Economics in the Hood

We had an excellent meeting last Sunday on local banking, local investing, and a neighborhood timeshare. Thank you to John Sears for presenting on how to switch your bank. Our next step is to interview banks and credit unions in our area and ask them questions. Some of the questions suggested were about their investments, derivatives trading, foreclosures, and fractional reserves. Others were about their fees and the availability of ATMs. We failed to deliver on our “hook” for how to avoid out-of-town or country fees now that people have switched to credit unions. But thanks to Phil McManus and his wife Betsy, we have a lead on a credit union that doesn’t charge out-of-country fees. Anyone who’s interested in helping us investigate or publish information on banks please let us know and we’ll keep you posted.

The Giving Seed Investment Club is off to a good start! Carmen Alicia Robles, a former Board member of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, has offered to help us do credit and reference checks, and Gary Schofield, whose background is in finance and banking, will help us evaluate business plans. We are looking for 3-4 ACTIVE investors who would like to do one-year loans to businesses promoting local sustainability, primarily in food. The target amount is $1000-$2000 per investor for a total of $6000-$8000 per investment. For our first investment we’re evaluating the Living Seed Company, to be followed by Early Bird Ranch or I-Rise Bread. All investments are at risk, as the lawyers remind us to say, but these would be collateralized, researched, and supported by a group of investors who want to help the businesses succeed. This follows the model of Islamic banking, which forbids usury because it concentrates wealth. Instead they do investments in people they believe in.

In lieu of interest, investors would receive gifts of product that can help raise funds for global charities. For instance, Living Seed Company has offered four seed collections which sell for $55 each for each $1000 loaned. Food in the Hood is offering these as a free gift for every $55 donation made to the West Bank Seed Bank – or other global seed banks. In addition Rina and I will be growing out the seeds in her greenhouse and offering them at a block party in the spring in return for donations to global seed banks. Starting in January we’re thinking to combine this with a Tuesday afternoon UniverseCity class on spirituality called A House for the Soul in the Land Beyond Faith. We would pot seedlings and help each other with our gardens while discussing readings taken from the Gnostics, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, A Course in Miracles and others. If you’re interested in joining us, please send a note.

We also made progress on the neighborhood time barter network. In early February we’d like to do a combined block party with the California Street neighborhood, including Food Bin and Food Not Lawns (which includes much of the same people.) If you’d like to be involved in our core planning group, for this and the timeshare program, please let me know.

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