Originally published in 2014
I live in Media, PA, a small borough just southwest of Philadelphia. The town was named Media since it is situated roughly halfway between Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE. I am originally from here and have seen this small town manage to survive through tough times. In the last few years, a time bank was formed, a volunteer initiative of Transition Town Media. I joined Time Bank Media in March of 2012 and made my first exchange on March 24th. That exchange was to help someone with gardening, someone I had never met before. Little did I know that this simple act of exchanging my time for “Time Dollars,” just less than 2 hour’s worth, would provide a life-affirming shift.
Five months earlier, I had moved back to Media after having lived in Wilmington, DE. My current relationship had broken up, and my marriage had ended in divorce the year before. I was feeling lost, alone, and very uncertain of my ability to get my immediate needs met. I am an artist, and like many during this time of a perpetually sluggish and recalcitrant economy, selling artwork can be tentative at best. However, my art classes were running strong, I had a part time job, and I took a leap of faith that everything would turn out fine.
As I mentioned, after joining the time bank, I helped a woman I had never met before with spring clean-up her beautiful garden. She is a master gardener and is extremely knowledgeable. I made several mistakes that afternoon, including leaning in on vegetation that I shouldn’t have in order to remove a heavy layer of leaf mulch. She was very patient with me, however, and I realized immediately the gift that I had been given that day. It was the gift of knowledge. I had always wanted to learn more about gardening, the right way to mulch, the proper tools to use, when to plant where and when, etc. but I always felt intimidated to try things on my own or to ask “stupid questions.” Here was an opportunity to work with an expert, glean valuable information and skills, and help her out at the same time. Win, win!! This is great, I thought.
Since I received 2 time bank hours just by joining, and since I had just earned two more by gardening, I decided to give myself a treat…a massage. Oh, my, it was wonderful. Again, I had never met the massage therapist before and put my ability to trust out into the Universe. What I received back was a sense of well being from that massage and from the repeated experience of a simple exchange of time. I had not felt so at peace in months, probably years. That simple act of faith, of trusting in the process, has been the most important lesson I have learned since joining the Time Bank.
Here is a short list of the services I have received through timebanking: massage therapy, light carpentry, Reiki therapy, acupuncture, furniture moving, business coaching, financial planning, voice lessons, guitar lessons, help with Excel, yoga therapy, web marketing, at home pet care, help installing air conditioning, and hair cuts. Some of the services I have provided are gardening, drawing lessons, photography, calligraphy, house painting, choosing interior paint colors, hanging artwork, farm assistance, and firewood stacking. Since our time bank is connected to Transition Town Media (TTM), I have also received numerous hours for helping out with TTM events, meetings, and participating in the book club. So far, I have 184 timebank exchanges as of March 7, 2014. That’s eight exchanges per month, a fairly regular two exchanges per week. Yes, I really use the time bank extensively to get many of my needs met.
The most enjoyable experience I have had so far was helping my friend Linda farm sit. That’s right, she takes care of small farms so that the people who live there can get a break. It can be a lot of heavy physical labor, and on this particular occasion, she reached out for help. I jumped at the chance right away and met the coolest dog in the world, fed and handled the largest rabbit I have ever seen, watered and fed several horses and pigs, and fed an emu — yup, an emu, nearly as tall as I am, although that’s not saying much since I stand 5’1”. Still, a large bird to be sure.
One of the most profound life changes that the time bank has been a catalyst for has been improving my financial situation. Like many of us, my meager savings were in a mutual fund, which many experts have labeled as safe and that is true… to a degree. But the average net returns are under 3%[i]. Without going into the number crunching specifics, my time bank money guru showed me how my savings account was actually diminishing, so we opened up a different account, which is now earning around 13%!! For someone like me who has no 401K and cannot put more than a small amount away per month into savings, this is a huge shift, monumental, and life affirming. I want to cry every time I consider how grateful I am to have Morris, and the rest of my time banking buddies in my life.
Timebanking does not always provide instant gratification, which will test the patience of most members of the Western culture, used to getting what we want, when we want it. The reward for fostering that patience and trusting the process comes back in spades. You get back what you put in, and if you trust that at some point, the exact service you require will arrive on the offers list, it usually does. Sometimes needs and offers show up on the list that are a surprise, and you may find yourself, for example, feeding an emu!! Through this practice of patience and trust, my feelings of abundance have grown. I no longer need what I thought I did in order to have a fulfilling life. In place of buying more stuff I now nurture friendships and human contact.
Most profoundly, there is no money involved, no sense of “my time is worth more than yours,” or “since I gave you money, our relationship is over.” Timebanking cultivates trust and connection. The best aspect of the Time Bank is the community that is built around each individual and the whole. I give my time, therefor I immediately have a stake in the whole, because I may not receive a service until I am ready, or until something arises within the list of offers that I need. I have a relationship with the entire organization from the very beginning, and that feels like a safety net. Timebankers have my back, and I have theirs. The gifts keep on coming.
Remember that very first exchange I had with the master gardener two years ago? Well, I will be helping her again this spring into summer. I will also be helping several other people with their gardens, some for monetary pay. My time bank gardening hobby has turned into my new career in garden installation and maintenance. Through TTM, I learned about permaculture, earned my permaculture design certification, have embarked on an herbalism certification, and am now co-director of a new, borough-wide initiative to support growing food in public and private spaces in Media. “Greater Media Yardens” was enthusiastically launched in February 2014 and we have nearly 120 people on our social media page discussing home gardening. We hope to further build our following and provide year round gardening support through education, growing calendars, forum discussions, and supply a calendar of events. I have not felt such a sense of promise and purpose in years.
So, has timebanking changed my life? What do you think?
Much has happened since I wrote this blog post in 2014.
My gardening interest blossomed into a full-fledged career shift focused on supporting and nurturing local and organic food systems. I worked one season on an organic farm in 2014 and most of 2015 at Kimberton Whole Foods, a regional natural food store. I now have 206 exchanges, 80 received and 126 given. I have exchanged a total of 369 hours, 189 received to 180 given. These metrics are easily gathered from the brand new Time Bank Media website which has a much more intuitive interface than the previous site. I have been exchanging my time mostly with one person and with the Transition Town organization. I plan on offering my time in the TimeBank Media offers list as a permaculture and food-growing consultant.
The Yardens Facebook page now has 285 members and there is always a wealth of knowledge shared and received by a growing community supporting the creation of a resilient local food shed. Feel free to join the page.
Although the time bank lost some momentum in 2015, we now have a new coordinator and committee that meets regularly to bring forth and implement new ideas, connections, and initiatives that will take the time bank into it’s next growth phase.
If you would like to be a part of this new committee please contact us with your availability and interests.
[i] Why The Average Investor’s Investment Return Is So Low, Forbes, April 14, 2014.