 in goods and services.
How many members are there, and what is the ideal membership?
There are currently 53 members. In terms of the ideal membership ... It's a bit of a strange question, because no one ever asks that of the conventional economy. Some LETS administrators feel that 250 is the maximum number but that is because of the amount of volunteer work required by traditional LETS administrators; we don't have that problem because we have an accounting firm do all the administration. I would say that economies of scale begin to materialize around 100. For instance, at that point you can consider offering insurance to members.
What can people buy in the Tatamagouche area with LETS dollars?
Vegetables, meat, some clothing, mechanic, electrician, carpenter, lawyer, baker, florist, art gallery, golf course, restaurants, advertising, manual labour, and many others I can't think of off hand.
What was your motivation in setting up a Local Economic Trading System in Tatamagouche?
It is one front in the war our community is fighting to be sustainable. We believe that there isn't enough money in rural communities. This happens because of two distinctly different issues. The first is that there isn't enough money entering the community and the second is that the money that is the community in the form of salaries is leaves the community fairly quickly in the form of purchases at big box stores. The LETS program helps to address the second issue, by allowing people to support local businesses without feeling they are being penalized.
Is there potential for setting up similar local trading systems in other communities throughout Nova Scotia?
Yes there is. We are hoping the office of Economic Development will seriously consider assisting us in exporting the model we have developed to other communities. We have a step-by-step guidebook on how to accomplish what we've done to date.
How do you see the LETS program benefiting the local Tatamagouche community both presently and potentially?
Most people in all communities (urban and rural) say they can't afford organic food. We've found that since implementing the LETS program, the amount of organic food being sold has almost doubled (on some product lines it has risen four fold). It appears as if we are going to get a rural transit system that would not have been possible if we hadn't been able to buy the bus, hire the driver and get the diesel repairs, all in local currency.
What is the most important aspect of making a Local Economic Trading System sustainable?
Probably the best advice I can offer is to recommend that it not be based upon volunteer administrators. It is also important to include a food retailer in the program from the outset. In fact, I would say that it shouldn't be attempted without a food retailer.