This post was contributed by Cheryl Brown.
What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live? What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits? What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now? These questions were posed by Woody Tasch, founder of Slow Money, at its 5th National Gathering held November 10-12, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. I attended this conference to learn more about this organization that promotes “investing as if food, farms and fertility mattered.” It was a great event with featured speakers Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Gary Nabhan, Eliot Coleman, David Orr, Joel Salatin, Judy Wicks and more. Over 850 people attended from 46 states and Canada and France. In addition, 6,000 watched via live stream on the internet. You can watch the event’s 10-minute highlight video here.
An important part of the conference was the entrepreneur showcase where five entrepreneurs in each of four categories, land, processing and distribution, livestock, and urban agriculture, gave a 5-minute pitch for the chance to receive an investment from the pool of $100,000 raised during the conference (at the event and online) through the organization’s Beetcoin campaign. First place of $60,000 went to Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms in Garnett, Kansas for their family farm-based non-GMO seed mill. Second place ($20,000 each) was shared by the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust and New Roots. New Roots is a non-profit distributor of fresh local food to low income consumers in Louisville, Kentucky.
Slow Money is a non-profit headquartered in Boulder, Colorado that started in 2009 when Woody Tasch published his book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money. Before founding Slow Money Tasch was Chairman of Investor’s Circle, a group of investors funding startups emphasizing sustainable business practices. He also was founder of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance and treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, a major investor in Stonyfield Farm. From the Slow Money website: “Slow Money catalyzes the flow of capital to local food enterprises and organic farms, connecting investors to the places where they live and bringing money back down to earth.” Since 2010 they have invested $40,413,594 in 397 small food enterprises. There are 37 Slow Money networks and clubs. Neither Virginia nor West Virginia have Slow Money clubs, but North Carolina has had one since 2010. Since that time they have “facilitated over 130 loans totaling more than $1.4 million to 63 local food businesses and farms around the state”.
Many new food and farm businesses are considered high risk by conventional lenders and find it very difficult to obtain needed financing for startup or expansion. Slow Money is changing the way we look at investing to create the world we want to live in. To get involved and promote this important source of funding for the growth of local, sustainable food and farm businesses you can sign the Slow Money Principles, invest in ways that promote your values, join a local Slow Money group, follow the Slow Money Blog, donate, or attend the next Slow Money national event (held about every 18 months). I hope to see you there!
This post was contributed by Cheryl Brown, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at West Virginia University and Co-Project Director and West Virginia State Lead for the Appalachian Foodshed Project.