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


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.

Offstage, entrepreneurs went in search of the brown ribbons that denoted “earthworm angels,” or high net-worth investors, and networked with their fellow food producers. Over lunch, ranchers discussed grass-fed beef with Chad Arnold, chief executive of Door to Door Organics, an online grocery in Louisville, Colo., and one of 25 businesses competing for entrepreneur of the year and a $50,000 prize. (Revision International, a Denver cooperative that distributes food grown by low-income families, won that prize; Hayden Flour Mills of Phoenix, which works to revive heritage and ancient grains, won the people’s choice award.)

“We’re united in mission, in that we’re all trying to change the food system,” said Jeffrey Greenberg of the Kitchen Coop in Broomfield, Colo., which brings together small food manufacturers to share equipment, space and labor. “We’re total compatriots before we’re competitors.”

Since 2010 Slow Money has helped to funnel $25 million into nearly 200 food enterprises, with 16 domestic chapters and one in France, six investment clubs and Gatheround, a new crowd-funding platform.

“It really is not just about building a better financial base but ultimately about community building,” said Gary Paul Nabhan, a conservation biologist who took Mr. Tasch to an informational meeting in Elgin, Ariz., population 161, where $140,000 was pledged. “We had Woody in this little town to show that this kind of work isn’t just for the Boulders and the Santa Fes of the world.”

Paul Schwennesen, a partner in the Double Check Ranch in Clifton, Ariz., left the Boulder gathering with 27 potential investors in a fund to buy land that would be managed with environmental concerns in mind. “You get some business cards from a steely-eyed wealthy man who doesn’t say anything, gives you a card and walks away,” Mr. Schwennesen said. “And others who want to gush about the concept, but you don’t know if they’re serious.”


New York Times

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