White nationalists rally on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va. (left) | The Skokans, Black Cat Farm & Black Cat Farm Table Bistro (right)

Roots of Violence, Seeds of Peace

An Invitation to Fellow Earthworm Lovers and Peaceably Inclined Folks:

It’s tempting to think that our upcoming event, October 16-17 in Boulder, is just about food, money and soil. It’s not. It’s about violence. Systemic violence.

Too often, violence is in our face. Charlottesville. Las Vegas. North Korea nuclear saber rattling. And too often, it’s as quiet as an algorithm. As innocuous as a drive to the supermarket. As shelf-stable as a Twinkie.

We all tear our hair out: How did it come to this? How could our public discourse be so coarse? How could civility have declined to such an all-time low? How could we be feeding ourselves and our children such a steady diet of the fast and the fake? Is the sky really falling this time?

Now, forgive me, but one answer has been 10,000 years in the making. We settled down, starting growing wheat, and began a process of urbanization and industrialization that has, during our lifetimes, done way more than “pick up steam” or “take off.” This has been an explosion of population, technology and globalization of an unprecedented kind—so unprecedented, so once-in-the-history-of-the-planet that it is hard to grasp. In many ways, the economic growth of recent years has too much to do with making a killing—and with actual killing—than with making a living and doing right by our fellow man and fellow species.

Happily, another answer is way more immediate. Way simpler. Tangible and full of innate value. And containing the seeds of peace. It’s about CSAs, small and mid-size organic farms, local economies, local food systems. It’s about reconnection, about authentic public conversation, about wanting to know where our food comes and where our money goes, about foodsheds, moneysheds, and shedding the fake in favor of the real.

So I pose the following question: What’s the most peaceable job on planet earth? There are many wonderful contenders. Teachers. Nurses. Social workers. First responders. Small, organic farmers.

In a few weeks, we have an opportunity to celebrate the latter. Small, organic farmers. And the local food entrepreneurs who bring what they grow to market. These are heroes. Ecological heroes. Economic heroes. Cultural heroes. Taking on the economic imponderables of all those externalities that the industrial economy is so good at masking. Taking on the risks of valuing quality over quantity. Thinking long term. About future generations.

Small, organic farmers and the local food entrepreneurs who bring what they grow to market are working at the real Ground Zero—the place where economy meets ecology, where market meets place, where entrepreneurship meets soil.

There is no deeper, more structural place to splice nurture capital into the genes of the modern economy.

Once in a while, many of us get the opportunity to share learning, conviviality and public conversation that gets to the roots of all of this. Such an opportunity is coming up October 16-17 in Boulder. If you haven’t already made plans to join us for these festivities, please give it some thought.

Looking forward to seeing many of you soon, and helping one another plant a few seeds of peace,

—Woody Tasch

Marie Curie, a very prudent woman, theorizing with Henri Poincaré at the first Solvay Conference in 1911.

The Prudent Woman

This piece is a special collaboration with RSF Social Finance. The post was co-written with Kelley Buhles, Senior Director of Philanthropic Services & Organizational Culture, and was also published on the RSF Social Finance blog.

The world of investing abides by various rules. Some are defined and articulated in formal legislation and regulations, while others are based on customs, common practices, and opinions expressed by jurists in court cases. The expectation of “prudence” in financial management is one such case. (1)

Originally expressed as the “Prudent Man Rule,” this standard—put simply—requires fiduciaries to consider various economic, risk, and liquidity factors as they relate to their clients or beneficiaries, and to invest accordingly. The Uniform Prudent Investor Act, adopted in the 1990s, allows investors to use the principles of Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), including a total return approach to investing and an emphasis on diversification, as a means of achieving “prudent” fiduciary decisions. The act invited women into the equation, only linguistically, by referencing a “prudent person” rather than a “prudent man.” Although “man” was ditched for the gender-neutral term, the thinking and theory were not broadened to include the feminine.

For decades, there was an explicit expectation that men set the standard for prudence: “to observe how men of prudence, discretion, and intelligence manage their own affairs.”

While the concept of the “prudent woman” may be interpreted as the opposite extreme, we choose this term for our theory over a gender-less alternative because we’ve seen how semantics can hide the truth.

We’ve observed that the dominant economic paradigm still reflects what are traditionally considered masculine traits. We wonder what value feminine traits might bring to our increasingly challenging economic situation. In other words, is it time to ask, “What would a prudent woman do?”

One of the ironies of the Prudent Man Rule in economics is that the word “economy” derives from the Greek word that means “management of the household.” In our contemporary world, management of the household has become “home economics,” a term associated with “women’s work,” usually unpaid and undervalued. Meanwhile, men dominate the system that we now call economics, that is, the making and exchanging of goods and services in the pursuit of maximum profit.

The market economy, the milieu of the prudent man, has become the lens through which we view our entire world. It is the first and foremost arbiter of ideas and proposals ranging from personal career choices to public policy. Unless an idea makes economic sense, it is subject to ridicule and trivialization.

Those who dare to question the superiority of the economy are considered naïve. This is especially true when it comes to investing. The power of assumptions about the purpose of investing is so great that there is virtually no room for disagreement or debate among the professional cadre of advisors, managers, and other practitioners. These embedded assumptions are then transmitted to and imposed upon the clients who place their trust in these professionals. This circle is reinforced by self-interest and fueled by the allure of wealth and power.

We think this has gone too far. Witness the corruption of our democracy by money and greed, the depletion of our natural resources, the poisoning of people and planet, and the vulgar inequality driven by capitalism run amok and rudderless. These are the real risks to the future of investing and the economy.

The world of business and finance has generally been unappreciative of feminine traits, and many women and men have suppressed these aspects of themselves in an effort to conform to the dominant culture. Furthermore, women are often stereotyped in ways that are simplistic, judgmental, and demeaning. What if we could snap our fingers and instantly transform these stereotypes of women into positive character traits of value and power? What if women’s ways were the ways of business and investing? We wonder what would happen if the prudent woman stepped in.

Let us be clear: we are not talking about how women can conform to the current world of investing, nor are we promoting gender lens investing. We are talking about the unmitigated feminine—unharnessed, unjudged, and unconstrained. In a system that is so heavily skewed toward the masculine, we think a shift toward the feminine—by women and men alike—would be healthy and prudent.

We offer below our take on what it might mean to work with an investment framework that is founded on feminine traits. We have used research into cultural stereotypes and generalizations regarding what is “feminine” and what is “masculine” as a foundation. We recognize and appreciate that these are stereotypes. Feminine traits are, of course, not limited to women just as masculine traits are not limited to men.

To start, let’s look at some of the key character traits that are typically ascribed to men and women. The following information was compiled from studying 64,000 people and published in The Athena Doctrine. (2)

“Masculine” Traits

  • Decisive
  • Logical
  • Strong
  • Proud and confident
  • Independent, self-reliant
  • Stubborn
  • Rigid
  • Unapproachable
  • Focused, driven, and straightforward
  • Selfish and competitive
  • Aggressive
  • Assertive

“Feminine” Traits

  • Curious
  • Intuitive
  • Vulnerable
  • Humble
  • Community oriented, team player
  • Imaginative
  • Sensitive
  • Open to new ideas
  • Plans for the future
  • Helpful and nurturing
  • Patient
  • Listens

From these traits, we can envision an alternative, feminine way of thinking about economics:

  • Economics is a human construct that is as fluid as human behavior, not a science that operates by certain fixed and “natural” laws.
  • We can live in an economic matriarchy based on trust, collaboration, and connection, not an economic patriarchy that thrives on competition, fear, and marginalization of the other.
  • Small is beautiful, and growth is not necessarily good or proof of success and worth.
  • Modern Portfolio Theory is only as real as its underlying assumptions, which are merely assumptions, not facts, that have been constructed to make the theory work. We should directly challenge the belief that MPT is real and grounded in mathematics and certainty.

The ideas we describe above are not radical or unrealistic. They are simply more “feminine” than “masculine” and have not been part of the mainstream financial culture of our modern world. Once we open ourselves to these alternative ways of approaching economics, we also become open to a different way of thinking about investing and the standards that could apply to a prudent investor. The Prudent Woman Rule for investing might look like this:

  • A prudent woman takes investing personally while also considering the whole. This means living with contradiction and uncertainty; refusing to ignore or justify that which is difficult, unfamiliar, or frightening; and analyzing the implications of every investment in terms of who benefits and who gets hurt in the generation of financial returns.
  • A prudent woman cares about justice and fairness and considers these to be critical factors in decisions related to money and investing. She knows when enough is enough, and willingly enters into a process of divesting and giving as a way of addressing inequity.
  • A prudent woman educates herself on the origins of wealth; the history of colonization, slavery, and capitalism; gift economies; and other relevant aspects of our modern economy and its alternatives, in order to understand the context and implications of investing.
  • A prudent woman does what she can and is content with small solutions rather than grandiose ambitions and gestures.
  • A prudent woman speaks out and stands up for her approach.

During these trying times, we invite those who have access to wealth of any size to bring a Prudent Woman framework to your investing. We encourage you to have challenging conversations with your investment advisors and financial managers, to question preconceptions about the “rules” of investing, and to imagine what else is not just possible but also valuable and beneficial. Through thoughtful and daring investments, we can build a new field of finance and a new economy based on love, respect, and interdependence.

Footnotes:

(1) “All that can be required of a trustee is that he shall conduct himself faithfully and exercise a sound discretion. He is to observe how men of prudence, discretion, and intelligence manage their own affairs, not in regard to speculation, but in regard to the permanent disposition of their funds, considering the probable income as well as the probable safety of the capital to be invested… Do what you will, the capital is at hazard.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_College_v._Amory

(2) Gerzema, John and Michael D’Antonio, The Athena Doctrine, Young & Rubicam Brands and Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Daphne Miller, MD

A Conversation With Dr. Daphne Miller

Daphne Miller, MD, (Brown University; Harvard Medical School), is a practicing family physician, author, and associate clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco. For the past 15 years, her leadership, advocacy, and writing have focused on aligning all aspects of food production and agriculture with human health. Daphne is the author of two acclaimed books: The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World–Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You, and Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up. In 2000, Miller founded WholeFamilyMD, the first integrative primary care practice in San Francisco.

Daphne Miller: These days I’m focused on the true cost of food. We have the cheapest food in the world. Food purchases make up something like 8% of our GDP. But when you start to factor in all the chronic diseases and environmental impacts—the health footprint of food—then all of a sudden we have the most expensive food in the world. Not 8% but 25% or higher. How is it we have something that is so cheap but so expensive?

Woody Tasch: How do we tackle this?

It’s clear to me that we need to start with the soil. It’s a vertical process. The businesses that are putting food on our table must have an interest in the soil. Their financial return has to be linked back, somehow, to the substrate of the soil. Any consumer goods company that isn’t thinking about the ecosystem in which the food is produced isn’t going to produce healthier food. We can slightly unprocess this or that, but unless we start thinking about the soil, we’re not going to get the shift we need. Farm policy is one shift we need, but the other is to shift the way the food companies do their business. And we need to change our understanding of health.

How does this affect your medical practice?

People are getting so sick because they aren’t connected to a healthy food system. Medicine is putting out fires, it gets to people way too late. We need to work upstream, outside the medical model.

When you say this, what’s the response of your colleagues in the medical community?

I don’t get invited much to medical meetings. I hear more from farmers. Most doctors who pay attention to food focus just on a narrow definition of nutrition, on the broccoli, but not on where the broccoli comes from, how it was grown. They treat food like a drug, a pill, an ingredient. Broader impacts of how food is grown are not sufficiently evidence-based from their perspective. There aren’t good studies linking soil DNA to human DNA. To most doctors, soil is a subject for agronomists. But, to my thinking, health starts with the influence of the ecosystem in which we grow our food. Unfortunately, there is more research into the negative effects of toxins—for instance, whether glyphosates are carcinogenic—than there is into the health-promoting effects of ecosystems. An ecosystems approach seems too theoretical to most doctors.

When you put it that way, it does seem a long way from ecological-systems thinking to specific health-care interventions.

What is guiding me is my own experience, not a polemical approach. I’m not trying to draw some grand conclusion. My experience leads me to a systems view of the interconnectedness of all things. I focus on relationships. In an ecosystem, everything is speaking to everything else. Scientists tend to think in terms of bidirectional arrows and business people in terms of flow charts. Even some of the ideas about ecosystems services, about monetizing the value that ecosystems provide to the economy, slip into linear thinking. The minute you put a monetary value on something in nature you are reducing things to linear calculations of cost effectiveness. You start looking for the most-effective gene deletion, the one organism you are trying to kill, the one drug that will be most effective.

One of our active Slow Money folks—Marco Vangelisti—speaks to the challenges of valuing ecosystem services, giving the example of a living tree that we don’t know how to value until we’ve cut it down and turned it into 2 x 4s.

A farm is growing carrots. You could value it as pounds of beta-carotene per acre. You could determine that x amount of beta-carotene delivers y amount of nutrients. You could measure the amount of organophosphate poisoning costs incurred or avoided. Or what about the amount of lung disease in chicken farmers? These are particular impacts that can be measured. But how the heck are you ever going to measure and value the health impacts of a whole, healthy, sustainable farm? That is what I’d like us to wrap our brains around. Nutrient value, invisible influences from the microbial conversations, clean air and water, the economic health of the local community, absence of poisons, biodiversity, and long-term increases in productivity and yield. It’s crazy that we don’t have a better way to pay for success in farming. Why can’t we create good financial returns for investors who support farmers who are farming the right way?

Now you are getting into a whole other field. It’s complicated enough linking medicine with ecosystems, and now you want to throw in economics too?

That’s where my thinking is going. To the money. We’ll pay to have a foot amputated but we won’t pay to maintain hiking trails and get diabetic people walking them. If somehow the cost savings of the foot amputation could be factored in, then everyone would be investing in hiking trails.

Who is “everyone?” Society as a whole? Individual investors who live near the hiking trails? The problem is that investing in prevention is a tough thing to do. Monetizing prevention is challenging. As Wendell Berry and others point out, there’s more money to be made treating disease after it occurs than in preventing that disease. It’s a kind of corollary to the observation that war is good for the economy.

Why couldn’t there be a mutual fund that makes money on preventing diabetes? You’d invest in companies that share in the savings of preventing the disease. You know, you get 20% of the avoided health-care costs from building those hiking trails. Why can’t we invest like this?

That gets back to that whole other discussion about economics and finance and markets. They are structured around efficiency and technological innovation and industrialization and globalization. It’s not realistic to think you are going to make just as much money farming sustainably and providing services that reduce the incidence of disease as you can make privatizing space travel and accelerating the flow of capital through computer algorithms.

I don’t know, but I do want to keep asking these kinds of questions. We need to work on upstream interventions. Just working with individuals who are accessing a medical clinic is not the place for effective interventions. For most … health care professionals, a population is the people who walk in the front door of your clinic. We need to think more in terms of communities, zip codes, and regions. We need to work on the level of communities and systems.

I can’t help but ask: Don’t you mean “downsoil” instead of “upstream?”

Hah! Of course. That’s why I talk so much in my book about soil. It’s where everything begins. The carbon, nitrogen, and every mineral and vitamin that is a building block in our own bodies is derived from soil. The nutrient exchange between soil, microbe, and plant is similar to what takes place in our own intestines. Diversity of microbiota is key to health.

This makes me think of the controversy about raw milk. When you first hear critiques of pasteurization and homogenization, they sound wildly heretical and even a bit crazy. But then when you think about it some more, you realize that pasteurization is about killing life in the milk and homogenization is about marketing, not health. I know this is still a very hot issue in many circles, but there is an intuitive level on which ultra-pasteurization of milk seems akin to what I might call ultra-fiduciarization of money. You know, we sanitize and commoditize our investments just like we sanitize and commoditize our food.

The raw milk issue is so interesting because there is nothing that horrifies a microbiologist or physician more than someone making even a neutral statement about raw milk. It’s on par with sharing a needle with an infected person. So, it was compelling for me to learn about Erika von Mutius’ research. She looks at low rates of autoimmune disease among farm kids. She finds that raw milk is one of the factors. She publishes frequently in European journals about this. When it came to … publishing … in the United States, in the New England Journal of Medicine, and reporting the results of her research into lower rates of allergies and asthma of farm kids in Bavaria, she didn’t include raw milk in the article. My guess is the Journal never would have published Mutius’s work if she had included raw milk.

There’s a very strong bias against this topic here in the U.S. We go on tirades about the evils of raw milk. But so many more people’s lives are hurt by diabetes. There is something like 30 million people in U.S. with diabetes. It’s astounding. We know what causes it. No mystery. Most of it is processed sugar. Now, let’s Google the number of people sickened by raw milk in the U.S. every year—1% of milk consumed in the U.S. is raw—and of course, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, because I don’t know the number of people who drink raw milk, but still, let’s see: 121 outbreaks of illness related to raw milk in the U.S. from 1993 to 2006. Overall, 1,500 people were sickened and there were two deaths in 13 years . . . versus 10% of our population dealing with diabetes. Way more people become ill or die from ingesting processed sugar. If you go to the Centers for Disease Control website you’ll see very strong language saying in no uncertain terms that raw milk is evil, but they don’t even have a page about processed sugar. We should be having an open discussion about this.

Measuring who gets sick from raw milk is one thing; it’s another to consider the health benefits to people and cows and ecosystems. So how do you measure health? Does this have to be a dollar value? A measure of disease incidence and treatment costs? Is there another way to show the value?

Isn’t that why some communities create alternative currencies? They are trying to value things in a way money typically doesn’t. Some things can be quantified and some can’t, even though they are obvious. Community. Less cancer and less suffering. More resilience in the face of disasters. There are folks beginning to measure factors that increase community resilience in times of natural disasters and war.

We’ve come a long way from the true cost of food, haven’t we?

I guess so. But Americans are going to fall into two camps when all is said and done: People who buy cheap goods, regardless of quality, versus people who are willing and able to pay for things that are made with integrity. We are seeing the limits of the “buying cheap crap” approach. Consumer demand is changing to some degree. It’s good to see Slow Money working on the investor side of things.

Jarred Maxwell (left) and Tandem Farm Co. owner Jordan Bednar (right)

The Right Shirt

One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced
 about working within the Slow Money community is
 the uncertainty that comes with trying to move in a
 fundamentally new direction. We are moving away 
from decades of centralizing, governmental, regulatory, 
and social institutionalization toward local investing in 
local food systems and a more hands-on and direct form of financing such ventures. It’s a bit unnerving, because there are no road maps for what we are doing—we have to create them as we go.

Sometimes, I wonder if this is what it felt like for folks working at
 NASA in the ’60s. They wanted to get to the moon, but no one had ever done anything like it before. There was no well-defined path, just lots of very smart people, a strong vision, and gobs of optimism and passion.

I see Slow Money in a similar light—except working in the opposite direction, of course, toward the earth, the soil, and in a highly decentralized, low-tech way. However, I think what we are up to, collectively, is just as important as getting to the moon, if not more so. We are confronting problems of soil degradation, erosion of community, lack of sense of place, high-frequency trading, the decline of small-scale agriculture, and all the related cultural and economic impacts of these detachments. I feel lucky to be playing a small part in this important social experiment.

I have immensely enjoyed my time as the local Slow Money leader here in Texas. I am excited when we try something new. I keep learning. I draw from what others are doing around the country—what has worked for them and what hasn’t. As my Austin Foodshed Investors cofounder, Curt Nelson, once said, “We’re just trying on new shirts until we find one that fits. Then, we’ll wear it for a while until we find one that fits better, and then we’ll start wearing that one.” I think that perfectly summarizes how we operate here in Texas, and I believe it’s the same for the entire Slow Money family.

We have tried on many shirts to see what fits with central Texas. We have borrowed ideas from other networks, and we have come up with some ideas on our own. In the process, we have learned a great deal from each project/opportunity we have explored and each has contributed to the successes we’ve had in our Austin Foodshed Investors model.

Tandem Farm Co.

Tandem Farm Co. received $11,000 from AFI members to construct new hoop houses.

So what have we learned?

After returning from Slow Money’s third national gathering in 
San Francisco in 2011, a few of us decided to get to work facilitating the flow of money into small food enterprises in and around Austin. We looked at what Arno Hesse and Marco Vangelisti were doing with their Northern California network. We also looked at the No Small Potatoes investment club structure in Maine.

Our first effort was modeled after the latter. The Sustainable Texas Investment Club had 13 initial members, all contributing a minimum of $2,000 to our funding pool. Our initial total was $28,000, which we used to make low-interest loans of up to $5,000 to local food entrepreneurs.

At the same time, we were deeply engaged in other Slow Money Austin enterprises. We held potlucks, annual events, dinners, and funding forums. We hosted four different Pitchfests for entrepreneurs looking for funding—one attracted more than 150 people. One was organized around entrepreneurial videos, with the winners invited to speak at Earth Day Austin. At times, we were flying high, after pulling off what, by all accounts, were wonderful events, generating considerable public interest, and promoting a great Slow Money conversation in the community. However, when the dust settled, we still had not generated much in the form of investment. Money just wasn’t moving.

The group of volunteers and community activists that made up 
Slow Money Austin was good at hosting events, generating excitement, and driving new discussions around local food systems and local investing. Our Facebook and Twitter followings grew quickly and attendance at our events met our expectations, but we were still lacking a vehicle for getting enough capital to flow.

You may not be surprised to learn that we were not entirely satisfied with our limited impact. After about two years in operation, we were still making small loans, most less than $3,000. We had a handful of thank-you letters and letters of support from the companies that we did lend to—a gluten-free baking-mix maker, a grass-fed cattle rancher, a small-scale farmer, a small recycling-collection company, and a startup aquaponic-farming outfit. There were plenty of good things that came out of the group, which brought together both accredited and nonaccredited investors and fostered quite
 a bit of learning.

However, in the end, we felt that the overhead and the management of the LLC—creating K1s, annual filings, payment handling, etc.—was too much work to justify the size of the loans that we were making. When this was paired with our struggle to get a quorum for voting decisions at our monthly meetings, we questioned our next steps. Was it time to fold it up? Should we change our membership guidelines? Should we double or triple our contributions and increase our loan sizes? Did we need to expand our membership and develop a more cohesive and active group of investment-club members?

We were also learning that the prevailing startup-financing ecosystem and the conventional wisdom of angel investors in and around Austin were not a good fit for small-scale, locally-focused businesses—especially small food enterprises. Austin has a strong startup ecosystem, with plenty of private capital changing hands, but it’s all focused on tech and companies with exceptional growth objectives. It was becoming clearer all the time that we would never see a salsa company turn into the next Facebook or what folks in Silicon Valley call a unicorn: something that would eventually be valued at more than $1 billion. So, if that is the case, why should we use the same funding paradigm to value and support a local, small food enterprise as we would to evaluate a tech company?

When our local food entrepreneurs and farmers got in a room full of these kinds of investors, they were doomed from the start. “What do you mean, there’s no exit? How will I get a return on my participation in a convertible note?” The entrepreneurs were out of their element, and so were the investors. They couldn’t communicate. It was like getting the engineers and salespeople from a tech company together for a meeting—they just speak different languages.

So, it was time to try on a different shirt. How could we organize ourselves so that we could be nimble enough to make quick decisions on small loans, while still having the ability to complete a half-million-dollar raise when that was warranted? Could we find a group of investors who understood how self-liquidating vehicles work, why they are important,
 and when they are necessary? How could we help small businesses navigate the minefield that is the fundraising process, filled with convertible notes, recaps, unit holders, preferences, and the like?

Out of all these questions, Austin Foodshed Investors was born (borrowing its name from Foodshed Investors NYC).

We started with the idea of an angel network, but one whose mission would be more in line with a community development financial institution, complete with impact reporting. We quickly realized that our little project would also have to integrate some of the elements of an incubator, educating both investors and entrepreneurs on alternatives to the
 “fast growth, top-line revenue-at-all-cost, burn-’til-you-exit” mentality. 
We would call this new approach “Bootstrap+.”

From the back of a napkin in mid-2014 to formally launching in early 2015 and then on to today, this seems to be the shirt that fits here in Austin. In our first 18 months, we have talked to over 120 companies and more than 75 investors. We predetermined to take things slow, to take the time to clearly define our internal processes. We brought on a third partner with small-business-development and CFO experience. Then we built a network of more than 30 angel investors—no dues, but with a clear sense of direction and intention.

Sweet Ritual

Sweet Ritual co-owners Amelia Raley and Valerie Ward received $20,000 through Austin Foodshed Investors.

2016 has proven to be a breakout year for us, with seven deals totaling over half-a-million dollars in the first six months of the year. As of this writing, we have another $500,000 term sheet in the works. So, it looks like funding for the year should easily exceed our lofty goal of $1 million.

Our deals have ranged from $11,000 for a pasture-raised chicken farmer to buy hoop houses to $210,000 for a small-scale commercial kitchen/incubator. A larger deal that is in the works is for a regional, sustainable lamb producer and distributor—think Niman Ranch for lamb. All of these deals have followed our Bootstrap+ model, with companies taking smaller, incremental amounts of money to reach a finite milestone before repeating the process in a pace-appropriate, stair-stepped approach to growth. All but the largest deal currently in the works have been debt-based via self-liquidating vehicles, designed to allow the companies to grow at their own pace without giving away large chunks of equity or requiring an exit that would inappropriately loom over decisions on how best to manage their businesses.

I’m regularly amazed, inspired, and now and then, to be honest, a little puzzled by the continuing complexity of Slow Money around the country. We’re all heading in the same direction and yet there is an amazing amount of individuality in the efforts that are making progress here, in North Carolina, in Maine, in Vancouver, and elsewhere. It is the beautiful combination of a common good coming to fruition at many local levels, each network finding their own way—finding the shirt that fits them the best for their current place and time.


Jarred Maxwell is the cofounder of Austin Foodshed Investors. He has been the local leader for Slow Money Austin since 2011. He is an active angel investor in more than a dozen local, socially-responsible companies. In 2010, Jarred founded The Happy Land Company, which specializes in the acquisition, restoration, and preservation of rural land. He started his career as an engineer at Dell. A lifelong Texan and rancher, managing more than 400 acres of family ranch outside Lampasas in northern Burnet County, Jarred lives in central Austin with his wife, Sommer, and their young son.

Ayers Brook Goat Dairy

A Slow Money Journey

The idea was simple at the beginning, back in 2006: find a fund in which my clients could invest their money that would finance farms and businesses involved in sustainable agriculture. I quickly discovered that no such thing existed. Instead, the inquiry set me off on a rewarding decade-long journey of learning, collaboration, and co-creation.

I have served as a portfolio manager for high-net-worth individuals and families for almost 20 years. All of our clients at Clean Yield aim to align their money with their values, and for many that means finding ways to invest in their local communities and regional economies, especially in the food and agriculture sector. Ten years ago, just about the only vehicles for doing so were preferred shares in the Organic Valley and Equal Exchange cooperatives. They were a great start, but we were looking for more options, in particular something structured like the already popular community loan funds that support a range of economic-development activities around the globe. My search led me to Woody Tasch, who I already knew from Investors’ Circle.

Woody was busily brewing up the ideas that would eventually become Slow Money, but we came to the issue from different investment perspectives. My clients and I were familiar and comfortable with lending money through relatively safe and predictable community loan funds, but had little experience with angel or venture-capital investing, the part of the world in which Woody had been operating. Putting our clients’ assets in illiquid investments in individual farms and small food enterprises was more risk than was appropriate for most of my clients at the time.

There were also myriad administrative challenges around these potential investments: how to value them on client statements, whether to charge for our services, and how to custody the assets (our standard custodian, Charles Schwab, was reluctant to hold them). So my energy went into helping develop the organizations laying the groundwork for a more robust financing landscape for these types of businesses.

Woody invited me to participate in the gatherings that helped craft Slow Money, and Dorothy Suput asked me to join the board of the nascent Carrot Project, which aimed to address financing gaps for farmers in the northeast. The discussions that took place in both organizations deepened my understanding of the challenges to rebuilding healthy local and regional food systems, as well as the role that access to capital can play in catalyzing that process.

The Carrot Project developed relationships with existing community investment institutions in New England and launched specialized funds focused on small loans to farmers. This gave us an appealing investment option for some of our clients to begin directing capital into local and regional agriculture in a relatively low-risk way.

But it was the push we got from a handful of our clients who are deeply committed to sustainable agriculture that accelerated the flow of capital into this space. They had the risk tolerance and inclination to take the lead. So we started in late 2007 in our own backyard with an investment in High Mowing Organic Seeds, a Vermont-based company that needed capital to meet soaring demand.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

High Mowing Organic Seeds staff harvesting garlic

At the time, I was at Trillium Asset Management, but through my research on High Mowing, I got to know Clean Yield founder Rian Fried, who was the one conducting due diligence on the deal. I eventually joined Rian at Clean Yield in 2009, in large part so that I could spend more of my time working on Slow Money opportunities. The move allowed me to cofound Slow Money Boston and, later, Slow Money Vermont.

Meanwhile, as the Slow Money movement emerged and its networks launched in Boston, Maine, the Pioneer Valley, and eventually Vermont, the pipeline of investment opportunities in food and agriculture businesses significantly increased. The establishment of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Flexible Capital Fund in 2010 played a key role in allowing more of our clients to participate, by offering a professionally managed, diversified investment vehicle focused on agriculture and clean energy. This was a dream come true for Rian and me, and I can’t thank Janice St. Onge enough for her imagination, leadership, and persistence in creating and managing that fund.

By 2011, having had a positive experience with High Mowing Organic Seeds and having become more comfortable going beyond straight lending, we were ready to ramp up our direct investments in food and agriculture businesses—and we had clients who were more than ready to take the plunge. In particular, the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation set ambitious goals for the percentage of its endowment to be allocated to impact investments in sustainable agriculture. Happily, our home state of Vermont was fertile ground for these types of investment opportunities. Vermont Smoke & Cure, Vermont Natural Coatings, the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, and Ayers Brook Goat Dairy all raised capital between 2011 and 2013 with our clients’ participation.

Although investing in private companies is inherently different than investing in the stock or bond market, we applied the same rigorous analysis to these offerings. Given that we were sticking our necks out in considering these investments at all, we wanted to have a high degree of confidence that these businesses would succeed and be able to pay back their investors. As fiduciaries, it was also essential that we ensure that each investment we made was suitable for each client’s financial objectives and risk profile. This entailed increased communication with clients and increased administrative costs on top of the time being put into researching the prospective investments. However, we weren’t earning any additional revenues from these activities.

It was clear that this would not be a profitable line of business for Clean Yield, but there was never a question as to whether or not to do it. Our clients were enthused by the opportunity we had given them to go beyond having a “clean” portfolio of stocks and bonds to having holdings in their portfolios that reflected their deeply held vision of a truly sustainable local/ regional economy and food system. Once they had a taste of it, they clamored for more. The feeling was mutual. We took great satisfaction in the service we were providing, both to our clients and to the local economy. We accepted that this would lower our profit margins somewhat, but we also found that our leadership in this arena started to bring us new clients.

Rian’s untimely death in 2013 was a critical moment for us. He had been a pioneer not just in Slow Money investing, but in the broader realm of socially-responsible investing. In attempting to honor his legacy, we settled on hiring two people instead of one. The first would focus primarily on impact investing. Karin Chamberlain filled the role that fall and brought additional concentration and structure to our impact program, catalyzing even more activity. In the three years since she came on board, our impact investments have soared from about $5 million to nearly $15 million in 25 different vehicles for more than 50 clients. The Stokes Foundation has continued to push us to bring them new opportunities and has ratcheted their allocation to impact investments to nearly 50 percent of their portfolio. Not all of that is in food and agriculture, but we have continued to find new companies and funds to invest in, including Real Pickles, Iroquois Valley Farms, Root Capital, and Fresh Source Capital.

Real Pickles

Addie Rose Holland, worker-owner and cofounder of Real Pickles

With more than five years of very active Slow Money investment behind us now, we’re beginning to see meaningful financial returns. Our first investments have matured or been renewed or extended. Our clients continue to receive regular interest payments from those investments where it was expected. We’ve even had one unexpected “home run” where a private-equity firm took a majority stake in a company, resulting in a quadrupling of our clients’ investment value.

While we fully expect that the reverse will be true as well—that despite our due diligence some of our investments will lose money—the early results are encouraging, especially given the ultra-low interest rates available from conventional investments.

The social and environmental returns remain hard to measure, but are undeniable. Our clients’ commitment to financing the food system makes capital more accessible—and often cheaper—for the companies that are building a more just and sustainable food system.

We recognize that in the context of the global food system, it’s barely a drop in the bucket and that the playing field remains tilted in favor of industrial, petroleum-drenched agriculture, but we also know that our efforts are making a difference in our region and hope that our example will inspire others.


Eric Becker is chief investment officer at Clean Yield Asset Management. He has been engaged in social and environmental investing since 1993. Eric co-founded Slow Money Boston and Slow Money Vermont, as well as the Vermont Food Investors Network. He is a founding board member of Soil4Climate. Eric serves as a Trustee of Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. He was also a founding board member of The Carrot Project.

Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Caroline Davis

The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health

Note to reader: When we set out to write The Hidden Half of Nature we weren’t sure what to make of our protagonists. Microbes, after all, are invisible. And when most of us think of microbes it’s mostly in terms of their notorious negative side. But once we dug into the new and burgeoning field of microbiomes and looked back in history, we found our story.

It’s taken several hundred years for the true nature of the mercurial microbial world to come into focus. Our own health and that of the soil in which our food grows is as much about the presence of microbial allies as the absence of pathogens. In other words, a focus solely on the adverse aspects of the tiniest creatures on Earth means we’ve been functioning with half a strategy in realms we rely on for our well-being. Across the board, a key tenet in the new view of the tiny multitudes that benefit our lives is to safeguard and cultivate them, even as we combat their pathogenic brethren. Embracing the duality of the microbial world, both philosophically and with new practices, holds much promise for unleashing untapped potential to transform agriculture into a sustainable enterprise and give us new tools to thwart the modern epidemic of chronic diseases. —D.R.M. and A.B.


We can’t help but see the world differently after unearthing the parallels in the essential roles that microbes play in both soil health and human health. While we still can’t see the half of nature hidden beneath our feet, we know it is the root of the life and beauty we see in our garden every day. And we look at ourselves differently too knowing that we are each a tribe of trillions.

Awed by the realization that the animals, plants, and landscapes we see around us are merely the visible tip of nature’s iceberg, we now appreciate how the mysterious world of microbes helps make soil fertile and food nutritious. We had thought most microbes were harmful, foes for our immune system and antibiotics to vanquish. Yet microbial communities are integral to key aspects of our own metabolism. Learning that we reap the harvest of what we feed our soil—inner and outer, for better and worse— widened our view, bringing into focus the extraordinary agricultural and medical value of cultivating beneficial microbes in the soil and in ourselves.

For well over a century humanity has viewed our invisible neighbors as threats. We saw soil life primarily as agricultural pests, and through the lens of germ theory we typecast microbes as agents of death and disease. The solutions that grew from these views—agrochemicals to eradicate pests and antibiotics to kill pathogens—became embedded in our practices. Intent upon killing bad microbes, we haven’t cared much about the collateral damage to innocent microbial bystanders, although we are beginning to glimpse the effects upon ourselves.

While spraying broad-spectrum biocides on fields may take care of agricultural pests over the short run, the pests return with a vengeance in the long run. And there is a direct parallel to aggressive use of antibiotics over recent decades, which have spawned new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, an increasing number of which we now have no defense against. Instead of solving problems, we’ve become addicted to solutions with limited staying power. Dowsing gardens, farms, and people with broad-spectrum biocides should no longer be the de facto solution for gardeners, farmers, and doctors.

What does this all mean? Soil fertility and our immune system—two things critically important to us all—don’t work like we thought they did. Plants with depauperate communities of beneficial microbes around their roots dial back producing the phytochemicals that defend them and nourish us. Of particular relevance for our own health is that it turns out we need most of the microbes we’ve been trying so hard to kill. And scrambling our own microbiome, especially early in life, is increasingly implicated as a factor underlying modern maladies. It’s not that we shouldn’t fight pests and pathogens, but that the approaches we have come to rely upon come with hidden costs.


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Looking back on our experience, we believe the difference between a garden and a weed-covered lot can show the way forward. Nature abhors bare ground, and she’ll fill it in her own way. But you can shape a place if you work with her. We intentionally cultivated the soil beneath our tiny patch of Earth to reap flashes of color from flowers, trees to inspire us, and vegetables to eat. The discovery that the real source of the beauty, comfort, and sustenance in our garden lay beneath our feet surprised us, and so did something else about our garden. It has about the same surface area as our digestive tract. Imagine gardening your gut, tending to the life you want and need in the body’s innermost sanctum.

Just as compost, wood chips, and mulch nourish soil life, the same is true of the foods that nourish the symbiotic inhabitants of our gut. While a living soil will ripple above ground to support the health and resilience of a garden or farm, your inner soil supports another kind of garden—your body. If we cultivate the microbes that benefit us, they’ll help fend off their pathogenic cousins and keep our immune system working for us, rather than turning against us.

Tending the garden of our microbiome doesn’t mean forgoing modern medicine. Realistically though, it’s going to take some time to align medical practices and therapies so that they work with our microbiome. In the meantime, we need to ensure we start out with a healthy microbiome and then maintain it with a diet rich in prebiotics. And if our microbiota take a hit, whether after antibiotics, illness, or maybe even a colonoscopy, we might consider doing what a gardener does and replant what we’ve lost and help them get established.

In the end, it boils down to some simple advice. Starve your enemies and feed your friends. And don’t kill off your allies that help keep the enemies in check.


David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé are married. David is Dean’s professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington and a MacArthur Fellow. Anne is a biologist, gardener, and writer. You can follow them on Twitter @dig2grow. Their website is www.dig2grow.com.

Buttercup Farms, Howard, Colorado

Buttercup Farms Receives Loan From Slow Money Investment Club

Bonnie Yarbrough, owner of Buttercup Farms, was referred to Local Matters Investments, our Denver-based Slow Money investment club, by Tamara Campfield, one of our founding members and treasurer. Tamara had previously made a personal loan to Buttercup Farms.

In November 2014, Local Matters loaned Buttercup Farms $6,000 for the purchase of two cows. She paid back that loan on time. Then in May 2016, Local Matters made another loan to Buttercup Farms in the amount of $10,000, enabling the purchase of three more cows and Bonnie’s enrollment in artificial insemination school. Bonnie planned to breed her cows with Miniature Jerseys in order to increase the profitability of her business.

As Bonnie put it: “I am living out my dream! As a young girl, I would go to a farm in Coaldale, Colorado, to get raw milk. I vividly remember everything about this dairy farm and the milk room. A spring ran through the barn in a concrete trough. Stella, the owner, would chill her milk in that spring water, and the locals would come pick it up with their jars. I loved going there: I loved the cows, the atmosphere, and the smell of the milk. Even as a young girl, I told myself that if I ever got the chance to have milk cows and do what Stella did, I would.

“After years of working in various areas of agriculture—raising beef cows, breeding quarter horses, working on ranches and for veterinarians—and seeing the interest in local, raw, and organic foods, I decided to start a small raw-milk dairy.”

Bonnie Yarbrough

She started with Buttercup, her first cow (and, she reports, still one of her favorites), and now has seven. She has some customers from more than 100 miles away and more inquiring every week. She sells raw milk and cream, cottage cheese and yogurt, and all the butter she can make. The “girls” currently produce about 28 gallons of milk a day. Bonnie still works for a local veterinarian several days a week, but looks forward to when she can spend all day at home with her girls, making cottage cheese, separating cream, and churning butter. She also sells cow shares—shareholders pay a boarding fee for their cows and are then entitled to milk.

Buttercup Farms

From Local Matters’ perspective, Bonnie and Buttercup Farms are just the type of person and business we desire to support. Our investment club has 21 members, who have put in a total of $107,100 in capital. Since 2013, we have made 11 loans to eight small food enterprises.


Tom Abood is the founder of Local Matters Investments in Denver, CO.

Photo: Oregon Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons

A Slow Money Reader

The difference between a sun-ripened strawberry and a blast-chilled one is an inconvenient detail most recipe editors prefer to take out. “But,” I plead to the editor, “your rendition won’t taste anything like the berry salad you had at my restaurant.” It’s times like these that I take refuge in beloved books written by fellow practitioners of “The Slow.” They use their expertise to look at the particular in the context of the whole.

That approach—and this pithy quote by Carl Sagan—restores my affirma­tion about all things holistic:

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Now that’s my kind of food writing.

Whether it’s Sagan’s “infinity pie” or an apple pandowdy for the rest of us, a well-considered meal doesn’t stay put long enough to be just one thing. Everyone’s food is becoming someone else’s as it cycles through the sun in a hand off of photons to chloroplasts, pollinators to compost-munching microbes. The ecologist will advise we eat it and send it on its way in gratitude, for it just keeps going round: turtles all the way down. This is because the ecologist knows that when we eat, we eat the world; that when we cook, we cook the world.

Okay, I know what you are thinking: our mise en place hopefully starts out in some lovely local corner of the world. But in truth, the arc of our ingredient choices has already gone and returned to our forks with countless economical, political, cultural, nutritional, and ecological consequences.

Following are snapshots of books that describe ecologies of interdependence, food, wine, nature, and cosmos. They come and go from a stack of dog-eared, underlined, and lovingly marked tomes at my reading chair. Taken in groups, they constellate, like proximate stars, each adding another dimension that makes new meaning. These are books radiating grand evidence of intelligent life at work in our overheated world. Oh, such as the ideas that launched this journal—Woody Tasch’s integral vision as presented in Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.

The authors I’ve interpreted below are pragmatic mystics who go into the depths of their subjects—from cheese and wine to intellectual history and cultural anthropology—and return to the boat with a net full of wriggling fractals and holograms, illuminating the realm beyond either/or choices.

Slow Money Reader Books


The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

by Heather Paxson (University of California Press, 2012)

When a presenter at the American Cheese Society said, “Everything is everywhere,” referencing microbes, it sounded a lot like cutting-edge physics. Viewed through Heather Paxson’s rubric, you could switch in string cheese for string theory—and the metaphors keep working. Paxson is currently a junior professor of anthropology at MIT, and like her renowned school’s physicists who study micro and macro properties of particles, Paxson has a scholarly foot firmly planted in both the micro and macro worlds of the cultures of cheese.

In her book The Life of Cheese, Paxson observes how microbial cultures teeming in meadows and ruminants support the cheesemaker’s culture, producing tastes that are uniquely of their place. Looking closely at this slower form of agriculture, Paxson studies the communities of artisans— many of them coming “back to the land”—who milk, make, age, and market this new generation of American cheeses. She documents how the ensuing cultures (of both people and the cheeses they sell) have inculcated a new ethos into the time-is-money juggernaut. The reader will quickly recognize versions of Slow Money at work.

In her first chapter she writes:

If the aim of twentieth-century industrial food production was to make “every farm a factory,” as historian Deborah Fitzgerald has detailed, then a central aim of twenty-first-century artisan food production is to make every farm a working landscape—one that generates, and will continue to generate in the future, multiple values: decent livelihoods, healthy ecologies, beautiful vistas, and, most immediately, good food.

Paxson makes a scholarly case for the cheese artisan’s monetization of slow and hard-to-quantify values. At another point in the book she writes:

Artisan cheesemakers illuminate this broader reality because their struggle to realize multiple values in and through their business enterprise is both self-conscious and valorized by others, whereas elsewhere the interplay of economic and moral values is often obscured through language that separates spaces of “work” from “home” and distinguishes actions carried out for money from those we do for love.

I love a scholar who uses the word love without apology in a scholarly study.


Reading Between the Wines

by Terry Theise (University of California Press, 2011)

Here is a different example of Slow Money at work. This book takes on the big concepts of wine culture via an old world with centuries of patient arts of the soil under its belt. I traveled frequently to Europe while running my restaurant for 30 years in Wisconsin. What I saw models a future that I wish for all American artisans. Europeans simply have had longer to practice how vintage (weather), village (culture), varietal (species diversity), vineyard (place), and vintner (art and craft) merge into a whole that can intimately transmit locality.

Before I write further, I must disclose some caveats about this author. I know this guy well enough to have married him. He imports wine from some of the growers he extolls in these pages, and his book is definitely not a wine compendium. But if you have ever wondered what depths of meaning the axiom in vino veritas could hold, he is your bard.

Theise rolls comfortably between poetic metaphor and expertise earned over a lifetime of travel, tasting, and learning the language of winemaking. When he started out, his stomping grounds were “unpopular” categories: Riesling, grower Champagnes, Grüner Veltliner, and wines with impossible-to-decipher labels. When much of the world still wonders, “Why bother?”, he wades cheerfully into the mob to defend the nomenclature of locality, passionately explaining why we should care.

The book explores controversially complex topics like terroir, which Theise calls “the Earth’s erogenous zones.” Concluding the profile of a father-son team whose ancestors have worked their small vineyard’s steep slate slopes for centuries, he writes,

Families like this one are why I believe in terroir. It’s neither a dogma nor a faith. It’s just a simple fact. The wines themselves lead me to this belief. It’s not only a rational empirical matter; it’s also a question of Goodness.

When educating about the less familiar sub-appellations that comprise the region of Champagne, and the unique bottlings produced there by families without the benefit of luxury branding, Theise came up with the phrase “Farmer Fizz.” His shorthand helped break down the door of overpriced and confected champagne “big houses” and won new visibility for the landed vigneron capable of making great wines:

And this leads me to consider the schism between two groups of vintners and drinkers: those who feel wine is “made,” and those who feel it is grown. It is a fundamental split between two mutually exclusive approaches to both wine and life. If a grower believes from his everyday experience that flavors are inherent in his land, he will labor to preserve them.

So, it follows that Theise can’t help challenging those who try foisting authenticity on generically sited industrial wine and who pass sweetness hidden in high alcohol for gravitas. One more caveat and you might spill your wine chuckling.


Thinking Together at the Edge of History: A Memoir of the Life of the Lindisfarne Association, 1972–2012

by William Irwin Thompson (Lorian Press, 2016)

If quaffing wine and cheese tasting of culture and place is an investment to savor, reading this next author—a brilliant cultural observer whose viewfinder spans millennia—is like sipping enlightenment from a fire hose. William Irwin Thompson is the Ur-Ecologist of our age. He weaves ecosystems of thought—including theoretical physics, religion, history, art, sexuality, and earth sciences—into a coherent Gaian vision of whole-planet dynamics.

Thompson formed Lindisfarne Association to take “a further step toward the articulation of this new culture of science and a post-religious spirituality” and invited many of its finest articulators to his communal table: Gregory and Mary Catherine Bateson, Stewart Brand, Hazel Henderson, Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, E.F. Schumacher, David Spangler, and countless others, each as brilliant as the next.

Listening in on them with Thompson over the last five decades, I can hear a future built on inclusiveness, calling for our loyalties to come down to earth. For example, writing about his decision to homeschool his child, Thompson could have been warning about the danger of money that has lost relevant touch with the body of the planet:

Many spiritual philosophers, in differing religious traditions, claim that we take on a body to experience the world of love and compassion. If we lose the body in collective systems and networks of data processing, we can lose the compassion and become intellectually cruel and economically insensitive. We forget that it was through the body that our child was brought forth, and we forget how to be with another in a sense of presence that enhances our feeling for the meaning of life. Like the “hungry ghosts” of Buddhist philosophy, we become wraiths—grey shades whose lives have been parasitized by computer and cell phone— and do not realize they are dead and only haunting the place of life.

Thompson is difficult to reduce, so I leave it here. Check him out if you dare.


Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant

by Paul R. Fleischman (Small Batch Books, 2013)

The sugar rush of too much computer-enabled information works a lot like industrialized agriculture’s blizzard of empty calories. Too much of anything scrambles the brain, rendering us never able to get enough of what we really don’t need. Add money to that trifecta, and evolution for humanity seems perilous.

Our health depends on our ability to scale information into nourishing patterns. At this, Paul Fleischman excels. A distinguished psychiatrist, Fleischman is a dedicated practitioner of Vipassana meditation, and he connects contemplative disciplines, the Tao, and the revelations of science:

Just as the ancient civilizations imagined the world consisted of four basic substances—earth, air, fire, and water—we have our creative quaternity: matter, energy, entropy, and information. . . . Wonder forges diverse scientific narratives into a single vision of our identity within the universe.

His sense of wonder stretches from electrons to marigolds:

The laws that birthed and expanded the universe can also converge and cooperate. A marigold startles us because it brings together electrons, protons, atoms, electromagnetism, photosynthesis, ATP, DNA, and so much more into a temporary coherence. Within the cosmos that is mostly black, cold, and empty, there is also a governance of marigolds.

He writes, “The mind that sees and understands the star is no less radiant than its object.”

He could have been describing the mind of Thoreau.


Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings

by Henry D. Thoreau [edited by Bradley Dean] (Island Press, 1993)

Thoreau did not live to complete the works collected in this book, yet in these pages he gives us all the time in the world to reflect on what he saw most intimately. Thoreau’s genius is his capacity to observe the world through the prism of his soul and his naturalist’s eye. He can see the forest in the seeds and tease out the thread of a miracle in progress.

This volume is composed of recently brought-forth manuscripts, including “Dispersion of Seeds” and “Wild Fruits.” They are patiently reconstructed and instructively annotated by Bradley Dean. The foreword by Gary Paul Nabhan and introduction by Robert D. Richardson are inspiring reads on their own, making for very good company in this collection. Abigail Rorer’s illustrations complement the writing and are placed throughout the book with understated grace.

In his foreword, Nabhan imagines Thoreau’s journey:

It was on the wings of seeds that Thoreau sailed home, where he found peace before he died. Although often itching to travel to the far reaches of the world, and always cosmopolitan in his readings, Thoreau gradually became convinced that what he could learn closest to home was what was ultimately of the greatest value. If literary historians sense that he had ceased to emulate Wordsworth and Goethe in his poetry and lofty philosophical essays, they misread his intentions. Instead of turning his back on these literary traditions, Thoreau tried to incorporate them into his search for a language more difficult but more enduring: the language of the forest itself.

There is no end to Thoreau’s reach; even the finality of his words on the page launches a new round of inspired writing by those who study him. I am indebted to Robert Richardson for these words: “Thoreau …revealed the world around us in so concentrated and passionate a way as to convince us that every single day is a whole new season.”

Over the years I ran L’Etoile, my restaurant in Madison, I thought I had identified nine distinct eating seasons in the Midwest. Our menu, which changed daily to track ingredients, told the greater truth.

Through 2005, I kept this book on a shelf where I would see it every time I entered the kitchen. This was an emotional year for me—the year I turned my restaurant of 30 years over to new hands. I dipped into the book’s pages randomly, divining perhaps, to illumine my faith in the seed which held L’Etoile’s next generation, continuing my journey, begun long ago, to discover the distance of local.


Odessa Piper is the founder of L’Etoile, a pioneering farm-to-table restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, which she established in 1976 and ran for 30 years. During that time she helped create local supply networks that enabled her to cook primarily from her region through all seasons of the year. Now resettled in her native New England, she continues to advocate for the gastronomy of the Snowbelt—its seasons, farmers, and artisans.

Deb Melanson and Annabelle Singleton, owners of The Port Grocer

A How-To Manual For Growing A Community

In the small township of Port Medway on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Annabelle Singleton and Debra Melanson, their husbands, and their staff have made The Port Grocer into the heart of the community.

Port Medway was settled around 1760 by fishermen who helped develop this area into a thriving shipping community. Cargoes of salted and dried fish were shipped to the United States, the Caribbean, and South America. Lumber from the sawmills of Greenfield, Charleston, and Mill Village were loaded on ships and sailed to foreign ports.

Although it’s still a working port, as is the way of many villages, population decreased over time and elements essential to vibrant community expired.

But that sense of community has been revived in this beautiful seaside village. The 200 full-time and 100 summer residents support a writers’ festival, art shows, history exhibits, and restoration of the 1832 “meeting house” and a cemetery dating back to the late 1700s.

So there was fertile ground for Annabelle and Deb to envision turning the general store and post office—which had long been for sale—into a space for the whole community.

Port Grocer Cafe, Port Medway, Nova Scotia

Port Grocer Cafe, Port Medway, Nova Scotia

They have accomplished this by providing healthy, wholesome, mostly local food; providing a venue for art, music, and culture; being a fair and equitable employer of six to eight local residents; supporting other local, small businesses; creating an inviting outdoor space through edible and native landscaping; providing community space for continuing education and wellness; and, most importantly, being the most welcoming, friendly, kind people you could imagine!

Annabelle’s passions include rural community development, environmental protection, and healthy food. Her background as an environmental consultant has enhanced her appreciation for rural living and the value that an entrepreneurial spirit brings to healthy, economically sustainable communities. With more than 23 years of restaurant kitchen experience, Deb has turned her passion for cooking and baking into The Port Grocer’s great-quality food, all prepared from scratch.

But, it almost didn’t happen. With a little bit of their own capital, they met with every lender they could find and heard nothing but “no.” Then they were intrigued to discover that FarmWorks “Gentle Dragons” wanted to hear from farmers and food businesspeople.

FarmWorks Investment Co-operative Limited is a Community Economic Development Investment Fund that in four years has raised $1.4 million from 314 investors and made loans to 56 businesses across Nova Scotia to increase the availability of healthy food. As loans are repaid, the capital is available for new loans. Shareholders receive 35-, 20-, and 10-percent provincial tax credits for five, ten, and 15-year investments. The volunteer directors administer the investments and the loan portfolio, and provide mentoring and other support to clients.


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Annabelle and Debra came and discovered that these “Dragons” were lending Nova Scotian shareholders’ money to support food-related community economic development across the province. Just one month later, after many conversations and visits, all FarmWorks due diligence was done and The Port Grocer received a check.

The next chapters are being written. Friday Night Port Jam sessions bring people from near and far to enjoy dinner together and listen to wonderful music—and the musicians include the owners! Brunches bring locals together with tourists who learn about the good things growing in this community—including things right behind The Port Grocer. A garden for everyone—not to mention the vineyard—is attracting people outside, then inside to enjoy food grown 50 feet from the kitchen.

The Port Grocer is meeting the need for acceptance and companionship in this community, and in Anabelle’s words, “Part of our job at The Port Grocer is not just to be there to take cash across the counter, but to pick up the phone and spend an extra couple of minutes talking to people who may be home alone.” Every day, volunteers come to ask what they need help with, including bartending on pub nights, cutting the grass, and now building a three-season deck onto the building to expand their seating.

The Port Grocer has to grow to accommodate the increasing numbers of people attracted to the warmth of the owners, the quality of the food, the music, and the art. The vision of “a healthy, sustainable community centered around food, music, art, and education” has become reality.

Across Nova Scotia, more than 100 jobs are directly or indirectly linked to FarmWorks loans, and research is underway to more clearly define outcomes to date. The successes of The Port Grocer and the other businesses supported by $5,000 to $25,000 FarmWorks loans demonstrate that small investments, done right, can be a very big deal.


Linda Best grew up on a farm in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, graduated from Acadia University, and has been involved with the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Halifax as a medical microbiologist, gastroenterology researcher, author and presenter, and director of the Capital District Health Authority. She operated an apple orchard on weekends while working at the hospital and founded Frame Plus Art, which grew to three stores, a production facility, and ten employees. Awareness of food-related health issues led to research into potential solutions for the decreasing production of food in Nova Scotia. She helped establish Friends of Agriculture Nova Scotia and is a founding director of FarmWorks Investment Co-operative.

Don Lareau and Daphne Yannakakis, Zephyros Farm and Garden

How a Zero-Percent Loan is Helping This Colorado Farm

Zephyros Farm and Garden has always sought diversity and quality in its organic production. When Daphne and I started this farm 13 years ago, like many young couples starting out, we wanted it all; every vegetable under the sun, flowers, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, children, worms, compost, and a life for ourselves. After many years and struggles, we came to focus on a niche that made it possible to make a living and have a life with our kids. Years of practice brought us to the thing we do really well: growing flowers.

At Zephyros, we grow more than 1,000 different varieties of flowers. When you grow 99 different dahlias, it is easy to reach these numbers. Passion helps, too. We still grow a couple of acres of vegetables. We only have eight chickens though, just enough for eggs for ourselves. Oh, and we have a few goats.

Zephyros Farm and Garden

When we expanded our flower operation, we realized that we had outgrown the farmers’ markets appetite for the quantity of flowers we could grow. So we started doing weddings. Then we started to sell to florists. We became immersed in the movement of flower growers across the country. We became early participants in the Slow Flowers movement. When we first started out, people thought about what went in their bellies, but not much about what adorned their tables.

We have taken it a step further by being certified organic. Today, 80 percent of the flowers you see in a store, a florist shop, or a hotel are from another country and are not organic. We are part of a growing movement that has not only localized the production of flowers, but is also increasingly organic. This is important not because you eat the flowers, but because growing organically is good for the planet, for people who work in the fields and the greenhouses, and for florists. It’s also awfully nice to know that the bouquet on your table is not coated with pesticides.

We started getting more and more orders from our florists, not because our flowers are organic, but because they were local—that is, not “jet fresh” from Ecuador. We can grow a lot of flowers that a producer thousands of miles away cannot get to market alive.

Zephyros Farm and Garden

As we grew, we had a hard time delivering all the orders in our Honda Pilot. Our farmers’ market trailer could hold a lot, but it was hard to drive down tight alleyways and maneuver into the parking lots where the florists and our private clients have their businesses and homes. Also, the flowers would arrive quite hot, which they do not like. If we wore sweaters and hats, the Honda A/C did an okay job, but we needed something else.

After local banks scoffed at us and loans for a new truck seemed way too expensive, we heard about the 2Forks Club, a local Slow Money investment club. We sent a proposal to have them help us buy a used refrigerated truck. They gave us a $23,500 zero-percent loan, which we are paying back over a few-year period.


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The part that amazes me to this day is the degree to which the members of 2Forks worked with us to customize the loan for our benefit. For example, they said, “You are not asking for enough to get a good truck,” so they gave us more than we were originally asking for. “This is not how a bank works!” we thought. If that wasn’t enough, they also looked at our cash flow and structured a bit more time to pay the loan back, with some discretion built in. They understood that we are not selling widgets, that we are dealing with Mother Nature and biology and many variables not in our control, such as late frosts, early heat, hot winds, and the like.

The 2Forks loan has allowed us to load our truck full of flowers that stay fresh, so now we throw on extra flowers and invite florists onto the truck. They usually cannot resist buying more. If we do not sell them all, they stay cold and we can sell them through our other market channels.

Zephyros refrigerated truck

The refrigerated truck in action!

It has been a fast season, with temperatures in the high 90s much earlier than other years, so flowers are blooming quickly. It has been a great peony season. This is why we are diverse: one flower does well, while another does not. We are well underway in our repayment to 2Forks, and they have been actively making other loans. Access to capital is the bane of the small farm, given all the risks and slim profit margins. So loans from 2Forks feel like a cool breeze in summer.

Thanks.