Introducing: the BerkShares Board
“All of our local businesses should trade in BerkShares,” says Catherine Chester, an attorney at Hellman Shearn & Arienti LLP. In her view, BerkShares help to combat one of the main challenges that face the Berkshires. “We have an aging and a declining population, and BerkShares put our region on the map in a new way—not just for the arts or for the scenery, but for the economy.” In her view, the kind of vibrant and diverse Main Street culture that BerkShares support—both directly and indirectly—is what will draw new businesses and new people to the area.
On October 23rd, BerkShares, Inc. held its Annual Meeting, where the members of the organization elected 7 of their fellow members to join the Board of Trustees. The newly elected members of the Board are Kate Chebatoris, Catherine Chester, Otis Denner-Kenny, Ted Dobson, Brian Hailes, & Jennifer Tabakin. Tim Geller was re-elected to the Board. The elected members are joining Adrian Alcalá, Mary Anne Davis, Andrea Harrington, Dominic Palumbo, & Susan Witt, who are in the middle of their terms. Here is some of what the newly elected Board members have to say.
Brian Hailes was one of those to be drawn to the area by its lively economy and cultural scene. Though British by origin, Hailes worked in the telecommunications business in Atlanta for thirty years. He and his wife Monica only recently moved to the Berkshires. “We came for the music, but when we saw the vitality of the region we decided to stay.” BerkShares immediately caught his attention. This self-described “globalist” sees nothing contradictory about his enthusiasm for global trade and his support for BerkShares. “BerkShares are a means of stimulating trade in the local economy without subsidies, without trade barriers, and without a cost to anyone unless someone in the chain decides to cash out—and even then it’s only 5%. Stimulating the local economy is of course in my best interest because I live here and I want a vibrant place to live. That, to me, is a very attractive economic model.”
Kate Chebatoris, too, is a transplant to the Berkshires. “My husband and I moved to Egremont because we thought it was a good place to bring up our son. BerkShares were launched shortly after we got here, and they just seemed to express what a wonderful progressive community we were in.” Chebatoris designs sweaters for big companies, sending the technical specs to factories, where sometimes tens of thousands of her sweaters are made at a time. As a member of the Board of BerkShares, she wants to turn her attention to the local supply chain. She points to the huge potential to grow fiber in the Berkshire Hills, but explains that we need to develop the end product and the market. “The idea needs to cook and percolate and find its level. It’s about paying the real cost for our clothes, not paying the cost of having a third-world labor force make our clothes, which come with all those carbon miles attached. I know it’s ambitious, but I’d like to set the seed and start nursing it through to see where it will go.”
As the owner of Equinox Farm, Ted Dobson has probably grown a large portion of the greens that you have eaten at local restaurants over the past thirty years. To Dobson, BerkShares is a natural and necessary element in a larger movement towards a “full-on ecological system” that can provide the fundamentals of food, fuel and fiber for our County. “If we continue on this path of—dare I say it—food self-sufficiency, we could feed the whole county using 500 acres or fewer. BerkShares is a currency that actually reflects an understanding that we can do things for ourselves. They re-emphasize the value of local production. And that’s my motive for participating.”
Otis Denner-Kenny’s family owns and operates an organic vegetable farm called Little Seed in Chatham, NY. His upbringing has taught him the power and importance of community self-reliance. “I see BerkShares as a way that we can self-promote and build community values into our local economy. I think it’s important for people to be able to decide for themselves what kind of currency they want to use, instead of just having one option that is controlled by a central authority.”
“BerkShares are a very exciting venture; they really define the creative things that we do so well here,” says Jennifer Tabakin, Great Barrington’s Town Manager. “Our region displays a unique combination of support for our community, our local businesses, and our environment. So much of what we consume is not made locally, and there’s a growing awareness of the associated cost to our economy, our incomes, and our ability to work together.” Often, Tabakin says, entrepreneurial opportunities can be generated when we look for ways to reduce the distance that our goods travel to get to us. “The U.S. is in need of places to model ways to support the growth of appropriately scaled small businesses. That’s really the heart of what we are doing here in the Berkshires, and so it’s really important for us to succeed.”