When Woody Tasch published his Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered in 2009, he inaugurated the Slow Money movement, which aims to steer investor and donor capital toward supporting organic farms and local food systems through grassroots mobilization, networking, and educating. The movement is slowly but surely catching fire around the country with more than 20,000 people signing the Slow Money pledge.
Orion managing editor Andrew Blechman caught up with Woody when he came to speak in Orion’s hometown one evening at a fundraiser for our local land trust. Andrew and Woody met up again the next morning for breakfast at a favorite Great Barrington cafe that specializes in local food.
How would you explain Slow Money to a ten-year-old?
If you had some extra money, would you give it to a stranger to invest, or would you give it to people you know and trust who would invest it in your community, in where your food comes from?
It’s all well and good to ask people to invest locally, but a lot of us in the 99 percent don’t have the luxury of experimental investments. Isn’t that for rich people?
We need to design investment systems for three strata of people: angel investors who have hundreds of thousands or more to spare; middle investors who have thousands to invest; and the rest, who feel this is a critically important movement but who can only afford to invest a few hundred dollars. And the loans can be similarly sized, such as a few hundred dollars to put toward building a root cellar, or a whole lot more for a big piece of farm machinery, or land. It’s more work than traditional investing, but then again farming is hard work, too. But it’s gratifying. I’m putting seeds in the ground. It may not rain, but I’m still putting seeds in the ground.
What’s your theory of change and how it will happen?
For me it’s not about a David versus Goliath takedown or reform of the system. I’d rather focus on the positive, on building the kind of world we want to see. I’m glad people are lobbying the farm bill, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the sort of political change we want so much as simply making our own change. I see a lot of people doing a little. It’s going to take time, but it’s going to be fun.
How do you define “fast?”
How about that 1,000-point drop in the Dow that happened in a matter of minutes because of some mysterious issue with automated high frequency trading? I’d say that’s pretty fast. I still haven’t heard an explanation for what happened that I fully understand; have you? Trillions of dollars are swirling around the world in milliseconds and few people understand where it’s headed and why. These sums of money are so vast that they’re hard to even imagine. To try to put it in perspective, consider that a trillion seconds is 32,800 years.
You spend a lot of your time deep in the world of finance and numbers—which creative writers have also influenced your thinking?
I love Wendell Berry. He’s a huge inspiration for me, as is E.O. Wilson. I’m a big fan of poetry, too. In particular Gary Snyder. I love how he uses the poetic impulse to pierce through preconceived assumptions. Ideally, I’d like people to invest with both sides of their brains: the money side and the Biophilia side. When we merge our rational thinking with our creative and emotional side, then all sorts of actions are possible.
Andrew Blechman is managing editor of Orion.