Imagine investing in a small business with no expectation of a return on that investment to you personally. Would you do it? People from around the United States are jumping at the chance to be part of something bigger than themselves that will never make them rich. They use the tongue-in-cheek lingo Beetcoin to describe a crowdfunding effort that allows tax-deductible donations into a $100,000 pool. From that pool, a Kansas farming family will receive a large grant to create a GMO-free feed hub for livestock producers. Two other agriculture projects will get a boost, as well.
The group that masterminded Beetcoin and a loosely connected network of farm and food investors is called Slow Money. While Beetcoin allows donations as small as $25 into the new, sustainable agricultural economy, the movement is about medium to large investments that can help rebuild what many see as a broken agricultural system. America’s children are chronically sicker than ever, with malnutrition increasingly suspect; the country is full of food deserts where people don’t have access to real food; and there are grave concerns about increasing use of toxic, persistent pesticides on the food supply.
Slow Money held its most recent annual gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, near the home of revered farmer and visionary author Wendell Berry, who spoke at the event. Also in attendance was India’s earth mother Vandana Shiva and innovative Virginia farmer Joel Salatin. Young farmers, entrepreneurs of all stripes and deep pocketed investors all gathered in Louisville to hear these speakers and to find connections that could move a farming system forward for more people.
Several attendees hailed from Oregon, where voters will be getting a recount on their vote to label genetically engineered food at the grocery store. A young, Oregon farmer named Ginger Edwards told us, “I wanted to come to see how Slow Money’s process works with investors.”
Another Oregon resident who leads a Slow Money group in the Willamette Valley region said she’s already been involved in supporting small farming and food in her area. However, Erin Ely cautioned that the kind of investment Slow Money represents is not for anyone wanting to get rich quick.”These are the riskiest kinds of investments there are,” shared Ely candidly. She argued that most investors connected through this nonprofit are purely mission driven.
“We are treating nature as a business in liquidation,” exclaimed private investor Marco Vangelisti to the Slow Money crowd during his keynote address. Vangelisti shared how he had divested from traditional industry that he considered destructive and finally started reinvesting in areas like farmland, biodynamic farming and a community market. He lamented the sorts of agricultural practices that clear acre after acre of forest and create excessive pollution.
Vangelisti challenged other investors to consider all of the costs and returns on investments, beyond the dollar figures. “The investments we are making today are shaping the world we are living in.”
You can learn more about Slow Money and view talks at length at the nonprofit’s website.