Funding Our Own Local Food Economy

05 May, 2013

Local food economyWoody Tasch is the founder of Slow Money, an organization that directly contributes to small local and sustainable food enterprises. Due to popular demand, Slow Money has now created Gatheround—a vehicle through which anyone can contribute, not just those with the ability to invest thousands of dollars.

“Ever since I mentioned the idea of Gatheround in public a few years ago, there’s been a steady stream of interest from folks who come to our meetings,” Tasch told Organic Connections. “They really want to put money into what we’re doing, but they don’t have the wherewithal to write checks for $5,000, $15,000 or more and make a direct investment in a small food enterprise.

“Gatheround is really oriented around $25 and $50 donations. The idea is to make it very easy for people to participate. It is a place for people to enter our system and help steer dollars toward some of the small food enterprises that we are funding.”

The Local Approach

Slow Money works through 16 different chapters and 6 investment clubs located across the US. Via local meetings—and a regular national gathering—money is raised for small local, sustainable food enterprises such as farms and artisans. But Gatheround takes it to another level, allowing smaller contributions to funnel into many of the same investments, and also allowing a much greater number of people to contribute. These donations can be made online, which is ideal for those who cannot attend meetings.

It is no surprise that people want to get involved. Since its founding, Slow Money has donated $24 million to 190 small food businesses in the United States. This kind of success has followed into Gatheround: within just a few months of its inception, and with minimal promotion, Gatheround by itself has raised $60,000.

Not for Profit

Both Slow Money and Gatheround operate on a nonprofit basis, for some very key reasons.

“One reason is that this is about building something long term that can scale and have major impact in the food system,” Tasch explained. “This means that if you put money into a nonprofit vehicle and that vehicle invests your money, the returns come back to that vehicle to be reinvested for the future. You can see that over a long period of time this could scale into a meaningful pool of capital.

“That is what the food system needs: significant creative capital to help the next generation of organic farmers and all the food businesses around them to evolve as quickly as possible. The difference is that you’re building something that can scale over a long period of time.

“The second reason: we want people who are giving us money to know that it is about building something for the future, not about their own personal financial returns.

“We’re not a fund manager; we’re a connector and a facilitator. This is not about us managing other peoples’ money for a return. It’s us all working together to build the system.”

Man with a Mission

For someone who has worked within the investment community all of his professional life, Tasch is most definitely a man with a conscience.

“I have been concerned about the collision course between economic growth and the limits of the natural systems of the planet since I went to college,” Tasch recalled. “I graduated college in 1973. I think many of us of that vintage saw the picture of the earth rising over the moon in the late sixties and had the visceral feeling that our species had a particular responsibility to try to change the way we were interacting with the other species, and realize that we’ve only had very limited effectiveness in doing so all these years.

“Courtesy of seminal books like Small Is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher and The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry—and others of that ilk—I was encouraged not to give up my concerns, that there were others out there who had the same concerns. Really all I think I’m doing is putting their ideas into practice. I just felt like it was up to those of us who had the financial resources or entrepreneurial know-how to bring that knowledge into the business world.

“I do think Slow Money—and Gatheround—is the purest way I have been able to figure out for the raising of awareness of the land, soil fertility, sense of place, nonviolence and diversity; those core principles are the things we need to be optimizing right now. Economic growth is important, but it is not the only thing that is important. If we don’t add these other values into it, it’s not going to be sustainable.”

A Greater Online Presence

Gatheround is now ramping up its online presence to provide more information to donors.

“Right now you can go on the Slow Money website and see lots of projects listed that Slow Money folks have already invested in,” said Tasch. “That’s of course a clear indicator of the kinds of things we’re all doing together. Our new website, slated to launch this summer, is likely to have on it several initial small food enterprises to which people can donate directly: you can steer the money; you can say, ‘I want my money going into that.’ As soon as we begin to scale, there will be deals coming from all the chapters, so ultimately there will be scores of choices that people could make.”

For more information, please visit www.gatheround.org.

 

 

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