Josh Bellamy, Fulton Forde, and Sam Kirkpatrick

Boulted Bread

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more about the Journal »

When Sam Kirkpatrick and Fulton Forde got together to open their bakery, Boulted Bread, in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, they had an ambitious goal. They wanted to use fresh-milled, locally sourced grain and improve the design of currently available commercial stone mills. Fulton had traveled in Europe and North America learning from bakers who use heirloom grains and researching various age-old mill designs, and creating a plan for a new type of stone mill using locally quarried, natural granite and American-made motors and parts.

The current consumer market, Sam and Fulton believed, was “shifting away from inexpensive conventional practices and beginning to value high quality and process.” Their business would honor this shift toward intentional consumerism and serve the growing number of people interested in sustainably produced food in the greater Triangle area of North Carolina. Their customers would experience “the inherent value, sublime flavors, and simple elegance of bread as craft.”

A Slow Money lender provided $3,000 to cover the construction of a custom stone mill that was more effective, more attractive, and less expensive by thousands of dollars than the few other commercial mills available. Another Slow Money loan for $10,000 covered build-out costs, and Boulted Bread opened for business in August 2014. Sam and Fulton added another partner to the team, Josh Bellamy, who brought along excellent baking experience and a shared philosophy.

Carol Peppe Hewitt and Fulton Forde

Slow Money NC cofounder Carol Peppe Hewitt and Fulton Forde

The bakery supports numerous local farmers by purchasing heirloom varieties of Southern grain that might be otherwise unavailable or lost, as well as vegetables, eggs, milk, and cheese for their breads and pastries. And they have hundreds of happy consumers. “Bread respects and pays tribute to all the players—farmer, miller, baker, and consumer,” Fulton explains. “Many of our customers are avid home cooks,” Sam told me, “and our moist, naturally leavened, seeded levain is something they can’t find anywhere else.”

Their business has been so successful that they paid off the smaller Slow Money loan two years early. “Our lenders were thrilled for the opportunity to help us get started and proud of us for paying it all back so soon,” said Sam. “We are enormously grateful.”

“My next project,” Fulton shares, “is building stone mills for sale to the public. I first wanted to build a mill when I worked at Farm & Sparrow in Candler, North Carolina. We used a German-made mill that allowed us to use a wide variety of locally sourced grains, but it had many shortcomings. There is an American mill-building company, but their mills also often leave people disappointed and dissatisfied.”

So, he investigated possible design improvements that could make the mill both much more effective and user friendly. He traveled around North America to research mills new and old, and slowly his ideal mill design emerged.

“I built a 26-inch stone mill for a small grain farm in California, another for Boulted Bread, and a third for Farm & Sparrow, to replace the German mill on which I first learned about milling,” Fulton explained. “There is a nascent local-grain movement seeking to extricate grain from the industrial model and in desperate need of high-quality American-made mills. I had orders from four bakers and two mill/grain projects. I began construction on the first three mills ordered. We needed $12,000 to help finance these orders. We planned to pay the money back in 18 months or less.”

Two Slow Money NC lenders who are frequent customers at Boulted Bread made loans of $9,000 and $3,000, and New American Stone Mills is on its way.

Fulton's Stone Mill

Fulton’s stone mill

Fulton is now collaborating with Andrew Heyn, owner of Elmore Mountain Bread in Vermont, to offer a larger, 40-inch stone mill for use in medium-production bakeries or specialty gristmills.

Farmers are planting more heirloom grain varieties, local milling is growing, and for us eaters, the bread and pastries just keep getting better— for the planet and for us.

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Central Grazing Company

Central Grazing Company

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more about the Journal »

I have been a sheep farmer for 15 years. It is my life calling. Quite an unexpected path for me, since I didn’t grow up in farming and my knowledge of sheep was very limited. I was, at one time, one of those people who didn’t know the difference between sheep and goats—and yeah, I can admit that now.

My career in sheep farming began with my former business partner. She had a dream to open a sheep dairy and creamery, and she wanted my help. Neither of us had any background in farming, so it took us a very long time to learn how to wear all the hats small-scale dairy farmers wear: businesswomen, grass farmers, mechanics, electricians, animal-welfare experts, and more. Together, we put in the years and created one of the best-known sheep dairies and creameries in the Midwest. We started selling our cheeses and yogurts at farmers’ markets and, finally, through national distribution.

By 2014, we had expanded our operation through collaboration with other small family farmers. We shared experience with and purchased sheep milk from these farmers. We built a great new revenue stream for our farmers and ourselves. However, we didn’t anticipate the problem this expansion would create—the fact that with the increase of milk came an increase in lambs. We grew from one sheep dairy to 10, and all of our lambs were sold directly to the livestock auction. They likely became feeder lambs and spent the rest of their lives in confinement, being fattened on GMO grains. This problem weighed heavily on me and fueled my desire to seek an alternative market for these lambs.

In 2014, I went to the Slow Money National Gathering in Kentucky. I was very curious about Slow Money. I had a lot of reservations, but I went with an open mind and what I experienced affected me profoundly.

It was at the Slow Money national gathering that the seeds for Central Grazing Company were planted. I was proud of the work my business partner and I created. However, when I returned home from the conference, I started to piece together my exit from the dairy business. My business partner was very supportive in my desire to start Central Grazing Company—something I will always be grateful for. I contacted Nancy Thellman, the founder of Slow Money Northeast Kansas, and applied to be an entrepreneur for their first-ever Entrepreneur Showcase. At the showcase, I made my pitch for the company to a room full of potential investors.

Central Grazing Company’s mission is to provide consumers with Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) raised lamb, while providing the farmers a value back for raising their animals with high animal-welfare and environmental standards. We encourage these high standards by sharing profits with our farmers. Central Grazing Company purchases lambs directly from farmers at a very fair commodity rate. At the end of the year, we share 50 percent of all net profits with our farmers. My family farm is one of seven farms currently providing Animal Welfare Approved lambs to Central Grazing Company.

My partner, ReGina, and I (along with our two small sons) rotationally graze our sheep just northeast of the Flint Hills in Kansas. We purchased this land when we decided to start Central Grazing Company. Much of the surrounding prairieland had been converted to crop or hay fields. We chose to purchase hay land instead of cropland, because we needed to start rotationally grazing immediately. Our soils are very poor and will need a lot of work to restore them, but I know that holistically grazing livestock is one of the best practices for prairie restoration. One year into grazing, I can already see some signs of our soils coming back to life.

Central Grazing Company

My pitch at the Slow Money Northeast Kansas event went very well. A few days after the showcase, one investor loaned me $5,000. This money was used to get Central Grazing Company on its feet. We purchased labels and marketing material for our lamb with this money. In 2015, our first year in operation, we processed 105 lambs from two sheep dairies in Missouri. We placed our lamb in natural grocery stores in five states. Demand grew. I went back to our local Slow Money network looking for more funding to help us meet this new demand. We received $10,000 from two local investors and $30,000 from Cienega Capital, a California-based Slow Money lender. We have used this money to increase our supply of lamb inventory by purchasing 500 lambs directly from our producers and paying for processing of the lambs. With this increase in lamb inventory, we will expand our market into 15 states.

Slow Money allowed me a new perspective on how our individual financial decisions influence our local economy, our sustainable food systems, and our relationships in our community. As a farmer, I was impressed that people actually wanted to invest in companies like mine and I’ve been pleased that we can provide new opportunities for investors. Slow Money hasn’t just been a tool I used to fund my business. It has provided me with a community—a community that has helped me to create an alternative market for farmers, allowing our animals to live and behave naturally, while also preserving our precious grasslands.

After launching Central Grazing Company, I joined my local Slow Money network as a planning-committee volunteer. Through Slow Money I have developed relationships with neighbors, investors, mentors, and new friends, all of whom share the same values with regard to money and sustainable agriculture. The relationships formed around Slow Money principles elevate our entire community by supporting a sustainable approach to investing in the land we farm. It has been gratifying and exciting to be a small part of this movement.

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It’s important to reduce dysfunction in our national, political and financial systems, but it’s just as important—maybe even more important—to invest in the future we all want to see in our communities. A healthy local food system is the place to start. For every $1 donated to Slow Money, $11 flows to local and organic food enterprises through our network. Our work is supported entirely by donors like you who recognize that our small nonprofit team is facilitating systemic change.

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Separating the Tweet from the Chaff

There are tweets and there is chaff and the two need to be separated. Isn’t this clearer than the hair on you know who’s head? We’ve got too many tweets and way too much chaff these days and far too little separating of the two going on.

On the Sunday morning news shows this week, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he didn’t keep up with the latest tweet, the anchor responded earnestly, “You’d better start reading every one of Donald Trump’s tweets!”

Then, a panelist noted that we’ve spent more time following tweets than we have covering the tragedy in Syria.

And then a guest, a media professor, finally went where none of the other pundits had been quite willing to go. She asked whether it is really necessary for the media to cover each and every one of the President-elect’s tweets.

How deeply concerned we should all be, as citizens, that this is even a question for our media professionals, faced as we all have been with so much social media that has been designed to provoke, distract or confuse. It has been as if, to media professionals, this is Axiom One: “Every tweet is news.” And this is Axiom Two: “Lots of tweets makes lots of news.”

We have become so busy chasing the latest shiny object, the latest electronic utterance, no matter how deliberately provocative, that we—we the people, we the public who wants to be informed, we the media whose business is … whose business is … Wait a minute … What is the media’s business? Tweet chasing?

This cannot be, because if the major media outlets put every tweet on television, then the distinction between possible news, fake news and real news becomes impossibly blurred.

By reacting to every single bit of babble, the media becomes part of the babble. By reacting to each and every tweet, no matter how powerful the tweeter, a media outlet loses its vitality as a value-added source of information—with the emphasis on inform.

There is wheat and there is chaff and the baking of a loaf worth breaking depends on their being separated.

I look forward to breaking bread with the television journalist who has the courage to announce publicly: I am not going to give air time to every tweet. I am going to do what I can to provide the public with the results of investigation, research and analysis; to encourage informed, long-term thinking; and, to diminish, not add to, the babble of the moment. (Ratings, shmatings. And who knows, they might just go up … Now, pass the bread!)

Christian La Bar and Harper Kaufman

Two Roots Farm

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more about the Journal

Christian and I fell in love with farming not too long after falling in love with each other. Before graduating from the University of Montana, we had our first farming experiences at PEAS farm, the university farm near campus. It was there that we began to grasp the serious consequences posed by our current food system, but more importantly, we learned how it can be completely reversed through sustainable agricultural practices.

Propelled by enthusiasm to change the world one small farm at a time, we set out to California for a full-season internship.

What we didn’t know then was just how many giant hurdles were in the way for not just our country to reverse its habits, but for each individual who sets out to farm sustainable products. We knew that we wanted to own and operate our own farm, but the road was not clear. How would we find the land? The money? The tools?

We decided the first thing we needed was experience and knowledge. We read every book about sustainable agriculture and small-scale farming that we could get our hands on. We enrolled ourselves in an online course for beginning farmers and completed a local course on farming business. After our internship, we spent two years as the agriculture managers at Rock Bottom Ranch with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where we gained invaluable experience growing in this mountain climate.

Four (farm-filled) years later, we have now started our own farming business, Two Roots Farm, aimed to fill a simple mission: to provide sustainably produced, freshly harvested, nutrient-dense vegetables to the Roaring Fork Valley community. We are leasing land from friends in Missouri Heights and selling our produce to restaurants, the Aspen Saturday Market, and through a CSA program. We received a loan from Slow Money for $7,500 to help us purchase the materials for a mobile walk-in cooler, drip-irrigation system, and a season-extension structure. By the time June came around, we were hitting our stride. We felt good about the tools we had, the crops we were growing, and the direction our business was headed.

Two Roots Farm

Recently we hit a pivotal moment for our first year. Crop loss is inevitable; no matter how wonderful a grower you are or how carefully you prepare, there is simply nothing that prepares you for flood, fire, tornado, earthquake, or drought. For us it was hail—chunky, powerful, unexpected hail—on an otherwise summer-like July third day.

We came home to it, confused to see white piles spread around the property. Did it snow? We walked into the garden. It was a traumatic sight: kale leaves ripped into fragments or torn off the plant entirely, heads of lettuce that looked like they had been put into a paper shredder, cucumber plants reduced to bare twigs.

It became evident right away that our community cared and supported us—a farming friend donated produce for our CSA, chefs agreed to buy “hail kale,” and many friends offered a hand.

It has been two weeks now, and I am reminded of the resilience of plants. Many of the longer-season crops are valiantly bouncing back to life; regrowth continues and has popped up everywhere. We replanted a great portion of the garden in preparation for fall.

Greenhouse

Christian and I were able to respond with a level head and a sense of calm because we knew that we had lenders who cared and understood. Our loan from Slow Money allowed us to absorb this shock because we had the tools we needed to get back on track.

All entrepreneurs will hit hurdles like this, so you must be the kind of person who can pick yourself back up. However, when you choose a business as risky as farming, you also need to be able to ask for help. We feel lucky to have found a place where people are willing and able to offer it.

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It’s important to reduce dysfunction in our national, political and financial systems, but it’s just as important—maybe even more important—to invest in the future we all want to see in our communities. A healthy local food system is the place to start. For every $1 donated to Slow Money, $11 flows to local and organic food enterprises through our network. Our work is supported entirely by donors like you who recognize that our small nonprofit team is facilitating systemic change.

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Grow a Farmer Fund: Nearly $100,000 Raised for Low-interest Loans to Farmers

My grandparents were berry farmers in western Pennsylvania. Visiting their farm was a highlight of my childhood and part of the reason I do the work I do. I want a future for my kids (and their kids—and everyone’s kids) that includes shelling and eating peas, husking and roasting fresh corn, and picking plump berries. I want there to be family farms and farms that people can visit with their children. I love good, fresh food. I also love the cultural richness tied to food—like making fresh strawberry pies with my Aunt Ruth or stuffed zucchini with my Greek YiaYia.

In Minnesota, those of us working with farmers have seen the challenges and risks faced by those growing fruits and vegetables, raising grass-fed livestock, and producing honey, maple syrup, and other “specialty crops.” These farmers often have difficulty accessing traditional sources of capital. We know young farm families and new immigrant farm families are raring to grow healthy local food, but they need access to smart financing in order to grow their businesses.

It is these issues, and a desire to give good food citizens a way to invest in the kind of farms they want to see more of that led us to form the Slow Money Minnesota network and link up with the FEAST Local Foods Network to launch the Grow a Farmer Fund.

"To keep up with the demand for my farmstead goat cheese, I need to build a bigger aging cave. A low-interest Grow a Farmer Fund loan would be a huge help!" —Katie Wiste, Capra Nera Creamery

“To keep up with the demand for my farmstead goat cheese, I need to build a bigger aging cave. A low-interest Grow a Farmer Fund loan would be a huge help!” —Katie Wiste, Capra Nera Creamery

The Grow a Farmer Fund is a pilot project launched in May 2016 that involves raising $100,000 from community members, establishing policies and procedures for the fund, taking applications from small-scale sustainable farmers, and providing low-interest loans and technical assistance that will help farmers improve their operations and increase their bottom lines.

Initially, the plan seemed reasonable. But in reality, raising $100,000 was a challenge for a group of folks more experienced at writing grants than getting individuals to make donations. Nevertheless, we pooled our experience and put together a plan that has been successful!

Highlights to date include:

  • An initial contribution from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation of $25,000 to seed the fund.
  • Launching and introducing the fund at our second annual Slow Money Minnesota event, where we invited people to contribute to the fund at the $500 level. We raised over $6,000 from ten people!
  • The wonderful St. Paul food co-op, Mississippi Market, selected Grow a Farmer as their Positive Change recipient for the month of August. By asking customers to round up, they raised nearly $10,000 for the fund.

In September, we launched a Barnraiser campaign to raise the next $25,000. Barnraiser is very similar to Kickstarter, but supports projects that align with these values: …Food should be good for you. …Products should respect the environment …People make things special. …Every bite counts to change how we eat & live.

People told us that this sort of campaign was a lot of work—and it was. It took a team of us stepping outside of our comfort zones and asking our families, friends, colleagues, and networks to contribute to the fund. Before the campaign kicked off, we got some great news: An anonymous family foundation offered to match all donations during the first 10 days up to $10,000. Then, to draw much-needed attention to the campaign, a group of chefs, farmers, city officials, and nonprofit staff participated in a Mud Bucket Challenge.

The Mud Bucket Challenge

The Mud Bucket Challenge

We reached our goal a few hours before the deadline, which was crucial because this was an all or nothing campaign. Post-Barnraiser campaign, we were completely astounded to find out another family foundation stepped forward and doubled our Barnraiser achievement with a $25,000 donation through the Minneapolis Foundation Anonymous Grants Fund.

Then, in October, over 50 people came to a fundraising house party in Minneapolis and, in addition to meeting local farmers, eating delicious farm-fresh food, and sipping local craft brews and wines, they pitched in another $5,000 for the fund.

As of November 28, we have raised $96,900 and are working to secure the final $3,100 so we can open the fund to farmers by the end of this year.

We’re still working out some of the particulars, but we have settled on the following: The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a well-respected community foundation that serves the twenty counties of southeast and south-central Minnesota, will manage the fund, with input from Slow Money Minnesota and the FEAST Local Foods Network. The first loans will be in SMIF’s region and will be up to $15,000. Interest rates will be low, repayment terms will be determined on a case-by-case basis, and the process will be straight-forward and transparent.

"Fruit and nut trees are a long-term investment in farm resilience. A low-interest loan from the Grow a Farmer Fund would make that investment possible." —Nick and Kathy Zeman, Simple Harvest Farm

“Fruit and nut trees are a long-term investment in farm resilience. A low-interest loan from the Grow a Farmer Fund would make that investment possible.” —Nick and Kathy Zeman, Simple Harvest Farm

The Grow a Farmer Fund will allow us to support small farmers right away, while also helping us better understand the needs and challenges both to farmers and in managing this type of fund. It will serve as a “proof of concept” for broader Slow Money Minnesota initiatives, and we believe this donation-based fund will create more pathways for good food citizens to support the kinds of farms and food businesses that we all want to see flourish.

Decelerator attendees

A Photo Recap Of Our First Decelerator

Slow Money Friends,

It is our pleasure to share with you a few photos from our first Decelerator at Lone Hawk Farm. These photos capture a beautiful day of sharing and learning and vital public conversation about how we can all work together to slow our money down. Many thanks to everyone who invested their time and energy with us at this event.

—The Slow Money Team

Photo credits: Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

Woody Tasch

Woody Tasch delivering opening remarks.

Elizabeth Candelario

Elizabeth Candelario, Managing Director of Demeter USA, speaking about biodynamics.

Carol Peppe Hewitt

Slow Money North Carolina Co-founder Carol Peppe Hewitt shares the peer-to-peer loans she has catalyzed.

Slow Money Kitchen Cabinet members

Slow Money Kitchen Cabinet members Tom Spier, Amy Divine and Tatiana Maxwell at Thursday evening’s Earthworm Angels meeting at which Wonder Press, Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe and Mad Agriculture made investor presentations.

Marco Vangelisti

Marco Vangelisti, Co-leader of Slow Money Northern California and former institutional equities manager, shares his investment philosophy.

Nancy Thellman

Nancy Thellman, County Commissioner from Douglas County, KS, offers perspectives on Slow Money activities in eastern Kansas.

Tom Abood

Tom Abood, Founder of Local Matters Investments, the Slow Money investment club in Denver, describes the structure and function of for-profit investment clubs.

Eden Vardy

Eden Vardy, Manager of 2Forks Club of Carbondale, the first Slow Money investment club organized as a nonprofit.

Brook LeVan

Brook LeVan, Founding Member of Slow Money and Co-director of Sustainable Settings (Carbondale), a 244-acre biodynamic farm, CSA and learning center.

Afternoon small group discussions

Afternoon small group discussions, featuring small food enterprises in the Front Range.

Bob Helmuth

Bob Helmuth, Senior Vice President of Stakeholder Relations at Pax World, speaking with Brian Coppom, Executive Director of Boulder County Farmers’ Markets.

Slow Money Journal

Attendees received the new Winter 2016 issue of the Slow Money Journal.

Michael Brownlee

Michael Brownlee discusses his new book, The Local Food Revolution, with Susan Graf of New Resource Bank.

Woody Tasch

Woody Tasch introduces the new nonprofit investment club SOIL (Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally).

Quaker-style meeting

Prior to dinner, a Quaker-style meeting offered attendees moments of reflection and shared learning.

The day wrapped up with a celebratory farm-to-table dinner and music.

The day wrapped up with a celebratory farm-to-table dinner and music.

Farm-to-table dinner

Don Shaffer

A Conversation with RSF Social Finance CEO Don Shaffer

Don has served as President & CEO of RSF Social Finance since 2007. He has been a social entrepreneur for many years, growing an education business, a software company, and a sporting goods manufacturer, in addition to the nonprofit Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Don and the team at RSF are constantly asking the question, “How can we model financial transactions that are direct, transparent, personal, and based on long-term relationships?” Under Don’s leadership, RSF’s total assets have grown to over $160 million.

Woody Tasch: If I told you that I think of you as the least fiduciary fiduciary I know, would you consider this a compliment or an insult?

Shaffer: I like that designation. For one thing, at RSF we don’t have any institutional investors. All investors and donors are individuals or families. We know each of them quite well. That makes an extraordinary difference in terms of how we show up. We know their intentions, and so we can represent them well. We’re in actual relationship with them. We give agency to their desire to question assumptions, to put money to work as directly as possible. We try to be a thin layer of intermediation that helps people deeply align their money with their core values. We are not conventional investment advisors who have all sorts of institutional constraints and who are typically not interested in questioning the core assumptions of modern portfolio theory.

The core assumptions of modern portfolio theory?

Actually, I sometimes avoid the phrase “modern portfolio theory.” Financial jargon is part of the problem. People get buried in a blizzard of financial terms that obfuscates—makes opaque—what is going on, furthers the paradigm of, “We’ll just take care of you. Here are the reports—full of jargon and charts and analytics that are virtually meaningless to you.”

You’re making me think of a recent impact investing report from a major investment bank. It covers billions of dollars of impact investing, has all manner of survey data from institutional investors about their social and environmental concerns, about the allocation of capital and return objectives and metrics, but does not mention a single individual transaction. It is all about large, aggregated pools of capital, sliced and diced analytically in various ways. But you can’t tell where the money is going in terms of specific investments.

That’s why at RSF we do not think of trying to be a leader in the impact-investment industry. The impact-investing industry is mimicking the structure and presentation of institutional finance—the culture of Wall Street. So, what we do, to counter this, is to bring investors and social enterprises as close together as possible. When this is accomplished, investors and entrepreneurs can experience a visceral sense of how we are all connected. When you experience where your money is going and, as an entrepreneur, where your money is coming from, we find that, pretty much every time, it nurtures a spirit of generosity.

That reminds me of the words of a woman from Ashland, Oregon who said, a few years ago, after a half-day public Slow Money discussion, “The innate value of this kind of investing is so obvious to me that I don’t care how much money I make.” Innate value—a truly beautiful way of expressing it, since the word innate has connotations of the natural and the intuitive. This is a way of getting at the visceral sense of connection that you are talking about. It happens when people are in direct relationship to one another and to the places and the soil where they live. And, being the devotee of Wendell Berry that I know you to be, this is where we should throw in the word affection.

Yes, affection. There isn’t much of it when the workout team of a bank gets down to business, getting whatever financial value they can out of a troubled loan. RSF doesn’t have a workout team. We have a work-through team. We can be more patient, more flexible, and can work toward an effective resolution in situations where commercial banks just cannot. Is this generosity? Or affection? Is it simply a matter of working at a smaller, more-human scale? These are all great ways to think about what we are doing.

Common Market

A mission-driven distributor of local foods to the Mid-Atlantic region, Common Market has grown rapidly through integrated capital financing from RSF. Featured are cofounders Haile Johnston and Tatiana Garcia-Granados.

We’re finding the same to be true in the Slow Money investment club in Boulder. There is strong consensus among our few dozen members that, although we don’t use the words “affection” or “generosity,” we are using that spirit to evaluate our success. Success for this group is not a particular rate of financial return. It is the enhanced impact on the local food system of the small food enterprises to whom we have made loans. This is our primary concern. I’ve started using the term “return agnostic” to describe this mentality. As we become more grounded in terms of our shared mission, and as relationships strengthen, we become more agnostic about the arithmetic.

If you want to talk about arithmetic, let’s talk about LIBOR—the London Interbank Offered Rate. Trillions of dollars a day globally are pegged to LIBOR, a rate which has been shown many times to be rigged for the benefit of the big banks. At RSF, we don’t use LIBOR. LIBOR is part of the black box of the banking system. No one knows where the money in a big bank goes. It could go to hedge funds. It could go toward community investments. You don’t really know.

So, we use Community Pricing Meetings as part of an entirely different approach. We bring together the investors in our $100-million loan fund, the entrepreneurs who are our borrowers, and RSF staff, and we talk about each others’ needs. Some investors focus on reducing risk. Some want only a little bit of financial return. Some care only about the depth and potency of social and environmental impact and want to support the modeling being done by social enterprises. You’d think the entrepreneurs would care about nothing more than paying as little as possible. Yet at every meeting, some of the investors are inspired to say to some of the entrepreneurs, “I’d be willing to take less, if it will help you be more successful.” Then some of the entrepreneurs say, “We’d be willing to pay a little more if it will enable you to help other entrepreneurs.” This experience of interdependence changes the arithmetic.

Perla Ni, who used to be editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, named that tune in three words: “Numbers suppress empathy.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. If you are so busy doing the numbers, you don’t have time for empathy. I’m constantly surprised by how often I get asked, “Am I allowed to have a portion of my assets invested in deep social and environmental assets and either just get my money back or have a small financial return?” It’s fascinating that so many people ask if this is “allowed.” And the frequency of this question, whether from folks of significant means or not, is increasing dramatically—it’s ten times what it was five years ago.

We’re all trying to get permission from the “Big Fiduciary in the Sky.”

This is why I like your mantra about “bringing our money back down to earth.” It’s about giving ourselves permission. Investing in food and farming brings a lot of this to the forefront.

Can you share an example of one of your recent investments in food?

A recent example is a multipronged loan/investment/grant to Veritable Vegetable, the oldest local organic distributor in northern California. They ran out of warehouse space and needed a new building, but San Francisco real estate is extremely challenging. We split the mortgage loan on the new building with New Resource Bank—a $3.2 million loan, split 50/50. Then we financed leaseholder improvements for them with $800,000 of subordinated debt, half of which came from a philanthropic fund at RSF and half from five RSF investors who participated alongside the fund.

On top of that, they got a grant from the USDA, but needed a lead gift to catalyze this. RSF put in $30,000; then USDA came in with an $100,000 grant. So, that’s an example of what we are doing in the food sector. We’re taking an integrated capital approach, working to break down the compartmentalization of transactions.

The Veritable Vegetable team

The Veritable Vegetable team

Say more about what you mean by “integrated capital.”

Integrated capital is the coordinated use of different kinds of financial capital and nonfinancial resources to support an enterprise that’s working to solve complex social and environmental problems. We’re talking about direct investments, loans, grants, etc. What we find constantly is that this is very nuanced work—to figure out how to provide the right combination of funding at the right time. Often the entrepreneurs need quite a bit of counsel. It’s a deep listening process.
So we’re launching an Integrated Capital Academy in the fall of 2017 to train the next generation of integrated capital specialists. Basically, there is a big need right now for hundreds of finance professionals who have what I call “the whole enchilada”: technical knowledge of direct investing/lending/giving, a fundamental disposition for listening, a spirit of service, and the impulse to go beyond “impact” transactions to relationships.

Kate Danaher, who is our lead manager for integrated-capital deployment in food and agriculture, has it. Esther Park, who led our lending team for years, has it. Esther is CEO of Cienega Capital now, one of the most innovative family offices in our field. We want to create a peer-learning experience for about 20 people initially. I can’t wait to see how it goes!

It’s interesting that you are introducing a new curriculum and calling it integrated capital, because Slow Money is introducing something new as well. We’re calling ours a Decelerator. You know: venture capital has accelerators and pitch fests; nurture capital needs decelerators and harvest fests. We’ve done all kinds of meetings around the country and the Decelerator is a next iteration. We’re hosting our first one in October in Colorado. The challenge in all of this is balancing the need to develop a new kind of financial intermediation—I did say you were the least fiduciary fiduciary I know, didn’t I?—that gets more money flowing from the wealthy and also empowers and engages small investors. I love the prospect of many more Esther’s working with many more Cienega Capitals. And I love the idea of hundreds of thousands of small investors and crowd- funders connecting to do lots of small investments through a network of CSA-like local investment initiatives.

Sounds like a plan.

Our Table Cooperative's vegetable crew

Changing the Culture and Changing Ourselves

Narendra Varma

Born and raised in India, Narendra Varma came to the United States in 1986 to attend Brown University. In 2010, after quitting his day job at Microsoft, Narendra and his wife Machelle purchased a 58-acre farm just outside Portland, Oregon to launch Our Table Cooperative.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Slow Money Journal.

In the late 1990s, after eight years working at Microsoft, my wife and I found ourselves on the receiving end of a financial windfall that freed us of the burden of nine-to-five jobs. Over time, our interests coalesced around the twin themes of food and community. We came to the realization that our contemporary food system has failed us at almost every level and that we need to work together with our community to imagine a new culture
 of food that is both abundant and resilient. Inspired by the burgeoning Slow Money movement, we decided to dedicate our time, knowledge, and financial resources to this effort.

We started with values: the health and well-being of people and the land, interdependent relationships, strong communities, and a worldview that sees humans as an integral and important part of the natural world. We wanted all the people involved in growing, raising, processing, distributing, cooking, and eating food to have an equal voice and ownership of their food: a model community-owned food system in which the farm feeds the community and the community feeds the farm. Since economic and ecological sustainability were both critical, a for-profit structure was important.

Our answer is Our Table—a cooperative business with three distinct but interdependent membership groups or classes—workers, regional producers, and consumers. Workers, from farmers to the delivery drivers, operate the cooperative’s farm and manage the organization. Producers are independent farmers and food artisans who grow and produce all the things that we want to eat but do not grow on our own farm. Consumers are the people who eat the food, which includes all of us in the community. The cooperative brings this diverse group of stakeholders together to the proverbial table to solve a common problem, and collectively, its members own and control the business and share the profits.

Our Table's Grocery Store

Our Table’s on-farm full-service grocery store

Since 2013, we have been raising a diverse array of vegetables, fruit, and animal products on our 58-acre farm located just 15 miles from downtown Portland. Combined with products from our regional producer members, this allows us to offer a full diet of Oregon-sourced and organic foods. Our on-farm commercial kitchen produces everything from jams and jellies to soups and lasagnas. All of this is available via a CSA program as well as in our on-farm full-service grocery store. The store is our primary retail outlet and the only farm-direct healthy food source for our middle-class suburban community.

With 16 employees and over 200 members, our gross revenues have grown to over $550,000 in 2015. However, this ambitious undertaking is not profitable yet and to date, financing from Slow Money–inspired investors has provided crucial operating capital in the form of preferred stock. We hope to achieve profitability in two years with $1.2 million in revenues and 800 members. We are currently trying to raise an additional $350,000 as we work towards this goal of financial self-sufficiency by 2017.

Chickens at Our Table

Over a few short years, we have overcome numerous challenges but continue to grapple with many more. Organic farming is a particularly risky business and the proverbial vagaries of nature are always rearing their ugly heads. However, the actual growing of food in a sustainable way is a complex but ultimately manageable problem. The more intractable issue is, at some level, far simpler—us: people; culture. On a day-to-day basis, what inspires me most is people, the individuals who work here and the members of our community who engage with us in myriad ways. On the flip side, the biggest single barrier to achieving our vision of a resilient and interdependent local food culture is the prevailing culture!

Our society does not place a great deal of value on the people involved in producing our food. The supreme irony of our business is that most of our workers cannot afford to purchase the food we produce! This is not because our food is overpriced. On the contrary, over 70 percent of our costs go towards payroll—at wage levels that are too low for comfort. The real reason most of us cannot afford our own food is because in our society, food is grossly underpriced. The true cost of production is not reflected in the majority of what we eat today because a large percentage of this cost is offset in space and/or time. We import much of our food from faraway places where labor is cheap and at home, we rely on migrant labor often working in near slavery conditions. At the same time, our farming practices destroy the soil, pollute our water, sicken our farmers, and decimate rural communities.

As much as each of us may, at an individual level, abhor these practices and their effects, we all bear a collective responsibility for them; it is our cultural values that create the system that results in these behaviors. In contrast, at Our Table, we make every attempt to price our food at what it truly costs to produce right here in our community, in a sustainable and closed-loop way. The result is that too many people in our community, including our own workers, find it difficult to purchase this appropriately priced food. The solution to this is not to make food cheaper by hiding costs but to change the value systems at the foundation of modern society. Obviously, none of us can undertake this herculean task alone. Certainly, none of us have all the answers. However, our society is a human invention—a figment of our collective imagination and if we act collectively, there is nothing to stop us from imagining and creating something different.

Aerial shot of Our Table

An aerial photo of Our Table Cooperative

Our real task is to change the culture and the only way to do that is to change ourselves. As someone once said to me rather ominously, “It is time to unwind the hypocrisy of our lives!” Farmers intuitively understand that when stewarded with love and care, nature produces a bounty and abundance that epitomizes the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We are a part of a larger whole, and coming together to collectively address common problems is a defining feature of what it means to be human. Pope Francis recently wrote:

We human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it.”

It is in this spirit of communion, love, and collective effort that we come together at 
Our Table. Workers, producers, consumers, and investors—the entire community—to take ownership of our food and change our culture.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more or to subscribe to the Journal.

Joan Gussow

I Trust Cows More Than I Trust Chemists: A Conversation With Joan Gussow

This interview appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Slow Money Journal.

Joan Dye Gussow, Mary Swartz Rose Professor Emerita
 and former chair of the Program in Nutrition at Columbia
 University Teachers College, Nutrition Education Program, 
lives, writes, and grows organic vegetables on the west bank 
of the Hudson River. Long retired, she is still co-teaching her
 course in nutritional ecology at TC every fall. She is author,
 co-author or editor of five books including The Feeding Web: 
Issues in Nutritional Ecology, This Organic Life and Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables.

Q. Michael Pollan has referred to you as his guru. You were talking about “nutritional ecology” way back in the 1970s. How did you originally develop this concept?

A. Yes, the term first went public in the subtitle of my book: The Feeding Web: Issues In Nutritional Ecology, which was published in 1978. This for me was an attempt to address the whole ball of wax. I might not have picked the right term for it. But I didn’t know how else to describe what I was after.

Some time earlier, I had seen an exchange in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Someone had written the editor asking why the journal had no coverage of the world hunger crisis, and the editor wrote back and said the world food crisis was the field of agricultural economists, demographers, and agronomists, but that it was not part of the field of clinical nutrition. Too often, the field of nutrition was this narrow.

Another example: I once asked a classroom of nutrition students to pick from a selection of journals about food, nutrition, and medicine one journal they thought their fellow students should read. I myself was fascinated by the food journals where you saw ads for what was coming next. Once I saw an ad for ”powdered cloud #9” that “gives your juice drinks eye-appealing opacity.” But not a single student in that class picked a “food” journal. 
One of them actually said to me later, “I don’t think that being interested
 in nutrition means you have to be interested in food.” So, on the one hand you had a nutrition editor who didn’t think his field had to do with hunger and on the other hand you had a nutrition student who didn’t see why she needed to be interested in food. Clearly, a broader view of things was needed. ‘Nutritional Ecology’ was my attempt at such a broader framework.

Q. This is the problem of professional silos.

A. Our job as nutritionists was to pay attention to the food after the swallow. Nothing before the swallow mattered. That meant that we were incredibly narrowly focused. The idea that nature had anything at all in mind regarding food was lost. Food technologists got busy trying to figure out things like the perfect balance of carbohydrates and protein in wheat, as if we could ever know what the perfect balance is. Food processors 
were only concerned with what they could do to the food to make it more marketable, not with valuing the essential character and quality of the food as it comes from nature.

Q. You’ve summed it up in the past by saying, “I prefer butter 
to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.” Has your skepticism about technology gotten you into trouble?

A. How is it in this country we are so willing to look at technology and say that it will solve all of our problems? We always rush right in, let “progress” take over, and never imagine that it may have a negative effect on the overall society. I’m not sure why, but I felt this even in the very early days of the internet, when the excitement was so high. I was thinking, “People aren’t paying attention now to the environment. If everyone is busy watching frogs on their computers, they won’t notice when the actual frogs disappear.” That was decades ago and it is so much worse today.

Q. Are people similarly distracted when it comes to real food?

A. Yes, but they’re beginning to wake up. Today the food industry fortifies breakfast cereals with B12, which is only found in animals in nature. There’s a new film out about Michael Pollan’s In Defense Of Food and it features a tribe in Africa—one week they are eating antelope, one week they are eating honey, another week berries from trees, all along with various plant roots. This is, it seems to me, the polar opposite of breakfast cereals fortified with B12. We’ve arrived at the idea that to be nutritionally complete, we need every day one food from column A and two from column B, 
that we need to manipulate and measure and supplement ingredients, this much fat with this much vegetable protein and no gluten, counting each element. And we are trained to tell people to eat so many helpings of fresh fruit, winter and summer, forgetting that god doesn’t make fruit in winter.

Q. God does make organic Twinkies 12 months a year, doesn’t she?

A. That is not god. That is merely a god-like object called a factory, making a food-like object called a Twinkie. The point is that the professional field that should have been guarding the henhouse—attending to the integrity of food as it moves from seed to table, with attention to organic, biotech, hydroponics, energy, pollution, all the issues—this “field” has never really quite existed.

Q. Maybe this is also why there is no field in finance called slow money.

A. We share many of the same concerns about the long-term costs of reductionism.

Q. Isn’t this where the idea of local comes in? Global financial markets are reduced to a bunch of abstractions, a bunch of numbers. The place where you live and the life in the soil—these are the opposite of abstract. How did you get from nutritional reductionism to the local food movement?

A. The idea of relocalization as a possible solution was suggested at the end of The Feeding Web. I was thinking, “People don’t know we’re importing pork from Haiti, the poorest country in the world. How can we make people aware of the madness and the destructiveness of this food system?” I thought the only way people could begin to learn how agriculture worked would be for them to get to know a farmer and the only way to do this would be to have a farmer in their vicinity and the only way there would be a farmer in the vicinity was if local people were willing to buy, in season, what the farmer grew.

Around 1990, when the national Organic Foods Production Act was passed, I was on a panel and asked to take a stand on local versus organic, and I came down on the side of local, saying that as long as we had local farmers, we could work with them to go organic, but once we lost the local farmers, the game was up.

Local developed in response to the corruption of organic by large industrial producers. There was a feeling that local couldn’t be stolen from us. Which of course turned out not to be true.

Q. Who has stolen local?

A. Walmart is trying to position itself as a local player. But this poses all kinds of problems for small producers who get hooked into a large supply chain and become hostage to a system that over time drives prices down and hurts them and other local producers.

Q. Is community-supported agriculture a meaningful alternative?

A. CSAs and farmers’ markets are part of the solution. Food hubs are
 a significant new thing. Central locations that bring produce together and then distribute it. These take up where CSAs leave off. I’m worried that CSAs are facing competition today that is just too tough from home delivery and online ordering.

Q. It all comes back to the internet, doesn’t it?

A. My friend Pam Cook has a wonderful story about the days of bulk purchasing through co-ops and buying clubs. Her buying club members used to get together to plan orders, and then again to divide the stuff up. But once you could order online, it ended the whole social structure. 
No one had to bother coming together. No one had to sit around and laugh. No one had to say, “If we’re going to fill out the order, someone has to buy another pound of beans.” It all died. The internet did it. The earth is down there breathing and we are not hearing her. The internet removes us from Mother Earth, makes us forget our dependence on her and on each other.

This interview appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Click here to learn more or to subscribe to the Journal.

Woody Tasch

State of the Soil

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.