A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Current Member: Open Pathways to Health

Mary Jo Johnson, owner of Open Pathways to Healing, is a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (visit her website, openpathwaystohealth.com, for a list of services). We sat down with Mary Jo to find out why she’s passionate about local currency.

In addition to your knowledge of Chinese herbs, you also practice acupuncture and massage. What drew you to healing?

I’ve been in practice for about 10 years. I think I’ve always wanted to relate to people in this way. One of the earliest recordings of my voice is me interviewing my dad about his health. Doing what I do is kind of primal. Along the way, I did some other things. I have a Masters of Divinity degree, and I also worked in human resources for a while. In a way, my journey to Chinese medicine was a journey to myself.

How does your business fit into the larger movement to revitalize the Hudson Valley?

I’m working on putting together a healthcare cooperative. It’s called Apricot Forest (www.apricot-forest.com). Basically, what I’m trying to do with Ajax Greene and Dr. Nancy Eos is reinvent healthcare to make it easy to get local natural health care. The idea is to capture some of the money that we’re spending on health care premiums and figure out a way to use it for complementary care that we find more helpful, more fulfilling, and in the end, more cost-effective.

I’m a practitioner of medicine that I think is local and simple and natural. I’m also really into cooperatives. For us, putting together this healthcare cooperative has the potential to create good jobs for people, and in the spirit of the Hudson Valley Current, to keep money local. That’s what a cooperative does. One of the things that has always disturbed me is that a lot of our healthcare money leaves and never comes back into the local economy. We need to find a way recapture and reuse our currency in a way that benefits us and the many natural practitioners that we have in the area.

What measures do you and your business take to support the local economy?

Apricot Forest is named for the forest of trees that grew up around the practice of an ancient Chinese medicine practitioner. When he cured somebody, he would ask them to plant apricot trees. The apricot trees grew up into a forest, and he built a warehouse for the harvested apricots. People from the village would come, pick apricots, and trade them for rice. The rice would be given to people in need, and to travelers who had come to see the doctor. Essentially, it’s a model for the way we practice medicine; impacting local commerce in a positive way. We want healthcare that supports the local economy.

Why did you start using Currents?

I was an early adopter of currents. I was part of the beta testing. I’ve always accepted 100 percent currents for the work that I do because I believe so much in the mission of the Hudson Valley Current. I think that a local currency helps to stabilize the local economy. One of the things I gave a lot of thought to was that after the crash of 2008, I realized we can’t really count on some of these bigger institutions like Wall Street to be looking out for our best interests. We really need to take care of each other. I think that using a local currency is a way to take care of each other financially. Using a currency that creates positive economic relationships is really important. I’m into the concept of gift economy and of barter, because all of those things use currency to create relationships as opposed to trade that creates obligations. The economy kind of runs on interest-bearing debt, which creates a situation where someone lends you money, and you always have to be able to give them back that plus more. It creates a situation that necessitates constant economic growth. That’s not necessarily the most sustainable thing.

Where do you spend Currents?

I’m really into CSAs, so if I can, I get vegetables. Chloe Annetts is a friend of mine, and she has taken Currents from me before. She’s a graphic designer. I’m a fan of the Big Cheese, and I know that they take Currents. I got poison ivy cleared from my land with Currents. I have also spent Currents with New View Construction for a beautiful stone path outside my house.