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Slow Money movement aims to bring cash down to earth

The Denver Post
By: Andra Zeppelin

Slow Money brought its “We must bring money back to earth” message to Colorado Saturday. In collaboration with the Sustainable Settings ranch of Carbondale, Slow Money hosted the Rocky Mountain Regional Gathering, a day of community organizing and panel discussions, followed by a harvest festival at Sustainable Settings.  Participants, myself included, left inspired to build and support vibrant food businesses using Slow Money tools and ideas.

Playing off the “Slow Food” movement, Slow Money is a non-profit organization aimed at directing investors and their cash to small food enterprises, organic farms and local food systems. The non-profit was formed in 2008 after its founder, Woody Tasch, published “Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money– Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.”

Lance Hanson of Peak Spirits and Jack Rabbit Hill Farm, became intrigued with Slow Money four years ago. “Woody’s ideas about restoring local economies made huge sense to us as small farmer-producers in rural Colorado — it was immediately clear to us that Woody was on to something that had the potential to be a real movement,” says Hanson.

Brook LeVan, who started the Sustainable Settings ranch 15 years ago, read Tasch’s book soon after publication and became involved with the group, hosting several events, the culmination of which was this regional gathering.

Along with Hanson and LeVan, 75 Colorado farmers, ranchers, food entrepreneurs gathered to exchange information on local food culture and community and discuss the principles of Slow Money. [More on the principles here].

“We can rebuild our local community and create viable small food enterprises,” said Tasch, whose Slow Money organization has started more than a dozen local chapters active in supporting small local food enterprises.

The keynote speaker, Gary Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist considered a pioneer in the local food and heirloom seed-saving movement, talked about the importance of restoring local food production. Nabhan described how his heirloom seed conservation efforts have yielded heirloom wheat and rare varieties of flowers that are now sought by consumers and recognized as commercially viable products.

The overarching message of the program was that we are all connected through food, and small food enterprises can, in fact, be thriving businesses.

The most spirited discussion was a roundtable that included nine Colorado farmers and community members committed to the Slow Money principles. Among the participants were Wayne Talmage of White Buffalo Farms, Tai Jacober of Crystal River Meats, Puja Parsons of Growing Spaces and Jeff Schwartz of Big B’s, as well as Joel Benson, mayor of Buena Vista.

They debated the benefits and drawbacks of regulation, complained about mind-numbing bureaucracy, and lamented the lack of a direct route to the consumer for their products:

-An apple orchard owner revealed the simplicity of attracting a new customer: the local school district. He said all he had to do was walk into the main office and offer his product.

-A goat farmer shared the difficulty of paying for antibiotic testing on goat milk at a farm where animals were never given antibiotics.

-A rancher encouraged farmers to be active on social media to reach potential restaurant customers, saying that was how he attracted several new accounts.


The challenges:

-Farmers need to become more savvy marketers.

-Distributors need to reach deeper into the local community to support small food enterprises.

-Investors need to become more committed to financing sustainable agriculture.


Lance Hanson urged Coloradans to “spend more time exploring local food options, and discovering the wonderful bounty that comes from the artisan farmers and producers in the great state of Colorado.”

For those who want to learn more and become more involved, Michael Bartner, vice president of Slow Money, suggested reading its principles:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.

IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.

V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.

VI. Paul Newman said, “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:

* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
* What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
* What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?


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