Maine Grains — a small company in Skowhegan, Maine, that mills locally grown grains for the community — received help from Slow Money investors.
Photo Courtesy Maine Grains
A few generations ago, if a farmer needed help harvesting crops or rebuilding a barn, the community came together to help, sometimes in exchange for a simple, home-cooked meal. Today, you’d probably need an app to find a barn raising. Modern society’s ties to agriculture tend to be weak at best, and even if you know the farmers down the road, you probably don’t know how you can support their businesses.
Now, in addition to purchasing from local producers, you have a direct way to support local agriculture. It’s called Gatheround, and it’s the brainchild of Woody Tasch, founder of the movement known as “Slow Money.” Gatheround enables everyday people to donate small amounts of money to a collective fund that invests in local food businesses.
Tasch is a former venture capitalist and poet who wrote the book Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. Tasch views finance through both a realist’s and an artist’s lens, seeing and navigating a new path through old economic patterns. “I’ve always had the skeptical attitude that complicated finance was too disconnected from everyday reality,” Tasch says.
The Slow Money movement took root in 2009 when Tasch toured nationally to promote his book. His emphasis on investing a small percentage of our money into supporting local food businesses was met with an emphatic nod of approval. This was the time of mortgage crises, bank collapses and high unemployment. At every gathering, Tasch says he encountered people frustrated with an unwieldy, out-of-control financial market. They were ready to take action, but were uncertain what to do.
Tasch worked with some concerned citizens to form more than a dozen Slow Money chapters, in which members facilitate financial deals, and several Slow Money investment clubs, in which each member contributes $5,000 or more annually to collectively invest in small food businesses. These small groups make big differences in people’s lives. For example, when her local co-op grocery store, Chatham Marketplace, needed help to cover a balloon payment on its loan from a “faraway bank,” Carol Peppe Hewitt, the chapter leader of Slow Money North Carolina, found 16 locavores who contributed $25,000 each to form “Bringing It Home Chatham.” The Slow Money group refinanced the loan at a lower interest rate, reducing the co-op’s monthly loan payment by a third — all with local money.
But not everyone has access to investment money, so Tasch also found a way for such people to invest meaningfully in their communities by forming Gatheround, a new nonprofit investment hybrid that allows residents to help give a booster shot to their local economies. Think microloans, philanthropy and crowdsourcing. Gatheround is similar in that people may contribute amounts as small as $25. Giving to Gatheround is a tax-deductible donation. You donate to your local Gatheround, and together with the other participants, decide which entrepeneurs to support. “Slow Money puts the investment together for you, working strategically alongside local investors, and returns come back to the fund, to be reinvested,” Tasch says. “This is ‘nurture capital’ as opposed to ‘venture capital.’”
A Slow Money investment or Gatheround donation values the quality of your life over the quantity of your investment return. Investing dollars in local food can foster a fertile economy and provide returns far beyond money. Learn more about Gatheround, and sign up for Slow Money’s e-newsletters and webinars.