Socially Responsible Business Archive


September 2012 Slow Money Letter

Monday, October 1st, 2012

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.org

slowmoney Woody Tasch is the author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money.

What’s In the Slow Money Sausage?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

We all know that the infrastructure of local food systems has been decimated over the past few generations. A few thousand of us, coming together under the banner of Slow Money, have begun working together to generate new sources of capital for the repair and restoration of some of what has been lost.

It’s going to take billions of dollars. Venture capital isn’t enough because the vast majority of small food enterprises don’t have the kind of proprietary technologies or scalability that venture capitalists require. Philanthropy isn’t enough because we are talking about farms and processing plants and distribution businesses and restaurants and seed companies and niche organic brands—all of which need investment capital, not grants. Government programs aren’t enough, because if we are going to build durable solutions to the shortcomings of industrial agriculture, they are going to be built one company and one investor at a time, at the local level, succeeding on the strength of real relationships between people in the places where they live.

How is Slow Money going about it?

We are building national and regional networks of investors, entrepreneurs and farmers. We are developing new financial products and services that will connect investors to their local food systems, enabling small and large investors alike, to support small food enterprises in their regions.

And we are stirring up a new national conversation about the relationship between money and the soil. Money and the soil? Yes. It turns out that more folks than you’d think are ready for this conversation. “The innate value of this kind of investing is so obvious to me,” stated a woman in Ashland, OR during a Slow Money discussion, “that I don’t care how much money I make.” What she went on to explain is that the benefits to her and to her community—more organic farms, more organic food available locally, a more robust local economy—were so obvious to her that she didn’t need to wait for a group of experts to come around and put it into numbers.

This is simple stuff. And it is radical stuff. Radical in the truest sense of the word. In the root sense.

At Slow Money’s second national gathering in Shelburne Farms, VT last June, 600 people from more than 30 states and several foreign countries came together to hear presentations from 26 small food enterprises and thought leaders including Bill McKibben, Joel Salatin, Eliot Coleman and Gary Hirshberg. A number of processing companies participated, including Vermont Smoke & Cure, Green Mountain Creamery, Snowville Creamery and Modular Food Systems. Overall, more than $1 million had been committed to seven of the presenting companies by mid-September, with more expected. This is just one indicator of the momentum that is building. Another is that in Austin, Seattle, Boston, Madison, Pittsboro, Boulder, Maine and elsewhere, local Slow Money initiatives are emerging.

It’s quite a sausage we’re in the process of making. Part inspiration, part activism, part new-kind-of-financial-prudence. After all, in a world of 1,000-point drops in the Dow in 20 minutes (remember that?) and ultra-fast trading and sovereign nation defaults, a world of GMOs and derivatives and GPS-driven tractors, and farmers who haven’t seen an earthworm on their land in decades, a world in which melamine and salmonella and E. coli are ready to hitchhike into our food from just about anywhere on the planet; what is more prudent than the idea of a million people investing 1% of their money in local food systems within a decade?

This is what we’re up to at Slow Money.

If Thursday at the gathering was a day for inspiration, Friday was a day for perspiration, putting theory into practice. Some of the small food enterprises from around the country were fairly large and had very polished presentations, as expected at investment showcases like this. But many of them were farmers: self-confessed dairy nerds and beef braggarts, feed fanatics and orchard owners, looking not to take over the world or promise lucrative exit strategies, but only to preserve the land and spread the message. One trend was seen in several businesses that aim to bring organic food production to the food deserts of cities. City Fresh Foods, for example, is a Boston-based company that works with underserved communities, bringing organic food to schools, elder facilities and daycare centers in inner-city neighborhoods. Even more inspiring, they are buying up inner-city vacant land, bringing in topsoil, and turning it into farmland.

Jerry Cunningham, a farmer from Austin, Texas, was typical of many presenters in being an atypical entrepreneur. “I’m a farmer growing pasture-raised chicken eggs and grassfed beef,” he says, “and my passion is healthy soil.” He started his business when the CEO of Whole Foods—a personal friend—asked him to produce pastured organic eggs for the stores. “So I started making my plans,” he said, “and I saw that I was going to have to get my feed from Pennsylvania or Virginia or someplace like that, and I decided to make a little feed mill to feed my own chickens. I didn’t have any employees; I just ran it by myself. It’s like the Field of Dreams: build it and they will come. People started to ask me to grind feed for them, and then more and more and more. We’ve grown exponentially over the past few years. It’s just beautiful: people come and say, ‘Thank you for being here.’”

Cunningham says that he had investment offers from four very large investors, “but the one that was most eye opening for me was this one middle-aged woman from Vermont who was obviously a farmer and didn’t have a lot of money of her own. She said, ‘what’s your minimum investment? I’d just like to invest something in your feed mills.’ That’s the kind of people who were there: unselfish, caring people who want to change the way we feed America. It was the event of a lifetime! Amazing energy. I am still buzzing from it.”

One of the most impressive aspects of the gathering was the extraordinary range of people who attended, from extremely wealthy investors to farmers to students and every imaginable social stop in between. Barry Hollister, a lifestyle entrepreneur from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, said, “There was a brilliance to it, a brilliance of connectivity and collaboration and shared commitment to this powerful economic and cultural vision.”

Brian Byrnes, president of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, expressed the same idea: “There was a moment when I looked around the tent to see the wonderful old codgers who have been farming in Vermont for generations, sitting with young environmentalists and food entrepreneurs and New York investment types, all nodding in agreement with Bill McKibben, who said, ‘The only way to heal our increasingly broken world and communities is to come back together, to play together, think together, plan and act together.’ Wow. Talk about being the change we seek. It was a profoundly hopeful moment.”

Attendees also included experienced venture capitalists and investment advisors. Scott Collier, a venture capitalist from Austin, Texas observed: “This is a new way to start thinking about risk, return, and social impact. It is motivating people in powerful ways. A bunch of us are meeting every Friday to explore ways to do slow money investing in our region. Slow Money has already proven catalytic here and we are only at the beginning.”

Mary Carol Rose, an independent professional training and coaching expert from Maryland, said that she first heard about Slow Money when she heard Woody Tasch talking it about it on NPR. “I listen to National Public Radio all the time,” she says, “and there are lots of things that catch my attention, but he caught my attention so much that I pulled over to listen. So I got his book and I read it, and went to the site and called them up and asked if there was anything I could do to raise money and help them do what they’re doing. I just missed the gathering last year, so this year I went.”

Rose says that she started as an investment broker, and first became aware of socially responsible investing when her clients asked her to look into it for them. “The more things progressed,” she says, “the more I progressed, my business developed into something entirely different, where I talk to people about how they’re using money for exchange. The dialogue has an entirely different flavor. It brings people to a consciousness that makes them look at things differently, and I found without exception that people immediately start to pay more attention to the environment and how they spend their money and how they invest their money.”

“What I love with Slow Money and RSF Social Finance,” she says, “is that they are putting together investors and borrowers and creating community. It’s taking the best of what we had many years ago in terms of how we did business, and evolving it to an even better place, especially for smaller investors: people who have $1,000 to invest instead of $5 million.”

Those smaller investors were well represented during the final part of the event, which was devoted to hearing from members and reflecting on the lessons learned. It was a highly emotional outpouring. It seems everyone was touched by what they had heard and moved by being with so many like-minded folks. One woman stood up and explained that the people in her community had pooled their money to send her to the event, including paying her for the days of work she missed. And she was not alone in representing regular folks making sacrifices. Slow Money founder Woody Tasch ended the event by presenting a check he had been handed. Earlier in the gathering there had been a presentation by the CEO of 1% for the Planet, and Woody had suggested that Slow Money establish a Soil Trust on the same model, asking corporations and members to give 1 percent of their revenue to the organization. Now, at this final session, he held up a check for $250 from a woman who had written “1%” on the face of the check. Woody said the woman told him, “You can see how little I make: this is 1 percent of my income, and I’m giving it to the organization.”

In order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration, we do hereby affirm the following Principles:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

To sign the Slow Money Principles, visit http://bit.ly/SlowPrinciples

Read the original article at Green Fire Times.

slowmoney Woody Tasch is the author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money.

What people are saying about the National Gathering

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Summer 2010

Photos by Lily Piel

What do you get when you put 600 Slow Money folks in a tent and throw in Bill McKibben, Joel Salatin, Michelle Long, Robert Zevin, Erika Allen, Gary Hirshberg, Elliot Coleman and too many wonderful entrepreneurs and investors to mention? You get inspired.  And we did. Get inspired. By the presenting entrepreneurs.  By the speakers.  By one another. Since our gathering in Vermont, we’ve been swamped with feedback of the “beyond inspired” and even “the event of a lifetime” kind. To all of you who attended, a heartfelt thanks. To all of you who couldn’t make it, we are sharing some of the proceedings here. Giving new meaning to the words, “We need slow money fast.”

Best,
Woody Tasch
Founder and Chairman
Slow Money Alliance

Author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered


The Slow Money gathering opened my eyes to the many worthwhile start-up companies that need funds to grow. As a result of the event, I plan to invest in one or two.
Dani Baker
Cross Island Farms, Wellesley Island, NY

One of the most informative and motivating events I’ve ever attended – and I’ve attended quite a few.
Aldo Castañeda
Medfield, MA

Slow Money might just save America from devouring itself – it gives me hope that someone is finally tackling the thing that separates us the most.
Julie Norris
Dandelion Communitea Café, Orlando, FL

How exciting to witness Slow Money maturing to a new level of potential, and attracting participants from such a broad range of ages, economic circumstances and perspectives. Slow Money speaks to the deep hunger in this country for connection and meaning, for attention to improving quality of life, and the joy of tasty, healthy real food for all.
Nancy Deren, Trustee
Lydia B. Stokes Foundation, Gainesville, FL

Slow Money is one of the movements that can transform our society, our world. It is one of the most powerful and optimistic approaches to help create a planet that is fair, sustainable… and satisfying.
Michael Kanter
Cambridge Naturals, Cambridge, MA

It was more practical than pie-in-the-sky, more stimulating and provocative than several professional conferences I attended this year, and well worth the time and effort and money to attend!
Carol Durst-Wertheim
Millwood, NY

I’ve attended countless conferences and seminars over the years, but it was not until I was under the Slow Money tent at Shelburne Farms that I found a community of individuals with whom I can connect and actually get something done! The quality of the attendees and their breadth of experience was remarkable, as was the obvious shared commitment to the vision of Slow Money. I cannot tell you how valuable the connections I made were. I’m doing due diligence on a possible investment and have already met with another of the attendees to explore collaboration on investing in farmland near where I live. I do trust in the soil. And I trust that the future for and with Slow Money is going to be remarkable.
Leslie Barclay, Owner
Round The Bend Farm, South Dartmouth, MA

What a pleasure to be part of a gathering that wasn’t just talking about the future but bending it! Slow Money is one of the keys to a healthy future.
Bill McKibben, Founder
350.org, Middlebury, VT

A wonderful, inspiring gathering. I must admit that I attended to see if it was real. It is. And then some. The event went way beyond any expectations. Thank you for taking the lead on this vital work.
Mary Carol Rose
Baltimore, MD

The Slow Money gathering was a powerful meeting place for individual investors, investment professionals, philanthropists and entrepreneurs. The appetite for investing in small food enterprises is growing and will create important new opportunities for values-driven individuals to put money to work directly in their communities. I look forward to participating in these efforts.
Matt Patsky, CEO
Trillium Asset Management, Boston, MA

The sheer creative and passionate energy amassed in one place at one time testifies to the breadth and depth of this movement. Tired of cute fluffy green-around-the-edges nickle-and dime activities, Slow Money takes modern and unnatural Wall Streetification by the throat, questioning and giving alternatives to the very essence of hubris economics.
Joel Salatin, Owner
Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA

Inspired by the first Slow Money national gathering in Santa Fe, my husband & I came home and started a Slow Money conversation in Penns Valley, in Centre County, PA. The second conference at Shelburne Farms powerfully reinforced our conviction that we’re on the right track and increased our sense of urgency and commitment.
Lisa Marshall
Smart Work, LLC, Spring Mills, PA

What’s so important about the Slow Money gathering for me is that it identifies and initiates starting points for everyone who eats and has a bank account. Slow Money moves beyond our choices as consumers to our choices as investors, building the network of people who see local food systems as a key part of solutions for the biggest challenges of our times: climate change, loss of biological diversity, access to clean and plentiful water and health.
Will Raap, Founder
Gardener’s Supply, Burlington, VT

There was a moment when I looked around the tent at Shelburne Farms to see the wonderful old codgers who have been farming in Vermont for generations, sitting with young environmentalists and food entrepreneurs and New York investment types, all nodding in agreement with Bill McKibben, who said, ‘’The only way to heal our increasingly broken world and communities is to come back together – to play together, think together, plan and act together.’’ Wow. Talk about being the change we seek. It was a profoundly hopeful moment.
Brian Byrnes, President and CEO
The Santa Fe Community Foundation, Santa Fe, NM

The Slow Money national gathering was an extraordinary event. There was brilliance about it, a brilliance of connectivity and collaboration and shared commitment to this powerful economic and cultural vision. We are on the verge of a breakthrough. Slow Money is not only planting inspiring seeds, but also creating the conditions and the relationships for fundamental change and lasting impact. I was, and am, therefore, extraordinarily pleased to have been able to make the first contribution, right there on the spot in that tent that was brimming with so many wonderful and talented folks, to the Soil Trust. In Soil We Trust.
Barry Hollister
Pittsfield, MA

Thanks for bringing together such a diverse and dynamic group of citizens around this new economic Vision. I left inspired, empowered and ready to lend myself to the gathering momentum of this movement.
Jim Baird, Owner
Cloudview Eco Farms, Royal City, WA

The event of a lifetime! – Amazing energy. I am still buzzing from it.
Jerry Cunningham, CEO
Coyote Creek Farm, Elgin, TX