by Woody Tasch
|“To grow from $1 trillion to $77 trillion in little more than a century, you must live in a binary world: create as much wealth as you can now, worry about philanthropy later. Let’s just say this made sense in 1900, perhaps even 1950, perhaps even, say, 1968. But once we saw the first picture of the earth rising over the moon, shouldn’t all that have begun to change?” —From “State of the Soil” address, February 28, 2015, Brooklyn, NY.|
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Below are the opening remarks.
THANKS to Derek and Slow Money NYC and NRDC and the other Food + Enterprise partners for inviting me. I started thinking about these remarks last month, a few days after the President’s State of the Union address. I couldn’t help but think: The State of our Union may be strong—measured in terms of job growth, the stock market, shale oil and aircraft carriers—but the State of Civilization, the State of Public Discourse, the State of our Soil is weak.
I realize that in today’s fast world—fast food, fast money, fast information—a few weeks is a long time, a month an eternity, and who can even describe the immense duration of a fiscal quarter or a season. In today’s fast world, President Obama’s State of the Union is long gone. But in the spirit of all things slow, I’m going to go back all the way to the 1960s and 1970s, to a few Kennedys and things of a Presidential nature said back then. And then to the roots of the modern social investment movement, with a brief aside on Greek mythology and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Along the way, I’ll give you an overview of the last five years of Slow Money activities—the $40 million that’s gone to over 400 small food enterprises via dozens of Slow Money local networks and investment clubs.
I guess you could say I offer these remarks as a kind of Earthworm’s Meta-Economic Non-Reply to the State of the Union. You know, there was a Republican reply. There should be an Earthworm’s Meta-Economic Non-Reply.
I say “Non-Reply” because it is more of a revolt than a reply. A revolt against the idea that we cannot have a nuanced, authentic public conversation about what’s broken and how to begin fixing things from the ground up. A revolt against the forgetting and the distractions that doom us to repeat history and steal the future.
“Meta-economic” in the sense that E.F. Schumacher, who wrote Small Is Beautiful in 1973 and to whom I’ll refer again later, was the first 20th-century industrial economist to realize that economics itself was the problem, that the quantification of economics was preventing us from seeing what was happening to our households, our neighborhoods, our bioregions and the planet as a whole.
Disclaimer: I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not a political animal. I’m just an earthworm. An earthworm in the soil of a restorative economy. An earthworm who greatly prefers to speak off the cuff, but who today has prepared these slightly more formal remarks, prompted by those of our President last month.
So, here goes my Earthworm’s Meta-Economic Non-Reply to the State of the Union.
* * * *
THE State of the Soil is weak.
We are strong in terms of tillage, but weak in terms of fertility. We are strong measured in chemical and mechanical power—millions and millions of tons of NPK, petrochemicals, herbicides and pesticides and the sophisticated technologies to apply them—but we are weak in terms of soil erosion, weak in terms of our connection to the land, weak in terms of sense of place. Our industrial systems are taking carbon from the soil instead of building carbon in the soil. We have less and less organic matter, and fewer and fewer people who know what it feels, smells or tastes like.
This is a crisis in its own right, but it is also a spoke in the wheel of a larger crisis. Some might opine that food and agriculture are not merely a spoke, but are actually the hub, because if we don’t get agriculture right, then we can’t get industrialization and consumerism and globalization and urbanization right, and so, we can’t ever really get at the great systemic crisis of climate change and the increasing dysfunction of our institutions.