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Children sing the Soil4Climate song during Earth Day activities in White River Junction, Vermont, April 22, 2016

Soil4Climate: New Organization Fights Global Warming From The Ground Up

Eric Becker is chief investment officer at Clean Yield Asset Management. He has been engaged in social and environmental investing since 1993. Eric co-founded Slow Money Boston and Slow Money Vermont, as well as the Vermont Food Investors Network. He is a founding board member of Soil4Climate. Eric serves as a Trustee of Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. He was also a founding board member of The Carrot Project.

In my day job, I’m a money guy. I manage socially and environmentally screened investment portfolios for people who want to align their money with their values. I got involved with Slow Money because of a personal interest in organic agriculture, but also because I had clients who wanted to channel some of their assets into sustainable food systems. But soil? I didn’t know anything about soil.

That was about to change. Through my involvement with Slow Money, my appreciation for and understanding of soil has continually grown and deepened. I remember first learning from a Woody Tasch talk that there were upwards of a billion microorganisms in a teaspoon of fertile soil. I learned from farmers and others at Slow Money gatherings about the myriad benefits of healthy soils, from nutritious food to water quality. Meanwhile, wearing my climate activist hat, I met biologists who explained that one of the most powerful tools we have to mitigate climate change is to put the excess carbon in the atmosphere back in the soil through restorative grazing and agriculture.

Increasingly I found myself in the company of soil advocates who view restorative agriculture as a key component of any scenario in which humanity effectively addresses the climate crisis. Now a few of these folks have formed a Vermont-based non-profit organization called Soil4Climate to advance the soil carbon narrative within the larger climate movement. I’m honored to be one of the founding board members of the organization, and further pleased that Woody Tasch has joined our advisory board.

Soil4Climate

Soil4Climate at Vía Orgánica in Guadalupe, Mexico.

Soil4Climate is inspired by innovative farmers, ranchers and other land managers who are increasing soil carbon while providing environmental and health benefits. As it turns out, nature is our most powerful ally in the fight against global warming. The ability for soil to capture atmospheric carbon is awe evoking. When we work to enhance this natural process, we get nourishing food and biodiverse spaces while also helping to assure a livable future.

Soil4Climate evolved out of an understanding that the climate crisis has reached a point where even eliminating the use of fossil fuels would not prevent an oncoming calamity. Research from NOAA showed that climate change from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was largely irreversible for at least a thousand years, even if our campaign to end fossil use was 100% successful. The planet doesn’t care. It will continue to warm from the carbon we’ve already pumped into the air.

Soil4Climate

Jesse and Callie McDougall of Studio Hill Farm, and Sally Dodge from Vermont Lamb Company.

The one silver lining in all this, however, is soil. In conjunction with essential emissions reductions, soil restoration may provide the extra ingredient needed to avert the worst climate disruptions that are otherwise already locked into the system. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated, it will take “a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period” to do so.

Where does this “large net removal” come from? For decades scientists have recognized that soil provides an important sink for atmospheric carbon. Esteemed Ohio State soil scientist Rattan Lal is considered by many to be the leading authority on the carbon drawdown potential of soils. In a paper from 2010, he estimated that the implementation of soil restoration practices may capture upwards of 3.8 gigatons of atmospheric carbon per year – fully a third of all global carbon emissions. However, a new paper by Richard Teague of Texas A&M, with Lal and others as co-authors, suggests the total drawdown in soil may be much higher when including the restorative potential of livestock managed for grass and soil health on prairie. Teague showed that Adaptive Multipaddock (AMP) grazing, a new type of grazing management that focuses on ecological goals, if employed on all available rangeland in North America, could, on its own, drawdown 730 million tons of carbon per year. When combined with “conservation cropping,” North American agricultural and grazing lands could pull down approximately one eighth of all global emissions. If the drawdown potential noted in Teague’s paper were realized on all cropping and grazing lands worldwide, the total yearly carbon capture would nearly offset the entire output from fossil fuel emissions.

Soil4Climate

Clearly, soil restoration through proper cropping and grazing practices is a valuable goal for us to work toward. We may never know with clarity what the yearly or total cumulative potentials for carbon capture in soil are, but we are certain that the quantities are large, and that movement forward in this direction is an essential course of action with multiple benefits. Combined with emissions reductions, soil restoration provides optimism for a livable future.

Soil4Climate

Soil4Climate at COP21 in Paris.

Soil4Climate supports all modes of engagement with citizens, scientists, policy makers, and practitioners to enhance soil carbon while meeting environmental and human needs. We are attempting to build a movement in the model of 350.org, while also supporting practical measures to help land managers employ regenerative practices. Our activities include writing white papers, organizing forums, encouraging policy, highlighting stories of success, encouraging sustainable investments, hosting online discussion groups, and even writing music and poetry. We stand with the emissions reductions communities that are doing essential work to phase out fossil fuels, and we employ an “all-of-the-above” strategy to engage stakeholders of any age or interest.

Please join us online in our Facebook and Google groups.

A few members of the Planting Justice team

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

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

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

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

Planting Justice

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

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

Planting Justice

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

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

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

Funding Through Self-Directed IRA and Foundation Grants

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

Inaugural Slow Money Minnesota gathering

Slow Money Minnesota: Thoughtful Investing in Farming and Food

On a lovely summer evening in June, 150 people came together for the kick-off of Slow Money Minnesota. The event came about because of the energy and interest bubbling up locally around how Minnesotans can do more to support a healthy local food system. The gathering provided an opportunity to learn about investing in food and farming, as well as sampling delicious local fare.

While Slow Money conversations have taken place in Minnesota, and some Slow Money-style investments have occurred, the timing was right to broaden the dialogue and leverage efforts. The event was designed to set the groundwork for expanding the flow of funds to promising and growing businesses, provide people at various levels of wealth to be able to invest locally, and, as a result have more successful farm and food businesses.

Movers and shakers from across the food, farming, and investment sectors, as well as interested individuals, attended the gathering. The great turn out was in part credited to the team of 20 hosts who helped get the word out to their friends and colleagues, provided input into the event, and pitched in as needed.

The program was short and lively. It began with introductory remarks and an overview of Slow Money. Then a panel of people representing different perspectives shared why they came, and the audience had an opportunity to pipe in too.

Next came three examples of local investing. First up was Joe Riemann, who shared how he and friends formed The Cooperative Principal, an organization whose aim is to propagate and support investment clubs focused on co-ops. The first club, CP Local 001, has been running for about a year and has invested $10,000. Debunking the myth that you have to be rich to invest, club members each invest $50/month. Members research co-op investment opportunities and at their monthly meetings share what they have learned and collectively make decisions on where to invest.

Joe Reimann

Joe Riemann (The Cooperative Principal) and Julie Ristau

 

The second presentation featured Keith Adams. At age forty-five, Keith decided he wanted to follow his passions and start making cheese. Not in a position to get a conventional loan, Keith turned to his friends who pooled their funds and invested $150,000 to help him launch Alemar Cheese. He noted, “While any sensible person would have quit during the beginning years, I wasn’t sensible.” Alemar’s award-winning cheese is now distributed to stores across the country, and in 2014, Keith was able to give his investors their first dividend checks.

Ryan Schildkraut and Ben Klassen rounded out the investment presentations. As business attorneys, they had seen the struggles of businesses to find financing to start or grow their businesses. One client, Brauhaus Brew Labs, turned to Kickstarter and successfully raised the additional capital they needed to launch their business. This prompted the attorneys to look into the possibility of equity crowdfunding. They learned that to make such a mechanism legal would require legislation to be passed in Minnesota. Undaunted by the task, Ryan and his colleagues spearheaded an effort to get legislation introduced and passed in 2015. The new MNVest law, while still in the rulemaking phase, promises to provide new opportunities for businesses and investors.

The next part of the evening featured mini pitches from seven entrepreneurs. These included farmers, food processors, restaurants, and farming support organization. For their two minutes of fame, businesses shared their visions, their innovations, and their values, which ranged from connecting consumer to producer, localizing agricultural imports in the face of climate change, and combating economic injustice for immigrant farmers. The entrepreneurs included: Punk Rawk Labs, onFarm Storage Inc., Gyst Fermentation Bar, Keepsake Cidery, Hmong American Farmers Association, Hidden Stream Farms, and Mighty Ax Hops.

“If we are talking here about actually taking money and changing the world, let’s not just use the triple bottom line, let’s not do it just because it makes economic sense, let’s not just do it because it helps the environment, let’s not just do it because it helps community, but let’s think critically: What is the world that we could recreate with our money?”
—Pakou Hang, Hmong American Farmer’s Association, speaking at the inaugural Slow Money Minnesota gathering

The event concluded with networking and brainstorming, and participants left excited about the possibilities of using investing to support the Minnesota food system.

The event was organized by a task force convened by Renewing the Countryside in cooperation with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Sustainable Farming Association, Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund and the FEAST Local Food Network. It was partially supported through a grant from North Central SARE, and grew out of previous support from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, The Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and Northwest Area Foundation.

Network Update: Slow Money Southern California

Slow Money Southern California has been actively exploring means of enabling deal making at the crowdfunding and investment club end of things. Led by our Director of Investment Programs, Michelle Greenwood, we are developing many opportunities for slow-money minded agripreneurs to connect with community members and potential funders

Over the past 18 months, more than $40,000 has been channeled to small, local, sustainable food businesses in Southern California through our collaboration with the Kiva Zip crowdfunding platform. In increments as low as $25, individuals interested in investing locally can make a micro loan to a local entrepreneur. An additional $10,000 has been loaned to local businesses through Slow Money SoCal’s spin-off investment club, Local Investment Networking Club (LINC). LINC is focusing on facilitating person-to-person transactions in the $5,000 range. We are also working with Community Sourced Capital, another crowdfunding site, to create a raise targeted at the $500 per individual level. Two options are being considered; the first is a straight crowd funding campaign, the second is a matched fund campaign through which a community development bank or other source will match the amount raised by the community in a zero interest loan. Both of these avenues seem promising.

Slow Money SoCal helped Out of the Box Collective crowdfund a $10,000 Kiva Zip loan.

Slow Money SoCal helped Out of the Box Collective crowdfund a $10,000 Kiva Zip loan.

 

At each step, we have been hosting community meetings around the region and these meetings continue to have wonderful energy, providing the basis for collaboration and co-investment relationships.

Last month, Brent Collins, who has provided leadership for Slow Money Southern California since inception, passed the baton to Frank Golbeck, of Golden Coast Mead.

“We’re still in the early days. It will take imagination, cooperation and lots of good work to bring the Slow Money vision to more people. As we do, the multiple benefits to the economy, the community and the soil are almost as sweet as Golden Coast Mead.”
—Frank Golbeck