Next Economy: Exploring the Role of Community and Restorative Economics

By Gabriela Estrada and Allison Nagel, Sustainable Solano

Communities have the power to shape a new economy that is equitable and just, and the transition to get there lies in creating self-determination and shared prosperity through community governance and community ownership. It also relies on moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of creating abundance.

At our recent Next Economy discussion, we explored these key elements and how they can be used, particularly within communities of color that have been disempowered and disenfranchised in the current economic system, to create a new way of approaching the economy that often draws upon traditions of supporting one another.

This discussion of Restorative Economics came from insight and lessons learned at a workshop led by project management consultant Nwamaka Agbo, who has a background in community organizing and restorative justice. Through our Next Economy series, we’ve tackled problems with the current economy and shared what we’ve learned about creating a new economy from the courses taken through Santa Cruz Permaculture’s Next Economy series, including Nwamaka’s workshop.

Restorative Economics addresses how to prioritize investment of resources back into impacted populations. Nwamaka focuses on creating a just transition that moves away from capitalism’s patterns of economic oppression that has harmed marginalized communities and placed power and wealth with a select few.

In particular, a just transition moves from:

  • Extraction to Regeneration — Moving from an economy that pulls resources (and pushes people) out of communities to one that builds up those communities.
  • Control to Governing for the Whole — Moving from those with power and wealth controlling decisions that affect impacted populations to community governance and approaches that are beneficial to impacted populations and make life better for society as a whole. (As an example, curb cuts were put in on sidewalks for wheelchairs, but then those with bikes, strollers, etc., benefited from having them)
  • Accumulation to Shared Prosperity — Moving from an accumulation of wealth among a few to supporting shared prosperity through the reinvestment of profits in the community to add community benefit. (An example is the “pay-it-forward” approach that, rather than sending loan interest income to an investor turns around and invests it in a loan to another business.)
  • Exclusion to Inclusion — Moving from excluding people from being a part of the economy to build models that give voice and build capacity for meaningful participation in the local governance and economy.

We asked attendees to reflect on the fact that capitalism is a system, which means we have agency over it and we can change it. Keeping this in mind, we asked the group to think of some practices and values we could use for a just transition. As a group, we discussed the different ideas behind Restorative Economics and did some activities to think about both how we look at economics now and new ways to redefine the economy.

We shared Nwamaka’s tenets of Restorative Economics and some examples:

  • Investing in Human Development and Capacity Building: The Restore Oakland project, of which she was a vital part, builds employable skills in recently incarcerated individuals while also creating space for furthering restorative justice and restorative economics work.
  • Remembering and Reclaiming Traditions and Collective Wisdom: Drawing on the indigenous cultures of shared prosperity that have been discouraged in the current economic system.
  • Building a Community of Practice and Social Movement Infrastructure: Practicing community governance through co-ops and other approaches, and bringing community organizations and social movements together to support each other in efforts on the ground and to shape policy.

We wrapped up by thinking of what some of the biggest challenges are in our local community and how to address them. That included creating a system of affordable housing, better community gathering space and the recognition of the true value of labor. The idea of changing from a system that commodifies land, labor and capital to a system of land trust, right livelihood and public banking was also identified.

Join us at our next discussion on May 2 to explore ways to design our economic future.

As Nwamaka told us at the Santa Cruz workshop: “Change doesn’t come from intent. It comes from deliberate action.” That is the first step towards a more just economy that works for everyone.

The funding for Sustainable Solano’s team training at the “Next Economy” course at Santa Cruz Permaculture was provided by Solano Community Foundation through their NPP Capacity Building grants program. Community conversations are made possible through a grant from the Peaceful World Foundation. Thank you to both organizations!

We will continue to share insights at our final workshop at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo. Please join us to further the discussion on the next economy in our community.

Designing the Regenerative Economy, 6 pm, May 2

Join us to discuss the design principles and strategies needed for vocation and regenerative enterprise design. We’ll discuss how we could redesign the economy for security, prosperity and a stable climate with transformation based on permaculture design principles, methods and ethics for an economy that benefits all life.

Caretaking of Nature and Community: A Conversation Between Wendell Berry and Helena Norberg-Hodge

By Sustainable Solano

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the need to move to an economy that is informed by the indigenous ways of caring for both our local communities and our environment. So imagine our delight when we read a discussion between local economy advocates Helena Norberg-Hodge and Wendell Berry that ranges across human nature, technology, experiential knowledge, agriculture policy, happiness, wildness and local food systems.

Helena Norberg-Hodge is the founder and director of Local Futures, which works to renew ecological, social and spiritual well-being by promoting a systemic shift toward economic localization through decentralized, regional economies. Wendell Berry, poet, author and activist, is known for his advocacy for ecology, rural life and small-scale farming.

With permission from Helena Norberg-Hodge, who first recorded the conversation for her Local Futures podcast, we are reprinting a short excerpt below from the version that ran in Orion Magazine:

 

Norberg-Hodge: It’s also important to realize that the real problem is not human nature, but what I think of as an inhuman system. One of the biggest problems we’re facing is that the system has become so big that we can’t see what we’re doing and what we’re contributing to. Our economic system is of such an inhuman scale that it has become like a giant machine — a global juggernaut that’s pushing us all into fear and a terrible sense of scarcity.

Berry: What one has to say to begin with is that, as humans, we are limited in intelligence and we really have no reliable foresight. So none of us will come up with answers to the whole great problem. What we can do is judge our behavior, our history, and our present situation by a better standard than “efficiency” or “profit,” or those measures that we’re still using to determine economic decisions. The standard that I always come back to is the health of the world, which is the same as our own personal health. We can’t distinguish our health from the health of everything else. And we know enough from the ecologists now to know that health is a very complex and un-understandable complexity of relationships that makes the world whole.

Norberg-Hodge: Rather than those economic measures you referred to, the goal needs to be human and ecological well-being. And when people are more dependent on the living community around them — both the human and the nonhuman — then it becomes obvious that their well-being is connected to the well-being of the other.

Berry: It seems to me that it all depends upon our ability to accept limits. And the present economic system doesn’t even acknowledge limits. It is “develop[ing] resources” — which is to say, turning resources into riches (which is to say, money) — which leads almost inevitably to destruction. Money is an abstraction. Goods are particular, and always available within limits — natural limits, and the rightful limits of our consumption.

Norberg-Hodge: And in order for us to see those limits, we need a more human-scale, localized economy.

Berry: It would mean even more if we said a community economy, and we meant by economy the original sense of “household management” or “housekeeping.” That would imply taking the best possible care of the life supports of, first, the household economy, then the neighborhood economy, then the community economy. And we can go on from there on the principle of community, if we take it in the sense of “what we all have in common,” and an obligation to take care of all of it. But it will only be manageable locally, and within limits — the limits, among other things, of our own intelligence and our own capacity to act responsibly.

 

For the full conversation, which delves more richly into the interplay of the economy, the environment and the shift from global to local, listen to the podcast here or read the full transcript here.

Next Economy: Making Sense of Our Banking System

By Stann Whipple, Sustainable Solano Treasurer

On March 7, a group of about 25 gathered at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo for the third session of our “Next Economy” Conversations Series. From the beginning, we dived into the key issue of our current economic system: Who issues money and who decides on its use and how?  Elena Karoulina and Stann Whipple presented new insights into why the current financial system is going the way it is and how we might begin to alter that course, based on concepts they learned at the recent workshop given by Marco Vangelisti through the Permaculture Institute in Santa Cruz.

Our money supply has three forms: 0.03% is in coins minted by the U.S. Treasury; 25% is paper notes printed and controlled by the Federal Reserve; and the remaining “money value” is accounted for electronically through the balance sheets of major banks as members of the FDIC. Banks can lend nine times against their savings. The Federal Reserve, which is privately owned by its member banks, has no constraints as to the amounts it can add to the money supply. As the banks and the Federal Reserve are mostly privately owned, the motive to make profits for their investors influences strongly where and how their money assets are allocated. Since the middle of last century the financial sector of the “market” has received over 70% of capital investments.

Historically — during the first half of the last century — there was still the understanding about earned and unearned income in the economy and how the role of the financial sector (banks and Wall Street) increased the wealth of all sectors through investments in the industrial and commercial sectors of the economy. In our evening presentation, we saw several charts depicting the change and separation of wealth in favor of the upper 5% of the population starting around 1970. Perhaps not coincidentally, the rise of neo-classical economic theories began to take precedent in the universities and financial markets around that time.

The current neo-classical view makes no distinction between earned and unearned income. The classical view of the “free market” stipulated that ONLY earned income should be “traded” in the economic markets. This was a deliberate step to move away from the feudalistic system of landlords and peasants where the landed gentry exacted “payments” as owners of the land. “Free” meant that income from labor and non-monopolistic activities was “earned” and income from rents on land, monopolistic profits and interests was “unearned.” The latter was deemed a re-allocating of values — not adding new values to the wealth of the economy. This has resulted in labor, land and capital to be traded as commodities.

Given this shift in defining what and how values can be recorded on the accounting balance sheets (along with corporations being accorded the same rights as “persons”),  the disparity between the upper 5% and the remaining 95% will continue. The evening concluded with two presentations about recent initiatives striving to work more democratically with investment in property from Ojan Mobedshahi with the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative in Oakland and for a local food system from Paula Schnese, a founder of Cultivate Community Food Co-op here in Solano County.

We can look forward to the next conversation on April 4 giving us further understanding for the economy and how to shape it to serve our local communities for the future.

The funding for Sustainable Solano’s team training at the “Next Economy” course at Santa Cruz Permaculture was provided by Solano Community Foundation through their NPP Capacity Building grants program. Community conversations are made possible through a grant from the Peaceful World Foundation. Thank you to both organizations!

We will continue to share insights at upcoming workshops at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo in the coming months. Please join us at one or all of these events to further the discussion on the next economy in our community.

Restorative Economics, 6 pm, April 4

Join us for a discussion on different strategies for a just transition to a more sustainable, equitable and just economy. Restorative economics takes a restorative justice approach to restoring and reinvesting in low-income communities of color through the establishment of community-owned and community-governed projects for self-determination and shared prosperity.

Designing the Regenerative Economy, 6 pm, May 2

Join us to discuss the design principles and strategies needed for vocation and regenerative enterprise design. We’ll discuss how we could redesign the economy for security, prosperity and a stable climate with transformation based on permaculture design principles, methods and ethics for an economy that benefits all life.

Systems Change & the Next Economy: Cultivating Right Livelihood

By Kassie Munro and Nicole Newell, Program Managers

The economy can be difficult to understand, yet we all can identify the many problems that we are facing as individuals and as a society in our current system. Sustainable Solano has committed to attend the Systems Change & the Next Economy workshop series presented by Santa Cruz Permaculture and report back on what was learned through a series of presentations and community circles at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo. This gives us an opportunity to explore solutions on how to create a world that benefits the whole within our Solano County community.  

Economist Della Duncan presented the first workshop we attended in Santa Cruz, titled Cultivating Right Livelihood: Embark on the path of inner and outer transitions for a more beautiful and sustainable world.

It was a weekend of questioning the goals of our current broken economic system and soul-searching to find our place in the solution. Each section that she taught began with a tingsha meditation bell and a mindfulness practice; feet on the ground, elongated spine and paying attention to breath. She created a safe space to be vulnerable and explore our inner world and provided opportunities for us to share our insights with each other.  

The workshop can be described in the Frederick Buechner quote that Della modified: “Your right livelihood is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s hunger at your highest potential.”  

Right Livelihood doesn’t have to be something that you are paid for.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What makes you come alive?
  • Where do you find deep gladness?
  • What are your skills?
  • Which hunger in the world deeply breaks your heart?  

Many of the problems facing our communities today are daunting and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. The workshop focused on self-reflection and helping to make sense of the current world inside our own hearts and minds.  Rather than suggest solutions to the world’s economic problems, Della invited us to consider alternative ways of thinking about the economic system and its shortcomings and focused on ways that we can take action in our own lives.  These actions may not change the world overnight, but they give us hope in the face of the unknown and allow us to take comfort in participating in shaping the future, which is all that can be asked of any one person.

Sharing an abbreviated version of our learnings, and opening up about our personal experience at the workshop with our community here in Solano County was insightful.  The complexity of our planet’s current economic, political, cultural and environmental condition is an emotional subject. Creating a safe place for our neighbors to come together and share their personal experiences — hopes, fears, aspirations — is an important part of the journey forward. It was inspiring to see members of the community come out to be part of the discussion and share their interest in finding solutions.

We will continue to share insights at upcoming workshops at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo in the coming months. Please join us at one or all of these events to further the discussion on the next economy in our community.

Essential Knowledge for Transition, 6 pm, March 7

Few of us realize the extent to which the design of the money system, the economic system and the financial system constrains our choices and frustrates our desire to bring forth a more healthy and compassionate world. The purpose of this talk will be to provide an accessible understanding of money, the economy and investing.

Restorative Economics, 6 pm, April 4

Join us for a discussion on different strategies for a just transition to a more sustainable, equitable and just economy. Restorative economics takes a restorative justice approach to restoring and reinvesting in low-income communities of color through the establishment of community-owned and community-governed projects for self-determination and shared prosperity.

Designing the Regenerative Economy, 6 pm, May 2

Join us to discuss the design principles and strategies needed for vocation and regenerative enterprise design. We’ll discuss how we could redesign the economy for security, prosperity and a stable climate with transformation based on permaculture design principles, methods and ethics for an economy that benefits all life.

Eco Farm 2019: Looking at the Future of Farming

At the end of January we spent a few intense days at the Eco Farm Conference, which is becoming our annual tradition. Away from the complexity of daily routines and a web of Sustainable Solano activities, we were able to focus exclusively on the emerging local food system in our county and to learn from leaders and advocates of this movement.

While the topics of discussion were many, the key idea was clear: Feeding seven billion people is not a small task and agriculture is here to stay. The major question is, what kind of agriculture? As the conference progressed, we spent time reflecting on the consequences of using synthetic nitrogen introduced in the early 20th century, which allowed the production of massive amounts of “cheap” food at the cost of a decrease in quality and nutritional density of this very food as well as the degradation of the planet. This overproduction of commodity crops for profit supported intensive population growth, but the quality of food did not ensure health for the majority of humanity.

We also discussed the importance of yield and how we pushed nature to its limits with our intensive technologies, beginning with the Green Revolution. It became clear that reproduction is the biggest energy sink, and that plants exhaust their energy reserve to deliver the higher and higher yield we demand from them; compromising all their other systems in the process. This results in weak plants that are susceptible to pests and disease and require an increasing number of pesticides, herbicides and other poisons to simply survive.

Eventually we will have to wean ourselves from synthetic fertilizers and return to a more balanced way of producing food. Critics of holistic agriculture (such as true organic, biodynamic, permaculture, regenerative agriculture and others) are quick to point out that the yield of these approaches will not support the demand of a growing population. However, there is such a distortion of truth in the global food economy, where subsidies and tariffs obscure the true cost of food. These costs include the cost to the communities and the environment. We produce grains for cattle, corn for syrup, and food for profit, making it difficult to assess available land and other resources to produce simply food.

As we always say, Solano County is a microcosm of the world. We have two types of agriculture side by side all around us. Large industrial agriculture produces over $350 million worth of products annually that are exported to 44 countries. Smaller, community-oriented farming is here too! Organic farms, such as Eat Well Farm, Cloverleaf, Lockwood Acres, CoCo Ranch; sustainably managed Brazelton Ranch; the lavender fields and olive groves of Soul Food Farm; Ilfar; farm stands; and wineries of Suisun Valley and Pleasants Valley need our support and attention!

Together with our community partners, we are seeking to strengthen our local food system, make it economically and ecologically sustainable and socially just. Justice and equity of food systems was another key focus of the Eco Farm Conference this year. We heard from numerous organizations from across the nation struggling to build a more equitable world. This is an enormously difficult area, with no clear answers yet, but with many promising and inspiring examples and leaders emerging all over the country.

Indigenous wisdom was another key component of everything we discussed at the conference. Biodiversity in and around fields is a crucial component of sustainable agriculture. Time-tested, wise ways of managing our local ecosystem must inform any work done in local agriculture and local food systems.

The three days of the conference were packed with technical knowledge and assistance to the farmers, with topics ranging from tractors to taxes, and with many workshops for the support ecosystems,  FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act), food hubs, marketing, legal, policy, even grant writing.

We gathered together at the last hour of the conference, tired but inspired and excited to continue to carry this work forward in our communities. The last key speaker brought us back to where it started and where it all needs to point to: to the sacredness of nature and food as its gift, to the reverence for Earth and all forms of life, to interconnectedness and interdependence of everything and everyone…

Soil is the foundation of life and soil fertility is what life depends upon. Resilience is fertile!

Biodynamic Agriculture Symposium Reflection

By Stann Whipple

 Image courtesy of Biodynamic Association

With the Conference title of “Rediscovering the Heart in Agriculture” it was exciting and reassuring to see attendees from many different parts of the United States and even from other countries. From bare feet and boots to beards and hats with sport coats and shawl wrapped individuals; our diversity was celebrated every minute we met as representatives of the people who love and care for the earth–its soil, climate, food and cultural practices.

From the onset of the first open session, and throughout the conference, our thoughts and feelings were guided to remember the thousands of years and millions of people who had lived and cared for the environment we were now sitting on and cultivating. The Red Lion Hotel on Jantzen Island, for example, was once an active fishing ground for the salmon which sustained the lives of the Native Americans who thrived for generations on the ground where we now sat listening, and thinking about how to better care for the earth. We became very aware of how much we had to learn by listening to each other.

Mealtimes and breaks were fertile ground for stimulating and informative discussions amongst diverse and curious ‘strangers’ who were open to becoming better aware of each others views and experiences. Connections were made, friendships renewed or initiated, and contact details were exchanged with abundant smiles and an ‘I hope to see you again soon’. One had to trust fate, and that we were meeting with the people we needed to meet, during the information sessions and meal times. Being in the presence of over 400 people was energizing in itself.

My focus as member of the Sustainable Solano Board was to glean as many ‘nuggets’ from the food and economic sessions as I could fit in. The Thursday before the start of the main conference there were two session dedicated to this theme. Those present shared the many sides of bringing food from the soil to the table. Topics discussed ranged from the multiple factors affecting these processes to the struggles to overcome obstacles to ‘marketing’ produce. Small groups formed to identify specific issues and general conditions needing further discussion.

In the afternoon we heard from three different food producers and had the chance to question, observe and reflect on the successes and challenges they face. It became clearly that what is now providing ‘food for the world’s people’ is unsustainable at best and potentially disastrous for cultures and ecosystems. These sessions left us feeling more informed and with newly formulated questions, concerns, and a renewed resolve to work together for a better and more integrated sustainable food system.

Over all, the Conference brought a richly diverse group of speakers to the main sessions. This was done deliberately, an attempt to broaden and deepen the conversation between those who tend to the fertility of the earth’s eco-systems and those who benefit from them. We heard from amazing and inspiring individuals and groups who were working on rehabilitating distressed natural and social environments. A central thread ran through their stories–people matter and the choices we make matter. They insisted that if the climate of our planet, the animals and the plants are to thrive in the years ahead, we must change our choices. This conference definitely held us all accountable for that and provided relevant information on how to realign our thinking and choice making for a better food system and social/environmental justice for ALL.

I am indeed grateful to the Bio-Dynamic Agriculture Conference team who put the conference together and had the vision to bring us together. We will probably never truly know the scope of the impact of this event had, or the lives it will touch in the years ahead. But one thing is for sure, actions speak louder than words, so let’s get active!

To learn more about the conference visit: https://www.biodynamics.com/ .