The Whidbey way

Drifting a little farther away from the mainland, the island is now developing its own currency
Drifting a little farther away from the mainland, the island is now developing its own currency

Having lived on Whidbey Island for nearly 35 years, not much surprises me anymore about life on the rock. Islanders are a unique breed; they saunter to a different rhythm. Whether arriving by ferry or bridge, that gap of water between them and the rest of the world is a wide one, indeed. When my husband and I first arrived back in 1975, my first reaction was, "Toto, we're not on the mainland anymore."

"The mainland" is what we islanders call where most everybody else lives. If we're headed off the island, there are a number of ways to say it correctly: going to the mainland, going to the other side and going to America are all common explanations for those leaving the rock.

Heck, we even have our own telephone company. Although these days, it's a telecom company, better known as Whidbey Telecom. Founded in 1908, it's an independent, locally owned and operated business with headquarters in Langley, and run by the community-minded Henny family. They provide both telephone and Internet service.

Even better, Whidbey Telecom holds a contest each year to select artwork that will grace the telephone directory. This year's winner, Patty Pico of Freeland, will have her artwork featured on nearly 20,000 directories when they're distributed in November 2009. But my favorite thing about our phone company is calling 411. If I'm lucky, I'll be connected to Connie, who even before I identify myself says, "Hey Sue, how are you doing?" That's island style.

On the down side, we also have an earthquake fault named after us. The South Whidbey Island Fault is part of a major fault line that runs from Vancouver, BC to Yakima. The USGS reports that it's capable of a 7.5-magnitude earthquake, one of the most hazardous faults in Western Washington. When I read about it in the Everett Herald earlier this summer, I wasn't real thrilled. The map accompanying the article seemed to put the fault directly under our house.

Whidbey Island has its own bank, too. It was formed in 1960 when a group of business guys thought we should have our own independent, community bank. It's grown over the years, pushing beyond Whidbey's borders, and today there are 19 branches in five counties. I panicked in 2007 when it was announced that Frontier Bank was in the process of purchasing Whidbey Island Bank. Not only did I not like Frontier's orange and green logo (the big F looks more like a high school team than a bank), I would have to relinquish my beloved Whidbey Island Bank ATM card. It's become a calling card when I use it on my travels, with people either remarking they've been to Whidbey, have a friend or relative living on Whidbey or hear that Whidbey is a beautiful place to live. It is. Fortunately, the sale was called off a year later, and my ATM card is still in the top slot of my wallet.

The latest news is that there's a new currency in the works for the island, and it's called Whidbey Terra. Sounding more like a hybrid car than currency, its 50+ founding members are kicking off the Whidbey Community eXchange website on Aug. 5 with what else — an island potluck. As a project of Transition Whidbey, the first stage will be all-electronic, but eventually a "sister currency," Whidbey Bucks, will be added to the mix.

The founders of Whidbey Community eXchange studied various currencies in Canada (Toronto Dollars, Salt Spring Dollars, Calgary Dollars), the US (Ithaca Hours, Berkshares) and Germany (Chiemgauers). Whidbey Terra, the equivalent of having a no-interest credit/debit card and online checking account, creates electronic exchange currency in the act of payment. There are no interest costs as with most traditional banks; transactions are recorded by registered members on an interactive website; a moderate negative debt balance is allowed; trust in the community's resources backs the money's value; and a listing of all goods and services offered for Terras gives micro-enterprises a foothold in the local market. It's intended to be island-wide, taking root on South Whidbey and then spreading north.

Now all they need to do is hold a design contest for the Whidbey Buck.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors