Earlier this year, Anna D’Agostino acquired a pop-up dragon book from a little boy at a Columbia Exchange Circle gathering.
The Exchange Circle is a local trading system where residents barter goods and services for points using a currency called marbles. When an exchange takes place, marbles are added or subtracted on paper from the totals of the buyer and seller.
“I gave him 11 marbles for it because that’s what it was worth to him," D'Agostino said about her purchase of the book.
The marbles are used as a way to measure the amount of time invested in providing a service. Ten marbles roughly equals one hour of a person’s time, with the value of a product or service determined by the seller.
For example, a person might get a haircut for 10 marbles. Pet-sitting for a day might equal 15 marbles.
The Columbia Exchange Circle's Web site was launched in March, said Vince Foley, one of the founders. It now includes nearly 200 members.
The Web site and accompanying exchange program are meant to foster community interaction by allowing members to procure what they need without relying on a cash-based currency, members said. Because money is a scarce resource, someone without it may be deprived of essentials such as food, clothing and transportation.
D'Agostino has only been a member of this group for a short time, but she said it has already made a difference in her life.
“I came upon this flier for the Columbia Exchange Circle, and it’s like I’ve been waiting for something like this my whole life,” D’Agostino said, adding that she’s met nearly 60 people in the community who she never knew existed.
“My entire social network has changed through this,” she said.
People can become members by creating a user account and password, and then building a list of services they would like to offer.
The services offered through the Exchange Circle include child care, gardening, drum and cello lessons, bike repair, housecleaning, transportation, tool rental and computer programming.
Members such as D'Agostino are encouraged to stay balanced with a value of “net-zero” marbles.
That indicates active trading, said Richard Schulte, another founder.
Lauren Blease joined in April and almost immediately sold a hammock for 50 marbles.
“The program is really a way to build relationships with people in town and to help the community during the economic crisis,” Blease said. “It’s not so extreme that you don’t use money in your life anymore."
Foley explained that people don’t need to have money to interact with those in the community.
“What we’re trying to show people is that they can interact and exchange goods or services without money or its concept at a local level,” he said.
“Unlike money, which consists of a finite resource in a bank, we’re using marbles, which represent an infinite resource that emerges in local situations and benefits everyone involved,” Schulte said.