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The "Slow Money" Movement May Revolutionize the Way You Think About Food

In an economy structured around industrial agriculture, sustaining small farms can be a challenge. 'Slow money' economics could be the answer.

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"There are long-term modest rates of return but nowhere near venture capital rates of return," said Tasch. "We’re not trying to put a one-size-fits-all approach, we have members who are foundations to individuals looking for venture capital investments. There are also those who might take low or even negative rates of return. We have plenty of angel investors too, who are just looking for interesting food projects to be involved with."

Fair-trade coffee, chocolate, crafts and other commodities from developing countries have become an increasingly profitable and popular market, especially around the holidays. Slow food and hence slow money have much in common with fair trade. Tasch said for the time being the Slow Money Alliance is focused on local and regional systems within the United States. But he wouldn’t be surprised by more cooperation and connections with global fair-trade groups in the future. He noted producers from six countries were at the Santa Fe conference.

Midwestern farmer and coffee roaster David Meyers is not formally involved with the slow money movement, but he has been practicing slow money and slow food philosophies on a grassroots, DIY level for the past six years. After burning out on grant-writing for non-profit organizations, he sought a way to combine food justice, community activism and a sustainable lifestyle of his own. He single-handedly runs the CSA On the Fly Farms from a several-acre farm in southwest Michigan and roasts and sells fair-trade Resistance Coffee. He donates proceeds of both operations to local activist or community groups and spreads awareness of social justice struggles through coffee bag labels and fliers in CSA deliveries. He is also helping to start a small coffee-roasting business in Chicago to employ immigrants affiliated with a local workers center.

This fall Meyers sent out a plea for "investors" to help support his enterprises, though he didn’t offer any financial returns. He said supporters responded with about $1,000 in donations, the use of a car and apartment and paid speaking gigs. He advocates restructuring community-based micro-economies based on direct connections, subverting the larger finance system. Among other things he notes that people with unused land in regions like southwest Michigan could "invest" in local food systems by allowing low-income people or community groups to farm their land.

"We should reconfigure the system so it’s for the good of everyone, rather than people fighting for spots on life rafts," he said.

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.

And slow money proponents naturally advocate that people buy gifts and meal ingredients locally, and experience the transaction as a gift within itself.

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