Local finance meets local food

Investing locally for sustainability and democracy

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There have been many responses to the political reality we face today. One small group of local citizens is using its financial resources to build a positive future of local food and farms and reconnection with community through a national movement called Slow Money.

On March 19 the group will bring Slow Money to life at an afternoon gathering at the Iowa City Public Library. The public is invited.

Slow Money is a movement that invites us to put our money where our mouth is. The idea of Slow Money — endorsed by Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food International — is simultaneously related to our need to feed our bellies and to live out our values in how we choose to invest our money.

Slow Money founder and former venture capitalist Woody Tasch asks in his book on the subject to imagine what the world would be like if:

• We each invested 50 percent of our assets within 50 miles of where we live

• A new generation of companies gave away 50 percent of their profits

• There was 50 percent more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now

In 2015, 13 people in the Johnson County area pooled $5,000 each to put these ideas into action. We are wide variety of folks, some retired and some are still working, and we come from a variety of professions. One member, a retired anthropology professor, wanted to use some of his retirement money to support local sustainable food farms. Another, a retired physical therapist, wanted to get involved locally to support the community. Others are motivated by the importance of healthy foods.

Also known as patient capital, Slow Money offers creative terms and low interest, long-term loans to local food and farm initiatives. Over time, this approach leverages solid values of resilience, care for the land, and ongoing cooperation with people in the community.

So far, Iowa’s first Slow Money club — we call ourselves Iowa Pollinators — has invested in Valerie’s French Cooking, James Nisly’s Organic Greens, Wild Kulture Kombucha, Leaf Kitchen, and Chicharo’s Restaurant in Muscatine.

All borrowers are encouraged to buy as local and organic as possible.

In an article in the Slow Money Journal, Martin Ping uses the term slow capital to describe Slow Money activities in New York’s Hudson River Valley and ends his article with these words: “We are grateful for the many funders who are actively seeking more creative and compassionate ways to use their capital in support of vibrant communities and local living economies that up hold and celebrate life. And we are grateful to the vision of Slow Money and the action of Slow Money networks for contributing to our efforts to cultivate the soil for the future.”

Truly, Slow Money creates the confluence of several values that will help us develop and maintain a sustainable future.

First, a vision and a belief in a better future. We need a more resilient society and people above profit underlies this value. Although Pollinators charges some interest, the group has already voted to reinvest its earnings in new enterprises. We also value community and the cooperation that distinguishes a vibrant community that works for every member. Also, caring and focused action are always important if anything of true value is to be accomplished. We make sure our money is out there being used for specific purposes — businesses we can see, business owners and farmers we enjoy getting to know. And when there’s a problem, we can always email or pick up the phone to see what’s going on.

And finally, and very important to Iowa, is the impact on soil. Soil is the black gold of Iowa. Its health and ours are inextricably bound together. Think about it, “What if there were 50 percent more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?”

Iowa Pollinators has chosen to invest in farms and food-related businesses that will move us closer to this vision, for a better community and a better future. We invite those interested to start another Slow Money club. Attend our gathering on March 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library, or go to our website for a draft Operating Agreement you can use.

• Bryson Dean is a retired physical Therapist who believes that human health is related to healthy food and healthy soil, and is proud to invest in her community. More information: www.slowmoneyiowa.org

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