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
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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.

Courtesy image

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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


WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Viles Arboretum, Augusta

HOW MUCH: Free; RSVP at 236-4703 or



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.

Witherbee has been working with Maine social activist and philanthropist Eleanor Kinney, who has already assembled a group of willing investors who just need an investment vehicle.

"We've been meeting with private investors and banks to figure our what structures could be created to use that money once it's put forward," Witherbee said. "The idea is, you take capital out of areas that don't feel as good and put it into the slow food movement."

Russell Libby, who heads the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, will offer a report about how Slow Money Maine should be organized.

"We're proposing a steering committee structure of five to nine people to guide the organization for the next six to nine months," said Libby, who is representing a subcommittee that considered the issue.

Down the road, if Slow Money Maine wanted to establish a loan fund, for instance, it may need to adopt a different legal structure, Libby said.


It's easy for everyone from average Joes to institutional investors to pour money into companies like Monsanto, a frequent target of attacks by food security and local food activists. But should an investor want to finance a Maine farm that needs a new greenhouse or a local food processor that wants to expand, it becomes much more complicated.

This is the discrepancy the slow money movement hopes to rectify. As organizers explore new ways to connect Maine capital with Maine farmers and food producers, a handful of slow money projects already operate in the state.

For the past 10 years, Coastal Enterprises Inc. has offered loans of up to $35,000 through its Organic Revolving Loan Fund to farmers who work without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Last fall, it added another fund to its portfolio called the Maine Farm Business Loan Fund, which also has a cap of $35,000.

"We are more risk-tolerant than a lot of other lenders," said Gray Harris, director of agriculture at Coastal Enterprises. "But we require a certain amount of due diligence. We have an understanding of the unique qualities of agriculture and farming."

MOFGA is in the second year of administering its Organic Farm Loan Fund in collaboration with Bangor Savings Bank. This year, it provided nine low-interest loans that range from $5,000 to $25,000.

MOFGA's Libby said the loan recipients tend to be people who wouldn't qualify for traditional financing. The loans are secured by money from individual donors and MOFGA's endowment held in certificates of deposit by the bank. The Coastal Enterprises loans are funded by grant money.

Investors can support the MOFGA loan fund by placing assets on deposit with Bangor Savings Bank, but there's no way for individuals to invest in the Coastal Enterprises products.

While these micro-loan programs do fill gaps in the current financial system, agricultural projects requiring larger amounts of capital aren't served by these funds.

For instance, Libby points out that "it's really challenging to get a loan to buy a farm if you haven't already farmed."

On the national level, Tasch, who will be on hand for this year's Common Ground Country Fair in September, said the slow money nonprofit he heads is investigating the creation of municipal bonds to fund local food initiatives.

"If we're successfully able to bring some to market, it will open the floodgates," Tasch said.

connecting local investors with local food producers, the movement aims to funnel capital to small-scale, organic agriculture. At its root, the concept seeks to bank on the healthy soil that is built and maintained by sustainable farming methods and is too often degraded by chemical-intensive farming methods.

"We're lucky in Maine to have a lot of solid groups in support of local, sustainable food systems," Rukin said. "Where some of these world issues are so overwhelming, food is where we can make a difference."


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:


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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

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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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