From left, Nataka Crayton-Walker, Greg Bodine, and Bobby Walker at a City Growers microfarm in Dorchester. | Photo by Leise Jones/City Growers

The Future of Urban Farming

Some sights in the neighborhood were so common that I had stopped noticing them; but then one day they came into view. While driving down Harold Street on the way to my cousin’s house, I noticed a vacant lot on my left and then, just a block down, I saw two large vacant lots on my right. At the end of Harold Street—right before Howland Street—stood a huge half-acre vacant lot. This area had been labeled the “H-block.” It was a tough neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, known for the significant number of shootings that occurred—which primarily were gang related. It also was a neighborhood with beautiful housing stock, long-term residents, and strong community leadership. Later that week, intrigued at the amount of vacant space, I walked the streets and tallied approximately 1.5 acres of land sitting vacant among the homes and apartment buildings.

Not long after that day, in the commissary kitchen of my company—City Fresh—the staff was preparing meals for one of the summer camps in session. The team members were cutting heads of lettuce that had been shipped in from across the country, and a question occurred to me: Why couldn’t we be growing this lettuce closer to home?

In answer to that question, I—along with a small group of community residents—founded City Growers. It was the spring of 2007. We set out to convert vacant lots—primarily located in the Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan neighborhoods—into intensive micro farms: to put our community idle hands to work and supply fresh, local, organic produce to the growing and insatiable market for local and sustainably grown food. We desired to apply the idea that human-scale production that is less reliant on large equipment and fossil fuels is a more-efficient production method. We weren’t alone.

Vacant lot

A vacant lot in Dorchester being converted into a microfarm.

Decades prior, I had devoured Eliot Coleman books. I marveled at the amount of high-quality vegetables his Maine farm was producing on just a couple of acres and well into the cold season. I intently listened to Will Allen and the production he proselytized from Growing Power’s greenhouse vertical systems. I was inspired by his emphasis on using practical and functional technologies and his obsession for making amazing soil.

Closer to home and a few years back, Greg Maslowe revealed to me how much revenue he could produce on one acre on his Newton Community Farm; the figure he quoted was $135,000. These people—in their different ways—have proven the ability and efficacy of intense small-scale production.

In 2008, City Growers squatted on land behind Sportsmen’s tennis club in Dorchester. This would prove to be the catalyzing act that changed the zoning laws of Boston. Prior to our land grab, the Tommy’s Rock community in Roxbury had been eying local vacant lots with the idea of converting them into agricultural use. Community members had been stumbling along a complicated and unclear path in trying to work with the city to achieve their goals. Bette Toney, an active resident, had heard about City Growers, and a mutual friend introduced us. The community vision was clear, so we took it directly to Mayor Thomas Menino. In our meeting, he clearly was not happy with the idea of setting aside taxable, buildable vacant lots, but he also wanted to get out in front of this new demand for urban farming land. After we were dismissed from his office, Mayor Menino’s administration quickly moved to form an urban agricultural zoning committee. Over the next year, there were dozens of meetings. Once a month there was a public meeting at city hall. Consistently, at 8:45 a.m. on the day of the meetings, dozens of community members—including agricultural activists, farmers, beekeepers, rooftop growers, and compost specialists—gathered in the overflow section. The community, together with city officials, negotiated the language of what would become Article 89, a citywide zoning article that allows for commercial urban agriculture in Boston.

Mayor Walsh

Mayor Walsh announcing Boston Urban Agriculture Day at the Garrison-Trotter Urban Farm grand-opening celebration.

Just a couple of years after the passage of Article 89, City Growers recruited and trained a group of new urban farmers who sold $45,000 of produce grown on slightly less than one-half acre. The revenue per square foot was encouraging. Most of the produce was sold directly to restaurants, and roughly 20% was sold back to the community at farmers’ markets. Making a go commercially at small-scale farming is not easy work, however, and I came to realize that it is for the extreme few dedicated farmers. Urban farming also has broader potential—as evidenced by its impact in Boston over the past 10 years.

Thousands of volunteers have put their hands in the dirt on urban farms. Thousands of farmers’ market and restaurant customers have been buying and eating hyper-locally-produced fruits and vegetables from urban farms. The City of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and significant resources into urban farming. Over the last five years, thousands of attendees have filled sold-out Massachusetts Urban Farming conferences, and dozens of local food events and workshops have become regular staples of the growing local food movement in Boston and other cities. In 2014, newly elected Mayor Marty Walsh cut the ribbon on the city’s first urban farm: Garrison-Trotter Urban Farm at 227 Harold Street. This was the first vacant lot that came into view during my travels in 2007, and now the land for the farm is being shifted into a newly formed urban farm land trust, thus ensuring its longevity.

Great start, but what’s next? I am convinced that the real challenge and opportunity of the urban farming movement is persuading, encouraging, enticing, and facilitating more urban dwellers to grow their own food. Period.

It gradually is becoming common knowledge that all of us are participants in a dysfunctional and dangerously fragile food system. Our current food system has a design problem. Most of our food comes from large monocrop agribusiness systems that rely on cheap labor and fast-depleting fossil fuels. Fresh water and soil are the two most critical natural resources relied upon by our species, and the rate of depletion of these resources is the most serious threat to the ability of our next generation to comfortably survive. I would argue that it is no longer sustainable or practical to have less than 2% of the U.S. population directly involved in its own food production. Urban and suburban readers: Picture each household on your block growing market-size gardens and fruit trees, and maybe even a few of your neighbors farming chickens or rabbits. Now envision all the in-between spaces—sidewalk medians, vacant lots, and unused parts of parks—overflowing with food production. We need to get there, but how? How do we create and transition to a more practical and resilient food system while we still are dependent on the existing system?


SOIL Book


Now, more than ever, I believe this is a bottom-up spiritual and cultural undertaking. The leaders in this movement play important roles as catalysts. This is where organizations such as the Urban Farming Institute (UFI)—with community credibility, farming knowledge, and social and political capital—can fully step in and start creating the new system. In 2011, The Urban Farming Institute was formed as the founders of City Growers realized that relying on pure market forces to obtain land, develop farms, and train community farmers wasn’t going to work. In 2015, City Growers merged with UFI. This allowed government and philanthropic dollars to blend with market sales as revenue sources to support all the components of not only attempting to develop urban farms but also attempting to create a new industry. Public and private vacant-land conversion has been a slow process but recently has picked up steam. Currently, six parcels totaling approximately two acres are under cultivation or are in the process of being converted.

Urban community residents lead UFI, from the board to the staff. Executive Director Pat Spence is a beloved longtime Mattapan resident. Bobby and Nataka, a husband-and-wife team who were born and raised in Roxbury, are spiritual leaders of the urban farming movement and have both street credibility and industry mastery. Together they are a taste of the secret sauce that positions UFI to shift community behavior. As communities of color that historically and economically have been dispossessed, we must be more self-reliant regarding food—this is a crucial step toward making us more resilient to the unstable future.

How do we make it happen? How do we become more self-reliant? Start with the community influencers and provide them with the necessary education and tools. The UFI is positioned to “train the trainer”—partner­ing with individuals and organizations to provide education on the mechan­ics of small-scale food production, and to provide the tools—including land, soil, and water. The goal is to enroll families and to find champions within each family to start getting their hands dirty—one seed at a time. From a spiritual and cultural place, the next chapter in the movement is to make the act of growing food both a family and a community practice. Additionally, there is a health and economic argument: Densely nutritious and less-toxic diets, dollars saved from self-production and, potentially, dollars earned by selling excess food all are practical benefits.

Access to land is key. For many residents of our urban and peri-urban communities, the good news is that land ownership or access is an asset that we already have on the books. Be it your front porch, windowsill, or backyard, many urban dwellers have access to land and its power to grow. This underutilized resource is sitting right under our noses.

The UFI has been working with national and local land-trust experts, including the Dudley Neighbors Inc., and is in the process of creating a land trust for urban farms. Simultaneously, UFI is working with the City of Boston—a willing partner that is ready to shift appropriate vacant lots into this urban farm land trust. This provides secure long-term land tenure for the larger spaces within the community. An important milestone of this relationship is the construction of the new UFI urban farming center at the old Fowler Clark Epstein Farm on which the oldest buildings in Mattapan sit—the original farmhouse and barn are being repurposed as the hub of the activities described here.

Access to good soil also is critical for making the shift. Half of what urban residents put on the street corner for trash pickup can and should be turned into compost. We have the potential to create thousands of pounds of black gold. Vacant lots, raised beds, and backyards are waiting to receive it. We also have the unique opportunity for an intergenerational knowledge transfer—many of our elders have experience and knowledge of growing—and it is our responsibility to reconnect our kids to the sources of their food. Seeds can be part of that educational medium, being able to save, share, and plant community seeds is a critical part of true self-sufficiency and resilience. This is the reason that a seed library will be part of the new center.

Volunteers

Every year, hundreds of volunteers—primarily youths—are reconnected to the land by touring and volunteering at UFI farms, such as the Glenway Street farm pictured here.

An important benefit of this shift is that it offers an alternative to today’s material-accumulation-focused and screen-obsessed culture. Parents can point themselves and their kids toward activities that teach practical and produce something worthwhile. It enables us to reconnect to the natural cycles and all the richness of natural sciences (such as plant biology) that come with the growing of food.

Sustainable and long-term change includes ongoing education. It also requires a strong mindset, one that not only asks and answers important questions, such as, “How did we get here?” and “Where are we going?” but also envisions a new path and future of what is possible. What would it mean if nearly 100% of your home waste was turned into soil that grew most of your food? And what if this became true for you and for more than half your neighbors? I am humbly optimistic that this is what is next for urban farming.

Glynn Lloyd has been an innovator in the field of transformative urban economic development for more than 25 years. He is the president and founder of City Fresh Foods, a company that brings ethnic meals to homebound elders and provides healthy meals to school-aged children. Glynn catalyzed Article 89, a citywide zoning article that allows for commercial urban agriculture in Boston. He then founded the Urban Farming Institute, a community-led nonprofit that supports the development of the new urban farming industry in Massachusetts.

SOIL 2017 Day 2

SOIL 2017 – Day 2 Recap

It is our pleasure to share with you a few photos from Day 2 of SOIL 2017 at Lone Hawk Farm in Longmont, Colorado. These photos capture a beautiful day of launching Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally—our new Colorado initiative.

SOIL 2017

SOIL 2017 – Day 1 Recap

It is our pleasure to share with you a few photos from SOIL 2017 in Boulder, Colorado. These photos capture a beautiful day of sharing and learning and vital public conversation about the relationship between the actual soil and the soil of a restorative economy.

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.