SLOW MONEY 2014 was our largest event to date, with over 850 attendees from 46 states, Canada and France, and 6,000 watching via live stream. Highlights included the successful completion of our first BEETCOIN campaign, the release of our first State of the Sector Report, and a series of Town Hall Meetings and entrepreneur group conversations, with active audience participation throughout. The program featured a Who’s Who of leaders in local food systems and finance, promoting an integral approach to thinking and doing that has become the hallmark of Slow Money gatherings.

Welcoming remarks were offered by Slow Money director Gary Nabhan, who observed: “This is a critical moment. Within the next two decades, more than half of America’s farm and ranch lands will be transferred. We’re talking about 400 million acres of food-producing lands, and some 50 million of these acres are at risk of going out of food production.”

 

“Something extraordinarily beautiful and powerful is at work here. I laughed. I cried. I really did. Many times. On behalf of all the pollinators and the fertility builders, farmers and food entrepreneurs, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” —GARY NABHAN

 

State of the Sector Report

A first at this year’s event was the release of Slow Money’s State of the Sector Report, documenting investing over the past five years in small food enterprises via Slow Money’s network and 42 surveyed investment funds, foundations, family offices and angel investors. The report analyzes $293 million of investments in 968 deals from 2009 to 2013.

Mary Berry and Carlo Petrini

 

BEETCOIN Campaign

 Woody Tasch
BEETCOIN Winners Bani Hines Hudson (New Roots in Louisville, KY); Suzan Erem (Sustainable Iowa Land Trust in West Branch, IA); Rosanna Bauman and her mother (Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms in Garnett, KS); and Woody Tasch (chairman and founder, Slow Money)

Another first at Slow Money 2014 was our BEETCOIN campaign. The campaign raised $75,032 from 373 individuals, with Slow Money topping off the campaign at an even $100,000. Chosen by popular vote of event attendees and BEETCOIN holders, Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms from Garnett, Kansas, a family operation that grows GMO-free grains, pastured poultry, eggs, and beef on a highly diversified farm, was awarded first place and received $60,000. Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), dedicated to preserving Iowa farmland in perpetuity, shared second place with Louisville’s own New Roots, a nonprofit organization collaborating with local farmers to increase urban access to healthy food. Each second-place winner received $20,000. Bauman’s received its funding in the form of a 0-percent, three-year loan. SILT and New Roots funding was structured as recoverable grants.

 

“For several years, I’ve been putting a significant portion of my time, love and assets to work in food and farming, inspired by the vision of Slow Money. At this year’s event, I could sense the shift. We are moving from early adopters to a broader movement and the energy is palpable. I’m gratified to see how my actions are part of a coherent whole and this gives me hope.”  —NARENDRA VARMA, ANGEL INVESTOR AND FOUNDER OF OUR TABLE COOPERATIVE

 

 Woody Tasch
Left: Keynote speaker Douglas Gayeton, co-founder of The Lexicon of Sustainability: “The food that we buy comes from people who, in most cases, we don’t know and the ingredients in that food are of unknown origin.” Right: Farmer and author Joel Salatin presenting ten “benchmarks of truth” of sustainable farming. (And, yes, he did mention the pigness of the pig.)

Opening keynotes by Douglas Gayeton and Joel Salatin set high bars—and then leapt over them—on the path to new language, new conversation, new ways of thinking about food, farming, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

Slow Money founder Woody Tasch carried the theme of language forward. “These are questions about the relationship between finance and culture, between money and the soil, between the local and the fiduciary. This is a new conversation about investing in the 21st century,” Tasch said. “We can call it slow money. We can call it conscientious investing. We can call it nurture capital. It’s fine that we use many different terms because what we are after is authentic public conversation and diversity—not just arithmetic diversification, but actual ecological, economic, and cultural diversity.”

 Audience
Slow Money founder Woody Tasch: “At some point, the pursuit of happiness must become the pursuit of non-cheapened food.”
Audience
Left: Woody Tasch, Wendell Berry, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (Maine), and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer discuss the farmers’ need for allies in local government.
Winona LaDuke
Right: Mary Berry, executive director of the Berry Center, cautioning that “to deal correctly with the problems, we must first be content, or try to be, with the notion of small solutions and with the apparent slowness of our work.”

Wendell Berry suggested that, when faced with government policies that create barriers for local agriculture, we must “go to work locally, where people understand and live among the problems.” “The destructiveness of industrial agriculture is directly related to the destruction of rural communities,” Berry continued. “Replacing the large machines and toxic chemicals with competent people is not something that can happen overnight, but it needs to be started and the people here have started it.”

 
Woody Tasch and Wendell Berry discussing the concept of “shared risk” during the opening Town Hall Meeting.
 
Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, likened the farm to a cell of the food system, commenting that “if we get the cell healthy, the food system as a whole will be healthy.” With Holden is Judy Wicks, co-founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

Narendra Varma, founder of Our Table Cooperative, shared a vision for a culture based on “the relationship between you and the plants and animals you eat, the land they grow on, and the people who coax them from the earth,” while Elizabeth Candelario, co-director of Demeter, drew a parallel between healing land and healing people.

Amy Domini, founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments; Catherine Gill, senior vice president of Root Capital; Tim Storrow, executive director of Castanea Foundation; and, Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management, addressed the power of finance as a tool for social change, with the growing awareness of food and agriculture as drivers. Moderator Don Shaffer, CEO of RSF Social Finance, described the challenges and opportunities of integrating relationships and transactions

 
Amy Domini (Founder of Domini Social Investments) and Don Shaffer (President & CEO, RSF Social Finance)
Marco Vangelisti
Left: Vandana Shiva and Sam May (Slow Money Maine)
 
Right: Ray Moncrief, COO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, discusses strategies for scaling local investing by community development financial institutions. Other panelists (left to right) are: Carrie Van Winkle (investment advisor, Natural Investments, LLC), Doug Schlosnagle (CEO, United Citizens Bank and Trust), and Leslie Christian (investment advisor).

Breakout sessions explored GMOs; heirloom seeds; economic justice for farmers, low-income populations, and voters; collaboration opportunities among NGOs; the role of chefs in promoting sustainable agriculture and health; the workings of Slow Money investment clubs; and how the Internet can be used to support Slow Money work.

Slow Money Northern California co-leader Marco Vangelisti made a powerful case for “the need to divest from economic and financial systems that are pushing us toward disaster.” Showing the before and after photos of a forest decimated by an economy that does not know how to value it, Vangelisti urged fellow investors to pay attention to how their portfolios are used. “The investments we make today are not happening on a separate planet,” he said. “We need to mobilize 100 percent of our financial resources to build the world we want to live in.”

 

“These were truly remarkable proceedings. Life-changing, really. This event was so compelling, so inspiring, so empowering, and yet so down-to-earth that it was impossible to walk away from Louisville unchanged. l came home all the more convinced that ‘bringing money back down to earth’ is not just a catchy phrase, but a very real, practical and brilliant way to change the world—starting close to home. A generation from now, I think we are going to look back on these first Slow Money events as seminal.” —NANCY THELLMAN, COUNTY COMMISSIONER, DOUGLAS COUNTY, KS

 

 Audience cheering
Left: Greg Steltenpohl, founder of Odwalla; Right: Glynn Lloyd, Urban Farming Institute of Boston

Severine von Tscharner Fleming, co-founder of Agrarian Trust and director of Greenhorns, advocated for supporting the next generation of famers in America.

Vandana Shiva addressed the issue of GMOs and the seed supply. “Local food supply needs local seed supply. It needs creation of seed banks as a commons. The challenge of food is the challenge of food democracy,” she continued, “and we need to reclaim our Earth citizenship with deep consciousness and compassion.”

Greg Steltenpohl, founder of Odwalla, kicked off Day Two by encouraging investors and entrepreneurs to “find opportunities in surprising places,” noting that the “transition from cultures of extraction to cultures of ecology is through conversation, not polemic.”

Entrepreneur conversations were divided into four groups—land, processing and distribution, livestock, and urban agriculture. A total of 21 entrepreneurs shared their stories. Businesses ranged from a California pasta maker who uses only locally grown organic wheat, to a Kentucky sheep farm, to a 150-year-old Georgia farm that transformed itself into a leader in sustainable agricultural practices, to a sprouted flour company from Alabama, to an urban farming NGO in Chicago.

 
Land Panel (left to right): Judith Schwartz, moderator (Author, Cows Save the Planet); Will Harris (White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, GA); Stefanie Bourcier (Farm Fuel in Watsonville, CA); Suzan Erem (Sustainable Iowa Land Trust in West Branch, IA); and Narendra Varma (Our Table Cooperative in Sherwood, OR). Not pictured: John-Paul Maxfield (Waste Farmers in Denver, CO)
 
Processing and Distribution Panel (left to right): Dawn McGee, moderator (CEO, Good Works Ventures); Bob Klein (Community Grains in Oakland, CA); Shelly Herman (Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks in Chicago, IL); Peggy Sutton (To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company in Fitzpatrick, AL); Meghan Dear (Localize in Edmonton, Canada); Brandon Jaeger (Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, OH); and Mike Higgins (Custom Food Solutions in Louisville, KY
 
Livestock Panel (left to right): Jim Richardson (Richardson Farms in Austin, TX); Jonathan Hunter (Underground Meats in Madison, WI); Chris Bailey (Vermont Smoke and Cure in Hinesburg, VT), Jim Mansfield (Four Hills Farm in Salvisa, KY); and Rosanna Bauman (Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms in Garnett, KS). Not pictured: Paul Dolan, moderator (Dolan Family Ranches in Healdsburg, CA)
 
Urban Agriculture Panel (left to right): Michael Brownlee, moderator (co-founder, Local Food Shift Group in Boulder, CO); Karyn Moskowitz (New Roots in Louisville, KY); Jake Davis (Root Cellar Grocer in Columbia, MO); Ryan Doan (Urban Greens in Cincinnati, OH); Glynn Lloyd (Urban Farming Institute of Boston in Boston, MA); and Harry Rhodes (Growing Home in Chicago, IL)

As the gathering approached its conclusion, David Orr, relaying his work supporting sustainable development in the Lake Erie Crescent, argued that the task of rebuilding the economy begins locally: “Use the momentum of the movement and interest in local food to channel resources and funding by large institutions into building up local systems.”

Woody Tasch’s closing remarks revolved around a passage from his pamphlet “Commons nth: Common Sense For A Post Wall Street World,” highlighting Wendell Berry’s call for a new kind of imagination and E.F. Schumacher’s call for meta-economics: “It’s going to take imagination to bring down the Iron Curtain between investing and philanthropy.”

The proceedings were brought to a close by a Town Hall conversation about the broader slow movement, featuring Tasch; executive director of Slow Food USA Richard McCarthy; vice president of Slow Food Italy Cinzia Scaffidi; and Slow Church co-author John Pattison. McCarthy reflected on the role of faith in the principles underlying Slow Food, highlighting values of growing community, respecting the earth, and finding balance. Pattison observed, “McDonaldization has proven to be just as alluring to our churches and our communities of faith as it has to other sectors of our society.” Scaffidi reflected on our relationship to money, nature and time: “We keep talking about saving money and saving time, instead of investing money and investing time. We have to stop thinking about accumulating and start thinking about sharing. Sustainability requires new models.”

 
“Slow What?” Panel (left to right): Woody Tasch; Richard McCarthy (executive director of Slow Food USA); Cinzia Scaffidi (vice president of Slow Food Italy); and John Pattison (co-author, Slow Church)

Bringing together a broad range of stakeholders—from fiduciaries and sophisticated angel investors to non-accredited investors, crowdfunders and community members—is integral to the manner in which Slow Money is holding the space for nuanced, authentic public conversations about food, investing and culture. Such conversations have proven catalytic in the five years since our first national gathering in 2009, and these events have grown robustly. These national gatherings have proven a vital complement to the growing family of local Slow Money networks and investment clubs.

Always harkening to Wendell Berry’s famous distrust of movements as we proceed, we look forward to continuously enhancing the impact of our national gatherings as a tool for promoting the kind of place-based, relationship-based investing that is central to Slow Money as “the CSA of investing.”

 
Toussaint Shaak Rose, a student in the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College.

 

BEETCOIN Winners

As we conclude this event write-up, we want to once again congratulate not only the three BEETCOIN winners, but also recognize the extraordinary leadership of all 21 of the presenting food entrepreneurs, as we continue to work together building local food systems and increasing the flow of capital in support of soil fertility, diversity and sense of place.

 

$60,000, Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms (Garnett, KS)

 

 

$20,000, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (West Branch, IA)

 

 

$20,000, New Roots (Louisville, KY)

 

 

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Woody Tasch

Dear Slow Money Friend,

Your response to my “Bombing, Blaming, Droning. . .” letter a few weeks ago was beyond heartening. Scores of you took the time to share thoughtful replies to me. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it has emboldened me to reach out in a similar manner again.

Don’t panic! I won’t inundate you. I am as prone to hit the Unsubscribe button as you.

So, please bear with me, be charitable with a few more minutes of your time, and let’s see where this takes us.

The impulse to write today comes, as it did a few weeks ago, from two news stories. The first is from Bloomberg, which reported yesterday on mistaken stock trading orders to the tune of $617 billion—yes, that’s billion with a “b”, just like it’s trillion with a “t” when we are talking about the cost of wars and hundreds of “t’s” when we are talking about the cloud of derivatives that blankets the financial heavens. The magnitude of the faulty trading orders would be enough of a topic in itself, as we are talking about calculable percentages, even major chunks, of the total valuation of major public companies and total daily trading volume of major exchanges. But what caused me to sit down to write this was the following:

“I don’t think we can find out who did this,” Jefferies’ Yamamoto said. “OTC transactions happen directly between two parties, which makes it difficult to find out who was involved. But considering the scale of the error, I guess it was a big broker.”

I don’t think we can find out who did this. Just what kind of cuckoo’s nest is this? Just what kind of social and environmental and cultural collateral damage are we exposing ourselves to daily as a result of ignorance about massive capital flows? Just when did we cede control of the wealth created by hundreds of years of industrialization to a handful of anonymous fiduciaries who cannot even keep track of the dollar flows in real time, much less think about long-term social and environmental concerns?

OK. That was News Story One.

News Story Two was on NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday and was about poultry processing in the U.S. and Europe. And the dollar amount at issue is not hundreds of billions of dollars, but, rather $.20/lb. In order to save $.20/lb., U.S. processors dip chicken carcasses in a chlorine bath to kill salmonella; in Europe, the use of chlorine bath is prohibited and processors instead use vigilant husbandry to keep salmonella out of their flocks. Hmmm: vigilant husbandry vs. cheaper chlorine bath? Which is the path to healthier culture? Just which parts of vigilance and health are we willing to sacrifice for $.20/lb.?

Industrial finance and industrial agriculture are two sides of the same coin. It is time for us to learn to save, spend and invest a new kind of coin.

If you’ve seen the BEETCOIN launch, you know that’s just what we’re trying to do. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. We’re barely out of the gate, and 53 intrepid early adopters have contributed $18,500. We’ve also gotten lots of early affirmation from friends and observers, so thanks for that. BEETCOIN may well have legs for the long-term, but for right now, all eyes are on Louisville.

PLEASE DON’T MISCONSTRUE this letter as little more than a thinly veiled promotion of BEETCOIN. It is sharing from the heart and the asking of a kind of public question: Can we help one another focus less on the crazy institutional dysfunction of the day and more on the seeds of a nonviolent economy that we can plant together?

Sincerely,

—Woody

 

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Woody Tasch

Dear Slow Money Friend:

I was watching the news this morning over my coffee and listening to a brief (VERY brief) mention of Quaker lobbying on Capitol Hill for peace initiatives in the Middle East, to which the commentator immediately offered the following knee-jerk, supposedly un-trumpable retort:

“But what about ISIS? Isn’t military response to ISIS completely justifiable and needed?”

There was also—and stick with me, here, as we move from terrorism in the desert of Iraq (Or is it Syria? Or is it some other geopolitical non-neighborhood that existed before the region was carved up by Western powers after World War I?) to the cornfields of Northern Ohio—a piece on last evening’s PBS News Hour about the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie.

The PBS story featured a conventional corn farmer talking about the need to increase production to feed the world’s growing population, hence the need for fertilizer. . .but, not to worry. . .he’s using drones to help him apply his fertilizer more efficiently, so there’s hope that this will reduce run-off into Lake Erie.

Not that it would come as any surprise that farmers in northern Ohio are resistant to the possibility of federal regulation of fertilizer application. But, sure, even after all these years, it is still a bit shocking to me that a news organization working more in the public interest than commercial networks would fail even to MENTION longer term, structural fixes to agriculture. . .words like sustainable, organic, local, diversified, or even, heaven forefend, the world “soil”. . . .were as far away from that news story as Iraq is from something that was once called the Fertile Crescent.

So, what am I driving at? I’m driving at you driving, flying, training and otherwise getting yourself to Louisville in November for the upcoming Slow Money gathering. Really? That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? What’s the connection?

Here’s the deal.

In response to the violence and institutional dysfunction and ecological degradation and uncertainty and fear of the day, we have only two choices, if we boil it all down:

  1. We can blame, bomb, drone, attack, argue, vilify, deny, lobby, scare, tax, legislate, regulate, investigate, prosecute and protest; or,
  2. We can invest.

I have written a pamphlet, which you are going to receive soon, that lays out, in a few dozen pages, the general case for conscientious investing as a means to achieve not only health, but also peace.

But in light of the two news stories, mentioned above, I couldn’t wait.

Let’s lift our voices up in Louisville! We’ll have a few of our “popes” on hand to help us (sure, in the name of diversity and healthy non-denominational skepticism and faith, both, our popes, with a small “p”, can be many and varied, even female) and many, many “heroic grunts,” to use the words of one of Wes Jackson’s neighbors, describing farmers, but, to my thinking, also describing small food entrepreneurs more generally, as well as the individuals who invest in them.

Blaming, bombing, droning, attacking, arguing, vilifying, denying, lobbying, scaring, taxing, legislating, regulating, investigating, prosecuting and protesting may be satisfying in the short term. But only investing can deliver the long-term results that have a shot at giving staying power to the “happiness” in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Happiness that comes from blaming, bombing, droning, attacking, arguing, vilifying, denying, lobbying, scaring, taxing, legislating, regulating, investigating, prosecuting and protesting is short-lived and fragile, a bit too much like the non-satiety that comes from empty calories. You want real nutrition? Health? Lasting happiness? You have to invest.

(And, for the record, please note: I’m not suggesting this is an Either/Or choice. We are, to be sure, and for better or worse, in All Of The Above mode, but the one that is most precious, and in shortest supply, is investing.)

Excuse me for echoing, as many have and many will, those prescient, funny, poignant words from the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” (By the way, if you’ve never seen it, PLEASE DO check out these two and a half minutes from that movie—arguably the best, most entertaining two and half minutes ever filmed about global finance, the economy and nature.)

Let’s get a little riled up, sure, but then, quickly, appropriately, sustainably, slowly, let’s sit down together, break bread, plant seeds and otherwise conspire about how to spend less of our time blaming, bombing, droning, attacking, arguing, vilifying, denying, lobbying, scaring, taxing, legislating, regulating, investigating, prosecuting and protesting. . .and more time. . .

investing.

Starting with food. Starting with the soil. Starting with investing ourselves in a collective, conscientious, entrepreneurial, neighborly, heartening, peace-loving and vital public conversation.

JOIN US IN LOUISVILLE!

And one last thing.

Clearly this is not a proper invitation to an event. This is personal sharing, heart to heart, in the knowledge that so many of us are hungry for the opposite of sound bites and for real ways to engage.

See this invitation for more information about the Louisville event if you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you.

Sincerely,

—Woody

 

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