You’ve probably heard of the Slow Food movement, where participants eschew convenience-oriented “fast” foods, and fill their plates with unprocessed, locally produced foods instead. But slow money? An outgrowth of the Slow Food concept and the brainchild of socially conscious investing pioneer Woody Tasch, the Slow Money movement is dedicated to connecting investors to their local econ-omies by marshaling financial resources to invest in small food enterprises and local food systems. Tasch’s vision represents a complete overhaul of the way we think about and spend our money.
Instead of venture capital bank-rolling far-flung high tech start-ups, Tasch envisions “nurture capital” funding local merchants and producers who in turn plug half of their profits back into their communities, building a local inner circle that values soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, care of the commons, diversity, nonviolence, and cultural, ecological and economic health as much as financial return. Tasch hopes to get there by persuading one million Americans to invest at least 1% of their assets in local food systems by 2020.
Changing the Financial Focus
Tasch launched the movement and the nonprofit in November 2008 following the publication of his book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered(Chelsea Green Publishing). Hitting the road to promote the book and the larger idea in 2009, he was able to drum up enough interest to attract some 450 entrepreneurs, farmers and intrigued investors to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to network and trade ideas at a three-day gathering. “We just wanted to see who would show up, but four of the small food enterprises that presented raised an aggregate of $260,000,” says Tasch. This first event was so successful that Tasch organized another one for some 600 attendees the following June in Shel-burne, Vermont. Investors there poured another $4.2 million into 12 more producers, and that’s when Tasch knew he was really onto something.
While such events are fine for well-heeled investors looking to put some of their wealth toward their values, they’re less of a fit for average wage-earners. But anyone can go to the slowmoney.org website and (electronically) sign the organization’s “Principles,” an annotated list of six core beliefs shared by the Slow Money community. Those looking to invest in amounts of $25 and up might consider parking it with the organization’s Soil Trust: The aggregated capital will be used to seed small food enterprises that promote soil fertility in locales from coast to coast. Tasch sees the Soil Trust as key to achieving the organization’s goal of involving one million Americans in the movement over the next decade.
Tasch also hopes the concept will spread at the local level. To date, at least a dozen autonomous local chapters have sprung up nationwide. Participants in Maine’s Slow Money chapter have already gifted or lent some $300,000 in funds to various local food system endeavors such as MOO Milk (which promotes the benefits of dairy farms) and Maine Organic Milling cooperative to produce competitively priced organic feed for Maine farmers. Their “No Small Potatoes” investment club seeks to strengthen Maine’s sustainable food system by providing low-interest microloans ($3,000 to $15,000) to the state’s farms and food businesses for equipment or working capital and has already deployed $20,000 worth of low-interest loans to various local producers.
Another local chapter, Slow Money North Carolina (a project of the Abundance Foundation), has facilitated upwards of $23,000 in loans from 10 investors to seven small food enterprises within the local “foodshed” of the town of Pitts-boro—including, for instance, $2,000 to a baker to purchase a new mixer, $6,000 to expand a local Greek restaurant, $3,000 to open a cheese shop, and $5,500 to two local farms to expand production of broiler chickens.
To find out more about the quickly evolving Slow Money movement, or to find a local chapter near you, steer your web browser over to SlowMoney.org, a treasure trove of news, commentary, information and links on the topic. The organization’s third national gathering is scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 12-14, 2011, and will likely draw upwards of 1,000 participants—and untold quantities of “slow” capital, too.