This has real potential as a solution to re-define wealth that calls back to an earlier definition: a roof over your head, clothes on your back, running fresh water and fresh food grown nearby. And the concept is analogous to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) where many individuals invest in the health and prosperity of a nearby farm.
The goals and structure of the the [Slow Money] movement are fairly amorphous — cynics might say squishy — more on the philosophical than pragmatic level for the time being. Tasch’s recent book “Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered” (Chelsea Green) aims to spark and incubate investment at all levels in local or regional food systems. This means not only organic farms, dairies and ranches, but food processing facilities, food artisans (makers of jelly, cheese, etc.) and retail or distribution networks, restaurants and stores.
“It is two things: a new way of thinking about money at a macro level, in terms of philanthropy and social investing, and on the ground it is getting money into local food systems,” said Tasch. “Our objective is a very robust network at regional and local levels across the U.S. — many, many players who are all interested in the same goal: rebuilding local food systems.”
Butterworks Farm in Vermont practices "Slow Money"
“People joining CSAs and shopping at farmers markets is the beginning of this sea change. People think of those as consumer rather than investment dollars, but they are a kind of investment.”
How much Slow Money can raise remains to be seen. Rather than using a venture capital model they are seeking to mobilize hundreds of thousands of members contributing millions of dollars per year which will then be used to seed the nurture capital industry. Founding members — 150 of them — contributed at least $1,000 each. And the overarching goal, Tasch said, is connecting investors with food systems in their own regions.
Lazor said organic farms will likely never be as profitable for investors as more traditional stocks, but he thinks people are increasingly seeing such investments as an attractive option in the holistic sense.
“People’s perceptions of good [financial] risks are the traditional exploitative and extractive industries that are ruining the earth,” he said. “Folks that have the dough are going to need to be satisfied with a lower return on their dollar, and get their satisfaction from knowing they’ve made the earth a better place.”
Slow money involves the belief that investment in sustainable local food systems is likely to pay off financially in the long run, since it simply makes more sense and curbs the costly environmental and health damage wrought by industrial agriculture. But it may not pay off quickly — hence the “slow” — and the payoff may not come in direct dollars back to the investor but rather tangible or intangible benefits to food producers, the environment and the general public.
Slow money proponents see the economic crisis, paired with increasingly alarming news about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, as an opportunity for a new economic and agricultural paradigm.
“Our historical experience with global industrial finance is now in question — people are not completely sanguine about the prospects of venture capital and investing in China as it has been practiced,” said Tasch. “There’s a lot of economic uncertainty, so just the idea of diversification, putting one percent of our money to work in local food systems, is more attractive. And the number of people just interested in food is at an all-time high, people are starting to understand problems with industrial agriculture, industrial food.”
Tasch is hoping to get thousands of signatories to the Slow Money Principles, which include, “We must bring money back down to earth” and “We must build a nurture capital industry.” Whether or not people invest or donate, he hopes people use the holiday spirit to forward the principles far and wide.