Investing your money into a mutual fund is like putting your money in a black hole—or turning it into the black smoke belching out of a Chinese factory. There’s no connection between you, your money, or real goods. And this kind of investing contributes to an unsustainable, irresponsible system.
What if you took that money and invested it 20 miles away from your home, in a farm growing natural food sustainably—food that you, your family, and your community can enjoy? What if you slowed your money down?
Woody Tasch, chairman of the nonprofit Investors’ Circle and author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, recently sat down to talk with Jean Weiss of MSN Green about sustainable, triple-bottom-line investing: people, planet, and profit.
You need only look as far as your latest 401k statement to grasp the profoundly personal implications of the sub-prime mortgage collapse. Yet you may not have linked this crisis to your local food system. For Woody Tasch, founder of the slow money movement and author of the book Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money (Chelsea Green, November 2008), the relationship between capital and soil is clear. Tasch is the chairman of Investor’s Circle, a network of investors that meets this week in Boston to fund startups that focus on sustainable business practices. In Slow Money, Tasch suggests a financial paradigm shift that mirrors the tenets of the slow food movement: valuing local food systems over global, industrialized food systems. We caught up with Tasch this week to talk about why slow money may be a long-term solution to sustainable finance. MSN.com Green: This is a big concept for those new to the idea of scaling back our investment expectations. How would you describe what slow money means? Tasch: It means we have to find ways to steer meaningful quantities of investment capital and sustainable capital to build local food systems. Essentially, to prioritize places over markets. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, intermediation that is too complex. Slow money enables the financial and cultural transformation toward rebuilding social and environmental relationships that industrialization has destroyed. MSN.com Green: Why would this be a leap for most investors? Tasch: Most food companies have limited growth potential. And investors are trained to focus exclusively on markets and sectors, rather than on places. Slow money poses the question: What would the world be like if everyone invested 50 percent of their assets within 50 miles of where they live? MSN.com Green: How do you see the link between food, soil and capital? Tasch: This connection can be a beautiful wake up call. Soil is tangible, it’s very grounding, and yet it also has a bit of mystery to it. Nutrients connect from the soil up to the food. There’s a certain epicurean, artisan, heirloom aspect of food. There is an element of pleasure, of conviviality. If you understand how important food is, you realize our environmental concerns are not just about parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. It’s also about soil fertility. Since World War II, we have been rapidly mining our soil in order to produce cheap industrialized food. In the long term, this type of investment leads to fiscal and environmental collapse.