“Conventional” farms continue to contribute to extraordinary environmental, nutritional, and cultural degradation. The stock market inexplicably crashes and spikes on a daily basis, causing investor confidence to dwindle. While the future may seem bleak on paper, many across the U.S. and the world are beginning to take their food, and their finances, into their own hands. Slow Money, a non-profit formed in 2008 with the mission to “catalyze investment in local food systems” has taken a unique approach to shifting the status quo, working to simultaneously address the current financial and food crises.
Slow Money’s organizational model is similar to that of Slow Food. Both have a large national organization working to promote their big idea and to enhance their overall mission, while at the same time expanding the organization’s reach by incubating local chapters. However, unlike Slow Food, which is more focused on the experiential and cultural aspects within regional food systems, Slow Money’s focus is on fostering intellectual, social, and financial capital. While Slow Food chapters host events to teach people about the importance and joys of good, clean, and fair food, Slow Money brings community members together with food systems experts, finance and law professionals, and small food entrepreneurs in order to catalyze investments into local and regional food systems, while also fostering a sense of commensality and cultural revitalization. Together, they are a powerful force in the good food movement.
One of the major vehicles Slow Money uses to succeed in its mission is hosting entrepreneur showcases, where small food enterprises in various stages from start-up to growth can briefly present their business plan, in hopes of soliciting investments and loans from attendees. Enterprises can range from small farms to cutting edge online supply chain management technology, from organic grain mills to organic food for kids. At the national level, Slow Money has held two such showcases at their annual gatherings, and from these events over $4.25 million has been invested, all going to support local businesses.
This past Thursday, the Greater Boston Slow Money (GBSM) chapter hosted its first local entrepreneur showcase, bringing together approximately 50 farmers, students, small business owners, and finance experts from around Massachusetts. It was, without a doubt, a major success. The event kicked off with a networking session catered by Basil Tree Catering, Taza Chocolates, and City Feed, all local small businesses that emphasize sustainability. After a warm welcome from volunteer GBSM leader Julia Shanks, the audience was treated to an informative and inspiring presentation by Linzee Weld of Slow Money Maine.
Late in 2010, Linzee and her peers formed the “No Small Potatoes” investment club, whichpools together one-time commitments from members of $5,000 or more in order to make small, low interest loans to local food enterprises who do not have access to traditional financing (bank loans, investments). Linzee discussed in detail the trial and error process that went into getting to where the club is now, having recently made loans to several small Maine farms and even Heiwa Tofu, a family-run artisan tofu business. The smiles that graced each audience member as Linzee talked about her successes and failures, and the questions that followed, made it clear that everyone in the room was there for the same reason: to participate in something tangible, to find out what they can do to make a difference, and most importantly to work together as a community to start fixing things, here and now.
The showcase that followed was equally inspiring and wholly invigorating. While all six of the business presentations made me wish I had capital to invest, some of the highlights included Encendia BioChar, a start-up that has created a complex soil amendment from organic waste matter, and Sky Vegetables, a proven urban agriculture business that builds and operates sustainable, year-round roof top farms. The businesses were each given just 5 minutes to present and 5 minutes for questions. The time flew by, but it was sufficient enough to hear exactly how these companies would make for a worthwhile personal investment; and more importantly, how each business is investing in the fertility of our soil, economy, and culture.
Greater Boston Slow Money Chapter: http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Boston-Slow-Money/
Presenting Companies at Showcase –
Dig It Local: http://www.diggitlocal.com/
Encendia BioChar: http://encendia.com/
Moho River Cacao: http://mohocacao.tumblr.com/
Sky Vegetables: http://www.skyvegetables.com/
Higher Ground Farm: https://www.facebook.com/highergroundfarm
City Feed and Supply: http://www.cityfeedandsupply.com/