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

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.

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.

Photo: Oregon Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons

A Slow Money Reader

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

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

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

Now that’s my kind of food writing.

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

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

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

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

Slow Money Reader Books


The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

by Heather Paxson (University of California Press, 2012)

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

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

In her first chapter she writes:

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

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

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

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


Reading Between the Wines

by Terry Theise (University of California Press, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by William Irwin Thompson (Lorian Press, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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


Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant

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

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

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

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

His sense of wonder stretches from electrons to marigolds:

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

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

He could have been describing the mind of Thoreau.


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

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

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

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

In his foreword, Nabhan imagines Thoreau’s journey:

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

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

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

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


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

Deb Melanson and Annabelle Singleton, owners of The Port Grocer

A How-To Manual For Growing A Community

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

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

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

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

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

Port Grocer Cafe, Port Medway, Nova Scotia

Port Grocer Cafe, Port Medway, Nova Scotia

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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.


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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.