I believe the most significant barrier to widespread Bitcoin adoption is not based on issues surrounding availability, it is not based on the quality of exchanges, it is not regulation, or any of those things. The most significant barrier is simple utility. If people cannot DO anything with Bitcoins – no matter the benefits of Bitcoin available today or down the road – they will not WANT Bitcoins or any other variant of crypto currency the world may present to them. But when people see real-world utility in the Bitcoin space – that they can use them to purchase day-to-day items as easily and smoothly as they might use dollars or other currencies today, then the population will find, acquire, and use Bitcoins much like they find and acquire anything that they truly want. That will be the key towards Bitcoin (or another altcoin) graduating from being just a niche financial instrument to the role of being a useful wealth exchange medium. In the days and weeks ahead, I will be profiling (in a series of indefinite length and duration) many of the brave “Firsters” – real people and brick and mortar affairs that have taken the plunge and started accepting Bitcoins for their products alongside dollars and/or credit cards.
About half-way through the 14th BitcoinNYC weekly meeting on the 20th of June, a couple of new people walked into the room carrying some substantial boxes. Considering that this meeting is typically just a discussion format with only occasional “visuals” or other physical things to show, they immediately grabbed the attention of the room. After a brief introduction, the group learned our new visitors were Luke and Yo-hey of a farming collective called Brooklyn Grange and they were here to sell quality produce for Bitcoins! Brooklyn Grange describes itself as the leading rooftop farming and intensive green roofing business in the US, growing over 40,000 pounds of organically-cultivated produce each year. Located across two locations in New York City, their total rooftop farming area totals out to around 2.5 acres themselves and they supplement their offerings via great relationships with other local farms and dairies. The boxes and coolers these guys had in tow contained a broad selection of some great-looking vegetables, herbs, and, in a perfect compliment to the hot city weather, ice cream! Needless to say, once the word of ice cream spread through the group of the over 50 people who attended this week’s meeting, the urban farmers were quickly swamped with requests for a sample. As a bit of a finicky ice cream snob, I had to say that that while I approached their honey-sweetened (from their own apiaries!) vanilla with great trepidation, the taste and texture surprisingly won me over. So once I saw that they were selling heavy – not heavily air-whipped – pints for 0.08 btc, I immediately started reaching for my wallet.
However my inner-adult patiently reminded me that I could not JUST eat dessert so I inquired as to their veggie prices and Luke excitedly told me of their special deal for the day where I would get over 5 pounds of organically-raised (they practice the methods but do not have an official certification) food for 0.25 btc. With the ice cream as well, that was a grand total of 0.33 for some quality grub, which, beyond reasons like supporting the community and enjoying the novelty of making a rare face-to-face purchase of a material good, was definitely a good enough deal on the food side of things(*) for me to take advantage of the opportunity.
The full breakout of the buy is here – apologies for any typos or unusual spellings.
1 bunch of Nelson carrots
2 pounds of “BG’s Mesclun Mix”
One bundle of Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Mizuna, and Red Leaf lettuce
One small bundle of a mix of scallions, flowering thyme, and lavender
1 pound of swiss chard
3 heads of lettuce
1 pound of Laticino kale
Now paying for this presented a problem as at the time I was having a lot of difficulty syncing my Blockchain wallet app on my iPhone with my online wallet(**). So my first inkling was to try an interesting demonstration where I would ask one of the co-founders of Spelunkin to help me a little from out in LA. This scenario – using borrowed money from a friend located thousands of miles away to conduct an immediate transaction – is pretty challenging in today’s world. Physical cash won’t work at all. Using a credit card would be tricky as even if my friend trusted me and the medium of transferring that information to me, could and would a vendor take a non-physical credit card from me that clearly did not belong to me? Sure, in this meeting space I am a known regular, my reputation is important to me, and all of the people there were being friendly but remove that context and just consider two complete strangers meeting alone and for a limited amount of time – say under 5 minutes – and what are the options? Paypal could fit the bill so long as everyone had a Paypal account hooked up to their bank accounts, Paypal did not object to the transaction, the vendor did not mind Paypal holding the money until it worked its way back to their bank account or paying a small-but-larger-than-Bitcoin’s fees would be tacked on (unless one tried to stealth it in as a friend/family transaction.) More exotic forms of payment like Chase Quickpay could get money from my friend to me, but at least one of us has to be a member of their system/bank. Even then I might still need to find an ATM to make sure the vendor got their money so I could get my produce. Further, there are several time/amount limitations in such banking systems. Seriously – as a thought experiment, I have wrestled over how one might conduct this kind of transaction without using Bitcoins or something very similar to it and have come up with nothing as useful as Bitcoins.
Eventually I did manage to come up with a working wallet on my Android phone but in the interest of continuing the experiment, I wanted to pursue this cross-country transaction aspect so I split the cost with Pinguino in LA. This meant I would pay 0.165 btc locally and she would pay the 0.165 balance. Remarkably, both transactions took just about the same amount of time – slightly longer on the LA-NYC route as first Luke had to email Pinguino his wallet code. Still, in short order Luke had money from both of us in his account and I loaded up my backpack with the product and got home as fast as I could to sample the greens and save the ice cream. Both were fantastic!
So wrapping up, at least in New York City, it is entirely possible to buy quality organic produce and quality ice cream using just Bitcoins.
* – I love food. I eat food at least once a day and usually several times within a given day.
** – This has since been fixed, much to my relief.
** – This has since been fixed, much to my relief.