The economic headlines are mind-numbing, announcing wild gyrations in the stock market, skyrocketing government debt, and unpredictable prices of gold and petroleum. Against this backdrop of financial turmoil, a quiet movement is taking place, led by a small but growing group of investors who have chosen to place their money where it benefits local food systems and in ways that promote stewardship of natural resources. This is the story of slow money.
The idea behind slow money is reassuringly fundamental: We need to take some of our money—a tiny fraction of it to begin with, of course—out of the accelerating, increasingly volatile, abstract, and complex global financial marketplace, where we can never fully know what it is doing or to whom it is doing it, and put it to work in things that we understand, closer to home, starting with small food enterprises.
Such notions are built on principles that are nothing new to the legion of folks who have recognized the value of organics for decades. But these fundamentals have rarely been applied to the field of finance. Are we in the early days of a new school of earthworm economics? We shall see.
Slow money is small, but sprouting. The Slow Money Alliance was founded in 2008 as a nonprofit organization that encourages and facilitates investment in community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms, organic food distributors, farm-to-table restaurants, and other food sources. A national network, the alliance has more than 2,000 members, 11 chapters where local investing is taking place, and dozens of emerging chapters that are facilitating the flow of millions of dollars into scores of businesses around the country. At the 2010 Slow Money National Gathering in Vermont, 12 food-related companies were selected to receive investments totaling $4 million. The recipients included an organic-food home-delivery service, an organic creamery, an inner-city farming project, and an organic beverage startup. The 2011 national gathering in San Francisco was another step toward the movement’s goal: 1 million Americans investing 1 percent of their assets in local food systems within a decade.