Complete Economy Project Reaches Out to Stakeholders

By Nicole Colson, Originally Published in New Hampshire Business Review

A Monadnock Region initiative aimed at adopting policies designed to level the playing field for locally owned businesses is being developed in hopes it will serve as a statewide model.

The Complete Economy Project, spearheaded by Monadnock Buy Local, is an effort by citizens to create a regional economy by implementing policies and practices that balances diverse types of business by putting them on equal footing. The effort was launched last fall.

Monadnock Buy Local is a grassroots network of citizens, businesses and organizations that promotes the economic and community benefits of spending locally, while supporting programs and policies that support a local, green and fair economy.

Stakeholders will decide what policies should be created –for example, better access to broadband, more composting and less trash removal or more hospitals and municipalities buying from locally-owned businesses.

Those are only a few ideas – at this point, there is no focus on one business idea or sector to make the economy stronger. Instead the organization, which is working with the city of Keene, is looking at data that shows how well the local economy is operating and whether certain policies that don’t make sense need to be ruled out.

The movement needs stakeholders and partners to help implement the ideas. Possible partners in consideration are the local Small Business Development Center, chamber of commerce and regional planning commission among other economic development groups and independent business owners.

Effective strategies

Stacy Mitchell, economy researcher and author from the Portland, Maine, office of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance – a national nonprofit that researches, analyzes and partners with communities and policymakers to design and implement policies to strengthen local economies – gave a presentation earlier this month for potential stakeholders at Antioch University New England. The purpose of her appearance was to share effective strategies focused on national local economy policies and to gain community support for the Monadnock project.

Mitchell gave an overall picture of local economies across the country and how they are affected by monopolies. Her institute’s research found that $1 of every $2 spent online today goes to Amazon; at the same time, for every job gained at Amazon, two jobs are lost at a brick-and-mortar store.

But at a time when online retail giants are forcing brick-and-mortar businesses to shutter, the buy local movement continues to gain traction. One example is the re-emergence of independent booksellers – 660 new stores opened in the country over the past seven years.

And a recent impact study of the Monadnock Region found locally owned businesses return four times more money to the local economy compared to chain retailers.

Independent businesses saw a 5.1 percent increase in sales in 2014 (vs. a 2.3 percent increase in 2013) according to the latest national survey conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business, which gathered data from 3,000 locally-owned business.

The same Monadnock Region impact study notes if every area resident shifted just 10 percent of their purchases from national chains to locally owned retailers, it would keep $27 million annually recirculating in the local economy, generating more jobs, charitable donations and community health.

Among the strategies Mitchell said help strengthen local economies are growing local banks, creating a local investment fund, adopting business diversity policies and supporting buy local first initiatives.

Monadnock Buy Local serves as an example of these kinds of initiatives in that the organization has created partnerships with other local business alliances to instill a Plaid Friday and Shift Your Shopping Campaign every holiday season to encourage spending at locally owned and independent businesses.

Stakeholder outreach

The organization used Smart Growth America’s Complete Streets program as inspiration for the Complete Economy Project and plans to adapt its framework to turn the project into a movement. Complete Streets, a successful program in the Monadnock Region, advocates for policies and practices that ensure safe streets for all. Smart Growth America’s leadership team supports the idea and wants to stay connected as it’s developed.

Monadnock Buy Local received a grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund to support the Complete Economy project. The first phase of work consisted of creating an outreach plan for stakeholders.

“It’s important to reach out to partners and determine what measureables they’re looking at,” said Jennifer Risley, executive director of marketing and event planning with Monadnock Buy Local. “We’re working together to come up with a baseline as something we can measure each year to see how we’re doing before jumping into any one policy.”

This summer, those stakeholders will review case studies, develop and implement the first policy to advocate. If the project is successful, the city will adopt the policy, followed by many others that support the local living economy. The goal is to share this model with other communities.

There is no limit to the number of partners for the project, and Risley hopes many will get involved.

“We need to use our collective power,” she said.

TEDxKeene Event Streams Online on April 8th

This year, organizers proudly present the inaugural TEDxKeene event.  TEDxKeene will be the newest of a handful of TEDx events throughout the state of New Hampshire.

The event theme, “A Tipping Point”, is intended to resonate with audience members in multiple ways. Whether the theme reminds you of Malcolm Gladwell’s book about small actions resulting in big effects, or you simply think of a life changing realization, TEDx wants you to stop and think about tipping points, or the lack thereof, in your life and community.

Speakers at TEDxKeene, and their respective topics, include: Mackenzie Donovan (Forest Protection), John Benjamin and Chris Ekblom (The Power of Songwriting), Rana Abdelhamid (Hate Crime Self Defense), Dottie Morris (Taking Control of Identity), John Hoffman (Overcoming Depression), Ryan Owens (Conservation as Human Interest), Rudy Fedrizzi (Community Health), and Bryan Russell (Breathing Techniques).

TEDxKeene will be offering a free livestream of the event on April 8th for those that wish to follow along.

To receive additional information and a link to our livestream, please sign up for our livestream newsletter on our homepage and follow us on Facebook for current updates.

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or fewer) delivered by today’s leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED’s annual conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, and made available, free, on

A Roadmap to a Sustainable Community: The Keene Comprehensive Master Plan

Monadnock Buy Local

Originally posted in the Monadnock Shopper News

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient.  It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of others.  And it takes a long-term perspective — one that’s focused on both the present and future, well beyond the next budget or election cycle. – The Institute for Sustainable Communities

The City of Keene’s Comprehensive Master Plan reflects this call for a long-term perspective — and sets its sight on a vision for Keene in the year 2028.  This plan, based on a shared community vision, is now in its fifth year.  It’s time to collectively assess our progress around implementing this roadmap to a more sustainable community.

One opportunity to come together and reflect on our progress is at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship’s

View original post 738 more words

Becoming a Climate Resilient Community in Keene, NH

According to the City of Keene’s 2006 – 2008 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, our community is not on target to meet its greenhouse gas emission goal of reducing emissions to 10% below 1995 levels by 2015.  This goal measures if we were moving Keene further towards or away from becoming a Climate Resilient Community.

Since the inventory report indicates we are stepping away from resiliency, it’s imperative for us to take a closer look at this report.

Final Version - Greenhouse Gas_Page_07

The two sectors contributing the most emissions in our community are Transportation and Commercial/Industrial.  Given the reality of living where we do, how can we work together to reduce energy use and the carbon emissions released by these two sectors?

Final Version - 2 Greenhouse Gas_Page_09 copyThe Cities for Climate Protection Committee is focusing on these two top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and the related targets identified in the City of Keene’s Climate Adaptation Plan.

Currently, the committee is working with the Monadnock Alliance for Sustainable Transportation on the feasibility of Car Sharing in our region and with Monadnock Buy Local to identify policies that support our local businesses and their efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.

Consider your place of work and how you get there… how can you support alternative transportation and local living economy efforts at your place of employment?

Monadnock Matters: Building a Stronger Local Living Economy


Like Aesop’s Bundle of Sticks Fable, separate initiatives working to improve our region’s community and economy can be stronger if bound by unifying goals — connections, not meant to constrain, but strengthen separate initiatives — to help us create a local living economy.

Monadnock Matters Project:

Monadnock Matters, in its next phase, will act as a clearinghouse for all things “Local Living Economy” to improve our region’s community and economy. For more information, contact

What Does a Local Living Economy Mean?

In November 2009, a group of community members gathered to explore the concept of a Local Living Economy. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies has its own definition, but what does it mean to us – citizens of the Monadnock Region? Here is a small sample of ideas shared.

The Monadnock Local Living Economy is a place where:

  • All citizens can have a great quality of life.
  • Our basic needs are met within our community and region.
  • Individuals realize that they are beyond the worth of their jobs.
  • Leadership helps identify common ground and overarching community goals.
  • Citizens are creating a new definition of what our needs really are.
  • Individuals and banks are investing in social capital.
  • We are working cooperatively and collaboratively.
  • All citizens are engaged and feel included.
  • We are celebrating our community.
  • We are thinking of our community as a system.

Local Innovators: Leaders in Local & Regional Collaboration Report

The Hannah Grimes Center released the report, Local Innovators: Leaders in Local & Regional Collaboration, a product of nine interviews with a diverse sampling of local and regional leaders in the Monadnock Region of Southwest New Hampshire.  Included within the report are nine case studies that highlight challenges and innovative solutions for collaborating locally and regionally.  Also included are tips and resources for groups and individuals seeking to improve their own collaborative efforts. This report was produced by Libby Weiland, a recent Antioch University New England graduate who worked on this project as a Hannah Grimes Center intern this past spring. Out of her interviews emerged themes and commonalities that provided insight into the questions:

  • What makes for successful collaboration?
  • What challenges do groups face to successful collaboration?
  • What common needs do groups have?
  • What innovative solutions are being proposed?

Local Innovators interviewed include:

Monadnock Buy Local Hosts Ongoing Online Monadnock Local Living Economy Discussions

Join us on Facebook, where each month Monadnock Buy Local will focus on a different building block of our Local Living Economy– highlighting the businesses, organizations & individuals who are making these components stronger and more resilient in our region.

Read more about this project – Our Local Living Economy: Connecting the Dots

Building Blocks:

The Self-Organized Economy

By Tom Wessels, Core Faculty at Antioch University New England

I stand atop New Hampshire’s Mount Pisgah looking east toward Mount Monadnock and see what appears to be an expansive wilderness. Within the hundreds of square miles that stretch before me there is only one thing suggesting the presence of people—a lone, white farmhouse nestled near the top of a ridge a few miles north of Monadnock. Otherwise, all other human structures are lacking—no roads, no electric wires, no towers, no buildings, not  even any farm fields.

Within the many square miles encompassed by that view are a myriad of species too numerous to count. Each of those organisms has their own specific way of living and somehow without anything directing it, through all their interactions, resilient ecosystems result. How does this happen? The very foundation for how those ecosystems thrive lies in the principle of self-organization.

Having come to light with the development of complex systems science in the late 20th century, self-organization is a relatively young concept to science, but one, as we will see, which was clearly understood long before western science identified it.

Self-organization, the observation that as a system grows, it gets not only bigger, but also more complex, is the hallmark of all biological, ecological, and healthy human systems. The increasing complexity of a self-organized system results from the parts becoming ever more specialized and at the same time more and more tightly integrated. As each part does what it needs to do to sustain itself, it creates conditions that sustain the whole. As a result self-organized systems become increasingly resilient, stable, and energy efficient.

All of us are perfect examples of self-organization. We each started life as a single, microscopic cell. As we developed to adulthood each of our single cells multiplied itself into more than 30 trillion cells. However, not only did the number of cells geometrically increase, they also differentiated into 254 different cell types—including skin, muscle, bone, and nerve cells. Yet the specialization didn’t stop there. Some nerve cells connect to muscle cells, others to sensory cells, and yet others connect motor neurons to sensory neurons. As each highly specialized cell functions to support itself, it creates conditions that serve the whole body. As a result the internal environment of our bodies is stable and resilient.

Self-organization also occurs in ecosystems through evolutionary time. In nature, the fundamental currency is energy. Since energy is finite, any individual or population that wastes energy has a reduced chance of survival, while populations that are energy efficient can increase their numbers as a finite amount of energy can support more individuals. Natural selection continually pushes species to become ever more energy efficient through a process called coevolution. As we will see cooperative interactions between species are far more energy efficient and integrative than are harmful or competitive ones.

Whenever two species first begin to interact, the nature of their relationship is often very negative for both parties. A dramatic example of this is seen in the accidental introduction of the chestnut blight fungus into North America in 1904. The fungus was present in oriental chestnut trees planted at the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Garden. The oriental chestnuts looked fine because they had coevolved with their fungus for tens of thousands, possibly millions, of years. However, the American chestnut had no such relationship with the fungus.

At the time the fungus entered the new world American chestnut was the most common forest tree east of the Mississippi River. In the heart of the species’ range— forests of Tennessee and Kentucky—one out of every two trees were American chestnut. Within thirty years of the introduction of the fungus, the American chestnut was almost completely wiped out. This was obviously a highly negative outcome for the chestnut. Although people don’t often consider it, this was not good for the fungus either. If an organism is a parasite, the worst thing it can do is to kill off its host. That is an incredibly energy wasteful, and potentially lethal, outcome.

If two species survive their initial encounters, natural selection will force them to interact in less energy-wasteful, harmful ways. Over long periods of time through coevolution, relationships that begin disastrously like that between the American chestnut and the chestnut fungus can eventually develop into a mutualism where both species not only benefit but also need one another to survive.

My favorite example of mutualism involves the bull’s horn acacia tree and its resident acacia ant. Both species exist in Mexico and Central America. The acacia has evolved three features to service its ants. These include: huge, pliable, swollen thorns that no longer serve to ward off herbivores, but instead are first hollowed out by the ants and then used as cavities within which the ants can live and raise young; open sap wells on the leaf stems where ants get their water and carbohydrates, and Beltian bodies that are packed with protein and lipids which the ants harvest from the Acacia’s leaf margins. If acacia ants are removed from their host tree they will die since they can only survive on acacia sap and Beltian bodies.

In return the acacia ants give their host tree the most advanced, plant defense system in the world. Acacia ants have very potent stings that will drive off all herbivores. Additionally if vines attempt to grow up an acacia tree, the ants will chop them down. Or if a neighboring tree attempts to encroach on the acacia’s space the ants will climb that tree and defoliate it. Acacia trees lacking ants will perish within a month.

The most intriguing thing about this relationship is that acacia ants are derived from leaf-cutter ants. When these tropical ants first encountered the ancestral acacia trees they probably defoliated and killed them. That was a very energy-wasteful thing to do, so natural selection forced the ants and the acacia to adjust their ecologies and the eventual result is witnessed in the tight mutualism they exhibit today.

Competition between species is another interaction that coevolves. During competition, individuals lose energy making these struggles inherently inefficient. If species can specialize to reduce the nature of their competition, then all will benefit through energy gains.

In the forest adjacent to my home I frequently encounter Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches. Each bird species feeds on the same insects that live on the bark of trees, but due to specialization in the way they feed they avoid competition. The chickadees are specialized to forage on branches while the nuthatches have evolved to walk down the steep trunks of trees and only feed there. In this way competition forces innovation, allowing species to coexist without wasteful energy losses.

In Vermont, where I live, midsummer meadows host a huge array of pollinators. Multiple species of bees, bumblebees, wasps, hornets, moths, butterflies, flies, beetles and ants each pollinate flowers in their own specialized way. If any one species of pollinator should go extinct, the meadow will be fine since the other pollinators will fill the gap of service. Coevolution, by forcing species to become ever more specialized, allows all these many pollinators to coexist creating a high level of repetition with respect to pollination. It is exactly this repetition—that occurs in all functional roles within an ecosystem from numerous species of photosynthetic plants to untold numbers of decomposers—that gives ecosystems their resiliency. The extinction of any one species does not threaten the integrity of the whole ecosystem. Coevolution fosters specialization that gives rise to increasing repetition of function, creating resilient and stable ecosystems.

The principle of self-organization is apparent not only in ecosystems and the human body but also in successful non-living human systems such as an economy. Two centuries before western science recognized this principle, Adam Smith articulated how self-organization occurs through “the invisible hand” of the marketplace. In his 1776 classic, The Wealth of Nations, the kind of economic system Smith wrote about was a village economy with specialized merchants—butchers, bakers, blacksmiths, brewers. Being specialized, the merchants were not in competition with each other and were tightly integrated together. Each did what they did for reasons of self-interest and at the same time provided services that supported each other without anyone directing it. That was Smith’s “invisible hand.” The blacksmith made knives that he sold to the butcher. The butcher in turn used those knives in his business and sold meat to the blacksmith.

For more than a century our economic system has consistently moved away from the type of self-organization Smith described. Corporations have grown into huge, transnational giants that are no longer specialists integrated with others in their sector, but generalists that work to monopolize many sectors through competitive exclusion, mergers, and acquisitions. As a result the economy has lost repetition of function and resiliency. A look at any sector of the United States economy—finance, energy, agriculture, retail, media—will show that a large proportion of capital is concentrated in just a hand-full of extremely large corporations that have little interest integrating with others in their sector as they strive for dominance.

The critical reason for the collapse of the financial sector during the fall of 2008 was not risky investments—those were the catalysts—but the fact that it totally lacked self-organization. At that time 40 percent of the investment capital in the United States was held in just ten gargantuan banks. These firms were not specialists and were all invested in the same kinds of instruments. As soon as Lehman Brothers started to falter the whole sector, and the global economy as well, would have toppled in a chain reaction if the US government hadn’t stepped in to shore up the system. If in 2008 America had hundreds of more moderate-sized, specialized banks in place of the ten huge ones, then like the meadow the financial system would have been just fine. Those making risky investments would have failed but there would have been hundreds of other banks remaining solvent, keeping the financial system viable.

An ironic outcome of the 2008 collapse is that now 45 percent of investment capital is held in just eight banks making the financial system even less resilient then is was just a few years ago. As Janine Benyus writes in Biomimicry, “The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure.” I would add the more likely we are to prosper.

Given the political realities we face today I have little faith that the federal government will be able to do anything significant to create a more resilient economy. I also believe that if things continue as they presently are, a future economic meltdown is very likely— the next one potentially being far worse than 2008. If we wish to have a resilient and stable future our only choice is for citizens and municipalities at the local and regional level to recreate them. This will mean investing in smaller, specialized enterprises that can integrate in supportive ways with others in their sector as Smith described back in the 18th century. The support for these enterprises will come from individuals making the conscious choice to patronize them rather than the large corporate giants, and municipalities and states creating policies that are friendly to smaller, specialized businesses.

This process is already taking place in my region of New England, particularly within our regional food system. When my wife Marcia and I first moved to Putney, Vermont in 1976. There was just one food coop, one farmers market, and no community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the entire region. Today we have 4 regional food coops, over a half-dozen, farmers markets, and various CSAs too numerous to count. Along with the blossoming of regional agricultural enterprises a number of the CSAs are linking up and working together. Rather than competing, some local vegetable growers are intentionally growing different crops and then combining their produce into a single CSA. Others are bringing in organic dairies, meat providers, and bakers to create CSAs that supply just about all their clients’ needs. Also waste products from one farm become valuable resources to another farm.

The food system in the lower Connecticut River valley of Vermont and New Hampshire is now maturing to the point where municipalities are trying to attract food processors to create a regional, year-round, food supply. Just a little over a decade ago agriculture in the region was a declining economic proposition, now it is becoming an important component of a resurging economy.

The effort to create a more resilient economy is also taking hold in other sectors. Our small regional banks and credit unions have seen a significant increase in new customers as people consciously make decisions to pull their finances out of the hands of large banks in favor of their local and regional institutions. The investments in big banks that used to support large corporations now shift to support local businesses fostering greater self-organization.

I am confident we will see the investment in local and regional enterprises continue to rise. As this occurs it is analogous to coevolution in ecosystems where like energy, capital will flow through more and more specialized, integrated, business creating a resilient and stable economy. One, I might add, that will be far more environmentally friendly and socially just than our current economic system.

Life has cloaked this planet for at least 3.8 billion years and during that time it has not only sustained itself, it has thrived. This enormous amount of time is a little easier to comprehend using an analogy of a stack of paper. Imagine that the thickness of a standard sheet of paper equals a century. Two sheets would represent the tenure of industrial culture. Two hundred sheets, or a one-inch thick stack of paper, would represent the time it is believed that humans have lived in the Americas. How tall would the stack need to be to represent the tenure of life on Earth? It would be a stack of paper approximately three miles in height, each sheet representing one hundred years.  Self-organization through coevolution is the foundation for that long tenure. It is a model to which we need to pay close attention, and one we should consciously weave into our local and regional economies.

April 2010 Local Living Economy Event

In the spring of 2010, Antioch University New England partnered with the Hannah Grimes Center to offer a follow-up event to Keene State College Symposium.  It is clear that our region has a wealth of initiatives working to strengthen our local living economy.  The focus of this event was to explore how we are addressing our challenges and identifying our assets collectively. Are there challenges that some initiatives are facing that could be addressed by another initiative’s strengths?

Community members, businesses leaders and organizations were all invited to explore a framework for problem-solving highlighted in the video “Restoring Los Angeles: Healing the Nature of Our Cities.” Andy Lipkis from the non-profit organization Treepeople spoke of an integrated approach that helped the city of Los Angeles adopt a solution that resulted in better environmental and social benefits at a cost-savings for the city – reframing challenges into solutions.