August 18, 2010

Natural Foodie: Investors plant
the seeds for slow money

Mainers are getting behind the effort to fast-track the slow money movement, to the ultimate benefit, they believe, of those who grow – and eat – local food.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer


While brokers tempt investors with derivatives, hedge funds and collateralized debt obligations that are able to zip around the globe at lightening speed, venture capitalist Woody Tasch wants to see a return to a slow but steady gold standard with more long-term security than a blue chip stock.

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Woody Tasch, author of "Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money" and a leader in the slow money movement, will be at the Common Ground Fair on Sept. 25.

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Local producers such as Maho Hisakawa, who with her husband owns a small tofu company in Camden, hope they can come to rely on Maine investors for loans to keep their businesses running.

Press Herald file photo

Additional Photos Below

SLOW MONEY MAINE MEETING

WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Viles Arboretum, Augusta

HOW MUCH: Free; RSVP at 236-4703 or bonnierukin@gwi.net

AUTHOR/ACTIVIST WOODY TASCH

AT COMMON GROUND FAIR

MEET WOODY TASCH, Slow Money founder and author of "Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money," at the Common Ground Country Fair at 11 a.m. Sept. 25. Tasch and representatives of Slow Money Maine will give an informal meet-and-greet session.

His plan? Invest in soil fertility.

Tasch, who lives in New Mexico, is the leading figure in an emerging movement called slow money. The concept is catching on across the country, including here in Maine.

Slow money brings together socially-responsible investors with proponents of local and organic food, in a collaboration aimed at fundamentally shifting how money moves through the economy and where it gets invested.

"There's a growing awareness about the importance of local food," Tasch said in a recent interview. "But there's also a broader concern from investors that the global financial system is out of control."

In the seminal book on the subject, "Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money," Tasch writes: "The problems we face with respect to soil fertility, biodiversity, food quality, and local economies are not primarily problems of technology. They are problems of finance. In a financial system organized to optimize the efficient use of capital, we should not be surprised to end up with cheapened food, millions of acres of GMO corn, billions of food miles, dying Main Streets, kids who think food comes from supermarkets, and obesity epidemics side by side with persistent hunger."

Slow money also seeks to overcome the funding obstacles faced by small-scale food producers who compete in the global financial market, which favors mega-farms and consolidated food manufacturers.

MAINE ENTERS THE SLOW LANE

Come October, Jeffrey Wolovitz needs $10,000 to buy 15 tons of soybeans from a Maine farmer, but he lacks the necessary cash. Wolovitiz and his wife own Heiwa Tofu in Lincolnville, where in two years the company has gone from producing 300 pounds of tofu a week to 1,000 pounds a week.

Last year, when it was time for Heiwa to buy its yearly stock of locally-grown soybeans, the Wolovitzes went to a bank for a line of credit, but could only secure a quarter of the capital they needed. On Thursday, Wolovitz will head to a meeting of Slow Money Maine to see if he can find Maine investors willing to provide him with a loan to cover the soybean purchase.

"Part of what I'm looking for at the meeting is feedback on how to structure" this line of credit, Wolovitz said.

The first national gathering to talk slow money took place last fall in Santa Fe, N.M., and included a handful of folks from Maine. Bonnie Rukin of Camden was among the participants, and when she returned to the state, she called a meeting in January to kickstart a Slow Money Maine chapter.

Since then, the informal group has met every other month, with the most recent meeting attracting 40 participants. Tomorrow at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta, another meeting will take place.

"Right now, there seems to be a lot of momentum building," Rukin said. "The interest has been phenomenal."

Thursday's meeting will include a series of presentations from players in Maine's local food economy.

Nicole Witherbee, who heads the consulting firm Policy Edge, plans to discuss an ongoing research project examining what local food distribution and processing projects are most needed and would make the most sense for Maine's socially responsible investors to support.

So far, an intern on loan from the Maine Department of Agriculture conducted five in-depth interviews with Maine farmers. Witherbee is seeking funding to conduct 59 more interviews and produce a paper survey that would be mailed to 1,000 farmers.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association administers its Organic Farm Loan Fund in collaboration with Bangor Savings Bank.

Press Herald file photo

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Courtesy image

20090923_Dairy
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Slow money advocates say the success of the movement will be rooted in the healthy soil that is built and maintained by sustainable farming methods.

Press Herald file photo



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