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An Effort to Add a Key Ingredient to the Slow Food Movement: Investor Money

By KATHRYN SHATTUCK

BOULDER, Colo. — “Welcome, pig lovers, and welcome, earthworms!” Woody Tasch bellowed from the stage of the Boulder Theater, where 650 food entrepreneurs and investors had wedged themselves for the opening day of the fourth Slow Money National Gathering.

Mr. Tasch whipped the crowd into a frenzy on Monday morning — shouts of “It’s crazy!” and the random boo and hiss ricocheted through the audience — as he discussed the moral failures of unsustainable corporate farming and financiers struggling to align their urge to buy low and sell high with socially conscious investing.

As venture capitalists increasingly bet on food start-ups, Slow Money, a nonprofit that catalyzes the flow of capital to small and local food enterprises, supports what Mr. Tasch called the heroic grunts: the food producers and their fiduciary counterparts, or “food-ish-iaries,” committed to healing and investing in a broken system, either through manpower or money.

“We’re planting the seeds of nurture capital,” he said, an industry, he acknowledged, “that does not quite exist yet.”

Mr. Tasch, the chairman emeritus of the Investors’ Circle, a nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists and foundations, established Slow Money on the heels of his 2008 book “Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.” Inspired in part by the slow food movement led by the Italian Carlo Petrini, Mr. Tasch envisioned his own movement as an antidote to big agriculture.

Joan Dye Gussow, the eat-locally-think-globally matriarch and a speaker at the gathering, said, “Like me, Woody is someone who took the red pill a long time ago, and it has affected his life.”

Onstage at the theater, which was emblazoned with images of produce, pigs and grinning farmers, were such environmental gurus as Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, a research organization in Salina, Kan.; Mary Berry, the daughter of the writer Wendell Berry and founder of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.; Winona LaDuke, executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota; and investors like John Fullerton, founder and president of Capital Institute in Greenwich, Conn., which focuses on sustainable resources.

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