Woody Tasch

Food for Thought, For Becoming at Home in Our Place, For Thoughtfulness in Producing Food

By Gary Nabhan

With future generations in mind, may my family and friends never leave the land we steward poorer, nor its water scarcer than conditions were before we acquired responsibility for their care.

May we keep land meant to be farmed from being de-veloped, and re-envelope it with people dedicated to keep its inherent productivity in tact into perpetuity.

May we work as “greenhorns” to offer dignity, reciprocity and respect to the “grayhorns” willing to offer their land to us, and to never betray our covenant with them and the land itself.

May we seek to enrich the soil, diversify its plant cover and deepen its roots both within and beyond its harvested fields, its grazed pastures, or its orchards.

May we be diligent in learning how our practices affect those who live above and below us in our foodshed and watershed— not only the human lives, but all other-than-human lives as well.

May we participate in the regional culture of this land, and whenever possible, engage in the community rites and calendric rhythms that bind us to our place.

May we work to link the consumers of the food, fiber and timber we produce to the land on which it is produced, so that their values and ours are developed in harmony rather than in completion or in conflict.

May we encourage our members, friends and neighboring consumers to vote for what is best for the land at the polling booth where our choices help determine its governance, and at the table where what we choose to eat can benefit rather than harm the community at large.

May we share with our neighbors not only our successes in stewardship, but cautionary words of wisdom gained from our past failures as well, so that the principles that guide us and the practices that work on the ground are spread throughout this landscape.

May we refrain from solely focusing on increasing the saleable products from the land, but also on investing in the underlying natural processes which generate those products.

May we experiment with ways to control pests, diseases and weeds in a manner that does least harm to pollinators like bees and monarchs, predators, and

May we make long-term decisions about the destiny of the land and the choice of its future caretakers by asking a simple question: “What would the land itself want?” just as some Christian land ethicists often ask, “What would Jesus do if he were a farmer, fisher or forager?”

May we stay as humble as this blessed earth itself.


Message sent through Brother Coyote, OEF, aka Grayhorn Gary Paul Nabhan, to celebrate the Agrarian Trust forum in Berkeley CA in April of 2014

 

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April 2014

OPINION: From Bitcoin to Beets

The recent collapse of Mt. Gox and the “inconvenience,” in its CEO’s words, caused by the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars of Bitcoin investors’ money, should make us all think about the history of finance and … organic beets.

Read more »

First Slow Money France Investment

Slow Money Francophone members closed a first investment in January 2014, a 100,000 euro equity investment in Organic Seed Company in France. This will help the company to satisfy growing demand from private and professional gardeners, as well as to develop some site diversification on the farm.

Read more »

Slow Money 2014 Nov. 10–12, Louisville, KY

Early bird registration for our 2014 gathering is open! This year’s speakers include Vandana Shiva, Joel Salatin, Amy Domini, Patrick Holden, Mary Berry, Gary Nabhan, Eliot Coleman, and Greg Steltenpohl.

Register now »

Food, Money, Soil

Good Food Revolution: In Milwaukee, Will Allen uses a novel approach to create integrated food systems for local communities. He produces multiple food sources, including fish and produce, by ingeniously mixing a variety of farming practices, ranging from vermiculture to aquaponics. Information artwork by Douglas Gayeton for the Lexicon of Sustainability. Douglas will be speaking at our 2014 gathering.

Network Updates

Wisconsin Reported by Beth Gehred.

Funded six entrepreneurs over the past 12 months for an approximate investment total of $600,000.

Read more »

Vancouver Reported by Rory Holland.

We are very excited to announce that Vancouver has been chosen for the Spring 2014 West Coast Regional Gathering.

Read more »

Iowa Reported by Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Details about the launch of new investment club, Iowa Pollinators LLC.

Read more »

Maine

The network has grown to 892 people and a funding total of $8.6mm.

Read more »

Slow Money in the Media

Share the Bounty Natural Resources Defense Council

NRDC features an interview with Woody Tasch in the spring issue of their magazine.

Read more »

One-Stop Site Paints A Clearer Picture For Impact Investors

Forbes

Sure, the impact investing and social enterprise world is thriving. But it’s also disjointed and often confusing, with a variety of groups, startups, investors, schools, conferences, and even basic terminology.

Read more »

The secret ingredient to slow food:
Slow cash Grist

When I spoke with Tim Crosby, director of Slow Money Northwest, he was working on a deal at the Finn River Cidery.

Read more »

 

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Woody Tasch

By Woody Tasch

The recent collapse of Mt. Gox and the “inconvenience,” in its CEO’s words, caused by the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars of Bitcoin investors’ money, should make us all think about the history of finance and … organic beets.

We invented joint stock companies in 1600, came to what appeared to be an inexhaustible continent, took everything, cut it up into pieces and started selling it to strangers, only to find ourselves finally selling Ones and Zeros and Sliced and Diced Who-Knows-What Derivatives to invisible strangers. In milliseconds and in incomprehensibly large quantities.

Then came Bitcoin.

Then came Bitcoin “mining.”

Now, I could rant about the absurdity of roomfulls of servers, funded by venture capitalists, applying the extractive, industrial mentality of mining to the techno-seductiveness of virtual currency, but I’d rather talk about organic beets.

As in, thousands of us starting to invest in local, organic food enterprises—something startlingly common sensical yet seemingly radical in today’s byzantine world of hypersecuritized capital markets.

Under the improbable banner of something called Slow Money—let’s call it the polar opposite of Bitcoin—we are acting on the visceral sense that there is such a thing as money that is too fast, securities that are too abstract and complex, and companies that are too big.  We are fermenting a peaceable little non-technological revolution in investing.

It’s as if we were taking all the macro numbers of economic growth—the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Case Shiller Index, GDP, Consumer Confidence, the value of all the barrels of oil still in the ground—and throwing them into a jar along with some friendly bacteria of the Care of the Commons, Sense of Place, Diversity and Nonviolence Kind.

Over the last few years, the Slow Money network has put over $35 million into over 300 small food enterprises around the country (and a few in Canada, France and Switzerland), supporting small and mid-size organic farms and the many small food businesses that create jobs, revitalize Main Street, build carbon in the soil (where we want carbon, as opposed to in the atmosphere), improve health, and create fertility at the base of a restorative economy.

This is a small part of a larger movement that is asking:  After all the globalization and financial razzmatazz, don’t we need to bring some of our money back down to earth?

A number of NGOs are emerging to rebuild local economies, including the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the Post-Carbon Institute and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.   Small new investment intermediaries are emerging too, including RSF Social Finance, Mission Markets and Farmland LP.

To fix our economy from the ground up, we need to do more than Buy Green and Buy Local.  We need to do more than regulate the excesses of Too Big Too Fail.  We need to Invest Local.   We need to take a little of our money out of there—the abstract, complex, ultra-fast world of global investing—and put it to work here—near where we live, in things that we understand.

Food is a great place to start.  Slow Money investments are supporting dairy coops, organic grain mills, regional food hubs, seed companies, restaurants that source locally, compost companies, niche organic brands, grassfed beef producers and more.   Investments have ranged in size from a few million dollars to a few thousand dollars.   Investors include experienced angel investors and family foundations, but are mostly just plain regular folks who want to know where their food comes from and where there money goes.

You may ask: Is this investing or is this philanthropy?

The answer is embedded in the experience that more than half a million Americans are having as members of CSAs—farms that sell shares of their production in advance of each season. I’ve asked thousands of CSA members around the country: How many of you ever calculated quantitative metrics supporting your decision to join a CSA—food miles, price, nutrient density, pesticide levels, organic matter in the soil or any other such factors? In many years of asking this question, only a few people have raised a hand and said they had done any such calculating.

This suggests that hundreds of thousands of Americans are using a sense of innate value to pre-pay for food from a local farmer. They are entering into an arrangement that is part investment decision, part consumption decision, part transaction, part relationship, part capitalism, part socialism, both deeply conservative and deeply liberal.

This is where we must head if want a healthy economy. Away from Bitcoin and towards beets. Away from anonymous transactions and towards healthy relationships.  Away from computer screens and towards farms and fertility. Beyond financial diversification and towards diversity—ecological diversity, cultural diversity, economic diversity.

Because, after all, what is more diverse than a gram of fertile soil, with its billions of micro-organisms and thousands of species, most of them not yet named?

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Slow Money Francophone was launched last year by Arvind Ashta (Chair of Finance at the Burgundy School of Commerce), Aymeric Jung (Impact investor) and Raphaël Souchier (sustainable local development consultant & author [1]). We also now can count on a nice small team of voluntary young professionals.

After participating in a series of conferences in France, Switzerland and Belgium, and working with several foundations as well as the main social economy networks active in the field of financing food and agriculture, we have established good working relationships with most existing key players and some national media.

Among these individuals and organizations are :

  • Philippe Desbrosses, one of the pioneers of organic farming in France ;
  • Charles Hevre Gruyere, from the Bec-Hellouin permaculture farm and training center, and a friend of Eliot Coleman ;
  • Leo Coutellec / MIRAMAP, an association of ten regional CSA networks ;
  • The Colibris citizens grassroots movement ;
  • SFG/Sustainable Finance Geneva ;
  • Guibert del Marmol, the Lunt foundation (Belgium).

Slow Money Francophone members closed a first investment in January 2014,  a 100,000 euro equity investment in Organic Seed Company in France.  This will help the company to satisfy growing demand from private and professional gardeners, as well as to develop some site diversification on the farm.

New potential investments are being analyzed.  We also are looking for communities interested in partnering in the development of pilot projects that support sustainable local food systems.

 


[1] « Made in Local », Editions Eyrolles, Paris, 9-2013.

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Good Food Revolution
Good Food Revolution: In Milwaukee, Will Allen uses a novel approach to create integrated food systems for local communities. He produces multiple food sources, including fish and produce, by ingeniously mixing a variety of farming practices, ranging from vermiculture to aquaponics. His “Growing Power” model provides a measurable level of food security for his community and has been adopted by food activists around the country. Information artwork by Douglas Gayeton for the Lexicon of Sustainability.

Lexicon of Sustainability

 

 

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Slow Money Wisconsin

Reported by Beth Gehred.

Funded six entrepreneurs over the past 12 months for an approximate investment total of $600,000.

Bill Anderson, of Crème de la Coulée, offering Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses made from raw pastured milk.

Slow Money Wisconsin (SMW) is building a track record as it finds its place in the state’s food and finance ecosystem. Since spring 2013, Slow Money Wisconsin/LION Business and Investor Showcase participants have raised more than $600,000.

“The Showcase was the catalyst for the bulk of the investment I received,” says Bartlett Durand, the entrepreneur behind Black Earth Meats, a USDA-inspected and Animal Welfare Approved processing facility with organic certification from the Iowa Department of Agriculture. “$375,000 can be directly tied to the Showcase, with $75,000 from people I met at the meeting, and $300,000 from those who had me on a watch list and then saw that I was presenting and stepped up their process.” Black Earth Meats provides meat to many restaurants, retailers, and cafeterias in Southern Wisconsin; the investment funds also helped Bartlett open a fresh meat retail outlet in Madison: The Conscious Carnivore, which sells healthfully raised, humanely treated, locally harvested, and helpfully traded beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.

Showcase benefits extended even beyond monetary investment, say Adrian Reif and Matt D’Amour, owners of Yumbutter, a B-Corporation that manufactures nut butters: “[We appreciated] the opportunity to fine-tune our plan, develop a great mentor, and continue building the buzz around our company and world-changing mission.” Since the Showcase and Accelerator, Yumbutter attracted investment to expand its Buy One:Feed One business model, ran a successful crowd-funding campaign, launched a new product line, and is increasing its distribution network to position itself for growth and profitability.

 
Adrian Reif and Matt D’Amour, Yumbutter

• 2013 Showcase presenter Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling increased his capacity to process Wisconsin-grown grains by receiving conventional financing to purchase land for building a warehouse. Williams spoke at the 2014 Showcase, held March 27–28, where attributed his progress to the technical assistance he received through SMW’s partnership with University of Wisconsin–Extension’s Food and Finance Institute.

 
Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling, a processor of locally grown and freshly stone-ground organic wheat, rye, and corn products from southwest Wisconsin

• The 2014 Showcase featured nine businesses—poSaNa organics, Blue Vista Farm (blueberries), Simply Native Foods, Badger Kraut and Pickle, Bryant Family Farm, JRS Country Acres, Underground Food Collective, MobCraft Beer, and Beepods—which are now honing their messages and working with attendees to source the capital needed for the next stage of their businesses.

As results from the Showcases percolate, the Willy Street Co-op Local Vendor Loan Fund—a groundbreaking loan fund partnership to support local food businesses—is close to announcing its first round of investments. Slow Money Wisconsin partnered with the Fund by raising capital and helping to determine how deals would be identified, evaluated, and presented. Along with SMW, the Fund’s key partners are natural food store Willy Street Co-op, a CDFI Fund, Forward Community Investments, and the University of Wisconsin–Extension. In the upcoming months, the Fund will issue $100,000 in loans to qualified Co-op vendors, who will receive technical assistance throughout the life of the loan.

Crème de la Coulée Artisan Cheese is likely to be the Fund’s first recipient. Owner Bill Anderson presented in the 2013 Showcase, wowing the crowd with his first-rate soft cheeses and his passion. Consumers embrace the young cheesemaker’s work, but he needed more working capital to expand his business. The Fund’s managers found Crème de la Coulée a good fit for their mission.

SMW also supported a three-day Food and Finance Accelerator in fall 2013. This technical assistance marathon drew aside the curtain of food finance packaging for entrepreneurs and investors alike, creating a pipeline of businesses that were in better position to apply to present this spring. One attendee, Steve Acheson of Peacefully Organic Produce and CSA, a veteran-led farm, used what he learned at the Accelerator to find conventional start-up financing.

Future SMW goals include mission-led educational and outreach activities to fund operating expenses for the formation of a 501c3. SMW’s first webinar, featuring Marco Vangelisti speaking on “Investing for the World We Want,” will be held April 24 at 7 p.m. Central Time; register by clicking here or visiting the SMW website at slowmoneywisconsin.org.

Slow Money Wisconsin is working to cultivate the ecosystem needed to build a healthful and resilient food system in the state. Investment money alone is important to bring to the table, but not the full solution. An educated and supportive citizenry, engaged conventional lenders, a web of technical assistance providers, including those focusing on financial packaging, which is hard to find anywhere else—plus mentorship and goodwill between local businesses need to be part of the vision. SMW thanks all who understand what it takes and are striving to make it happen.

 

Slow Money Canada

Reported by Rory Holland.

For the first time, Slow Money is gathering north of the border.

 
Vancouver, CA

Vancouver is a food town. It’s packed with great restaurants and surrounded by local, commercial growers of all kinds. Urban market gardens occupy empty lots, rooftops, and high schools all over the city. Backyards boast veggie patches and fruit trees.

Vancouver is also an innovation hub. Dubbed “Silicon Valley North,” it’s home to hundreds of start-ups and brilliant, fresh-idea companies.

With its passion for growing both food and ideas, Vancouver is the perfect place to host an inaugural West Coast Slow Money Gathering, June 5–6, 2014. Farmers, thinkers, innovators, investors, and activists will assemble to exchange ideas, celebrate successes, plan future courses of action—and enjoy a really great party.

Set on Granville Island—in the middle of the city and the site of the biggest local food market—the program includes Keynote addresses by Woody Tasch, founder of Slow Money, and Leslie Christian, an influential leader in social and environmental investing. Other highlights include an expert panel discussion on “farms, food, and finance” and a showcase of ten innovative food enterprises.

For more information or to register, click here.

 

Slow Money Maine

Slow Money Maine (SMM) is on the rise. In the past year, we’ve expanded our network from 650 to 892 people, and we’ve increased funding transactions from $4 million to $8.6 million—and growing! More than 80 people attend our bimonthly gatherings, and our annual daylong event in 2013 attracted a sold-out crowd of 150 people, with many more turned away, for the first time since SMM began in 2010.

Key programs facilitate this growth. We sponsor six community convenings and two investment clubs that provide community education, connection, and engagement. Through networking opportunities, presenter showcases, and updates at our regular gatherings, participants are inspired and eager to learn more about direct support of Maine food system endeavors. This support includes funding, initiating and facilitating community programs, mentoring, and connecting others with opportunities for involvement. Our investment clubs, with about 35 members combined, bring people from many Maine communities together to meet each other, as well as local farmers and producers, in order to make loans from pooled funds.

In 2014, we sponsored a new post-Camden Conference event and will host our first-ever New England regional gathering. Our volunteer coordinator and 10-member Steering Committee continue to lead the network with the skills and missionary zeal responsible for SMM’s rapid growth.


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Slow Money
Click to read the opening letter
The Slow Money Letter July 2013
Woody TaschWoody Tasch Dear Slow Money Friend,
Foodishiary. Wait, read that again, slowly: food ish iary. It took a little nerve to introduce the term at our national gathering, but its reception was very heartening, indeed. There was a bit of laughter, a bit of applause and a lot of good will, as I rattled off the meanings of this companion to that tired old term, fiduciary. We’ve been dealing with the consequences of fiduciary responsibility for a few hundred years now, in its modern incarnation. And if traditional fiduciary responsibility won’t allow us to steer money into small-food enterprises near where we live, well, then, we need a new definition of responsibility that will.  Read letter.
Relocalize

Cows Come Home to $3.9 Million Investment in MOOMilk

By Eleanor Kinney, Slow Money Founding Member

A recent multimillion-dollar investment in MOOMilk, an L3C based in Augusta, Maine, that produces organic milk from dairies around the state, is enough to stabilize a company whose story includes an admittedly rocky start. The inception of MOOMilk was a leap of faith. Born out of crisis in 2009, when 10 organic Maine dairy farms lost their contract with HP Hood, a national milk company, MOOMilk launched as an undercapitalized startup on a shoestring budget. See more.

Slow Money Entrepreneur of the Year Focuses on Food Justice

By Eric Kornacki, Revision International Executive Director

Revision International won the $50,000 Mamma Chia Slow Money Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the fourth Slow Money National Gathering this past April in Boulder, Colo., along with an additional $60,000 that was pledged May 1 during an Earthworm Angel investor meeting. Revision International, also called Revision, is a Denver-based nonprofit that works with low-income communities that often lack the access or the means to buy and eat healthy food. Revision helps people in these communities become self-sufficient and sustainable, using a resident-led approach that creates local talent, resources and wealth.  See more.

Slow Money Minute

Video Embed

Click above to enjoy this month’s Slow Money Minute, brought to you by Mary Berry, the executive director of the Berry Center and daughter of Wendell Berry. Then send us your own Slow Money Minute telling us what “bringing money back down to earth” means to you and how what you do in the world dovetails with the Slow Money principles and vision.

Illustrations by Jere Dean / Urban Octopus

Chapters

California chapters have abundant news after our national gathering.

San Luis Obispo County
Reported by Jeff Wade.
Funded six entrepreneurs over the past 12 months for an investment total of $200,000.  See more.

Slow Money Northern California
Reported by Arno Hesse.
Invested over $300,000 in enterprises that presented at Farm Fests during the last year.  See more.

Slow Money SoCal
Reported by Brent Collins.
Three companies in post- gathering funding discussions; monthly events; website under development.  See more.

Slow Money Index

Number of no-car American households more than a mile from a grocery store: 2.3 million

Percentage of “mom and pop” grocery stores compared with supermarkets in 1950: 50

Percentage today: 17

Number of total months since 2006 that “Food Justice” received more Google searches than “Justice League of America”: 14

See more.

Slow Money Principle #1

© Slow Money, PO Box 2231, Boulder CO 80306

If you would no longer like to receive email updates unsubscribe here.

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Foodishiary. Wait, read that again, slowly: food ish iary.

It took a little nerve to introduce the term at our national gathering, but its reception was very heartening, indeed. There was a bit of laughter, a bit of applause and a lot of good will, as I rattled off the meanings of this companion to that tired old term, fiduciary.

We’ve been dealing with the consequences of fiduciary responsibility for a few hundred years now, in its modern incarnation. And if traditional fiduciary responsibility won’t allow us to steer money into small-food enterprises near where we live, well, then, we need a new definition of responsibility that will.

Taking my cue from Wendell Berry’s contrast of exploiter and nurturer[1], I contrasted fiduciary and foodishiary as follows:

A fiduciary focuses on growing portfolios; a foodishiary focuses on growing food. A fiduciary minimizes risk and maximizes return; a foodishiary minimizes chemical additives and maximizes taste. A fiduciary seeks the straightest, shortest line between buying low and selling high; a foodishiary thinks seasonally, generationally, and embraces the cycles of life. A fiduciary thinks in terms of millions and billions of dollars; a foodishiary thinks in terms of household income and keeping the farm. A fiduciary believes in hockey sticks (financial projections that zoom upward, with no end in sight); a foodishiary believes in pitchforks (triple-tined and poised to enter the earth). A fiduciary knows the direction of his stocks; a foodishiary knows the whereabouts of her flocks. A fiduciary is an expert who strives to increase wealth; a foodishiary is an amateur who strives to improve health. There’s nothing funny about a fiduciary; being a foodishiary may not be all that funny, either, but at least it offers the potential for a little mirth and a warm heart. 

The day after the national gathering, the word “foodishiary” graced the pages of the New York Times.

So, let’s go with it. I’m a foodishiary, or, should I say, an aspiring foodishiary. And I’d say that all of us—more than 30,000 strong at this point—who signed the Slow Money Principles are aspiring foodishiaries. Prizing the diversity of approaches that underpin our abiding interest in the slow, the small and the local, we are not seeking a single investment technique or fund. Rather, we are setting off in pursuit of a shared economic, ecological and cultural vision, prizing diversity in all that we do.

First stop: healthy local food systems. Second stop: healthy local economies. And on, from there.

I’m very pleased to be able to report that under the banner of the dozens of Slow Money chapters and investment clubs across the country, as well as in France and Switzerland (with emergent activity in Australia), more than $30 million has flowed to 220 small-food enterprises since mid-2010. Small organic farms, creameries, grain mills, community markets, regional distribution companies, restaurants that source locally and organically, local slaughterhouses, urban farms, niche organic brands—these and other enterprises that are working to rebuild healthy local food systems and increase the availability of organic food have been recipients of funding in amounts ranging from a few thousand dollars to a few million dollars.

In the world of fiduciaries and institutional finance, these numbers are small and confusing. A single round of investment in a single deal by a single venture-capital fund could be larger than all Slow Money activity to date. On the foundation side, professionally managed private foundations have some $650 billion in assets and annually give away almost $50 billion. As it happens, small-food enterprises fall into a kind of fiduciary no man’s land: too “high risk, low return” for purely financial return driven investors, yet too “for-profit” for foundations, which pursue their missions primarily via grants, rather than via investments.

It is into this gap that we Slow Money foodishiaries have happily moved. This movement is significant and beautiful beyond its numbers because it is driven by just plain regular folks who want to know where our food comes from and where our money goes, recognizing that we live right here, in “fiduciary no man’s land,” aka real communities in real bioregions, where real farms preserve and restore fertility in real soil, producing real food for real people.

What, in this context, does real mean? Is a Twinkie real? Is polysorbate 80 real? To a pension fund beneficiary in Davenport, Iowa, are the industrial farming practices of Modern Dairy Holdings in Maanshan, China, real?[2] Is the Dow Jones industrial average real? What about the Invisible Hand of the marketplace?

Increasingly organized according to the dictates of global finance, through which our money is steered into increasingly abstract, distant, often incomprehensible investment vehicles, today’s fiduciarized[3] world is increasingly concentrated, monocultural and unreal.

Foodishiaries of the world, disperse!

 


[1] See Chapter 1 of “The Unsettling of America.”

[2] Leading private equity firm KKR & Co. has invested $150 million in Modern Dairy Holdings. Modern Dairy Holdings has 20 farms with approximately 10,000 cows each, and the company had $273 million in revenues and $65 million in earnings in 2012. Modern Dairy Holdings was named the fastest-growing enterprise in China in 2010 by China Entrepreneur magazine.

[3] The discerning reader will have noted that there is no such word as “fiduciarized.” At least, not according to Webster’s or my computer’s dictionary program. But if fabric can be sanforized, and nations, tribes, conflicts and zones can be militarized, then surely the financial fabric of today’s globalized, hypersecuritized economy must be describable as fiduciarized. 

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By Eleanor Kinney, Slow Money Founding Member

A recent multimillion-dollar investment in MOOMilk, an L3C based in Augusta, Maine that produces organic milk from dairies around the state, is enough to stabilize a company whose story includes an admittedly rocky start. Slow Money Maine facilitated just over $3 million of the $3.9 million equity round.

The inception of MOOMilk was a leap of faith. Born out of crisis in 2009, when 10 organic Maine dairy farms lost their contract with HP Hood, a national milk company, MOOMilk launched as an undercapitalized startup on a shoestring budget. With little infrastructure of its own, MOO, which stands for Maine’s Own Organic Milk, relied on partnerships with other businesses for processing and distribution. The company was little, with a big vision: to build a brand as an organic Maine milk business, whose milk would taste fresh like the local milk people once knew and come from farms whose names they recognized. Formed as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C), one of MOO’s primary goals was to deliver a fair price to the farmers so that the success of the company would be built on the sustainability of its suppliers.

In the beginning, MOO had more milk than markets. The cows continued to produce every day, regardless of contracts. Early investors were needed to provide the working capital that would allow the company to sell milk, at a loss, while it secured shelf space in grocery stores throughout New England and built its sales volume to profitable levels.

MOO’s launch coincided with the formation of Slow Money Maine, and the company drew on this developing network to raise its first $500,000. Equity investments were sought from accredited investors who could provide a minimum of $25,000 to get MOOMilk off the ground. The company had ambition but no track record. It was entering a crowded field, hoping to differentiate itself with a fresher pasteurized product, rather than an ultra pasteurized taste, with Maine quality, and with its mission to support organic dairy farmers. The exit strategy was unclear; only patient investors with an appetite for risk needed to apply!

Investing in MOOMilk was about saving family farms in areas that really need them. MOO farmers inhabit remote parts of the state, bringing the benefits of working land and jobs to some of the poorest regions of New England. This distance presents challenges, and for MOO to profit, the milk truck needs to be full when it leaves Washington and Aroostook counties and travels about five hours south to the processing facility at Smiling Hill Farm.

Half-full trucks, leaky cartons and too short a shelf life plagued the company in its early days. Early investors were asked to reinvest, and additional investors were brought in as the company sought to improve its processes and survive long enough to make a profit. MOO was like a roller coaster, with a group of tenacious farmers, a committed CEO and dedicated investors hanging on for the ride.

Starting in January 2012, MOO’s prospects showed steady improvement. Sales more than doubled, and the company added supply through the addition of new farms and the expansion of existing ones. In partnership with Whole Foods and Slow Money investors, MOO started a buy-a-cow loan fund to help its farmers expand their herds to meet growing demand. The fund provides loans at 5 percent, with payments directly deducted from the farmers’ milk checks. Cows serve as collateral. The milk truck got fuller, and MOO increased distribution of its products to more than 200 retail stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as organic cheese, yogurt and ice cream producers in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.

With no advertising budget, MOO relied on word of mouth and the growing commitment to local food and organic milk. The debut of “Betting the Farm,” a Maine-made documentary film that profiled three MOO farms during the company’s turbulent first two years, boosted sales in the state by 20 percent. The movie brought to life the faces on the carton and portrayed the sheer grit needed to be a dairy farmer. There was light at the end of the tunnel, but MOO was still losing money. The company needed a new infusion of investment to pay its bills and a marketing campaign that would finally grow sales to a profitable level.

This past winter, a member of the Slow Money Maine network introduced MOOMilk to Norman Cloutier, founder and former CEO and chairman of United Natural Foods. Cloutier took a keen interest in MOO and became the primary investor in a $3.9 million equity round that recently closed. Cloutier brings both capital and experience to the table. He, along with representatives of the two other major investors, joined three farmers and MOOMilk CEO Bill Eldridge on a newly reorganized board of directors. With several years of working capital in hand and the funds to market itself, MOO can now operate from a stable platform. It is redesigning its carton, diversifying its milk products and looking to enter new markets, particularly in southern New England.

Brighter prospects for the company mean greater security for its farmers, made possible by investors wanting to put their money in local, sustainable agriculture. As Maine and other regions around the country seek to rebuild their local food systems, companies like MOOMilk that bring the value back to the farmers and put good food on the table are a big piece of the puzzle. These companies need all the capital and faith that Slow Money investors can provide.

______

Author bio: Eleanor Kinney is a founding member of Slow Money, a member of the Slow Money Maine steering committee, a co-founder of No Small Potatoes Investment Club and an early investor in MOOMilk, as well as several other local food businesses.

 

 

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By Eric Kornacki, Revision International Executive Director

Revision International won the $50,000 Mamma Chia Slow Money Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the fourth Slow Money National Gathering this past April in Boulder, Colo.,  along with an additional $60,000 that was pledged May 1 during an Earthworm Angel investor meeting. Revision International, also called Revision, is a Denver-based nonprofit that works with low-income communities that often lack the access or the means to buy and eat healthy food. Revision helps people in these communities become self-sufficient and sustainable, using a resident-led approach that creates local talent, resources and wealth.

Over the past five years, Revision has helped more than 240 low-income families in southwest Denver to grow food in their yards by providing needed resources and technical assistance. This woven network of people and resources has established a community food system that is laying the foundation for future economic development.

 
David and Irma Gonzalez, shown in their front garden with their two sons, are part of Revision’s program to help low-income families increase access to healthy food by growing in their own yard.

Revision is also re-teaching 45 Somali Bantu refugee families how to grow food on a 1.5-acre farm in southwest Denver’s high desert environment. The Bantu, a religious and ethnic minority in Somalia, fled violent persecution in 1991. They spent 15 years in Kenyan refugee camps, unable to return to their country. In 2006, various agencies helped relocate this group to Denver.

While life in America offers many new opportunities for the Bantu, it also presents some significant challenges. The Bantu are traditional subsistence farmers; much of their culture is rooted in a deep connection to the earth and an ability to grow their own food. One of the most acute difficulties for the Bantu in the U.S. has been a lack of access to farmland. “When we dreamed of America, we thought that there would be land everywhere for farming,” says Omar, a Somali Bantu elder. “This is not the reality.”

Revision, with the backing of Slow Money, has helped the Bantu farm again, turning a vacant property into a thriving food source. For the first time in over two decades, the Bantu now are planting inner-city seeds that reconnect them to the ways of their ancestors, while cultivating a better future for their children.

The money from the Mamma Chia Entrepreneur of the Year Award is supporting these programs by helping Revision to form a cooperative that will aggregate, process, market and sell the surplus produce from these inner-city farms.

 
Members of the Somali Bantu community and promotoras from the Westwood neighborhood in 2012 on the future site of the Ubuntu Urban Farm.

Our total fundraising request during the National Gathering was $110,000. The day after Revision was awarded the $50,000 entrepreneur prize from Slow Money and the organic chia seed beverage company Mamma Chia, several investors from the group Earthworm Angels pledged an additional $60,000 to help Revision meet its total goal.

Shortly after the Slow Money gathering, Revision received notice that it had won a $300,000 grant through the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grant program. The grant money will help the cooperative build out a food hub and commercial kitchen facility and begin a feasibility study for a community-owned grocery store.

Members of the Somali Bantu community take a moment from planting seeds for their first crop in the U.S. to pose with Revision co-founders Joseph Teipel (far left) and Eric Kornacki (far right).

Collectively, the co-op will grow over 55,000 pounds of organic food this year, and hopes to double production by 2015. Through the cooperative model, each family becomes a member-owner of the business, so not only will they get paid for what they sell through the co-op, but they also will receive a share of the profits and govern the organization through a democratic process, in which each member gets one vote. Although it won’t be incorporated until the end of August, the co-op already has sold 44 CSA shares and is looking to begin building an educational kitchen and food storage facility.

 
Revision promotora Patricia Grado setting up Revision’s farm stand in southwest Denver. All of the food is grown by community members and priced on a sliding scale to help reach low-income families.

Revision creates self-sufficient communities by focusing on three main strategies:

1. Establish Community Food Systems: increasing neighborhood food production through backyard gardens and urban farms, and food distribution models that increase access and affordability to healthy food for all residents.

2. Resident Empowerment: empowering residents to become active in their community through leadership development and a train-the-trainer approach, and employing residents as community health workers, called promotoras.

3. Economic Development: growing a local food economy that creates good jobs that offer reasonable pay, increases economic opportunity for neighborhood enterprises and builds community wealth through cooperative business models.

We are so grateful to Slow Money, Mamma Chia and other investors for their generosity. We were humbled by their outpouring of support. Among the many other worthy entrepreneurs, ours was the only group to address food justice issues, so we view this award as a testimony to the values of Slow Money and the widespread belief that everyone deserves access to affordable healthy food.

With this funding, Revision will empower more than 250 families in low-income communities in Denver to become owners of a cooperative that produces healthy food and good, decent-paying jobs. We believe this will become the model for revolutionizing food deserts to become healthy, self-sufficient and thriving communities.

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Author bio: Eric Kornacki, the executive director of Revision International, focuses on issues of social justice, particularly at the intersection of economics, environment, health and food. Eric was selected as a fellow at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union in 2011–2012 for its Agriculture Fellowship Program, is a graduate of the National Farmers Union Beginning Farmer Institute, and serves as president of the Denver/Jefferson chapter of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Eric was appointed to the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council in 2010 by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to develop policy recommendations to create a healthier and stronger local food system. In his spare time, Eric brews beer with his brother, and is slowly remodeling a 100-year-old house.

 

 

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