May 2, 2012

Natural Foodie: Slow Money offers capital idea for farmers, producers

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

The Slow Money Maine network has been in existence for only two years, but it's already helped connect farmers and food producers with more than $2.7 million in capital.

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Grant money leveraged through the Slow Money Maine network is helping the worker-owners of Local Sprouts Cooperative develop outreach programs and educate staff members.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Baby sugar kelp wraps are being tested by local chefs before Ocean Approved brings this new product to market. Ocean Approved is one of many food businesses that have benefited from participation in the Slow Money Maine network.

Contributed photo

SLOW MONEY MAINE

WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. May 16

WHERE: Viles Arboretum, 153 Hospital St., Augusta

HOW MUCH: Free

INFO: slowmoneymaine.org

The event begins and ends with time for networking.

In between, the following will be represented:

FOOD SYSTEM PRESENTATIONS:

Tom and Kelly Roth of VitaminSea Maine Seaweed

Kelly LaCasse of The Maine Meal

David Whittlesey of Bowdoinham Community Development Initiative

Tim Schwab of Chretien's Greenhouses

UPDATES FROM SLOW MONEY MAINE PARTICIPANTS:

Warren Cook & Linzee Weld of Technical Assistance Project

Bob St. Peter of Food for Maine's Future

Dorothy Suput of The Carrot Project

A national movement, Slow Money brings together socially responsible investors with producers of local and organic food in an effort to fundamentally shift how money moves through the economy and where it gets invested. If fast money gives us high-fructose corn syrup and pink slime, slow money gives us real maple syrup and grass-fed beef.

"It's been hard to keep up, because there have been so many deals," said Bonnie Rukin, Slow Money Maine coordinator. "Individuals regularly contact me about moving their money from banks, where they're getting little to no interest, to local food businesses."

Maine companies ranging from vegetable processing operations to buying clubs have connected with funding through the network. It's also spawned related organizations, such as the No Small Potatoes Investment Club.

Paul Dobbins, who co-owns the Ocean Approved kelp company in Portland, presented information about the business at the Slow Money Maine meeting in January.

"We actually picked up a distributor as a result of that," Dobbins said. "We've had some interest from folks on the financial side of the business. We've pushed (off meeting with them) because we're in the midst of our harvest season."

But Dobbins said once the harvest wraps up, he'll circle back and connect with these potential investors.

Slow Money Maine meets every other month at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. About 20 people attended the first gathering in April 2010, and the most recent meeting in March drew a crowd of more than 70. Almost 400 people are now involved with Slow Money Maine.

At the meeting taking place May 16, Tom and Kelly Roth will give an overview of their VitaminSea Maine Seaweed company.

Based in Buxton, with its boats in Portland, the company wild harvests and air dries seaweeds for human and animal consumption. Silvery Moon Creamery makes a cheese using the company's seaweed, and the 50 Local restaurant in Kennebunk uses VitaminSea seaweed in its dishes.

"I don't know what the presentation will bring," Kelly Roth said. "But we'd really like some people involved who know more about marketing and about business. When we go to present, we really want to see if someone wants to help us invest in greenhouses so we can dry when it rains."

An animal feed company in Wisconsin has purchased all of VitaminSea's supply of kelp chips and wants more. In order to fulfill that order, the company needs to ramp up production, which requires more capital.

Rukin said one of the network's latest efforts developed a way for individuals and foundations to provide cash donations to for-profit enterprises. The funds are funneled through one of six economic development organizations in Maine and then handed over to the businesses in the form of grants.

For example, last summer the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation gave $250,000 to the Somerset Economic Development Corp., which then granted the money to the Somerset Grist Mill, a community-supported agriculture effort, an apple orchard and a pasta maker.

Portland cafe and catering company Local Sprouts Cooperative benefited from a similar grant from an anonymous donor that was funneled through the Cooperative Development Initiative.

"We've used it to support our learning and outreach programs with youths and adults," said Jonah Fertig, a worker-owner at Local Sprouts. "We used it to support staff time to help organize the recent Portland Community Food Forum, and to support our workers to learn about cooperatives."

Jonah declined to disclose the amount of the multi-year grant.

"As a small start-up food business, there are a lot of economic challenges," Fertig said. "Local foods do not receive the same financial support that corporate agriculture receives. Slow money is really looking at what are some different techniques and models we can use to support local food and producers."

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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