Socially Responsible Business Archive


Slow Money, Anyone?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

The 3rd Slow Money National Gathering - is taking place in San Francisco, CA on October 12-14, and Chelsea Green Publishing is a proud sponsor of this important event.

Slow Money is the national network that was sparked by Chelsea Green author and board member Woody Tasch and his book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered

 

Since we published that book in 2008, over 15,000 people have signed the Slow Money Principles, 2,000  have joined the Slow Money Alliance, and more than 1,000 have attended the first two Slow Money national gatherings, investing $4.25 million in 16 small food enterprises that presented at these events.

 

 REGISTER BEFORE AUGUST 12 FOR EARLY BIRD RATES

 To celebrate the Slow Money Gathering, we’re placing our “slow money” themed books on sale 25% off until August 29th – see below for more information.

 

 

Slow Money Gathering Book Sale — Now 25% OFF

 

 WOODY TASCH

book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money:
Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered 

 

Presents an essential new strategy for investing in local food systems, a vision for investing that puts soil fertility into return-on-investment calculations and serves people and place as much at it serves industry sectors and markets.

Is it a movement or is it an investment strategy? Yes.

 

 ON SALE NOW at 25% off

 

THOMAS H. GRECO, JR.  

BOOK ON SALE NOW at 25% off

 The End of Money and the Future of Civilization provides the necessary understanding to implement approaches toward monetary liberation, by building economies that are sustainable, democratic, and insulated from the financial crises that plague the dominant monetary system.

 

“Maybe you’ve noticed a slight bit of turmoil in our national and global financial system? This book cuts to the very core of the trouble–and points toward several pathways that might allow us to slowly climb out of the pit into which we’ve stumbled.”
-Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy

  

 JOAN DYE GUSSOW

FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE SLOW MONEY ALLIANCE 

 

BOOK

This Organic Life: Confessions of an Urban Homesteader

 

The gutsy instigator of the nation’s food fight, Gussow thinks deeply and eloquently about food, and asserts that locally grown food eaten in season makes sense economically, ecologically, and gastronomically.

 

Read the incomparable book from the acclaimed nutrition educator who teaches us the ways she discovered how to nourish herself, literally and spiritually, from her own backyard.


ON SALE NOW at 25% off

 

 

 

ELIOT COLEMAN
FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE SLOW MONEY ALLIANCE
  

 

BOOK

 

ON SALE NOW 

25% OFF 

The Winter Harvest Handbook

 

The definitive guide to year-round harvests of fresh, organic produce-with little or no energy inputs.

  

“If we are going to create a good, clean, fair food system, we’ve got to learn how to grow affordable, local food year-round and make a living at it. Eliot Coleman knows more about this than anyone I’ve met.” -Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA

 

“I have been a devotee of Eliot’s for years, fully agreeing with his methods for growing in winter, spring, summer, and fall, tasty, nutritious produce with a minimum consumption of fossil fuels. Congratulations on another volume of useful, practical, sensible, and enlightening information for the home gardener.”-Martha Stewart

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Ray Anderson, a True Pioneer

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When sustainable business pioneer Ray Anderson penned the preface to his game-changing book Mid-Course Correction, he talked about having three lives. His first, he said, spanned his first 38 years of life and led him to create the company that eventually became Interface, Inc. “The second life began with that act of creation,” he wrote, referring to the trials of building a billion-dollar company.  The third life, launched two decades into the company’s history, is what Ray became most known for. In it, he transformed Interface into a cutting-edge sustainable business. He broke new ground in environmental stewardship and social responsibility. And in the process he became a passionate advocate for businesses everywhere to play fair with the environment and with people.

Sadly, Ray Anderson died on Monday, August 8. But he will have an enduring impact as one who took it upon himself to show other business leaders how you can do good and still do well.

Ray was a true friend, and an inspiration, to Chelsea Green, helping us to build our sustainable company and partnering with us to distribute Mid-Course Correction. Ray often said that one of his own true inspirations was Amory Lovins, author of our upcoming Reinventing Fire, which shows how U.S. businesses can lead the nation away from oil and coal by 2050. That admiration worked both ways. Lovins has dedicated the book to the memory of Ray.

If you have never heard Ray Anderson speak, take a moment now to hear this TED talk.  He is one whose vision and leadership will indeed be missed.

A Look at a Slow Money Restaurant: Gather (VIDEO)

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The article below was originally posted by the marvelous folks at Civil Eats about Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. Take a look!

What does it look like to start a values-based business with members of your community? Gather is a sustainable restaurant that serves as a successful model. Located in downtown Berkeley, California and catering to conscious foodies, the farm-to-table eatery keeps thriving with an vegetarian and omnivore-friendly menu and steady reservations. Esquire magazine named it one of the top restaurants of 2010 with Sean Baker its Chef of the Year and New York Times described it as a “Michael Pollan book come to life.”

When owners and mountaineering guide-friends Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel developed their business plan ten years ago, they had no formal culinary or business training. It was smart planning, relationship building, and a new way to raise funds that made their vision possible.

Derfel considers himself an “unusual entrepreneur with unusual motivation.” An inspiring public speaker at the recent TEDxPresidio Business 3.0 convergence and a role model in the green movement, Derfel embarked on a year-long project to collect his garbage–mostly food packaging–during 2007 to challenge himself and learn. This gained him media coverage everywhere from the San Francisco Chronicle to CNN and resulted in an art piece at the 2009 Greenfest festival.

Then during a period of 18 months from 2008 and 2009, Derfel explains how he spent countless hours “tirelessly networking” to open Gather in the new David Brower building–a hub for environmental and social action organizations under one roof, built with cutting-edge green design techniques. The goal was to raise $2.5 million, during what he calls “arguably the worst economic climate during our lifetime.” By creating a long term goal to grow their outdoor adventure company, and later their organic catering business Back to Earth, Fenster and Derfel built the credibility to garner investments and open Gather within their ten-year plan. But building the restaurant from scratch  using environmentally-friendly design proved to be very expensive. Though help came from a community bank and a lending institution, relationships with values-driven investors made the difference in the final push.

Over 65 investors and their partners were drawn to the idea of funding the community food system close to home. Derfel describes Gather’s 100+ co-owners as “an incredible mix of people who wanted to build an institution together.” The vast majority live in the vicinity, invested anywhere from $5,000 to $400,000, and will receive 95 percent of the profits until they are paid back. Together Fenster, Derfel, and Chef Sean Baker own 50 percent of the LLC as managing members with decision-making authority, meeting with co-owners once to twice a year.

Today the restaurant serves as one of the first and best examples of the tenets of Slow Money, a new model of investing in small, local food enterprises that connects investors to projects that revive economies and build healthy communities. Based on author Woody Tasch’s book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, the movement’s principles hinge on shifting investments from fast profit to those that build relationships, accountability, and a better ecosystem over a longer period of time.

“Fast money made sense when corporations were small and the world was big, when resources and places for waste disposal seemed infinite, when mass production was first being tapped to fuel higher standards of living,” writes Tasch. “We must now find new ways to mark our progress.”

Slow Money’s mission is to create billions of funding for restorative environmental projects, beginning with food. Now a non-profit organization with Derfel as its Executive Director, it has helped funnel over $4 million to small food businesses throughout the U.S., including Gather.

Although Derfel and Fenster had received most of the funding when Derfel presented at the first Slow Money conference in 2009, an additional amount from like-minded investors helped open Gather within the ten-year plan. The money came from folks who not only shared the vision for Gather, but also believed in allowing that money to grow in wealth over time.

This group of evangelists is one of the many “intangible gems” that Derfel refers to as a return on investment in the Gather business venture.

“The beautiful thing is that those people are now the best marketing one could ever hope for, because they constantly tell anyone and everyone to come and eat at this restaurant,” he goes on to say.

Since opening, Gather has created 75 new jobs, helped support several local farms, cultivated a tight knit staff, and started a chain reaction of restaurants opening in the area. The restaurant has its own dedicated half acre of produce grown at Lindencroft Farm, which includes heirloom varieties of produce, chiles and herbs. Its menu appeals to both vegetarians and omnivores. Benches covered in sleek, re-purposed leather belts, a mural in the bar made from reclaimed packaging from the restaurant’s construction, and elegant salvaged wood are just some of the features that make it stand out in innovative, environmentally-friendly design.

According to Derfel, “Not only is Slow Money possible, it’s happening. Every one of us is an investor, and we all need to begin investing our money like this.”

And it’s growing these relationships, rather than just the profit, that Derfel says has made Gather worthwhile.

“What we needed was money,” adds Derfel, “what we got was a community.”

The First Slow Money Northern California Regional Showcase takes place this weekend in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12th at Fort Mason. If Civil Eats readers are interested, you can register at 50 percent off of general admission with the code: civileats. The Third National Conference is scheduled for October 12-14, 2011, also happening in San Francisco.

Watch for a taste of the restaurant:

A version of this article was originally published on Shareable Design

Vera Churilov is a freelance writer and video producer who focuses on sustainable food, community innovations, and green living. A health educator and nutrition counselor, she guides people toward making healthy food choices with her Green Smoothies ebook, local classes, and coaching programs. visit www.nourishthespirit.com

Business Alliance for Local Living Economies Conference June 14-17

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Business Alliance for Local Living  Economies (BALLE) upcoming conference in Bellingham, WA has a great lineup of speakers and events this year, especially around “community capital.”  Join the BALLE conference and learn how to build the businesses we need for a new economy — by reconnecting eaters with farmers, investors with entrepreneurs, and businesses with the communities and eco-systems they serve.   Even if you can’t attend share and circulate to others who you think might be interested!

BALLE Business Conference, June 14-17 in Bellingham, WA

The premier socially responsible business event of the year, the 9th annual BALLE Business Conference is just around the corner.  This don’t-miss event brings together more than 600 independent business owners and innovators, local living economy entrepreneurs, community investors, government economic development professionals and sustainability leaders to spotlight the most innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to growing healthy, resilient local economies.

 The conference will feature:

  • 80 speakers
  • 6 plenary sessions and off-site celebrations
  • 4 interactive sessions
  •  local living economy tours
  • living Economies Expo
  •  pre-conference workshop intensives

 For more information and to register, please visit: http://www.livingeconomies.org/conference-2011

Why You Should Attend:

   If you are an entrepreneur

   If you are an investor:

  • Support grassroots innovators, what is working on the ground from nonprofits and businesses forging the new economy.
  • Build local investing networks, how to grow one in your area to support social entrepreneurs and help the local economy thrive.
  • Attend the all-day Accelerating Community Capital workshop using place as the lens to understand how to meet regional needs with regional resources, and identify the kinds of capital needed to get there.
  • Join a private reception for foundations exploring their role in catalyzing the emergence of a new economy; contact BALLE to learn more!

   If you are a network leader or economic development professional:

For more information and to register, please visit: http://www.livingeconomies.org/conference-2011

Will the Real Food Movement Please Stand Up?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

by Woody Tasch

Farmer Bob Comis recently suggested that the food movement is suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” He argued that several vocal factions — foodies, locavores, and “smallists” — tend to dominate the food movement discussion, unrealistically distracting us from our ultimate objective: bringing affordable, organic food to all as part of a broader commitment to social justice.

For decades now, organic farmers and sustainable food activists of all stripes have been vexed by the question: Is this a movement? Can it scale and have meaningful impact?

At one eloquent and entrepreneurially-impeccably-credentialed end of the spectrum stands farmer Joel Salatin:

Don’t let them confuse you. Organic farming is not an industry. It is a movement. It is part of a movement that began when the first indigenous peoples fought against the Conquistadors. It is fighting back against the modern Conquistadors, the multinational corporations, those who would patent and genetically modify life and destroy diversity.

At the other eloquent and entrepreneurially-impeccably-credentialed end of the spectrum stands Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg: “I hate the ‘m’ word. Organics is an industry. We must build and utilize industrial-scaled enterprises, if we are going to get toxics out of the food chain in one generation.”

There are 6,132 farmers markets in the U.S., up 350 percent since 1994. There were 60 CSAs in 1990; today there are almost 13,000. Some 400,000 people belong to them. That seems movement-ish, until you consider some countervailing data. 50,000 in Copenhagen, alone, belong to a single box scheme. More than 60 million people play Farmville online. McDonald’s first quarter profits in 2011 were $1.21 billion, up 11 percent from Q1 2010. So, despite Food Inc.‘s nomination for an Oscar, Michael Pollan’s single-handed splicing of the local, organic food gene into the American consciousness, and Jamie Oliver’s much ballyhooed Food Revolution on TV, where’s the (grass-fed, organic) beef? Where’s the movement?

The beginning of an answer lies with Paul Hawken, who beautifully argues in Blessed Unrest that it is a fool’s game to try to put a single name on the millions of initiatives emerging around the globe as an immune response to the destruction of natural systems. Add to Hawken’s prognosis Wendell Berry’s disdain for movements. Berry fears that movements, however well-intentioned, devolve into warring special interests, abstractions that deflect us from reducing, in our daily lives, our complicity in the destructiveness of the modern economy.

Where does that leave us?

Well, being stubborn, slogan-loving Americans, we could try to come up with names anyway: Foodie, locavore, vegan, localism, smallism, anti-GMOism, anti-Conquistadorism, anti-Twinkie-ism, raw milkism, school lunchism, ethical treatment of animalism, family farmism, urban farmism, farmers market vs. Walmartism, heirloom variety-ism, real foodism, slow foodism, indigenous culturism, nurture capitalism, biocharism, terroirism.

Or we can zoom out, and zoom down, and look for the broader and deeper process of which all this food related activism is a part. Here are some of the persectives of people who have been working for decades to transform the food system (or create new ones):

Think: Eliot Coleman‘s advice, “Feed the soil, not the plant.”

Think: Gary Snyder’s observation: “Food is the field in which we daily explore our harming of the world.”

Think: Joan Gussow’s aphorism, “I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.”

Think: Odessa Piper’s insight, “Local is the distance the heart can travel.”

Along this Coleman-Snyder-Gussow-Piper axis lies the connection between the food movement and its deepest roots, which reach all the way to the nonviolent ethics of Gandhi and King.

This enterprise that we are a part of, with its new organic farmers and the host of small food enterprises that are emerging to bring their produce to market, is about an economy that does less harm. It’s about rebuilding trust and reconnecting to one another and the places where we live. It’s about healing the social and ecological relationships that have been broken by hundreds of years of linear, extractive pursuit of economic growth, industrialization, globalization, and consumerism. It’s about pulling some of our money out of ever-accelerating financial markets and its myriad abstractions — called, with more than a little irony, securities — and putting it to work near where we live, in things that we understand, starting with food — creating a more immediate and tangible kind of security.

This attention to and, even, celebration of the small, the slow and the local can seem, at times, rather precious against the scale of global economic, political, and environmental challenges. But it was agriculture that gave birth to the modern economy, and, as Paul Ehrlich recognizes, it must be agriculture that we fix if there is to be a postmodern economy:

The agricultural revolution led to a period of cultural evolution unprecedented in its rapidity and scale … It is a story that starts with the obtaining of food but returns us to two aspects of human behavior that, although present in hunter-gatherers, became even more important in sedentary groups-religion and violence.

CSAs to the rescue. Local Harvest and Greenling and Green Mountain Creamery and Mamma Chia and Revolution Foods and People’s Grocery and Gather Restaurant and Shepherd’s Way Cheese and High Mowing Organic Seeds and Growing Power and Slow Food and the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies, and RSF Social Finance to the rescue.

Can we imagine a pro-soil, pro-earthworm, pro-small farmer, anti-fiduciary-razzmatazz, pro non-capitalist-pig movement that becomes as robust in this second decade of the 21st century as the anti-war movement was in the 1960s?

Peace Now. Fertility Now. Food Here Now. Slow Money.

Read the original article on Grist.

Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered by Woody Tasch is available now.

Our Local Economy in Transition

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

If you’re in or around Boulder, Colorado late this month, don’t miss the Our Local Economy in Transition Conference taking place February 26th and 27th. Chelsea Green author Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, will be a featured speaker at the event, along with Michael Shuman of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), Nicole Foss of The Automatic Earth, and Transition Colorado’s Michael Brownlee.

Sponsored by Transition Colorado, Slow Money, Elephant Journal and others, the event focuses on Food Localization as Economic Development and takes place primarily at Boulder’s Millenium Harvest House.  Panel discussions will include Reskilling for the Challenging Times Ahead, Food Security and Access in a Chaotic Economy, Forging a Foodshed Alliance, and more. The conference also includes a premiere screening of the documentary film “The Economics of Happiness“.

From the event flyer: “The economy is on the precipice of an unprecedented transition – and this has profound implications for our local economy. This conference is an opportunity to explore how local food and farming can contribute to the resilience of our local economy, reduce our contribution to global warming, and ensure the health, well-being and self-reliance of all our citizens.”

To learn more about Transition Colorado, visit this link. For a full conference schedule and additional information, click here.

Check out Woody Tasch’s book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, now.

Thomas Greco: The World’s Ominous Reckoning

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

In a recent Washington Post article titled Europe’s ominous reckoning, economist Robert Samuelson correctly argued that “Ireland’s economic crisis is … not about Ireland.” What he seems to not recognize is that “Europe’s ominous reckoning” is not about Europe. The reckoning will be global because the money and banking regime is global — and deeply flawed.

Discussions about possible solutions to the debt crisis tend to degenerate into ideological bickering because ideologies provides an inadequate framework in which to understand the nature of the problem and discover real effective solutions. Fiscal conservatives want to cut social spending so as to avoid raising taxes on the rich and privileged class. Political liberals have largely caved in to the same interests because they think that supporting the privileged class’s agenda is their only hope of gaining power. They will pay lip service to a social agenda and throw a few crumbs to the masses in an attempt to get elected, but they will ultimately advance the same elitist agenda, as have Presidents Clinton and Obama. Progressives argue that budgets can be balanced by cutting the military budget and raising taxes on the rich, but they remain impotent because political power has been so thoroughly centralized that popular progressive agendas have not a prayer of being implemented. Even if they were, they would simply make matters worse because under the present money and banking regime, a balanced government budget is not possible. How can the debate move beyond ideologies, and common ground be found?

Samuelson, like almost all conventionally trained economists, blames the woes of Ireland, and every other country, on failures in policy. He says, “Most European economies suffer from the ill effects of some combination of easy money, unsustainable social spending and big budget deficits,” but he fails to address the deeper questions of why? Why has money been easy? Why is social spending unsustainable? Why have budget deficits been too big?

It is not only a problem of European economies, it is a problem for virtually all national economies. As Samuelson points out, even the most prosperous countries have accumulated enormous debts. The governments of Germany and France, for example, have, respectively, gross debts of 76 percent and 86 percent of GDP (GDP is a measure of total economic output). The debt of the United States government is projected to exceed 100% of GDP within the next couple of years. And this picture does not even include the debts of lower levels of government — states, counties, and municipalities — or all of the private sector debt that burdens companies and individuals.

If the world has become so prosperous and productive, why all this debt, and why does it continue to grow ever more rapidly?

It is not a matter of policy, i.e., how we operate a flawed system. The problem is structural and systemic. The system is designed to create debt, and ever more of it. Like a pernicious cancer, debt is a parasite that is killing us, and in the end a parasite will die along with its host. How much of our well-being shall we sacrifice to keep feeding this cancer? Are we willing to starve ourselves and our children, to endure cuts in spending for education and public services, to sacrifice our hard-won freedoms, in order to sustain a system that despoils the earth, destroys the social fabric,  and creates ever greater economic inequities?

A few have been calling for “debt forgiveness,” a remedy analogous to cancer surgery. That may be a good start, but even that does no go far enough. We can excise the cancer, but if we do not recognize and eliminate its fundamental cause it will simply grow back. We can restart the game of Monopoly, but the outcome of the next round will be very much like that of the previous round unless we change the rules — or choose to play a different game.

The fact is, there is a debt imperative that is built into the global system of money and banking, and debt is eating us alive. As I wrote in my first book more than 20 years ago, our money system, based as it is on banks’ lending money into circulation at compound interest, requires debt to grow with the passage of time. Virtually all of the money today is created when banks make “loans.” The compounding of interest on these loans means that debt must grow as time goes on, not slowly, but at an accelerating rate. Ever greater amounts of money must be borrowed into circulation for this system to continue. When the private sector debt can no longer be expanded, government assumes the role of “borrower of last resort.” That is why government budget deficits have become chronic and continue to grow. In the latest cycle of Bubble and Bust, governments are rescuing the banks by taking “toxic” debt off their hands and giving them government bonds in return. In this way, the system can be sustained a little bit longer, but at costs that have yet to be tallied.

The current global predicament is the late-stage symptom of this fundamental flaw. Every political currency collectivizes credit. It is our credit that supports each national currency. We have allowed the banks to control our credit and we pay them interest for the “privilege” of accessing some of it as bank “loans.”

What must be done? The answer is simple, but few have been willing to hear it: interest must be eliminated from the money system to put an end to the growth imperative. To modern economists, such a proposition is heresy, foolish even, unthinkable! Interest to them is an essential inducement to save and invest and a necessary means of regulating credit and the economy. Nonsense, I say, a gross error and delusion fostered by incessant propaganda, media hype, and financial mumbo-jumbo. In an economy that is free from inflation, preservation of one’s capital is sufficient motivation for saving, and return on productive investments can be had in the form of ownership shares (so called equity investment) instead of interest on debt. Such equity investments share both the rewards and the risks inherent in a productive enterprise, making the relationship between the user of funds and the provider of funds more harmonious and fair. As for regulating credit, we don’t need interest to do that; we can merely decide to withhold or offer credit, to whom, for what purpose, and in what amounts.

We need to learn to play a different game. We need to organize an entirely new structure of money, banking, and finance, one that is interest-free, decentralized, and controlled, not by banks or central governments, but by businesses and individuals that associate and organize themselves into cashless trading networks. This is a way to reclaim “the credit commons” from monopoly control and create healthy community economies.

In brief, any group of traders can organize to allocate their own collective credit amongst themselves, interest-free. This is merely an extension of the common business practice of selling on open account — “I’ll ship you the goods now and you can pay me later,” except it is organized, not on a bilateral basis, but within a community of many buyers and sellers. Done on a large enough scale that includes a sufficiently broad range of goods and services spanning all levels of the supply chain from retail, to wholesale, to manufacturing, to basic commodities, such systems can avoid the dysfunctions inherent in conventional money and banking and open the way to more harmonious and mutually beneficial trading relationships that enable the emergence of sustainable economies and promote the common good.

This approach is no pie-in-the-sky pipedream, it is proven and well established. Known as mutual credit clearing, it is a process that is used by scores of commercial “barter” companies around the world to provide cashless trading for their business members. In this process, the things you sell pay for the things you buy without using money as an intermediate exchange medium. It’s as simple as that. According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA), a major trade association for the industry, “IRTA Member companies using the “Modern Trade and Barter” process, made it possible for over 400,000 companies World Wide to utilizetheir excess business capacities and underperforming assets, to earn anestimated $12 billion dollars in previously lost and wasted revenues.”

Perhaps the best example of a credit clearing exchange that has been successful over a long period of time is the WIR Economic Circle Cooperative. Founded in Switzerland as a self-help organization in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression, WIR provided a means for its business members to trade with one another despite the shortage of official money in circulation. Over three quarters of a century, in good time and bad, WIR has continued to thrive. Its more than 60,000 members throughout Switzerland trade about $2 billion worth of goods and services annually.

Yes, it is possible to transcend the dysfunctional money and banking system and to take back our power from bankers and politicians who use it to abuse and exploit us. We do it, not by petitioning politicians who are already bought and paid for by an ever more powerful elite group, but by using the power that is already ours to use the resources we have to support each other’s productivity and to give credit where credit is due.

This article appeared originally on Reality Sandwich.

Thomas Greco’s latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, is available now.

Woody Tasch: Buffett, Gates, and the Story of Enough

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

“When is enough enough?”  Bernie Sanders asked during his filibuster against the Lame Duck tax bill in December.  During the speech, he referred to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the world’s richest three people.  (If you haven’t been paying attention, they’ve been pushed down to the number two and three spots by Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecom tycoon who is now worth $53.5 billion.)

The reference to Gates and Buffett in a speech about Enough was a result of their project called the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to give away more than half their wealth.  And while this may not seem immediately relevant to life in the hills of Hardwick or the dales of Dorset, it raises important questions about the meaning of Enough, about ways in which we might, as a society, secede from the cult of He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins and, maybe, just maybe, about ways to put back into the soil—the soil of the restorative economy and the actual soil—what we take out.

Ask any earthworm.  Here are a few data points from Earthworm Economics:

  • There are some 1,000 billionaires on the planet, 400 of them American.
  • In an acre of fertile soil, there are 50,000 to 2 million earthworms, none of them American.  (Estimates range widely, conditions vary from hummock to swale, from Butterworks Farm to Lucky Penny Farm to Full Belly Farm.  There is no Earthworm Department of the Census or Forbes list of the richest 400 earthworms.)
  • 90 million acres of American cropland is devoted to corn.  75% of this goes to feed livestock and cars.  Since 1776, a third of America’s topsoil has eroded.

The story of Enough is told in chapters of money, food and soil.

In the 20th century, our food and our money became fast.  Our farms became factories.  The erosion of our soil accelerated, as did the erosion of our sense of connection to one another and our sense of collective purpose.  Our money zoomed around the planet with ever accelerating speed, increasingly complex and abstract.  We raised children who thought that food came from supermarkets and investors who thought that investments came from computer screens.  We filled our land with chemicals, our portfolios with zeros and our heads with financial speculation. (“What will be the stock price of McDonalds on the day of the 10 billionth person?”) We ignored the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—not the one caused by BP’s oil, but the one caused over decades by billions of tons of agricultural run-off coming down the Mississippi River.  In the 20th century, the idea of Enough became as rare as an earthworm under an ethanol plant.

In the 21st century, can philanthropy, even radically generous philanthropy of The Giving Pledge kind, come to the rescue?  Can it rekindle an abiding sense of Enough?

Yes and No.

Yes, because the idea of giving away more than 50% of your money helps us all look in the direction of putting back as much as we take out.  The act has about it both an air of ageless morality and a sense of modern urgency.  The Giving Pledge may or may not contain, but is consistent with, an implicit recognition that facing the global predicaments of climate change, financial volatility, social inequality and political inertia, neither economic growth based on consumerism nor philanthropy as usual will be sufficient.

No, because if we are going to build a restorative economy, an economy that values preservation and restoration as much as it values extraction and consumption, an economy that heals broken social and ecological relationships while it creates wealth and commercial opportunity (rather than relying on strategies of Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later), we are going to need billions and billions of dollars of investment capital.  We are going to need investment capital and investors of an entirely new kind.

We need to move beyond philanthropy as usual.  Perhaps even more urgently, however, we need to move beyond investing as usual.

This recognition has lead thousands of us to the Slow Money Principles, one of which states:

Paul Newman said:  “We need to be more like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”  Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us ask:

  • What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our money within 50 miles of where live?

  • What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?

  • What if there were 50% more organic matter in the soil 50 years from now?

Today, what if, following the leadership of the Giving Pledge and in honor of the New Year, we were to make a resolution, no, our own kind of pledge, to set about the task of moving beyond investing as usual?

I am ready to make the following Slow Money Pledge:

I hereby commit to investing 1% of my money in small food enterprises near where I live, in order to enhance soil fertility, expand access to fresh food and build a healthier local economy.

In recent years, as market demand for local and organic has grown, and as aversion to the excesses of derivatives, hedge funds and all manner of financial razzmatazz has begun to take root, a new family of financial products and services has begun to emerge.  Slow Money, with its local and national networks, is just one catalyst in this movement, this process of incubation and financial innovation.  There are many others, including community development financial institutions, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Kiva, Kickstarter and RSF Social Finance.

Investing in small food enterprises offers us particular opportunities to roll up our sleeves, to sink our hands into the soil.  That’s one reason why over $4 million has been invested in 12 small food enterprises that participated in Slow Money’s national gathering at Shelburne Farms last June.

As this national process builds, let’s continue to explore ways to collaborate with friends and neighbors to put money to work more directly at the local level.  Let’s be ready to imagine and calculate in new ways the financial, social and environmental returns that will arise from such investing.

Where to start?  How about buying a farm and leasing it on concessionary terms to a young organic farmer?  How about expanding a CSA?  What if groups of us in communities around the country undertook one such investment per year?

If we are more ambitious, and have the financial capacity, we could look to the infrastructure for farmers markets and local food distribution; community kitchens and food incubators; composting and seed production; slow food restaurants; niche organic brands; biologically benign agricultural inputs; regional food processing facilities; and, other enterprises that repair the holes left in the social fabric and ecological web by industrialization and globalization.

Only a precious few of us have 50% of multi-billions to give away.  But many, many precious millions of us have money sitting in financial institutions, where it is under the guidance of Mr. Invisible Hand and Mr. Smokestacks In China and Mr. Slightly Better Regulated But Still Giving More Bonuses Than Ever Wall Street.

And while 1% isn’t 50%, it is an important beginning, a beautiful beginning.  It is our start down the road to the world that comes after “Enough is enough.”

Woody Tasch is the founder of Slow Money, an NGO that is catalyzing the flow of investment capital to local food systems.  He is Chairman Emeritus of Investors’ Circle and author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.

This article appeared originally at Vermont Commons and at TriplePundit.

Ron and Arnie Koss: Revolutionizing Business Education

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The following article was written by Ron and Arnie Koss, authors of The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part I: The “Golden” Standard

If there were ever a case to overhaul business and entrepreneurship education, it would be made by the world as we know it today.

Do you think that the calamitous Gulf oil spill or the epidemic of childhood diabetes and obesity or the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria are unrelated?

What links them in a unified assault on the quality of our collective lives are (most likely) “professionally” educated people who often define success and wealth by one measure―money.

But money alone, regardless of the economic system that it is attached to, cannot incite this aberrant lemming-like behavior that causes some to drive others off a cliff, even if those “others” are our children, whole ecosystems, or ways of life.

Colluding with the love of money (and its many related distortions) is the separation from the “golden rule” that we theoretically learned as children and were supposed to carry forward into adulthood. Without empathy for all “others” and the implicit responsibility accompanying it, we have what we have― a breakdown of our human community and all of life. And the results arguably are taking on biblical proportion, at least by plague standards.

What to do? On one hand we have a collective heritage of culture and human wisdom that knows exactly what to do. Aligned with that, there is no Gulf oil spill because safety precautions are not compromised to save a buck (or a pound) or make one. Childhood diabetes is diminished because cereal manufacturers “cut the crap.” Consensus on an action plan for every global ill would not take long once the “golden rule” rules.

But this notion is likely viewed by many as preposterously naïve and simplistic. If so, Arnie and I propose that we find a short cut to greater naivete because the mutant “He who has the gold rules” paradigm is not working. It’s a disaster.

Until we find that “worm hole” that leads us closer to the fount of our human potential and the wisdom that lives deep and naturally within the mature consciousness of each of us, it is innovation in education that we must immediately rally around and leverage to universal benefit.

Our initial focus will be on business and entrepreneurship because tomorrow’s leaders are sitting there in class right now, year after year. What future will they choose for us all? Our vision is a hopeful one.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part II: Goliath 101

Along the way of realizing our big dream and starting Earth’s Best Baby Foods, my twin brother Arnie and I unwittingly collided with a business paradigm and a world view―venture capital is one expression― that tends to objectify and reduce everything, and we mean everything, down to dollars and cents. This “Goliath,” at his worst, values money above more than life itself and abandons morality and ethical values with alarming ease.

Goliath is a sly and not so little fellow capable of staggering manipulation and sinister action. But he’s also disarming, evasive, and so self-referential that when he looks in the mirror, he does not see the real consequences of his actions, but rather some distortion featuring his upright self, his own guilt-free hands, and of course, others to blame for whatever went wrong.

We must study him, explore his psychology, recognize the symptoms of his presence and learn how to respond. This sounds almost straight forward, except for one catch. Goliath lives in each of us at one time or another as we unfold in our lives. He’s not apart from us. He’s a part of us.

Business and entrepreneurship education must encompass the exploration of “self” and not as an academic or intellectual exercise. Self awareness matters. Each person has a biography and a family story that often lives and is somehow expressed in decisions of varying degrees of magnitude. Before someone gets to be a key executive at British Petroleum making decisions to cut catastrophic corners or the CEO of Enron enmeshed in its calamitous collapse, the Goliath-self should be a distant presence in a rear view mirror, as in historical.

What’s the value of learning the finest points of sales, marketing, finance, economics, and management if a student is unwittingly mired in a paradigm or degree of adult immaturity that is likely to eventually wreak havoc and cause unnecessary misfortune?
And of course I would ask the same rhetorical question regarding any field of study and any subsequent expression or endeavor in this world.

Today, we are surrounded by and led by too many petulant, disingenuous, and self serving individuals who use religion, labels, metaphors, and profit to scare, polarize, and distract us so we abide by their aims; the aims of an immature Goliath who mistakes his size for righteousness and a qualification for privilege. This must stop.

Leadership must be cultivated. Maturity must be championed. And to do so “Goliath” must be met in study, observation, conversation, and ultimately in an “inner” journey to meet some version of his counterpart― “David.” It is in our schools of higher education that this encounter must happen, not after it’s too late.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part III: David 101

The point of using the David & Goliath metaphor is not to cast Arnie and myself as “David.” There is a much bigger story and opportunity here than that.

Many years ago Arnie and I were campers at a summer day camp. We were excited to take a field trip to a “real” western town amusement park with cowboys and gun fights.
We roamed the streets passing in and out of souvenir shops, side-stepping horse shit, watching for swinging saloon doors, and looking for the bad guys.

Word got to us via the grapevine that everyone in the camp was stealing souvenirs. Apparently there was this feeding frenzy, free for all. Arnie and I knew stealing was wrong. It was unthinkable. Our parents and upbringing had imprinted this upon us with absolutely no wiggle room. Soon we saw friends walking by the Cimarron City blacksmith shop wearing Indian headdresses, necklaces, and toting 6-shooters with holsters. It was strangely exhilarating. Everyone was doing it.

And then the unthinkable happened. Arnie and I walked into a shop. I was the lookout. He picked out and picked up a pair of earrings. Soon we were on the camp bus, everyone seemingly decked out in Wild West attire. We didn’t put on the earrings. We gave them to our mom later that day and ashamedly admitted our guilt several years later.

Arnie and I were children at Cimarron City. We knew better, but did not act accordingly.

Most students leave college to find some version of this “free for all” happening in the world, if not their workplace. Money is the measure of success. Everyone is doing it. It’s easier to join than to be left behind alone and without. The once “real” world of knowing what it means to be “good” is supplanted by the “real” real world of practical adulthood.

We stole from a store as children. It was wrong. But when young adults who become middle aged adults, who become older people collectively participate for generations in a free for all, it is not just a shop that is being pillaged and ruined, but cultures, species, ecosystems and lives.

David 101 brings into focus the responsibility of personal freedom. It does not reduce the complexity of human behavior and values to good and bad or black and white. It explores the limitless rainbow of grays within the context of community and inter-connectedness.

When David looks in the mirror, he sees his place in a world full of other people situated within a miraculous web of planetary life. And he cares deeply for what he sees. “David 101” does not aim to rid the world of Goliath, but offers to expose and challenge his entrenchment within the psychology of each person.

Arnie and I can vouch for Goliath’s sharp shark-like teeth and penchant for feeding frenzies. The Earth’s Best Story is “bittersweet” for this reason. We wonder now in retrospect if a David & Goliath curriculum would have dulled those teeth a little and curbed that appetite. I guess we believe so.

The Earth’s Best Story is available now.

Watch: Ron and Arnie Koss discuss The Earth’s Best Story

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Take a look at the newest video on Chelsea Green TV featuring authors Ron and Arnie Koss, whose book is The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution.

In The Earth’s Best Story, twins Ron and Arnie Koss masterfully recount their transition from eking out livings as sprout growers and broom makers to creating Earth’s Best baby food—the first organic food to sit beside mainstream competitors on the nation’s supermarket shelves. That feat revolutionized and empowered the organic-foods movement and benefited hundreds of farmers as well as the millions of babies whose very first foods have been organically grown.

Watch the video below to hear Ron and Arnie discussing their journey and describing their book.

Visit The Earth’s Best Story page to learn more.


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