This past week was one chock-full of people across both our nation and the globe coming together to discuss critical matters surrounding the most important element in sustaining our lives as humans, and as a result the global environment – food.
- The New York Times Food for Tomorrow Pocantico Hills, NY
- Slow Money 2014 Louisville, KY
- Farming for Health Biodynamic Conference 2014 Louisville, KY
The above are just a few of the gatherings that have been on my radar this past week. A “drop in the bucket”, if you will. Throughout this year there has been many a conference across the globe to get farmers, politicians, investors, activists, academics, and the everyday concerned individuals together to learn from and listen to leading perspectives and operations that are making some very necessary progress in the national – no, global battle to improve the health of our food system. Our global ecosystem. Health, of our food? What a concept.
I was lucky enough to attend the Slow Money 2014 gathering through their scholarship program for farmers and students. This year, the gathering was held in downtown Louisville at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
So, what is “Slow Money”?
Slow Money is many things. Formally, it is an alliance based in Boulder, Colorado that operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The alliance is a national network of local networks via Slow Money chapters in different states. Big thinking, local action. The alliance and its networks are organized around the Slow Money Principles (found on their website):
I. We must bring money back down to earth.
II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.
III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.
IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.
V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.
VI. Paul Newman said, “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:
- What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
- What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
- What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?
On another level – that of the social and spiritual, Slow Money is a movement. It is a movement of people investing in new sources of capital, both fiscal and social, to small food enterprises, sustainable farms, and local food systems. It is a movement to reinvest time, energy, money and intention into the communities where we sleep, eat, work, and play. The communities of our lives. This is a movement of reinvesting in ourselves.
I arrived in downtown Louisville this past Monday and eagerly rushed over to the conference venue. After checking in, receiving my name tag lanyard (with 2 free drink tickets, score!), and picking up the program, I still had some time before the first keynote speaker. I walked around listening to the excited murmur of discussion from scattered groups around the reception area, and simultaneously felt a deep sense of vulnerability, since I was there alone and knew no one, but also a sense of wonder. Who were the people in this room? What are their stories? Their projects? Their perspectives? Who would I meet?
I wandered up and down the room for a few moments to gather my bearings. This was a diverse group. Fancy spectacles, blazers, graphic t-shirts, dreadlocks, man-buns, high heels, Birkenstocks, backpacks, briefcases – the wardrobe ran the whole gamut, let me tell you. But the beautiful thing was that all of these individuals, with their individual style in both clothing and life, were mixing and mingling together over a melting pot of commonalities.
My sense of wonder brought me over to a table where a woman was standing alone typing something on her phone. She had short hair, a backpack on, and the smile she gave me when I reached my hand out and said, “Hey, I’m Eva” was truly warm and very welcoming. Her name was Terri, and she is an urban farmer in Montana. We had all of 10 minutes before the program began, and in that short time she learned of my studies and journey to food activism and I learned of her work in Montana with a community food co-op. Our energies and interests meshed well together, and over the course of the conference we had found a good friend in each other.
My Slow Money experience was full of highlights. The speakers and presenters were phenomenal. I saw Douglas Gayeton’s journey with the Lexicon of Sustainability through beautiful and compelling images. I listened to Joel Salatin speak of his “benchmarks of truth” with incredible animation and inspiring prose. I deepened my knowledge of the argument against GMOs from Vandana Shiva. I watched as Wendell Berry spoke the profound truth that, “The only effective defense of locality against global economy is local economy.” I met and learned from change-makers like Woody Tasch, Richard McCarthy, and Severine von Tscharner, and authors like Judy Wicks, Eliot Coleman, and Gary Nabhan, as well as farmers, entrepreneurs, and others filled with great ambition and hope like Terri, Farmer Joe, Deb, Chris, Bree, Larry, Emily, and a host of others. Of course, these are only some of the many highlights. What a time, what a gathering.
“What a pleasure to be part of a gathering that wasn’t just talking about the future but bending it!
Slow Money is one of the keys to a healthy future.”
– BILL MCKIBBEN, FOUNDER, 350.ORG
The people, the energy, the focus of our gathering – all this has me pondering the dynamics of gatherings and what they accomplish. What came out of this gathering of more than 700 bodies, with also 1,200 viewers online? For me it was inspiration and reaffirmation. I was inspired to continue my pursuits of knowledge and advocacy of food, localism, and community, and also reaffirmed that this pursuit, this path – this is my calling.
For a more tangible outcome of what gatherings like this accomplish, look to Slow Money’s BEETCOIN campaign. The campaign goal was $100,000, which was crowd funded by over 375 individuals – talk about power in numbers.
At the gathering, farmers, producers, and business owners presented during an entrepreneurial showcase. Afterwards, the attendees voted for their top choices in the categories of Land, Processing and Distribution, Livestock, and Urban Agriculture. The 1st and 2nd place winners received awards from the campaign.
Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms of Kansas came in 1st and will be receiving $60,000 in contributions for use as a 3-year, 0% loan so they can build a GMO-free feed hub.
Reinvesting in food. Reinvesting in community. Reinvesting in life.
Great things come from gathering at the table around food, and, in my opinion, even greater things can come from gathering together to create forums, like Slow Money, to discuss and plan a course of action for sustaining and improving the quality of the very food on our tables and the lives that gather round it. Thank you Slow Money and all those I met for a phenomenal experience.