Cecil Denney is part of the Fall 2014 Organizing in the Biocommons teaching team and a member at Lake Oswego United Methodist Church.

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My Story 

There is a point to this story. If you look around, there are a lot of things one person can do to address the cultural crisis we face. It is necessary, but not sufficient.

(Disclosure: My wife and I were very fortunate to receive a small inheritance. We did not earn it, so looked for ways to use it for good.)

Several years ago, I happened to hear about Kiva, the internet based micro-loan program. You add a small amount to a micro-loan with others and when the loan is paid back, you can either get your money back or loan again. So far I have made 383 loans in 51 countries mostly to women entrepreneurs in food, agriculture, and education. These loans were worth several thousand dollars to the borrowers although I did not invest that much because I just keep recycling the money. Now I use Kiva Zip because it makes interest free loans. You could join investor teams, but I never did.

About three years ago members of the Leaven community organized a money move. I moved my banking from Wells Fargo to Advantis. Doing that with a group added power to the group, and kept my banking resources helping local people and community needs.

During that same time, I learned how credit card companies hurt small businesses by taking a percent of every sale they make, more if the card has perks. I decided I could do my part by carrying cash for purchases from locally based merchants while using my credit card only with national chains where I knew the money would not be locally circulated. I learned a lot by talking to local merchants. They have little choice but to offer credit card options but may not offer discounts for cash. To effectively help local merchants, it would take an organized effort.

I call being retired being tired again. My wife and I drive a lot to meetings, shopping, etc. and are still captive of the consumer culture which is telling us to feel worthwhile by owning things. But every time I purchased gasoline, I felt guilty for adding to the CO2 in the atmosphere. So, I bought a Prius hybrid and an electric Nissan Leaf to reduce my carbon foot print. I feel good about HAVING these, but this is not enough.

I took this Organizing in the Biocommons class two years ago. Last year we had 10 people from our church involved. Through a connection from the class, I learned about a new farm in Sherwood, Oregon called Our Table, not far from my home in West Linn. I visited the farm and discovered it addressed a number of my concerns about land, labor, and capital. The 60 acre farm was created as a Land Preserve. It was organized as a worker-producer-consumer cooperative to explore and develop the local, vertically integrated, community ownership of our food. I was inspired to become a one-man promoter. I discovered they had difficulty getting bank loans at reasonable rates, so I converted a significant Certificate of Deposit I had to a loan to the Our Table Farm. They return the principle in monthly payments. The 3% simple interest is returned in produce from the farm, more than I can use, so I take it weekly to a local food pantry and receive a tax deduction in the process. I consider it a win-win-win. I have promoted the farm to friends and neighbors. Since I pick up at the farm every week to take food to the pantry, I also pick up shares to deliver around my town. It helps the farm, provides high quality food to friends and neighbors, and even makes the local transportation more efficient.

Point of my story: A person, by looking around with the intention to live more sustain ably can find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and support the growth of a new more local economy. But as individuals, there are significant limits to our ability to tackle the larger problems of powerful interests working against the common good. I derive satisfaction from the things I do, but I long to be a part of a greater power for change toward a survivable future for my family and friends. That takes organized communities of people working together. That is what this class is about to me, teaching about how we can make change working together.

-Cecil Denney

October, 2014

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My Story (by Cecil Denney, a teacher/leader in our Biocommons Course)
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