|Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, spoke during a Sunday evening reception, and a Monday afternoon keynote.
Carlo Petrini said it best, as he does most things—not least because he says them in lyrical, baritonal Italian. Early one morning during the fourth Slow Money National Gathering in late April in Boulder, Colorado, the white-bearded 63-year-old described to a journalist how the Slow Food movement he founded in 1986 has changed over time.
“I do think the real revolution is evolution. Like a kid wearing shorts, as the body grows, you have to change clothes and adapt. So now we wear a new suit, long pants—but without getting too bureaucratic. The child has grown up, but if you keep on loving him, he will grow healthy.” The fatherly metaphor prompted Slow Money founder Woody Tasch to half-jokingly ask Petrini to adopt him, then to say, “I hope Slow Money becomes the best friend Slow Food ever had.”
|Woody Tasch, the founder of Slow Money, stands in honor of Carlo Petrini.
At five years and counting, Slow Money is much younger than its global “godparent,” Slow Food International. But the creative energy generated at its recent gathering—by 650 attendees from around the world, an inspiring roster of nearly 50 speakers and 25 investment pitches from small-food entrepreneurs—made it clear that Slow Money will soon be ready for long pants, too. “This creativity, this ‘happy versatility’ you are inventing here today, is the way to a new paradigm, the new economy,” Petrini told attendees. “If people tell you this is a utopia, just be happy. You sow utopia and you will harvest reality.”
|Mary Berry and Petrini during the pre-gathering fundraiser for Slow Food and the Berry Center.
The gathering began Sunday evening with a fundraising reception for Slow Food International and the recently founded Berry Center. As the sun sank behind the Flatirons and bathed the room in golden westerly rays, those in attendance heard themes that would resonate throughout the next days. From Tasch: “We’re at a crossroads of finance and culture. This is our two cents to push things in the right direction.” From Mary Berry, daughter of Wendell Berry, the farmer-author who is the spiritual leader of the U.S. food movement: “If it is to remain productive, land must be preserved and people must know the land. We need cultural change that addresses land use, decent farm policy and ‘real’ accounting. Growing up in Henry County [Kentucky], I was taught to love where I was from, to care for it. I want to make homecoming possible, this time better.” From Petrini: “Food is the energy for life; it’s why we’re living creatures. So we need to give it a proper value.” With trademark wry humor, Tasch closed by remarking, “You’d never know this was the start of an investment conference. And that’s the way we like it!”
|Woody Tasch brings Wendell the pig to the fore during his opening keynote Monday morning April 29.|
|Three fellow earthworms—and perhaps also pig lovers—listen with rapt attention.
Early Monday morning, all gathered inside the historic Boulder Theater eager to hear more. Tasch began his keynote address by projecting a classic Slow Money slide of a charismatic black pig in a grassy Niman Ranch pasture. “Welcome, fellow pig lovers and earthworms!” he greeted the crowd, invoking the importance of core Slow Money tenets of soil fertility, sense of place, care of the commons, diversity and nonviolence. Asking everyone to stare the pig in the face for a moment and feel the innate affection that arises, he cited Wendell Berry and E.O. Wilson and stated, “If the idea of affection seems quaint or ineffectual given the challenges of the day or the complexities of modern financial markets, then I say: It is affection that will reconnect us to place, to the land in that place, to one another as inhabitants of that place, and to the food and farming enterprises that turn a place into a community.”
While folks from the crowd chimed in playfully “That’s crazy!” at many junctures, Tasch recounted, both with anecdotes from his lifework and from a range of current and historical sources, the need to go beyond outdated concepts of fiduciary responsibility and to plant the seeds of a new nurture capital industry.
|Gathering attendees settled into classic theater seats amidst the art deco backdrop of the historic Boulder Theater.
A question Michael Pollan poses in “Cooked,” his new book—“Why have we allowed cooking, a critical human activity, to get outsourced to corporations?”—inspired an analogy: “Why have we outsourced investing to corporations? We are outsourcing investing; that is, we are giving all our money to others whom we don’t know very well, in whose hands it becomes Other People’s Money—OPM, Other People’s Money, that’s what they call our money on Wall Street and that’s what makes it so easy for them to play with it.” Citing statistics from a 2012 Kauffman Foundation report about the “disappointing returns” of most venture-capital funds, he said, “We can keep putting all our eggs in the basket of venture capital and high-tech and globalization. Or, we can begin putting some of our eggs in the basket of nurture capital.”
Sharing observations culled from an “authentic, nuanced conversation” around the country over the past few years, Tasch cited Vanguard founder John Bogle’s admonition about the dangers of “worshipping at the altar of numbers” and called for new thinking that goes beyond adding a new set of numbers to the old set of numbers. “I want us to get down to the linguistic soil, to get our hands dirty, and have a little fun. Let’s reconsider the meaning of fiduciary responsibility, all the way down to the word itself.” And then he introduced a new term: foodishiary. “A few of us here today are fiduciaries, but all of us here today are budding foodishiaries,” he said, calling for as much attention to pitchforks as to hockey stick financial projections. Tasch then announced a number that Slow Money chapter leaders and investment club members can all be proud of: In a few short years, Slow Money foodishiaries around the country have invested more than $25 million in “200 beautiful little food deals all over the country.” The audience jumped to its feet for a standing ovation.
|What’s broken in food and finance and what has to be done? Jerry Cunningham, John Fullerton, Winona Laduke, Mary Berry and Wes Jackson, (left to right), share thoughts and discussion during a gathering Town Hall Meeting.
At the Town Hall meeting that followed, six luminaries offered their takes on this question: “What is broken in food and finance and what is to be done?” Wes Jackson, whose Land Institute is a leading sustainable-agriculture research center, fittingly started the conversation with a scientist’s reality check: “As long as highly dense carbon like coal and oil dominates, we’re going to live in a world of fast money.” To go forward, he said, “Think small, see large.” Mary Berry eloquently described how decades of bad farm policy have destroyed rural U.S. communities. Although she’s heartened by growing demand for local food and a new crop of eager young farmers, she said the bottom line is that we need a decent farm bill that protects diversity. “Farmers markets and CSAs are absolutely wonderful, but they can’t repair communities without good policy.”
|Winona LaDuke gained credibility within her family and community only after becoming an experienced farmer.
Winona LaDuke, acclaimed author and executive director of Honor the Earth and the online catalog Native Harvest, recounted, “My father once told me, ‘Winona, you are a smart young woman. But I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn.” Next, John Fullerton, president of the Capital Institute, confessed, “I hate the term impact investor: All investment has an impact.” In today’s increasingly stratified economy, he said, “capital is all puddling down at the bottom of the river. We have to move it back upstream.”
|Jerry Cunningham manages an organic feed mill, steers, chickens, and a herd of microbes on his well-known soil-rich farm, Coyote Creek, just outside of Austin, Texas.
Finally, Austin-based Coyote Creek Mill founder Jerry Cunningham offered some earthy poetry. Citing recent discoveries of a similarly vast collection of microbial creatures living in both the human body and the soil, he said, “We’re made in the image of the soil … . Without healthy soil, you can’t have healthy people.” To start undoing the dominance of Big Ag, he urged, “Go home and go small. Know your farmer and invest directly. Every organic acre is one less getting chemicals.”
The afternoon’s group of speakers featured University of Arizona professor and local food pioneer Gary Nabhan, who reflected upon the possibilities of diverting 10 percent of our health care spending to a sustainable food system, preventing “the nutritional cliff that’s the real fiscal cliff.” Touching on trends that resurfaced throughout the gathering, he urged investors to rebuild the “connective tissue” of regional food infrastructure and to focus on at-risk food deserts.
|Joan Gussow says it the best, as usual.
Joan Gussow, author of “This Organic Life,” said, “We farm as if nature is the enemy,” as we unleash GMO seeds and pesticides on a complex soil biology about which we know very little. Maine potato farmer Jim Gerritsen described progress on his Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association’s lawsuit against Monsanto.
|Many of Slow Money’s key regional leaders sit front row and center.
Slow Money Northern California cofounder Marco Vangelisti shared his personal investment experience, promising that divesting from investments that separate us from our values isn’t as scary as it seems— describing the rewards of shifting our investments away from the extractive “suicide economy” and towards soil fertility and local community. Carol Peppe Hewitt, Slow Money North Carolina founder and author of the recently published “Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food With Slow Money” shared the joy she has reaped by facilitating peer-to-peer loans in her foodshed. The crowd heard from Judy Wicks, founder of BALLE and the White Dog Café; Arno Hesse, cofounder of Slow Money Northern California and Credibles; and Arvind Ashta, a French business professor who has written a paper entitled “The Gandhian Roots of Slow Money.”
|End of day one, still paying attention.
Then Carlo Petrini took the stage for his keynote, which was studded with inspiration, humor and insight. The first drew from “In the Italian Renaissance, money was thought of as dung. So, it should be returned to the soil to create fertility, to have the flowers grow.” Poking fun at the prevailing fetish with materialistic wealth, he said, “Today, people take this dung to their living rooms to show their friends.” He continued, “We should restore the concept of reciprocity,” describing the need to move from a society organized around transactions to a society that prioritizes relationships. Finally, he touted the importance of both the wisdom of the elderly and the participation of youth.
At the reception afterward, Durango, Colorado, restaurateur Linda Illsley reflected, “Slow Money is creating networks so that farmers can survive and produce more clean food for more people. We desperately need out of the box funding solutions” Deborah Naher, a plant and soil science professor at the University of Vermont, who brought her Midwestern farmer father to the event, said, “He almost teared up after hearing the speakers. This had always been his dream, but no one else was talking about it. Now he sees there’s this movement.” Prescott Frost, a rancher of grass-fed cattle who recently launched a CSA-inspired online monthly beef-buying club, said, “It was like being in a church meeting. Nobody thinks like me in Nebraska.” Echoing that, Jim Gerritsen said he was kicking himself for not bringing his 22-year-old son, who has an entrepreneurial bent. “Where we live in rural Maine, we don’t have easy access to this kind of forward-thinking engagement. It’s great to see how Slow Money is making this possible. We need to educate our kids,” he said.
|Merrilee Olson of Preserve Sonoma, Willow King of Esoteric Food Company, and Eric Kornacki, of Revision International, left to right, cheer on other presenting entrepreneurs during Tuesday morning’s Entrepreneur Showcase.
|Woody Tasch and Janie Hoffman, the founder and CEO of Mamma Chia, prepare to announce the winner of the Mamma Chia Entrepreneur of the Year award.|
Tuesday’s program started off with a call to action from Tasch: “Yesterday was the big conversation; today it’s important to engage and get down to work, to roll up our sleeves and start putting our money to work.” Entrepreneur Janie Hoffman, a Slow Money loan recipient whose Mamma Chia beverage business is now growing nationwide, said she was grateful to pay it forward, with a matching donation toward a $50,000 prize for the the Mamma Chia Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Then, the whirlwind ensued, with 25 entrepreneurs cramming vision plus business plan into five short minutes. The entrepreneurs, whose businesses included everything from a seaweed company in Maine to a CSA software supplier in Pennsylvania to an heirloom grain mill in Arizona to a regional slaughterhouse coop in Washington, evoked, in the words of one attendee, a “tsunami of hope.”
When all votes were counted from online participants, gathering attendees and Slow Money’s staff, board and steering committee, Revision International, a food cooperative that helps low-income families in south Denver grow, market and distribute fresh food, was the ecstatic recipient of the $50,000 Entrepreneur of the Year award. The People’s Choice Award went to Phoenix-based Hayden Flour Mills.
|Jason Dilg, producer of TedX Mile High, Michael Bartner, vp of Slow Money, and Woody Tasch (left to right).
After lunch and a series of breakout sessions on topics from “giving back” to GMOs, many attendees reconvened in the Boulder Theater to learn about Slow Money’s newest investment tool, Gatheround. A rebranded successor to the Soil Trust, the internet portal links the power of crowdfunding to the knowledge of local investors in support of small food enterprises, receiving small, tax-deductible donations and providing 0% loans to food businesses identified by the donor. Slow Money senior associate Jake Bornstein, who is heading up the Gatheround initiative, presented strategy, design and initial messaging, and facilitated a lively group discussion about the potential of the platform to engage a large number of small donors over time, in collaboration with Slow Money’s network of folks on the ground in local communities.
|Fellow entrepreneurs who competed for the award congratulate Eric Kornacki, co-founder and executive director of Revision International.
|Posters of farms and family surround stage and balcony, framing the conversation about food and funding.
As the official programming drew to a close, the gathering’s pace intentionally slowed and shifted toward reflection and engagement. A group of “keynote listeners” shared their favorite nuggets from the past 48 hours, which ranged from remembering Carol Peppe Hewitt’s exhortation to “Go home and make something happen!” to Paul Schwenneson’s quip, “How did you get into ranching—the womb, the tomb or the altar?”
The gathering wrapped up with a Quaker-style meeting, dubbed by Tasch “the chattiest Quaker meeting I’ve ever been to.” Everyone in this community, it was clear, had a lot to share.
—Reported by Susan Enfield