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dedicated to rebuilding our food system from the grassroots up. At Slow Money gatherings, which regularly take place on the national, regional, and local levels, investors get the chance to connect with small farmers and entrepreneurs who are committed to growing or selling sustainably produced food. The one-on-one connections forged at these events ease the way for the

food-production system bigger and faster, we’ll be doing so at the expense of our soil fertility, aquifer waters, and biodiversity. These things are priceless, and we all know that they’re priceless, and we constantly bemoan their loss—but then we throw up our hands and say that we have no idea how to restore balance to the system. Systems can consist of either

Slow Money isn’t necessarily saying, ‘No more big things.’ But it is saying, ‘We need more small things.’

food fighter

Woody Tasch’s Slow Money group lifts up small farmers.

share the bounty How ya gonna keep ’em down on the organic farm? By investing in it, says a veteran financial strategist Though it’s certainly easier

to find local, sustainably grown meat and produce in America than it was 20 years ago, the deck nevertheless remains stacked against small farmers and sellers who would feed the steadily increasing demand for such Ted Genoways fare. Many of our food-production talks to system’s most dangerous and unsusWoody Tasch tainable practices—from pumping factory-farmed livestock full of antibiotics to depleting and polluting groundwater supplies—are precisely what put the “big” in Big Agriculture in the first place. Some of the systemic advantages that Big Ag now enjoys thanks to economies of scale include widespread distribution networks, multimillion-dollar marketing budgets, and easy access to capital, to name just a few. Woody Tasch aims to level the growing field. Tasch spent 10 years as chairman of the Investors’ Circle, a nonprofit network of foundations, venture capitalists, and other deep-pocketed interests that directs capital toward socially and environmentally progressive start-ups and enterprises. Then, in 2009, he became the founding chairman of Slow Money, a nationwide network of investors—from private equity specialists in office towers to white-haired grandmas in rocking chairs—wholly

flow of investment capital that can help a dairy cooperative or an organic grain mill expand its operations, or get a new locally sourced grocery store up and running in an underserved community. Nearly 25,000 people have signed on to the Slow Money Principles, a bullet-point manifesto that, among other things, calls upon signatories to “invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered” and to “connect investors to the places where they live.” So far, Slow Money members have invested more than $33 million in 250 small and sustainable food enterprises around the country. I sat down to lunch with Tasch one afternoon last December in Boulder, Colorado, to discuss food, farms, and the difference between traditional venture capital and the Slow Money concept of “nurture capital.” What makes Slow Money different from other investment models?

Slow Money is about asking people to consider the costs and benefits associated with the production of our food. If we continue to spend all our energy and capital building 10,000-acre industrial farms and making our

small numbers of ver y large things or large numbers of small things. Which one of these seems likely to be more stable in the long term? Slow Money isn’t necessarily saying, “No more big things.” But it is saying, “We need more small things.” Who’s signing up?

People who believe we’re fast approaching—or have already reached—our global limits, and who don’t want to participate in a scenario that has us mindlessly consuming our way to the very end. They understand that there are many different ways to define “return on investment,” including enhancing soil fertility, keeping water in our aquifers, and fostering healthier communities. There are millions of people in America who fit that description and who are giving signs that they’re ready to do something about it. They range from wealthy individuals to those who may have only a few thousand dollars to invest. In our Maine chapter, just for example, we had someone write a single $3 million check to help finance a dairy cooperative. We also had 19 people who formed their own investment club by

spring 2014

onearth 1 9

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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