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September 2012 Slow Money Letter

Dear Slow Money Friend, We’ve passed the $20 million mark. That’s right. Over the past two years, more than $20 million has flowed, via Slow Money activities, into 170 small food enterprises across the United States. We now have 14 chapters and six investment clubs, with more on the way. Slow Money France is in formation. Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money is due to come out in China soon. And next month we begin test marketing the Soil Trust. (Stay tuned.) Is all of this relevant in an age of hyper-inflated Initial Public Offerings on the stock market and thousand point flash crashes? Yes, it’s significant—precisely because this is the age of all manner of excess, volatility and confusion on Wall Street and global financial markets. Together, we are doing something that Wall Street does not want to do, and something that foundations and government programs can only do to a limited degree. And we are doing so in a way that has the potential to shape the future of local food systems and affirmatively influence public awareness on many fronts. A few recent examples: this mention of Slow Money in the Your Money column of the New York Times in August and this piece in the Denver Post a few weeks ago about our recent regional event in Colorado. Every day I see indicators that we are very much on the right track, and I’m happy to share with you some of what I come across. Consider: New York Times. A September 9 article titled “In Search of A Market Speed Limit” is one of many recent articles on the problems presented by high frequency trading: computer trades measured in milliseconds that are beginning to dominate Wall Street. WIRED magazine. The current issue features an article titled “Raging Bulls” that has the following lead in: “Wall Street used to bet on companies that build things. Now it just bets on technologies that make faster and faster trades.” Grantham, Mayo & Van Otterloo. The July newsletter of one of the world’s leading money managers was devoted to the global food situation, including this citation of economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Food writer Mark Bittman picked this up under the heading: “A Banker Bets On Organic Farming.” Kauffman Foundation. This major foundation recently published very disappointing results of its decades of investing in venture capital funds. One of the headline-grabbing lessons learned: “The average venture capital fund fails to return investor capital after fees.” Each of these is singing its own “What’s Broken In Finance” or “What’s Broken in the Food System” tune, but together they make a song that points to Slow Money. Or, let’s frame it with a bit more activist oomph: We see your high frequency trading and your venture capital, your GMO this and your Too Big To Fail that, and we raise you Slow Money! After all the protesting and the regulating, after all the fixing of that which is broken, and the governing of that which keeps spinning and consolidating and lobbying out of control, we have at hand an immediate and rewarding task; working directly with one another to invest in support of the entrepreneurs who are building the future we want to see. Food is the place to start. Food is ground zero—the place where the economy meets the soil, where profitability meets fertility. It is where our efforts to build a restorative economy are grounded. Does our future include millions of new organic farmers? Billions of sips of biodynamic wine? Trillions of happy earthworms? How about thousands of new CSAs? And how many new enterprises like Pt. Reyes Compost and Grass Run Beef, Snowville Creamery and Coyote Creek Grain Mill, Butterworks Farm and High Mowing Seeds, Lucky Penny Farm and Parish Hall Restaurant, Organic Valley and People’s Community Market, Maine Grains and MMLocal? The prospect of such a future is worthy of our efforts, for reasons that no earthworm would need adumbrated. The last few years of initial Slow Money activity have been a great start. This issue of the Slow Money Letter comes out as we move into what we are calling, internally, Phase 2. We’ve moved the Slow Money national office to Boulder, CO, where we will be building a small team. We’re improving our communications, of which this newsletter is a part and which will soon include webinars. We’re developing the Soil Trust and learning from the early experience of our investment clubs. We’re engaged in a development campaign, raising new monies to support that which we’ve catalyzed and to work on next stages of expansion. Please contact us if you want information about any or all of this. Looking ahead, with the promise to stay in better touch and with thanks to you all for lending a hand and an ear, a head and a heart. —Woody Tasch Originally posted at
slowmoney Woody Tasch is the author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money.

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