Chris Huskins and Emily of Fanfield Farm in East Sussex

Small farms, smallholding and mutual credit: Chris Huskins of Fanfield Farm, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a conversation between Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org / the Open Credit Network and Chris Huskins, a smallholder tenant of the Ecological Land Co-operative, starting a veg box scheme in East Sussex, building his own home, and looking to trade via mutual credit. Here we focus on how smallholders like him might use mutual credit. Part 1 is here.

Lowimpact: So I want to come on to your experience of the Open Credit Network. You’ve registered for the directory, you upgraded to become a trading member and you’ve done a trade. You bought an online course – solar electricity.

Chris Huskins: Yes, we have a system here, and I just wanted to know more about how it works. The course on Lowimpact is fantastic – really good information on there.

The course was 30 pounds, so in the mutual credit scheme it was 30 units. So your account has gone 30 units into debit and our account has gone 30 units into credit. How was the experience for you. Was it difficult / easy?

It was ever so easy. The actual trade was fantastically easy. At first I didn’t quite understand the value of a credit so to speak, but that was quickly cleared up. A credit is equivalent to one pound. The joining was easy too. I think it’s a fantastic project. We have things that we can trade. I’d love to go back to that time where it’s not just about handing over our plastic tenners, but it’s about trading something. Nowadays the idea of trading things is baffling for most people. Everyone calls us Tom and Barbara from the ‘Good Life’. I know it was fictional, but they’d swap eggs for the newspaper etc. That idea on a bigger scale, and digitally, is fantastic.

I need to explain to people that you don’t need to swap things with mutual credit – you just get credit or debit in your account, depending on whether you sell or buy. Then you can use your credit to buy from anyone else in the system. You don’t have to find someone who’s got what you want, and wants what you’ve got.

Which breaks down a big barrier – a lot of people think ‘well I don’t have what you want / want what you’ve got, so that prevents trade. But mutual credit doesn’t.

Have you added all your details to the directory?

I have, but as a farm, we don’t necessarily have much to interest people other than our regular customers, but we have a marketing business on the side, which might be able to provide things for more people.

I’ll come on to that in a minute. First, I just want to say that although there are lots of positive things happening in the world, I don’t think anything is going to work within the current money system. It will suck wealth out of communities all over the world. I think more and more people are coming to understand this now – that money is created by banks giving loans. Almost all money comes into existence as debt, with interest attached. That forces the economy to speed up, grow and stimulate more and more consumption.

A few years ago I heard a fact that made me understand that. There isn’t anywhere near enough money to cover all these loans.

What do you think of the OCN website? And the directory? I’ve got a feeling we might need to somehow make it clearer what mutual credit is and how it works. I’m steeped in it now, so for me it’s obvious, but I realise when I start talking to people that it’s not obvious. We need to explain it more clearly I think. (NB after this conversation, we made changes to the website to make it much clearer).

I think the best way to explain to people is with videos. Hand-holding, step-by-step explainer videos. What I missed from the website was something telling me why this existed. It’s a fantastic idea, but it didn’t seem to explain why this will be good for the world, and I think that would bring more people in.

I think you’re right. We’ll look into making those changes. I think the Sardex experience explains it well. There’s a mutual credit scheme in Sardinia – it started in 2009, just after the crash, when no-one had any money. That’s the ideal time to start a mutual credit scheme. People have tools, skills etc, but no money. But they can still trade with mutual credit. They’re doing close to 50 million euros worth of trade per year in mutual credit now. That’s just on the island of Sardinia – and it’s still growing. So once people get the hang of it, the potential is huge.

Definitely. If you say to someone “do you want to spend money on this item, or do you want to trade something you’ve got in abundance?”, then it’s a no-brainer. It could be huge.

Yes. I was reading something by David Graeber. In a medieval inn, the person behind the bar would be pulling pints all night, but no money would change hands. Why? Because it’s a close-knit community and everyone trades with everyone else. This person thatched the pub roof last year, that person grows potatoes, one person catches fish, one person fixes carts, and so on. Everyone has a tab with everyone else, and it all evens out in the end.

There’s a place like that near here. I think it’s called Firle. The area is owned by a family that’s been there for years. If you want to move to the area, and you have a skill that the village needs – whether that’s bricklaying or thatching or you might be a doctor or a teacher, and the community needs those skills, then your rent is reduced, by quite a significant amount, because they want to attract an old-style, self-sufficient community. I like the idea (although I don’t like the idea that someone might not be allowed in because they don’t have the required skills, but I like the idea that a community can trade in that way). Like the medieval inn. We’ve all got something to bring to the table, so let’s bring it to the table without it having to be a currency transaction.

That’s interesting. (NB – not sure about the ownership structure though! Plus not sure they were talking about alternative payment transactions – just rent reductions). We want to build little ecosystems of businesses like that – that can trade with each other regularly. So who are your main suppliers?

For the farm or the marketing business?

Mainly the farm, but either.

Well, the farm is a new business, but there will be people we purchase compost from, plus polytunnels and polytunnel kit, seeds, digger hire. On the marketing side, there’s hosting for websites, hosting for podcasts, editing services on a monthly basis.

Web hosting is available on the OCN. There are people offering that. With the new directory, when you log in, because you’ve entered the things you want and the things you’re offering, it automatically matches you up with people who want what you’re offering and are offering what you want.

Great. And I think I’ll have to regularly update what I want.

How did you find out about the Open Credit Network?

It was through the Ecological Land Co-op. One of the board members told me about it. When I had a look I thought ‘this is a great thing’, and so I registered and filled in my details.

Do you think you have a good enough relationship with your suppliers that you could invite them to join the OCN and think about trading with mutual credit? I mean the directory is free leads, after all. You don’t have to trade in mutual credit – you can find people in the directory and contact them and trade normally, using conventional money. Then when you realise that you can buy from your suppliers with mutual credit, if you have no money; and that your customers can buy from you with mutual credit if they have no money, and there’s no interest attached at all, it becomes even more useful.

I can think of some suppliers, yes. Even freelancers that we use – video editors, podcast editors, that sort of thing. I think they’d be fantastic on the network, because I’m sure a lot of people would be looking for that kind of service.

So you have the kind of relationship with them where you can have those discussions?

Absolutely. And I certainly will.

We’re thinking of producing materials for members to recruit suppliers and customers into the network.

I think that would be good. Also, maybe member spotlights (videos) – especially what members are offering. It’s great that members get leads. But if they get paid some or all of the trade in mutual credit, they’ll be asking themselves what they can spend it on. If they see member videos, that might answer their questions.

We’re thinking that at some point, the site will be more like a social media platform, where you can chat to people, offer things for sale, give news, but you can also trade.

That’ll be fantastic. I think the social element is a big part of it. Back to the medieval inn. And even here, when we had our static caravan delivered, it couldn’t be brought up the track, so they left it and told us we were going to need a tractor. We were new to the area, and didn’t know anyone, so we went to the pub and asked if they knew anyone who might be able to help. They gave us 4 phone numbers, one of whom helped us. But the pub was the hub – because of the social aspect to it. So I think that will be really important. Especially online, and for people like us, for smallholders, who can feel a bit isolated sometimes.

Are you locals in the pub now?

Yes. It was one of the things that made me love this place. It’s a 5-minute walk to the local pub. It’s been a lifelong ambition of mine to have a tankard hanging in a pub where they know what you drink.

Ah. Maybe your local can be like the medieval pub, at the hub of a little mutual credit network.

Sounds fantastic.

So I guess the same question for your customers. I guess your veg boxes will go to individual customers?

Yes, delivered to their door. I’d love to not have to get into a car to do it, but at this point, I think it’s what people want.

We’re a business-to-business network at the moment. There might be a way to include individuals in future as part of little co-ops, but at the moment, we’re business-to-business. Do you have any business customers?

The marketing company does. We make podcasts and videos for them. That sort of thing has happened before – informal mutual credit. It’s what we call a contradeal, but it was always a bit ridiculous, as you had to pass the money over, and they’d pass it back, so that they could balance the books. That would work much better with mutual credit because it doesn’t have to be a direct swap.

So the question for your suppliers is: would they have ways to spend that credit? If you buy something from them with mutual credit, do they then have places that they can spend that credit? Because it’s no good if they haven’t. The credit has to keep flowing. And the same for your customers. If they’re going to spend mutual credit with you, they’re going to have to have ways of earning it from somewhere else. If we’re going to recruit people into mutual credit, then there are efficient and inefficient ways we could do that. We could just call businesses, but that’s quite inefficient. Whereas if there are enthusiastic businesses like you, who can bring in their customers and suppliers, to build little trading ecosystems. I don’t know the best way to get that ball rolling. What help would you need from us to try to build those little ecosystems around your business?

Well, there’s no catch to signing up, so I think businesses will just need the two big questions answered – what can I buy and what can I sell. Who wants what I’ve got, and who’s got what I want. If someone can sell something, but there are no suppliers on there that have things they want, then it breaks down. So I need to be able to answer those questions. Also, the more people there are involved, the more things I can spend my credit on.

Yes, the bigger the network, the more useful it becomes.

Absolutely. For us, our main wants would be things like web hosting and accountancy. You said there are web hosts on there. If there were accountants, that would be good too.

Well, we get some of our accountancy with mutual credit on the network, so yes, that can be done.

Perfect. So we might be able to do quite a lot of business without having to spend cash.

So people can find the answers to those two questions just by going to the directory and having a look. You can even do that without logging in or even being a member – just browse.

Yes, it would be great to get more people on there. I’ll go and add some more things I can offer, to try to build up some credit.

Great. Let’s keep in touch. I’ll let you know about any materials we produce for potential members.

I work with a lot of clients that have membership sites – maybe teaching people how to grow things, or teaching them web skills etc. Everyone wants to know how to get more customers, and the best way is word of mouth. And the best way to make that happen is happy customers. So the first thing I usually advise people to set up is an affiliate scheme. So people would get credits for bringing new members in. People are incentivised in different ways.

That’s certainly something we’re going to be thinking about. Anything else we need to chat about?

I don’t think so, but I’ll be jumping back on there to buy the compost toilets course from you, when it’s out.

Great. Lovely talking with you Chris.

Find Part 1 of the interview here.

Highlights

  1. Joining the Open Credit Network was easy, and so was doing my first trade in mutual credit.
  2. You don’t need to swap things with mutual credit – you just get credit or debit in your account, depending on whether you sell or buy. Then you can use your credit to buy from anyone else in the system. You don’t have to find someone who’s got what you want, and wants what you’ve got.
  3. The bigger the network, the more useful it becomes.

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