A conversation about local currency, local buying and a party with Think Local First of Washtenaw County

Borden - Think Local First Logo

Last Thursday, I took the opportunity to sit down and chat with Ingrid Ault, Executive Director of Think Local First of Washtenaw County, at her Even Thursday coffee hour. Every Thursday that falls on an even numbered-day, Ault is at Zingerman's Next Door Café from 7-9 a.m. to connect with members of the community and talk about Think Local First. We spoke about local currency, the group's effort to push 10 percent of our buying to local businesses, and its 3rd annual Ann Arbor Summer Festival party happening tonight. Before I sat down with Ault, I did some web due diligence, and this is what I learned. Think Local First of Washtenaw County is one of the approximately 80 community networks under the auspices of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies). BALLE’s mission is to “catalyze, strengthen and connect networks of locally owned independent businesses dedicated to building strong Local Living Economies.” BALLE grew out of Judy Wick’s work with the White Dog Café in Philadelphia. The Café's menu was “based on local and fair trade, with only humanely raised meat and poultry.” The impetus to source local food for one cafe has grown into a national organization with global ambitions.

Ault was raised in Ann Arbor and knows a lot of the history of the town. She feels her status as a native helps her connect with local businesses – the members of Think Local First. As her job is to facilitate introductions and communication, her knowing the players involved is very helpful.

As AnnArbor.com reported in February, Think Local First received a $6,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to research different kinds of local currency, including paper currency (or the wooden nickels for Bridge Cards at farmers markets), time banking, bartering and a coupon system.

According to Ault, “the outcome of the grant was to introduce a lot of people in the community who have already been working on this for a very long time, and now they all collectively know of one another. That was one of the best parts of the grant. If the community wants to make this happen, then the community is the one who is going to have to rally behind it and move it forward.”

There will be a panel discussion hosted by Sustainable Michigan on July 11 at 1 pm about this ongoing issue for our community with Ault, Stephanie Mills from Baybucks and Stephen Ranzini of University Bank; check the website for more details about the talk at the Mallet’s Creek Library Branch.

We next spoke about Think Local First’s push to shift 10 percent of our purchases to local sources. As it is very similar to the 10% Washtenaw discussion we had at the HomeGrown Food Summit, I asked Ault about food.

“Since everyone has to eat, this is an obvious first beginning. People ask me, “So if I were to do two things, two small changes in my life – what would be they be?” And my first one is food. Look at your local vendors, your local stores. The other thing I want to say is that at lot of the times people get lost in the, “wow, it is so much more money to shop local.” And, in fact, that’s a myth. If you shop in season and you don’t try to find the item that came from Argentina or Peru or whatever you are not paying for the transportation costs. So it is better for the environment, it is better for you, and the food hasn’t been genetically modified for travel. So you are getting a fresher product.”

Here is Ault discussing the statistics that show the monetary impact of shifting your purchases to locally owned businesses, whether it be food or otherwise.

Finally we talked about the informal party that is taking place tonight at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, which is set to include chair massages, a dessert table, and face painting. What a great way to meet new people!

Here is a link to the article.