We did it! After gestating the idea for quite a while, we have planted the seeds of the Soil Trust firmly in the field of action. A couple of weeks ago we announced the Soil Trust to all of you and we are pleased by the strong interest it generated. A special thank you to the working group and advisers who made this possible and to those pioneers among you who responded positively in the last couple of weeks with your donations.
For those still unfamiliar with it, the Soil Trust is an initiative of Slow Money that aggregates tax-deductible donations and invests them in food and farming enterprises that are rebuilding regional and local food systems around the country. The Soil Trust is the first “nurture capital” fund of its kind: non-profit, grassroots and dedicated to small food enterprises. Our goal is to build a wholly new kind of funding that is dedicated to “putting back into the soil more than we take out,” translating the Slow Money principles into practice. That’s why the Soil Trust is a true hybrid of philanthropy and investing: donations in, investments out, and returns recaptured and reinvested, creating a resource that can generate social and environmental benefits for generations.
Following the announcement of the Soil Trust, many of you have provided supporting and enthusiastic comments and suggestions for improvements to the website which we have already started to implement. In a few weeks, we will also be conducting a survey to gather feedback in a more systematic fashion.
If you have not had the chance to visit the Soil Trust we invite you do so now, and if you already have, we invite you to take a second look and let us know if we are moving in the right direction. The bottom line is that we are now in motion!
We hope to gather a few hundred thousand dollars of initial donations by the next national Slow Money conference in April 2013. We will invest Soil Trust funds in one or more of the small food enterprises presenting at that event. In the years ahead, we will explore the potential to reach out to a large, new number of individuals who may never make a $5,000 or a $50,000 direct investment in a small food enterprise, but who will enjoy the opportunity to participate with a donation of $50 or more.
Now Every Person Can Participate in Funding Food and Farms
The Soil Trust will be a meaningful engagement tool that allows those that cannot directly invest in food and farming to do so through the Trust. At scale, the Soil Trust can play a significant role in reinventing the way our society works with capital resources. If we are to make a successful transition to a human presence on this planet that is environmentally sustainable and socially just, we need to tackle the large systemic issue of ownership and use of capital. We need to experiment with creating pools of capital that are not compelled to achieve maximum financial returns but are instead directed by collective or non-profit entities towards the common good.
We all live with the consequences of investments made in past decades, yet we collectively had no say in shaping or directing those made with private capital in the pursuit of financial returns. The problem has gotten more extreme recently as more and more wealth in this country has concentrated in the hands of the very few. Stark evidence of this is the fact that the top 400 richest individuals in the U.S. currently own more financial wealth than the bottom 160 million.
Reclaiming the Food System, Step by Step
Our food system is a clear example of the problems caused when most of those experiencing the consequences of large-scale investments have no part in shaping those investment decisions. In the last half-century of modern capital, fast money has transformed our food system. Where hundreds of thousands of multi-species small family farms producing organic produce and humanely raised meat stood, we now have large-scale commodity industrial farms and concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Their excess chemical inputs are responsible for eutrophication and a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey. Their manure lagoons threaten groundwater and their overuse of antibiotics reduces antibiotic effectiveness for human use.
As Woody points out so well in his book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, this dramatic transformation is the byproduct of modern capital’s pursuit of lowest cost commodities, the largest profits and the highest financial returns.
Only a radically different form of investment capital can accomplish the transformation we need in our food system, one that is aimed at rebuilding our regional food-processing infrastructure, creating many new small organic family farms, improving biodiversity and soil fertility.
The Soil Trust represents such a radically different kind of capital. By the simple act of being donated into the Soil Trust, fast money is transformed into slow money—nurture investment capital relieved of the compulsion to deliver the highest financial returns possible and able to focus on achieving the positive environmental and social outcomes necessary to rebuild our food system and our communities.
Such seemingly abstract financial concepts seem to have little import for our own daily lives. Yet, we need to ask ourselves two questions. Do we want the choice of what ends up on our plate to be based on personal preferences or to be dictated by the needs of global capital? Should the option of eating organic, nutritious, locally grown food be available to everybody or should it be the exclusive privilege of the wealthy?
If you value personal choice and access when it comes to healthy locally grown food, then I invite you to help build the Soil Trust and allow its nurture capital to fund the transition to a regenerative and just food economy. Thank you for being part of it!