After more than 30 years in business, the SLO Natural Foods Co-op in San Luis Obispo, California, probably would not have continued to survive without the help of Slow Money SLO. Inspired by a desire to save the community’s beloved store, a group of investors started Slow Money SLO and in 2013 made $87,000 in peer-to-peer loans to help the co-op move from a tiny, rustic space to a much larger building nearby.
I am convinced that breadfruit has more potential to address food security than does any other crop in Hawaii, where we import about 90% of what we eat. Developing our local small-chain food supply is truly essential in overcoming this staggering figure.
A few years ago, I got a call from New York Times reporter Ron Lieber, who writes for the Your Money column. “My next column,” he told me, “is going to be called ‘Investing For The Truly Fed Up’. I can’t tell you how many folks I hear from who don’t want to invest in the military or sweatshops or tobacco or gambling or nuclear power, and now there’s a whole new wave of folks who are adding fossil fuel to the list.
Many people relate to angels and have their own definitions of them. In the food system world, “angels” are investors, often known as venture capitalists (VC), typically focused on startups that hold promise of fast growth and exits to allow for large financial returns. VC investors understand that only 1 out of 10 investments will likely succeed, and often choose to invest in the technology sector.
Our food system’s successes and spectacular failures account for nearly one trillion dollars of US GDP, yet the media spotlight is usually reserved for the sexier tech and financial sectors. I hear regularly about growing populations, water shortages and rapidly changing international trade policies, and still, food and its ancillary industries seem to be taken as a given in the American economic schema.
Salmon return. Boomerangs return. Hindus return. When things work out, investments return. Letters with insufficient postage return. So do infections, mosquitos, prodigal sons, wandering eyes, sideways glances, the hands of a clock, circular reasons, not-quite-infinite seasons, pendulums, memories, criminals to the scenes of their crimes, and stories to where they left off.
For many years, agriculture—or the production of food and fiber—has resulted in the massive degradation of billions of acres of land worldwide. Now, the same industry finally has been acknowledged as having the unique ability to sequester carbon through the improvement of soils.
We live in a world in which the complicated has been made simple and the simple has been made complicated. Pushing the power button on your computer, simple. Having an authentic conversation with your neighbor, complicated. Buying a bag of potato chips, simple. Growing potatoes in your front yard, complicated.
The notions of “alt-right,” “alt–National Park Service,” and other similar concepts, along with the idea of “fake” news, recently got me thinking about my own work, and about how there’s something edgy, subversive, and radical about investing in soil.
Henry David Thoreau lived 200 years ago, but his influence continues, inspiring the likes of Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, and Bill McKibben, to name an illustrious few.