Q: What first inspired you to create Slow Money?
A: During the 1990s, first as Treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and next as Chairman of Investors’ Circle, I had promoted the idea of patient capital, an approach to venture capital that looked away from where’s-the-next-Apple and towards a time horizon that was more in synch with natural cycles and intergenerational equity. Then, in 2000, I had the wonderful good fortune to visit Slow Food headquarters in Bra. I was immediately struck by a few questions: If we want Slow Food, and all of the small food enterprises that are necessary to preserve and restore it, aren’t we going to have use our investment dollars as well as our consumer dollars? And how can we enjoy our Slow Food while our money is zooming around the planet invested in companies of the monoculture? At a more visceral level than that, I was so utterly impressed by the beauty and depth of Slow Food’s vision and the power of Carlo Petrini’s voice that it was obvious: Patient Capital plus Slow Food equals Slow Money. Little did I know that after several years of gestation, this would lead me to write Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, and, thence, to the emergent Slow Money network.
A: When I told Carlo that we were interested in doing a bit of fund-raising for Slow Food, this is where he asked that we focus. Over time, I hope Slow Money will become one of Slow Foods’ best friends, exploring collaboration on multiple levels.
Q: How have you seen the changes in the economy in the past few years affect small food enterprises?
A: I don’t see the local food movement in the U.S. as a response to short-term economic challenges. Rather, I see it as a response to a few generations of industrialization and globalization. That said, it is surely true that if I had stood up in public ten years ago and starting talking about “Slow Money,” it would have been a very different conversation. The 1,000 pt. drop in the Dow, Bernie Madoff, the derivatives craziness, ultra-fast trading—all this creates a different context within which to put the word “slow” together with the word “money.” I see investing in small food enterprises—small and mid-size organic farms, grain mills, creameries, restaurants and the like—as part of a larger process of economic restructuring. Fixing what’s broken in the food system is a critical step in fixing what’s broken in the economy as a whole.
Q: The Slow Money annual gathering coming up in April. What are you most excited about this year?
A: If you think of Slow Money as “the CSA of investing,” you get a feel for how important our national gatherings are.We are about relationships, direct personal knowledge and trust, place-based investing, with soil fertility as an ultimate metric. There is no mutual fund that can do this. Only a bunch of us, thousands of us, rolling our sleeves up, getting to know one another, sharing learning across locales—buoyed by the conviction that lots of small investment decisions are part of a much larger process of restoration and preservation—will get the job done. I’d like to think that our national gatherings have a teeny, weeny dose of Terra Madre in them—thought leadership, grassroots activism, entrepreneurship and just a plain old dose of appreciation for the beauty of food well-produced and the joys of convivial sharing. Of course, Terra Madre is magic and you can’t bottle magic. But in our own way, inspired by Slow Food and Terra Madre, we bring people together around core issues and opportunities, adding, of course, the money piece, the investment piece, and focusing around a few dozen food entrepreneurs who are seeking investment. We couldn’t be more pleased to have Carlo and Richard McCarthy joining us this year. This will be a wonderful opportunity for our two networks to connect and cross-pollinate.
Woody Tasch is Founder and Chairman of Slow Money. Slow Money’s Fourth National Gathering is taking place in Boulder, Colo on April 29-30. More information visit the website.