Time banking and Farming in Detroit

Alice Bagley shares about timebanking, urban farming and community-building through and through. Unity in Our Community Timebank is an organization in Southwest Detroit focused on sharing services and building community one hour at a time. Alice Beagley is currently organizing learning circles with Michigan Alliance Timebanking and farming at Oakland Urban Farm. 


Transcript:

Rhiki:
Have you ever wished that you could get something but without having to give your money to pay for it? I know I have. Have you ever heard of the concept of time banking? Well, prior to a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what it was either, which is why I’m so excited to talk with Alice Bagley today about the concept of time banking and how it can be a tool to build Radical Futures Now.

Paige:
Welcome to Radical Futures Now. On this podcast, we connect with social justice leaders around the world to talk about how to organize, how to be in movement, and how to build Radical Futures Now.

Rhiki:
Alice, we’re so excited to have you with us today. But before we get started, can you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

Alice Bagley:
Sure. My name is Alice Bagley. I live in Detroit, Michigan, and I work for Unity in Our Community TimeBank, which is located in Southwest Detroit. I also work with Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks helping to organize monthly learning circles and doing some other organizing work for them. And when I’m not doing time bank stuff, I grow vegetables that I sell through City Commons Cooperative.

Paige:
Can I ask you a little bit about the learning circles? What does that entail?

Alice Bagley:
Sure. The monthly learning circles are the main program of Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks. They’re a chance for us to get together and share what’s going on with the different time banks in Michigan, as well as we often have guest speakers or some other kind of theme or subject like we’re having someone from Detroit Safety Team come to talk about ways to promote a culture of safety within time banks because that’s an issue that comes up a lot. And in normal times we also usually have a potluck and also just get to connect with one another as well.

Paige:
Can you tell our listeners what time banking is? It seems like a lot of your plate is full of time baking. And can you tell us specifically what the origins of time baking are and the journey since then?

Alice Bagley:
Sure. Time banking is a way for people to exchange services with each other using time instead of money as the unit of exchange. If I go and help someone paint their front porch for two hours, I earn two hours in the time bank and I could use one of those hours to get Spanish lessons from somebody and another hour to get a ride to a doctor’s appointment or something like that. And obviously this is really based on a way of being an exchanging services that is very old in a lot of cultures kind of the more recent time banking movement. There’s a few different origin points, but most often people talk about Edgar Cahn with his book, No More Throwaway People, where he sort of sets out kind of the structure that a lot of time banks use now in started a time bank in Washington, DC, that’s been very informative.

Alice Bagley:
There’s also other time banks that I know less about that developed at a similar time. I know in St Louis Housing Development, there was a similar one, a housing project there. And yeah, there’s lots of different origin, like a lot of movements, there’s different origin points you can point to. And our time bank in Southwest Detroit has been around for a little over 11 years now and sort of has two origins as well. There was one that formed around a neighborhood association in Hubbard Farms and another one in a nearby neighborhood around a nonprofit called Bridging Communities. And those eventually merged and formed the time bank that we have now.

Rhiki:
Wow. This is so fascinating to me, honestly, it wasn’t until one of our colleagues brought it up, that I even knew that this was a thing that was happening. I just think it’s great. Can you talk a little bit more about the benefits of adapting this new way of exchanging?

Alice Bagley:
Sure. I mean time banking, I think there’s a lot of benefits to time banking one easy thing right off the bat is that it allows people who might not have a lot of money, but do have skills or talents to share, to be able to get things that they might need or want. It also is a really great way to build community. Southwest Detroit is a really diverse neighborhood with a lot of different immigrant communities. And the time bank has engaged in a lot of activities that allow people of different backgrounds to meet each other and to build things together as well.

Alice Bagley:
I think that sometimes doing work together or doing work for each other is a really important way to build solidarity. It’s also really great as an intergenerational way to bring people together. I think especially we often think of elders as already having kind of contributed and not having as much to contribute, but we obviously know that the knowledge that our elders have is really valuable, even if it’s not valued in the money system. And so being able to value those contributions to our community is really great. And it’s also just a good way to get to meet each other. I joined the time bank when I first moved to Southwest Detroit and it was just a really good way for me to get to know my neighbors. And so I think it’s also just good for that.

Paige:
Yeah. It sounds like it’s a lot of community centered spaces and a lot about thinking about how people have value other than their ability to make profit. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the book that you mentioned Edgar Cahn, No More Throwaway People. It sounds really interesting and it sounds like it’s coming up a lot in the practice of your work.

Alice Bagley:
It looks like it was published in the ’90s. And so yeah, No More Throwaway People by Edgar Cahn. He wrote it after he had a health crisis that made it so that he really needed a lot more help and had a lot more needs than he was used to having, I think like a lot of us, especially in the US we like to think of ourselves as being really independent and able to meet all of our needs independently. And he really was feeling like he wasn’t able to contribute, or at least not contribute in the same way. He also, in his career, he was part of the Kennedy administration and helped form legal services as an organization, legal aid. And so he had a background of working with people that our society considers needy, or as he would say in the book, as people who were throw-away people, people who needed a lot, were takers, I think is how a lot of people in our current political discourse would talk about them, but he recognized.

Alice Bagley:
And I think a lot of us recognize that just because people aren’t valued in our money society, doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable things to contribute. And especially the things that our money society doesn’t value that are really important, like caring for elders, caring for young people, building community. We don’t get paid to go to the neighborhood potluck, but it’s really important that we go to the neighborhood potluck and create that kind of solidarity and trust with our neighbors. And so, yeah, his book is really all about some different ways to do that. He also talks a lot about co-production in that and sort of that bottom up organizing is all part of that as well.

Paige:
Yeah. Super cool. I think the core tenants of what it sounds like time banking is trying to help each other in the community and getting to know your neighbors and learning from the elders and making sure that everyone knows each other and can help each other out. I’m wondering what the distinctions are between time banking and say something like mutual aid and mutual aid networks, or if you find a lot of similarities or how your group, when they’re organizing, how you guys talk about time banking compared to mutual aid.

Alice Bagley:
Yeah. We’ve partnered with a couple of mutual aid efforts, especially around the pandemic early on in April, there was some organizing with a lot of different people and organizations in Southwest Detroit to form Southwest Care as mutual aid. And actually time bankers did a lot of the delivery driving to drop off food and other necessities with people who had emergency food needs or who had illness who weren’t in a position to be able to go to the grocery store. And now we’re also working with Detroit Community Fridge. Which is a really great mutual aid effort as well. I mean, I would definitely consider time banking to be under the umbrella of mutual aid. I think time banking is very specific because it really only deals with services. It’s really an hour for an hour exchange. And so you can’t really place a number of hours for example, with the community fridge, which is all about food.

Alice Bagley:
There’s not a way to exchange hours for a loaf of bread or something like that. I think time banks are very specific, but I think that they can definitely be a part of mutual aid efforts. There’s a time bank in Hamtramck, Michigan, that’s just starting and they are doing a toiletry drive for East Side Mutual Aid right now. And so people are earning hours for … Are going to pick up toiletries at different places and for organizing that effort. Because all of this kind of work, even though the output is, oh, we’re distributing food to people.

Alice Bagley:
There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into organizing those things. Like with Detroit Community Fridge, people have to go and clean out the fridge all the time, make sure that spoiled food is removed and that is really important work. And I think it’s great to be able to value that work through the time bank as a way, especially to kind of fight burnout. Because I think that work can also feel kind of thankless for a lot of people. People obviously get a lot of good feeling from doing good work and community, but time banking can sort of layer over an extra way of feeling like your work is valued.

Rhiki:
You said that new ones are popping up in different places. I’m really curious, what is the process of getting something like a time bank established? How hard is it to get buy-in to something like this?

Alice Bagley:
It’ll be difficult because I think it is a new way of thinking for some people. And it does require, I think, especially early on a lot of organizing work. Like I mentioned, our time bank was formed 11 years ago. And at that time sort of in a similar time period, Kim Hodge who formed a Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks helped start, I think like six or seven, maybe more than that time banks kind of all as part of the same push and of those I think two still exist a decade later. I might be getting some of these numbers slightly wrong. It is really hard to sustain for the long term because it does take a lot of organizing time to get started. Though, it’s really fairly simple. We use a software called hour world, spelled H-O-U-R world. That’s a free software and people are able to like, once you have an account, you can post your offers and posts your requests and keep track of your hours that way.

Alice Bagley:
But you do need kind of a base level number of members because you need a diverse group of offers and requests. Like if everyone is offering, I don’t know, if all anyone is offering is to bake you cookies. That’s not a very useful time bank exchange. You need some people who are good with their hands. Some people who are good cooks, some people who can drive you places. Some people who tell great stories, you need a diversity of skills to have a really good time bank. Time banking is not always as convenient as just like calling someone up who you’re going to pay because oftentimes people’s schedules are difficult and it’s not as straightforward as other ways of getting things done.

Alice Bagley:
You also just need people who are willing to go through the extra effort and you also need a lot of trust. And I think time banks can help create trust in a community, but it’s also if you’re going to get a ride with somebody in your time bank, it really helps if you’ve already met that person at a social event, lots of time banks host potlucks and things like that. Obviously that’s more difficult at the moment. It takes a lot to start, but you can also look all sorts of different ways. I don’t think that there’s a blueprint on how to get started.

Paige:
Earlier you mentioned burnout and time banking can help alleviate that burnout that happens in organizing or just being in the world that we live in. I’m wondering how do you all as a time banking community resolve conflicts as they come up?

Alice Bagley:
I think there’s a lot of different ways that conflicts can be resolved. I mean, burnout is definitely real, not just like in efforts that time banking support, but also among time bank leaders. I definitely feel like we’ve seen some of that in the Michigan TimeBank Community and some of that’s just natural. I think there’s a certain extent to which burnout can’t be avoided. And we all have to know when to step back from projects and say I got to take a break. And as far as resolving conflicts in time banks, I think it can look a lot of different ways depending on the conflict. We’ve been really lucky that at least in our time bank there haven’t been any major conflicts where people felt unsafe or things like that. I think what’s come up more often is just like in kind of the leadership teams of some time banks, there being disagreements about the extent to which a time bank should formalize itself.

Alice Bagley:
Some time banks are incorporated as their own, like 501C3 nonprofits, like our time bank in Southwest Detroit works with a larger nonprofit and some just want to be their own entity. And then I think it’s the sort of conflicts that come up in organizing a lot, like the extent to which you want to buy into larger systems, buy into the nonprofit, industrial complex, as some people call it or whether you just want to be your own independent slightly anarchistic thing. Yeah, I mean, and so that’s just, you got to talk it out and I think two, it comes down to deciding what you want to accomplish with your time banks. Some people, really their dream for the time bank is that they’re going to be able to get everything they need in their life from the time bank and not have to use money at all anymore.

Alice Bagley:
And if that’s your goal, you’re going to organize in a certain way. But if your goal is to get more neighbors to meet each other, you’re going to organize a different way. And I think that, that’s like one of the things I really like about the Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks is we have time banks in a lot of different communities that are doing very different things like our time banking Pontiac works really closely with the hospital there to help people who are getting out of the hospital with serious medical issues who need help going to the grocery store or rides to their follow-up appointments and things like that.

Alice Bagley:
I don’t really have any interest in doing that kind of work closely with healthcare providers, personally I’m happy to help people get to their doctor’s appointments, but that kind of coordination with health issues is not the focus of our time bank. And if someone wanted in our time bank was like, what I’m really moved to do is help patients. I wouldn’t say no, I had to say okay, cool. You do that part of it. I’m more interested in helping organized cooking classes, which are really popular in our time bank. I think one of the great things about time banking is that it’s a model that’s very adjustable to whatever your community wants to do with it.

Rhiki:
This is so cool. It’s so fascinating to me, especially because I was in a really intense conversation last night, actually, with a group of women. And we were talking about the trauma that we feel when we have to participate in a capitalistic society and we’re unable to meet our needs and meet the needs of our loved ones because everyone sees care nowadays or sees … Yeah, care is monetized. Just like everything else in our society is commodified.

Rhiki:
I just wish we knew a time banking when we were having that conversation and how we can create new ways of being, because yeah, I think a lot of people who are at the lower end of the spectrum, as far as income they’re struggling to participate in a system that is not designed really for them, because if you don’t have the money, then there’s no way to participate. If that makes sense. It’s more of a comment than a question, but I just want to get your thoughts on time banking as far as like, if we were to take it and think of it as a model for how to build Radical Futures Now plug for our podcast name. In what ways do you think this system could help us alleviate some of the things that we experienced with capitalism and how hard do you think it will be to make something like this more mainstream?

Alice Bagley:
One of the things that I love in time banking is that it’s like, I think of it as like training wheels for thinking outside of capitalism. Some people come into it knowing, I want to engage in this form of organizing directly against capitalism. Some people during the time banking get interested in it because they need somebody to come help them pull weeds in their garden. It’s kind of still the radical economy because I think its political and economic features are a little bit more subtle than some forms of organizing. But I do feel it helps people to shift their mindset. To shift away from the idea that … I think it helps people to shift their mindset, because for example, I did an exchange where someone knitted a hat for me and knitting takes a long time. It took 12 hours. That’s 12 hours in the time bank. And then something that we actually value more or valuable in our money economy than it had like getting a massage, is only one 12th of that. An hour long massage is one 12th of that.

Alice Bagley:
And so I think it gives people a way of shifting their ideas around how valuable certain kinds of work is. And it also shifts what is actually work. One of the core values of time banking is redefining work. We host a monthly family game night and everyone who attends that game night earned hours because we recognize that creating community is a really important service that we create. And one of the ways you create community is by going to family game night and interacting with other people, spending time with other people’s children, spending time talking about your day, that’s actually really important work in our society. When we’re in a system where an hour long massage, one 12th of a hat and attending game night are all worth the same. It can help us to shift our ideas about value and about how our system actually works. And help us, as you’re saying, with radical futures, it helps us to, I think, have that radical imagination about what’s possible.

Paige:
I love game night and I love that, that’s part of the time banking processes, building community, and that being a service to others. That’s beautiful.

Rhiki:
Alice, we want to switch the conversation a little bit to talk about the work that you do with the City of Commons urban farming thing. What has it been like maintaining and keeping a farm in the middle of a pandemic?

Alice Bagley:
Yeah. I’m with City Commons Cooperative and my farm that’s a part of it. We’re a cooperative of eight farms all throughout the city. It’s actually been my savior for my mental health, because it turns out that plants don’t care if there’s a pandemic going on or not. And also people still have to eat during a pandemic. It’s like then this lovely Island of normalcy, I mean, obviously like at farmer’s market, we were wearing masks. I wasn’t getting as many hugs as I usually get at a farmer’s market in the neighborhood, but it’s still like that was my main social interaction, last summer was going to the farmer’s market. I mean, even in a normal summer, it’s a lot of my social life, but especially last year, it was really great. And yeah, the plants did not care at all. They grew just the same as they usually do. It was a really wonderful part of my life.

Rhiki:
What inspired you to get into farming and start a farm where you are?

Alice Bagley:
I went to college at Whitman College, which is in Walla Walla, Washington, which is a really rural part of Eastern Washington. And while I was there, I was really involved with an effort to start a food co-op in town and got very involved in the local food movement. And so as part of that, by that interest, I ended up working on a farm the summer between my junior and senior year of college. And it was one of those moments of just something clicking.

Alice Bagley:
I was like, oh yeah, this is the thing that I’m going to do. After I graduated, I grew vegetables at a farm in Walla Walla for a few years of learning through a lot of trial and error and talking to lots of other farmers who were in the area about how they do it and figured it out. And then I’m originally from Michigan. And so I wanted to move back in this general direction and also wanting to live in a city. When I heard about all the great urban agriculture movement stuff going on in Detroit, I was able to get a job here with the garden resource program and moved here and kept growing things.d

Paige:
Can I just say before Rhiki ask the next question, I just love what you were saying about how the plants don’t care that it’s a pandemic, people still need to eat. I think that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot with my grandmother’s garden too. And I think that’s really important, is just taking care of the plant people because they take care of us.

Rhiki:
I was also in a conversation. This is a part of the conversation that I was in last night, but it was just nice to hear this person talk about in the middle of the pandemic. How getting back grounded into nature is so helpful for us, being outside and taking a walk and feeling the sunshine or gardening or just connecting back to the land has really been a thing that has been getting people through this. I think it’s just so cool to hear about you and your farming and how that has been the thing that has kept you going during this time. I guess our last question for you, when you are trying to grow in this work or develop in the work of time banking and in the work of urban farming, who do you tap into so that our listeners, if they want to get more involved, they can also tap into those people.

Alice Bagley:
I mean, Detroit is just a great community organizing city. I mean, I think Kim Hodge who founded Michigan Alliance of TimeBanks and helped start a lot of our time banks here in Michigan really laid down a great foundation for this work in this state, Jenny Weekly, who is a member of Unity in Our Community TimeBank and was sort of one of the driving forces behind it for years and years and still is, has been a really great mentor to me around community organizing and doing work in that way.

Alice Bagley:
And then for urban farming work, I am lucky enough to live near Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, which Jerry Hebron and her husband run. And they are just super inspiring to me around how to do work in a neighborhood. That’s really the president driven. And so I’m always inspired by them. I could spend all day listing off urban gardeners in the city of Detroit, but a lot of that is involved with Keep Growing Detroit who runs the garden resource program. If anyone wants to get involved with urban agriculture, especially in Detroit, they should check out, Keep Growing Detroit for resources. Yeah.

Rhiki:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Alice Bagley:
No problem. Thank you.

Rhiki:
This was great.

Paige:
I just want to say thank you so much for coming and telling us about time banking. I feel like I really learned a lot from listening to you today.

Rhiki:
And yeah, that’s all we have for you right now. Paige, what was something that you took away from the conversation today?

Paige:
I think there’s many approaches that people have to building community and getting to know our neighbors and our elders and connecting everyone with the youth. And to me, time banking is so experimental. It’s really interesting, the work that she’s got going on in Southwest Detroit, and it’s a really humane attempt to exchange services where people feel valued and part of the community. Yeah. What thoughts and reflections are you having Rhiki?

Rhiki:
Yeah. I think similar to you, it’s experimental and it’s also really flexible. And I think I liked that part about the model that you can really tailor it to what your community needs and how your community wants to engage with one another. And I also think it’s a really cool concept that actually builds off of a conversation that we had earlier with Omni Jones about community care and thinking about what services do we have to offer to people and what are ways in which we can ask for our needs to be met, that isn’t just texting and really relying on just the close ones in our circle, but just giving opportunities for other people to step up and meet our needs and building community.

Paige:
And that’s it for our episode today, the Radical features Now podcast is housed under the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. Special thanks to Trevor Lolium Jackson for our music and Ellie [inaudible 00:31:38] for our graphics. Be sure to follow us on our Instagram at Arcus Center. See you next week. [inaudible 00:31:56].

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