Bluebird Hill Farm

This Picturesque 13-Acre Organic Farm Could Be Yours

Norma Burns, an architect-turned-farmer, has owned and operated Bluebird Hill Farm for nearly 18 years, growing herbs, specialty vegetables, flowers, and native plants. Now, she’s ready to move back to Raleigh and wants to pass her beloved farm onto someone new. So, she’s holding an essay contest to determine who the farm’s next owner will be.

Bluebird Hill Farm is a 13-acre USDA-Certified organic farm located in Bennett, NC, about three hours east of Asheville. The farm has an estimated value of $450,000, and the property is subject to an agricultural conservation easement. Aspiring farmers and others can learn more about the farm on OurState.

To me, there’s no better calling in life than raising organic food. I’m looking for a like-minded couple that has experience and training in organic farming and are willing and able to put in the long days and hard work that farming requires. The only thing they don’t have is an actual farm. I want to make it possible for these new farmers to get started.

Bluebird Hill Farm

Bluebird Hill Farm’s lavender field

The essay contest is called “A Gift of Good Land” in homage to American novelist, poet, and the patron saint of our movement Wendell Berry. Applicants must submit a 200-word essay laying out why you and your partner want to own the farm. Yes, you must have a partner because “experience has shown that Bluebird Hill Farm can’t be operated successfully by a single individual,” Burns notes. Aspirants must commit to keeping the farm organic, at least one of the partners must be between the ages of 25 and 50 (“to ensure that the winning couple has the life experience and physical stamina that active farming requires”), will pay the closing taxes and fees, and must chip in a $300 entry fee.

The deadline to enter is June 1st, and a website has been established for the contest—it explains the full contest details, which should be thoroughly read.

Good luck to all you aspiring organic farmers!

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Land cleared of rain forest for establishment of oil palm plantation in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by T. R. Shankar Raman.

Life After Conventional Finance

I am a refugee from conventional finance. It all started in the most innocent and promising way: a graduate student in math and economics at the University of California in Berkeley lands a job with a think tank spearheading the quant wave in the 1980s— when everyone was turning to quantitative analysis as a way to determine the best places to invest. We were applying mathematical models, statistical techniques, and state-of-the-art computers (imagine a computer the size of a large refrigerator with the brain of your iPod Nano) to the field of investing, which at the time was the purview of fundamental analysts and stock pickers. (Just for reference, at that time our office had no email and no Internet!)

It was thrilling to find what I thought to be real-life applications for the many years of theoretical math that had been the staple of my education.

Fast-forward 30 years: that graduate student was now part of a team managing $20 billion in emerging markets equity at a very well-respected investment management firm. It was a glamorous job. I had smart colleagues and influential clients around the world. We were also doing great—we were managing the best-performing emerging markets equity fund with a ten-year track record, and our clients loved us.

The only glitch was my curiosity about how our quantitatively constructed, 300-company portfolio achieved such amazing performance. (You must know that I have always been a passionate and committed environmentalist. I never applied for a job that required me to commute, and I currently do not own a car. I am also passionate about social justice.)

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When I looked at some of the best-performing stocks in the portfolio that year, I found a Malaysian palm oil company that had destroyed tens of thousands of acres of original rain forest in Borneo to plant a monocrop of palm oil trees. In the process, it had also eliminated massive swaths of orangutan habitat. I was then amazed to learn that part of this company’s stock performance was predicated on obtaining carbon credits for planting trees!

Ironically, most of our clients were foundations and endowments. Some of the best-known environmental foundations and nonprofits had invested in our fund and celebrated our strong performance. I had even donated to one of them for their work protecting orangutan habitat. Yet, the capital of this very environmental organization was invested in activities directly contrary to its mission.

That was when the cognitive dissonance between my personal values and my livelihood became too great to ignore. So in early 2009, when the economy was tanking and the stock market was in a nosedive, I quit my glamorous job. It was not an easy decision to make, but I felt I had no other choice.

Marco Vangelisti

Marco speaking at our fifth national gathering in Louisville, KY.

Through my experiences, I have come to believe the intermediation of global finance is at the very core of the many environmental and social problems our world faces today. We live in a global economy driven by global financial capital, which is for the most part managed by fiduciaries legally bound to strictly confine their attention to financial risk and return considerations and nothing more. All the non-financial impacts of an investment—what an economist calls “externalities,” such as the destruction of the rain forest, the pollution of rivers, and the displacement of communities—cannot be considered. Through this intermediated arrangement, we render these externalities invisible to the owners of capital. As a result, the vast majority of us are all collectively unaware of what our investments are really doing out there in the world.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a UN initiative focused on “making nature’s values visible,” published an important study in April 2013 called “Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business.” It was a result of a massive global, 15-year study that measured—in dollar terms—the value of the natural capital we use for free—air, water, land— as well as the cost of polluting them. The results of the study are staggering. Our global economic activity in 2009 alone caused a loss of unpriced natural capital of $7.3 trillion, more than 10 percent of global GDP (the total output of goods and services produced worldwide that year), which was about $62 trillion for the same period. In other words, we have been using natural capital to subsidize economic activity, as well as financial returns on global investment capital. We have been treating nature as a business in liquidation!

I came to realize that through my traditional investments I was involved in a massive intergenerational injustice. The financial returns I relied upon to provide for my comfortable retirement came at the expense of future generations, since a large part of those returns were predicated on extractive activities that diminished the natural capital future generations will need to survive.

And thus, as I said, I left my rather cushy job.

A couple of years later, I realized that I had to overcome my concerns about the increased risk of giving up broad diversification in my investment portfolio and the potential loss of investment return. I divested from all international investments, all large capitalization stocks, and all mutual funds. Basically, I sold all investments for which I did not have a complete understanding of their ultimate impact on communities and ecosystems. Then I shifted to mostly local investments.

Over the past six years, I have invested in many local food enterprises. The process has called for a significant investment of time as well as money, since direct investing requires taking a close look at each business or project and, at times, advising the entrepreneur receiving funding. (Yes, local investing can be risky.) Over that time, I’ve experienced investment losses in two areas: pre-revenue start-ups and direct personal loans to entrepreneurs whose character I did not know well enough. But at the same time, local investing is greatly rewarding. Seeing local businesses thrive and knowing your investment had a part in their success is wonderfully gratifying. People’s Community Market is one example.

People's Community Market

People’s Community Market will be the first full-service grocery store in West Oakland’s underserved food desert.

Local investments are also investments for the long haul, since there is no developed secondary market to provide liquidity (the ability to sell the investment to someone else for cash). Risk, liquidity, a steep learning curve, and time commitment are the primary challenges in realigning our values with our investments. Yet I consider such realignment to be the moral imperative of our time. This is our responsibility toward future generations.

This year I started offering daylong workshops on local investing in California, Oregon, Washington, DC, and Vermont. The starting point in these workshops is the realization that money and investment capital are constructs, and that the safety promised by global investing is illusory. The next step is building our own personal investment compasses, clarifying the issues we care about.

Local investing requires reframing the very concept of investing to include the non-financial aspects of our lives. If we are blessed not to be trapped in the positional game that keeps the wealthy from ever experiencing “enough,” we can recognize that the money we save and invest will eventually be converted into life experiences. From a financial standpoint, spending our money is equivalent to a -100 percent investment return. In other words, if money is at our service rather than the other way around, we will eventually experience a -100 percent financial return on our investment capital as we spend it to support and enrich our lives.

Local investing is a way of buying a better future for ourselves and our community and should be framed as a spending decision—it is like buying “livable future” insurance. The question is, then, “What percentage of our portfolios is prudent to devote to such spending decisions right now?” The type of “due diligence” we engage in needs to be expanded. Traditional due diligence, with its exhaustive lists of things to check, only engages our minds. Yet if we want to bring about a better future through our investing, we also need to engage our hearts and our values, and this is best done with local investments.

Through my Slow Money activities in Northern California and the half-dozen workshops I’ve run so far, I have been privileged to get to know a wonderful group of souls who are striving to take responsibility for their agency in the world, as expressed through their investments. Slowly, together, we are making a difference for the future of our communities and our planet.

Marco Vangelisti has been a coleader of Slow Money Northern California for seven years. In that capacity, he has helped host dozens of local meetings and several larger regional gatherings, including three Food Funded events, which featured dozens of food entrepreneurs. Since 2010, Slow Money Northern California has facilitated the flow of $4 million to more than 20 local food enterprises.

Any questions?

Separating the Tweet from the Chaff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Gussow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. This is the problem of professional silos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Who has stolen local?

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

Q. Is community-supported agriculture a meaningful alternative?

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

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

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

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

Woody Tasch

State of the Soil

I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not
 a political animal. I’m just an earthworm. An earthworm in the soil of a restorative economy.

A few members of the Planting Justice team

Planting Justice Creates Access to Living-wage Careers and Affordable Food

With the help of Slow Money Northern California, Planting Justice has purchased Rolling River Nursery, and expanded the operation in Sobrante Park, which has the highest unemployment and crime rate in Oakland. The nursery is set to be transformed into an urban farm and training center that will greatly expand access to fresh produce, food-producing trees and living wage jobs. In addition to the investment of $600,000 by 5 members of Slow Money Northern California, the project is just finishing a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $100,000.

New jobs in nursery management, edible and medicinal plant propagation, and aquaponics production

With this project, Planting Justice aims to bring the largest and most biodiverse collection of certified organic tree crops in North America (1,100 varieties!) from Rolling River Nursery in Humboldt County to deep east Oakland.

Planting Justice

The relocated nursery works with a recirculating aquaponics operations that serves as a replicable, drought-resilient model for growing 100,000 pounds of organic produce per year on empty lots with paved or polluted soil.

The project creates at least 10 new, living-wage jobs for people coming home from prison. The new jobs are in nursery management, edible and medicinal plan propagation, aquaponics production, marketing, and distribution.

Planting Justice

Aligned with Planting Justice’s mission, the project supports a shift in how prisoner re-entry is handled in California and across the country. In six years, not a single one of the 20 formerly incarcerated staff at Planting Justice have returned to prison! The non-profit incubates a worker-owned urban farming cooperative to support people in re-entry by replicating these technologies on other empty lots, as collective owners of the enterprise.

One of the Slow Money Northern California investors, Theo Ferguson, raves:

“It was a joy working with Gavin Raders, Executive Director of Planting Justice.  He is an entrepreneur in service to and totally aware of the fundamental change Planting Justice is making on environmental, social, financial, and governance Community Benefit Returns on Investment.”

Funding Through Self-Directed IRA and Foundation Grants

Several of the Slow Money individuals involved directed their low-interest investment through a Self-Directed IRA. They were joined by several foundations, one of whom had an existing relationship with Planting Justice. Six percent of the funding for this project came in the form of grants.

Photos by Alice Henneman and Antana / CC BY

From Bitcoin to Beetcoin

I don’t know what a bitcoin is.

I know how bitcoin is described in the media, that it is called a crypto-currency, that the Japanese programmer who created it is shrouded in secrecy, that it has been used by drug dealers, that venture capitalists are pouring billions of dollars into “mining” it, that websites feature pictures of virtual gold coins with “B” on it, that in a few urban spots there are BTMs, as in, Bitcoin Teller Machines, that it was created as a radical alternative to central banks’ fiat currency—I know all this but I if you ask me do I really know what bitcoin is, I’d have to say, no, not really.

Which makes me reflect upon so many other things in the “I Know That Department,” but which, were I to slow down long enough for full reflection, I’d realize “I Don’t Really Know That After All.”

I don’t know why the Gaussian copula formula morphed so wildly into an entire derivatives industry, almost pulling down the entire global economy.

I don’t know why the derivatives market is larger now, hundreds of trillions of dollars larger, than it was prior to the Great Recession.

I don’t know if GMOs are the derivatives of agriculture.

I don’t know whether the first human settlement on Mars will be American, Chinese, Russian or vegan.

I don’t know how much my financial security depends upon the next hundred million Chinese car buyers.

I don’t know why I can’t get the idea of hitting Vladimir Putin over the head with a bunch of heirloom beets out of my head.

But I do know who to thank for one of the most playful opening lines a novel ever had, “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.” Thank you, Tom Robbins.

And I do know I want my beets to be as fresh, as free of petrochemicals and as nutrient dense as possible, grown in healthy soil, rich in organic matter and home to happy earthworms and all manner (as in billions and trillions) of microorganisms, most of which still haven’t even been named.

And I do know I want my community to be home to a healthy population of small and mid-size diversified organic farms and all the small food enterprises that process and distribute their food, creating a vital foundation for a healthy, resilient local economy: fruit and vegetable growers, pasture based livestock operations, seed savers, compost makers, niche organic brands, coops, CSAs, farm to table restaurants, farmers’ markets, dairies, cheese makers, artisan bread bakers, school gardens, urban gardens and more.

So, with just a few moments of reflection, it has not been all that hard for me to look beyond the abstract, distant, speculation-riddled, financial razzmatazz of bitcoin and turn my attention to Beetcoin—a new way for folks to chip in $25 or more, vote for a small, local and/or organic food entrepreneur, and bring some of our money back down to earth.

It’s beets without the stains on your cutting board. It’s a new kind of soil-centered, local-food-nurturing, pay-it-forward-enabling crowd funding. It’s as much fun as you can have without going to a Slow Money meeting.

So, let’s not forget those eight wonderful Colorado food and farming entrepreneurs, from Ft. Collins to Boulder to Denver to Alamosa to Carbondale, who are virtually egging you on, right now, these last two days of October: Buy Beetcoin!

The Beetcoin

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders debate handshake

A Beetcoin Smile

I’m guessing that you, like me, watched the presidential debate on Tuesday night. And I’m also guessing that many of us have already made contributions to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders … or, for that matter … Ben Carson or Ted Cruz.

To my thinking, money spent on presidential politics is all pretty much the same, the way that venture capital investing, currency speculation, betting on the price of oil or myriad other forms of investing as usual are all pretty much the same.

Send your money to a candidate. Send your money to a money manager. We need to do it. Or, we should say, many of us get to do it.

In a mature democratic society and a mature capitalist economy, we get to vote for the kind of government and the kind of economy we want. Millions of us get to vote with our dollars, this way and that. And despite all the special interests and dark investment pools and powerful forces that never seem to see the light of day, now and then we get a smile, a moment of affection, a moment of authenticity. A moment that gives us hope—not the hope of a political slogan, but actual hope.

We had one of those Tuesday night, when Bernie and Hillary shook hands and smiled, after his mini-rant about “your damn e mails.” Despite what Bill O’Reilly said afterwards—he thinks it was all scripted—I experienced it as a moment of authenticity. With some constrained but actual affection sneaking through and some actual hope mixed in.

But such moments are fleeting up there on the stage of presidential politics.

Before you know it, the candidates are back debating whether Black Lives Matter, Native Lives Matter, Syrian Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. What I’m waiting for is the moment of authenticity and hope that arises when the candidates start debating whether Earthworm Lives Matter.

Here’s one question that will never be asked of any presidential candidate during a debate:

Q. What is the earthworm population in an acre of organic farmland in Boone County, Iowa?

(A. 1.3 million.)

Much less the follow up question:

Q. What is the earthworm population in an acre of conventional farmland in Boone County, Iowa?

(A. 19,000.)

Do earthworm lives matter? They do if you believe that every living thing on this planet depends upon the life of the soil. They do if you believe that hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil washing down the Mississippi each year matters. They do if you believe that while industrial agriculture (much like capitalism, itself, although to say this invites us down not the earthworm burrow but the rabbit hole of capitalism vs. socialism, which debate happily deflects attention from a much more fundamental tension between industrialism and agrarianism) is a magnificently powerful tool for producing cheap shelf-stable commodities, it is a wildly deficient instrument when it comes to the health of Main Street and the health of bioregions.

But this is not an anti-industrial agriculture call to action or a Too Much Money In Politics call to action. It’s a call to action that goes, with a certain predictability in the case of me, like this: If we’re going to send money to any presidential candidate, mustn’t we also get some of our money to an organic farmer down the street?

And smile while we’re doing it?

There is surely too much money in politics. We are surely bombarded with ideological sound bites. There is surely much that is broken in the craven competition for our votes.

We can still smile. Not a Bernie smile. Not a Hillary smile. Not a political smile. A Beetcoin smile.

Because all the money in politics notwithstanding, relationships still trump transactions. In the long term, as surely as someone’s car in Madison sports the bumper sticker “Mother Nature Bats Last,” as surely as ecology trumps economics, as surely as a beet root has hair, relationships trump transactions.

Which is why some of us, on our way to who knows how many of us, are finding ways to invest some of our money in honor of relationships, and, so, do our small but vital part, as earthworms in the soil of a restorative economy, to preserve and restore the fertility of the American Dream.

The Beetcoin

Network Update: Slow Money Colorado

Slow Money activities in Colorado are on the upswing in a number of significant ways.

This summer, the 2Forks club of Carbondale crossed $100,000 in capital and made its first loan: $23,500 to Zephyros Farm of Paonia, enabling the purchase of a used refrigerated truck. 2Forks is the first of 13 Slow Money investment clubs around the country to be organized as a nonprofit, receiving its capital as charitable donations and providing funding to small food enterprises in the form of 0% loans. Donations to the club from its 25 members have ranged in size from $150 to $30,000, with loans made by majority vote—one person, one vote.

Slow Money Colorado is hosting its first two-day regional event on September 19-20. Day One is a Master Class, bringing together eight Colorado food entrepreneurs and several dozen area investors and donors, along with a handful of thought leaders from around the country. Day Two is a public Harvest Festival and Dinner at Sustainable Settings Ranch, home of Brook and Rose Le Van, Slow Money founding members. It is our hope that this event can serve as a template for other Slow Money regional events around the country next year.

During the month of October, we will be hosting a Beetcoin campaign, raising funds for the top vote getters from among the food entrepreneurs featured at the regional event. A preview of the Beetcoin campaign, giving thumbnails of the deals and describing the overall campaign, is available here.

Colorado is currently home to four Slow Money investment clubs, which have a total of 70 members. To date the clubs have given loans totaling more than $200,000 to 13 local food businesses. Overall, more than $2.5 million has flowed through Slow Money’s network to 20 deals in Colorado over the past few years.

Slow Money Colorado also convened a first Earthworm Angels dinner in Boulder in April, at which a dozen angel investors met with one food entrepreneur, resulting in one angel investment of $25,000.

And, in case you are wondering, “Slow Money Colorado” is an informal moniker for Boulder-based Slow Money Institute staff committing a significant amount of time to networking, events and related activities, here, in our home territory.

3 Trillion Trees, Pork Bellies in China and BEETCOIN

When we learned, a week or so ago, courtesy of the latest satellite mapping, that the world has three trillion trees, and that over the past 11,000 years, humans have reduced global tree stocks by roughly 50%, I immediately thought of BEETCOIN.

Here’s how I got there.

First, I thought of my two acres of meadow and woods and wondered what a backyard tree inventory would yield. Then I realized that about half of what may be close to two hundred trees here are aspens, but, that, since aspens are connected underground by a single root system, the whole enterprise of tree counting is thrown into considerable doubt.

Then I enjoyed the fact that while the satellite that does global tree mapping is traveling at 17,000 miles per hour and transmitting data at the speed of light, I was sitting on my deck, looking at my aspen grove (the word “my” in the most quotationable of quotation marks), wondering how old this grove is, how much an aspen tree grows each year, why elk are so taken with aspen bark, whether voles, which have arrived this year in considerable abundance, under and around the rodent-wire-protected raised beds of my garden, eat aspen roots, why chipmunks share my penchant for Italian parsley, what it means in the scheme of things when I add mushroom compost and kelp meal to what was previously mountain meadow soil but is now unrecognizable to any earthworms that previously called it home, and how in the world we can learn to call home a world that is being mapped and measured thus (as described in the Yale study that made the new estimates of the global tree inventory):

Following model averaging and bootstrapping, we applied the final negative binomial regression equations used in bootstrapping to pixel-level spatial data at the biome level. Regressions were run in a map algebra framework wherein equation intercepts and coefficients were applied independently to each pixel of our coregistered global covariates to produce a single map of forest tree density on a per-hectare scale. We then scaled our per-hectare forest density estimates to the 1-km scale based on the total area of forested land within each pixel, as estimated by the global 1-km consensus land cover data set for 2014 (ref. 6). This process was then validated using an older (2013) data set that used fine-scale (30 m) forest cover information, which revealed equivalent total tree counts. By multiplying our predicted forest density by the area of forest, we ensured that we did not overestimate tree densities in non-forested sites. From the resulting maps, summary statistics (mean tree density, total tree number) were derived for each polygonal area of interest. The variances of the global and biome-specific totals were calculated using a Taylor series approximation to account for the log-link negative binomial regression function and correlation among the regression-based predicted values.

Then I asked myself: What does all this have to do with the price of pork bellies in China or heirloom tomatoes at the Boulder farmers market?

And knowing that this is a question fit for a … for a … well, maybe for a fiduciary but definitely not for a guy sitting on his deck looking at a grove of aspen trees … I went on line to Slow Money’s impending BEETCOIN campaign, featuring eight Colorado small food enterprises, and considered bringing a little money back down to earth.

As I hope you will.