The Seesaw

“somehow, i never thought it would be so hard to loan money to strangers with no security and almost no return”

When this email arrived I laughed out loud. Because the funniest things are those that are true, or at least mostly true.

Jeff, in his generosity, had heard about Slow Money and he approached me about finding a local farmer that might need capital. I gave him a couple of names and numbers, and  he drove a few miles to meet with a farmer who lived near him, and he also spoke to another farmer who lived a few more miles away. He offered each of them a low-interest loan for equipment they said they needed. But, then – as it happened – they each found a way to get along without needing a Slow Money loan. Which meant that they didn’t need Jeff.

In the larger scheme of things, that’s great.  Whenever possible the best course of action, especially for any small business owner, is to stay out of debt.

But Jeff is a willing potential Slow Money lender who cares deeply about the local food movement, and he’s having trouble finding someone to help. Luckily he is also a great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor, as you can see by his lighthearted email.

hey carol,
somehow, i never thought it would be so hard to loan money to strangers with no security and almost no return.    [italics added]

I talk about this phenomenon in my book, Financing Our Foodshed, in a section called “The Seesaw.”  Because that is exactly what I find myself riding in making Slow Money ‘matches.’

To clarify, we don’t really lend money to strangers. All of the Slow Money lenders and borrowers have built a friendship, and the trust between them is what these loans are built upon. No doubt Jeff will soon build a relationship with another farmer, and get to make a low-interest Slow Money loan.

But, in making these matches, some weeks there are too many farmers and food entrepreneurs who have connected with me about needing a piece of equipment, or some start-up capital, or a walk-behind tiller – so many that it keeps me up at night.

Other times I am worrying about folks like Jeff that want to make a difference in their foodshed, but just need a way to make that happen. And I don’t have anyone that is ‘loan ready” that also lives in their foodshed, the area that they live in.

You would think by now, after catalyzing over eighty-five direct, peer-to-peer Slow Money loans here in NC to some 43 sustainable farmers and food businesses that support them – that making these loans happen would be like falling off a log.

But social change is never quite as easy as that. After all, we are dealing with people here, and complicated regulations that are not written to make it an obvious or easy road for the little guy – the small business owner. Every day I meet good, extraordinary people, but with all our time pressures, and quirkiness about money, and the myriad of details that come into play for each and every one of us, working out these first-ever-in-history simple Slow Money loans – well, it just takes time.  Which may be part of why it’s called Slow Money.

But each lender and borrower gets their own moment in history. Each relationship, each loan, is a radical departure of the money lending of our day. This is money that traditional lenders will not touch, being loaned to businesses that are re-engineering a broken food system.  These are loans to the heroes we will celebrate tomorrow but who are too over-worked today to hardly look up to receive our accolades.

And so each day I awake to hurl myself against a system that propels corporations ahead of  ‘coop’–erations, because I remain convinced it does not have to be so hard.

Angelina and John get a great story in the local paper!

After a bite of Angelina’s homemade baklava and with local honey still dripping from their chins, two lenders took a huge bite out of the credit card debt that Angelina and her husband, John incurred when they added a seating area to Angelina’s Kitchen, their unique, gourmet Greek restaurant in the small town of Pittsboro, NC.

Those two Slow Money loans meant that instead of paying nearly $500 a month for interest only, she could pay less than $200, and in just a few years became debt free.

Now Mark is ready to take Big Spoon Roasters, his delicious roasted nut butter business, from his basement to a nearby warehouse and his friend Jane would love to help – if she and I could just get past playing phone tag this weekend and have time to talk about the possible terms of their Slow Money loan.

We are going to make that happen. As we bounce from one side of this seesaw to the other, our soils are becoming more fertile, our local foodsheds more resilient, and our communities stronger and more wonderful to live in.

We can do this. We already have. And we can do this again and again. Not only here in Chatham County, but all over North Carolina, and across the USA and beyond.

Carol Hewitt and Jordan Puryear – two of the co-founders of Slow Money NC – enjoying their local coop grocery store, Chatham Marketplace, in Pittsboro, NC

Carol Hewitt and Jordan Puryear – two of the co-founders of Slow Money NC – enjoying their local coop grocery store, Chatham Marketplace, in Pittsboro, NC

Because it matters. Because it makes a difference. A good one.

To learn how you might bounce up and down along with us you can go to the Slow Money website, or read about these stories in Financing Our Foodshed; Growing Local Food with Slow Money.

Or just enjoy a moment of fun, filmed the day my books arrived in Pittsboro.

And you can join me in  – slowly and surely  – building resilience in our local foodshed.

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