By Woody Tasch, chairman & founder, Slow Money
For the past five years, Slow Money has been working along the boundaries of angel investing, impact investing and philanthropy to catalyze the flow of capital to small, organic food enterprises that are rebuilding local food systems. As the preceding sentence implies, this work takes a number of different shapes, including local networks, investment clubs, pitchfests and, very recently, our BEETCOIN (www.beetcoin.org ) campaign, which combines online donations with event-driven 0% loans to create what we hope will become a long-term, scalable funding resource deployed alongside local Slow Money investing activities.
As of mid-2014, over $38 million has flowed into small food enterprises in the U.S., Canada, France and Switzerland, via 21 local networks and 13 investment clubs. Our first BEETCOIN campaign began October 1 and will end November 12, at Slow Money 2014 Gathering in Louisville, KY where 21 entrepreneurs will be presenting on stage and the two top vote getters will share BEETCOIN proceeds. More details on the event at- http://slowmoney.org/national-gathering/2014/home
The overall context for Slow Money, and the introduction of BEETCOIN, are described below, which is excerpted from Commons nth: Common Sense For A Post Wall Street World, a pamphlet available free from Slow Money at www.slowmoney.org
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Industrial Agriculture and Industrial Finance are two sides of the same coin.
The food system is great at producing cheap, shelf stable food, but equally great as a contributor to many significant systemic problems: soil erosion, carbon in the atmosphere, an obesity and diabetes pandemic, aquifer depletion, loss of biodiversity, and high costs of intermediation (less than ten cents of every consumer food dollar gets to a farmer). The finance system is great at facilitating enormous capital flows and wealth, but equally great as a contributor to many fundamental systemic problems: unequal distribution of wealth, short term thinking in the executive suite, securities that are too complex to regulate, banks that are too big to manage, and layers of intermediation that are rigged in favor of (to use the words of John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, one of the world’s largest asset management firms) “the croupiers.”
We need to learn how to earn, save and invest a new kind of coin. Consider BEETCOIN.
Introduced by Slow Money in September 2014, BEETCOIN collects contributions and directs these funds to small, organic food enterprises, by popular vote, as 0% loans. The first recipients of BEETCOIN proceeds will be food entrepreneurs who make presentations at Slow Money 2014: A Local and Global Gathering on Food, Investing and Culture, on November 10-12 in Louisville, KY. (For more information on BEETCOIN and the event, go to www.slowmoney.org )
Here’s a glimpse of the kind of enterprises that have received support via Slow Money local networks and investment clubs over the past few years:
As evidenced by the emergence of community supported agriculture and the dramatic increase in the number of farmers markets over the past few decades, a new generation of small and mid-size organic farms is in the offing, along with the many enterprises that will bring their product to market. Yet despite robust growth, organics still accounts for only four percent of the food industry and organic farmland in the U.S. accounts for only one percent of total farmland. Where will the capital come from to support the next stages of structural change? It will not come, either in terms of quantity or kind, or soon enough, from Wall Street, Washington or the foundation community.
Wall Street and Washington are each dysfunctional in their own way; both are captive to top-down, industrial solutions and the influence of special interests. The foundation community has its own set of structural limitations. Organized around the provision of grants to non-profits, foundations have great difficulty moving towards mission-related investing or impact investing, and the risk/return/impact equation of small for-profit food businesses does not quite compute for them. Roughly one quarter of one percent of foundation grants go to sustainable agriculture and the amount of mission-related investing by foundations in the food sector is barely calculable as a percentage of total foundation assets.
No, the capital needed to fix the economy from the ground up must come from individuals, who recognize the limits of the dismal science of economics and the innate value of putting money to work in new ways, and who appreciate—with a sense of urgency, along with humor, humility and more than a little respect and affection for humus—the cultural ramifications of doing so.
Could investing in a small food enterprise near where you live be the greatest thing since unsliced organic bread? Is it the most assertive act of peaceableness we can undertake, short of hitting Vladimir Putin or Ted Cruz over the head with a bunch of beets?
At least we can say that BEETCOIN is the opposite of BITCOIN. It is the world’s first CDO-free, dismal- science-denying, non-violence-promoting non-currency, more real than that virtual currency.
This is your chance to be a BEETNIK.
Article by Woody Tasch, the dynamic and visionary founder and chairman of Slow Money, a nonprofit headquartered in Boulder, Colo., with an alliance of national and international chapters. Slow Money took root in 2009 with Tasch’s ground-breaking book “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.” As Tasch traveled the country on a book tour, audience members stepped forward one by one, inspired to create within their local communities the change he spoke about.
Mr. Tasch is widely regarded as a pioneer of the concepts of patient capital, mission-related investing and community development venture capital. For 10 years before founding Slow Money, he was the chairman of Investors’ Circle, an angel investor network that since 1992 has invested $172 million in sustainability-promoting startups. Tasch was founding chairman of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance and treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation during the ’90s, where as part of an innovative mission-related venture capital investing program a substantial investment was made in Stonyfield Farm, now the world’s largest maker of organic yogurt.
Tasch is now working on the sequel to his first book, revisiting the fundamental principles of Slow Money, based on the experience of the last four years since launching the organization and movement. Today, trend spotters cite Slow Money as a solution to manage the interrelated issues of economic crisis, sustainability, food sourcing and cultural renewal. Slow Money investors around the country have moved $38 million into 350 small food businesses to date, including farms, creameries, grain mills, niche organic brands, local processing, distribution and seed companies, and restaurants.
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