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The Barter System

Time-banking organization Troy Shares try to build a community one job at a time

by Jaired Crofut on August 16, 2012

On Sunday evening (Aug. 12), community group Troy Shares held its third skills-share meeting of 2012 at the Oakwood Community Center at Hoosick and 10th streets. The group was formed in 2010 by Emily Rossier, a Troy resident, and eight other people. Rossier’s motivation came from a feeling of dissatisfaction with how the government was handling the country’s economic woes.

Troy Shares uses time as a form of alternative currency, a practice referred to as time banking. Time is rounded to the nearest quarter hour and stored in an online “banking” account. Those who give a service receive one Troy Shares hour for every hour labored, while those who receive services have the time debited from their accounts. “We pretty much function without cash,” said Rossier. “The bottom line is we’re trying to help people’s needs get met and give of their gifts.”

At Sunday’s meeting, 11 members sat in a circle and discussed the different “gifts” they could share with one another and the services they could benefit from. Members asked and offered a variety of services ranging from everything such as cooking vegan recipes to finding good workout partners. A multitude of skill workshops, such as instructions in comic making and lessons on how to make natural bug repellants, also were offered. By the end of the session the board used to record all of the requests was covered in black marker.

“I came here for the free yoga, actually,” said Abraham Hmiel, a student at the University at Albany School of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Hmiel had heard of the event from a friend he met at Occupy Albany, and rode his bike from Pine Hills to attend the meeting. “I am a big fan of skill sharing in general. There are relatively few opportunities to do that in the city of Albany.”

Ynanna Dichuty, another first-time attendee, said she had heard about Troy Shares from a housemate, and was interested because she needed some help with sewing and was also looking for a community that takes care of each other’s needs.

“I’ve always felt there was another way to get by,” said Dichuty. “People used to trade services, and that was an . . . effective way to live.”

Time-banking systems typically run on the philosophy that everybody’s time is of equal value, which allows more forms of work to be valued that mainstream monetary systems undervalue or do not value at all. For instance, one member of the group dropped off raw vegetables at the house of another to be peeled and chopped. Other members find people to run with or trade household responsibilities such as cleaning or cooking.

“I think it’s a good idea for people to exchange time like this,” said Barry Leibson, a Troy resident since 1985. “I’m intrigued by the concept of an alternative currency.”

Leibson is a neighborhood ambassador for Troy Shares. Ambassadors were developed as an attempt to encourage members to continue making exchanges with others in the community. Leibson checks in with members who live near him and who have not made exchanges for extended periods of time. He recently helped one member who was having difficulty with the website.

“It turns out she had forgotten how the website works. She didn’t know her name and password anymore and had just sort of gotten disconnected,” said Liebson. “I invited her over to my house, which is half a block away, and we worked on stuff together. Now she is sort of back in the flow.”

When new members first sign up to join the community, they attend an orientation explaining how the system works, and sets them up with an account online. They are then given three “free” Troy Share hours for attending the meeting and are encouraged to start trading services in the community. However, getting members to exchange services is not always easy.

“We wish people would make more exchanges,” said Leibson. “There are periods where there will not be a whole lot of action.”

Just as it is essential in the national economy to spend money in order to sustain a healthy financial system, it is the same with Troy Shares. Rossier says she would like to see Troy Shares grow even bigger, but first they need to fine-tune what they created. Right now, that means getting people to exchange more services and spend their Troy Share Hours.

“If they don’t spend then it just sits there,” said Rossier. “People need a way to earn those hours.”

Many of the Troy Shares community members also say that the program is great for other reasons than merely exchanging services, such as bridging the gap between bigger communities making them into closer, tight-knit ones. Rossier says she has made great friendships because of the program.

“Money is just a way to organize to get stuff done,” Rossier said. “Well, heck, we can do that.”