Slow Money to Speed Change

By Hal Brill

In spite of all today’s economic challenges, this is an exciting time for values-based investors. The range of investments has grown from just a handful of SRI funds when we started in the 80’s to hundreds of values-based options. SRI has become a global movement, corporate responsibility is a mainstream issue, and the opportunity to create a low-carbon economy is the major thrust of the current administration.

But despite these achievements, the challenges have grown even faster. The earth is groaning under the strain of supporting consumption-based lifestyles, while debt-based economies demand even more consumption to keep the whole game going. In an ideal world, we would have a coordinated global approach with sufficient wisdom and clout to address global challenges while keeping local economies vibrant. But Wall Street and a handful of mega-banks are designed to funnel capital into globalization, while the local realm has been almost ignored by the investment world. In response, many people are finding that the local level is the most appropriate place to direct their energies, for it is in our neighborhoods and communities that we can have the most meaningful impact.

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So I was elated when I picked up a new book called Slow Money written by Woody Tasch. Just the title gets your attention…who talks about the speed of money? But money has gotten fast, whizzing around the world as blips of data, seeking the highest return no matter what the consequences for the planet. Slowing money down fits right in with “natural” investing – our term for investing in ways that are aligned with the planet’s patterns at a deeper level. In September I attended the first national Slow Money conference in Santa Fe. I felt right at home, as the 400+ attendees were a blend of activists from the financial, farming, and nonprofit worlds.

Tasch’s focus is on local food, also known as the Slow Food movement. We all know the splendid taste of vine- ripened tomatoes and fresh-picked corn.

Farmers markets have become the social event of the week. And despite jokes about arugula-eating yuppies, small-scale farming plays a crucial role in protecting food security. Connected to the land, with the knowledge of how to adapt to changing conditions, our very survival depends upon farmers maintaining an agricultural system that is truly sustainable for the long haul.

Today, food produced by local farmers for local markets is still only a tiny fraction of the overall food supply. Corporate agribusiness dominates the grocery realm, delivering cheap food, but at a

tremendous environmental and social cost. Many of us would love to see local farmers reclaiming their traditional role of producing healthful food as well as building the soils for their bioregion. But the odds are stacked against them – the Monsantos of the world see agriculture as a business opportunity, and have amassed great wealth and power to keep themselves in a dominant role.

Enter Slow Money. One of the biggest impediments to helping local food systems prosper is the lack of available capital. Slow Money will enable investors to keep a significant portion of their portfolio close to home, investing in resilient food systems that keep us fed and protect the health of people and the environment.

I live amidst a cornucopia of local organic food. Paonia’s mild climate and clean water has attracted young organic farmers. But farming is not only hard work, it’s risky and expensive. It is almost impossible to get conventional financing. If there was a Western Colorado Slow Money fund, local money could fund the expansion of local food, enabling more farmers to produce a greater variety of food, and transitioning our food supply from one dominated by corporations back to one of family farms.

I’d love to talk to anyone who’s interested in learning more about Slow Money. As this movement grows, Natural Investments will be part of the effort to make new kinds of funds available to invest in. Meanwhile, take heart that there are people like Woody who are taking bold steps, helping to redesign the investment world so that it supports a healthy future.

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Hal Brill

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