A local nonprofit that has developed a system for giving communities control to fund the kinds of large-scale projects that typically require involvement of the government or big business, has launched a pilot program that aims to fight hunger throughout the Pioneer Valley.
“Ending hunger and poverty in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere is the original inspiration behind the Common Good system,” said Executive Director William Spademan.
The Food Fund is meant to address the paradox of a region built on rich farmland and a thriving community of food growers and artisan food makers that also sees one-in-eight people facing hunger daily.
Launched through Common Good, a payment system headquartered in Ashfield that gives people an alternative to other payment systems and reinvests back into local communities, the Food Fund provides Common Good members who struggle with hunger with a monthly credit to use at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst to buy local, nutritious food.
“I hope the Food Fund we are piloting is just the beginning of many solutions we can apply for ourselves, right here,” Spademan said.
“We have lots of growing to do,” Ussach said. “We have lots of great programs and it’s all about ‘local.’”
Ussach said people can sign up to be members, and they receive what looks like a credit card, but they use it like a debit card — they can connect it to their checking account and load as much money as they’d like on it. He said members then use the card at member businesses. Businesses can also use their accounts to pay member wholesalers, for instance. He said it works just like a bank without the fees — and the money is invested back into local communities.
“Let’s say someone has $100 on their card and spends $50 at Foster’s,” he said. “They’ve just spent $50 in credit and their cash sits in a pool that, when it gets large enough, is used for community projects. Members decide what those will be.”
Ussach said Common Good invested $10,000 in eight local projects in 2017 that included equipment upgrades at the pay-what-you-can Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield, renovations at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls, rooftop solar panels at the Ashfield Lakehouse and a worker-owned trash-composting business.
He said in 2018, Common Good invested in 15 projects for a total of $20,000 in grants, loans, investments and projects in Franklin County. They included a program at Greenfield Community Acupuncture to treat people in opioid recovery; a training conference by Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution on democratic participation in rural communities; the nonprofit Root Studio; a yoga-based mentorship program for teen girls in Turners Falls struggling with poverty, abuse, addiction and sexism; and monthly Community Nights at Leyden Woods hosted by Musica Franklin.
There are currently five categories for funding projects: local business development, food systems, social justice, environmental sustainability and the arts. All members have voting power, so the decisions are democratic, but there is a built-in protection of minority opinions — a project can be rejected if at least 5 percent of the community vetoes it.
The pilot program will run for six months, and during that time the Food Fund will provide up to 10 Pioneer Valley residents in need with a monthly credit of $20 for use at Simple Gifts Farm store in North Amherst.
Spademan said he envisions the pilot evolving into an ongoing program that will include more food and farm markets, more recipients and more communities.
He said in addition to the food pilot, Common Good is planning a Carbon Offset Fund for its members to support and deploy locally, and is in discussions with several other efforts working to better local communities using Common Good as the platform.
“This is all about generating financial resources controlled by the community and put back into the community,” Ussach said.
Common Good has about 500 members in Western Massachusetts and several hundred in the Midwest. For more information about Common Good or to join, call 413-628-1723 or visit: commongood.earth.
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