When this email arrived I laughed out loud. Because the funniest jokes are about things that are true, or at least mostly true.
Jeff, in his generosity, had approached me about finding a local farmer that might need capital. So he drove a few miles down the road to meet with a farmer who lived near him. Jeff was ready to help with a loan to cover the cost of several new raised beds to grow more produce for local restaurants. Jeff offered his neighbor a low-interest loan for equipment he said he needed. But then when Jeff tried to actually make the loan, the farmer had found a way to get along a bit longer without needing to borrow money.
In the larger scheme of things, that’s great. Whenever possible the best course of action is to stay out of debt.
But Jeff is a willing potential Slow Money NC lender. He cares deeply about the local food movement, but 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 light-hearted email above.
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 trying to navigate!
Some days there are so 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, that it keeps me up at night.
Other times my challenge is helping folks like Jeff that want to make a difference in their local food system, but just need a way to make that happen.
You would think by now, after catalyzing over 160 direct, peer-to-peer Slow Money loans here in NC to some 98 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 their time pressures, and quirkiness about money, and the myriad of details that come into play each time, working out these first-ever-in-history simple Slow Money loans – well, they just take time. And sometimes they become really Slow Money.
But they are each their own moment in history. Each is a radical departure of the money lending of our day. This is money that traditional lenders will not free up, being loaned to businesses that are re-engineering an inadequate and immoral food system. These are loans to the heroes we will celebrate tomorrow but who may too over-worked 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.
After a bite of Angelina’s Shepherd’s Pie made with local sweet potatoes, tomatoes and beef, 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 low-interest Slow Money loans meant that instead of paying nearly $500 a month for interest only, they could pay less than $200, and in just a few years were debt free.
We love making stories like that happen. As we bounce from one side of this seesaw to the other, our soils can become more fertile, our local foodsheds more resilient, and communities stronger and more fun to live in.
We can do this. We can and we are – and it’s fun. Join us!
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the national Slow Money Journal.
When Sam Kirkpatrick and Fulton Forde got together to open their bakery, Boulted Bread, in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, they had an ambitious goal. They wanted to use fresh-milled, locally sourced grain and improve the design of currently available commercial stone mills. Fulton had traveled in Europe and North America learning from bakers who use heirloom grains and researching various age-old mill designs, and creating a plan for a new type of stone mill using locally quarried, natural granite and American-made motors and parts.
The current consumer market, Sam and Fulton believed, was “shifting away from inexpensive conventional practices and beginning to value high quality and process.” Their business would honor this shift toward intentional consumerism and serve the growing number of people interested in sustainably produced food in the greater Triangle area of North Carolina. Their customers would experience “the inherent value, sublime flavors, and simple elegance of bread as craft.”
A Slow Money lender provided $3,000 to cover the construction of a custom stone mill that was more effective, more attractive, and less expensive by thousands of dollars than the few other commercial mills available. Another Slow Money loan for $10,000 covered build-out costs, and Boulted Bread opened for business in August 2014. Sam and Fulton added another partner to the team, Josh Bellamy, who brought along excellent baking experience and a shared philosophy.
The bakery supports numerous local farmers by purchasing heirloom varieties of Southern grain that might be otherwise unavailable or lost, as well as vegetables, eggs, milk, and cheese for their breads and pastries. And they have hundreds of happy consumers. “Bread respects and pays tribute to all the players—farmer, miller, baker, and consumer,” Fulton explains. “Many of our customers are avid home cooks,” Sam told me, “and our moist, naturally leavened, seeded levain is something they can’t find anywhere else.”
Their business has been so successful that they paid off the smaller Slow Money loan two years early. “Our lenders were thrilled for the opportunity to help us get started and proud of us for paying it all back so soon,” said Sam. “We are enormously grateful.”
“My next project,” Fulton shares, “is building stone mills for sale to the public. I first wanted to build a mill when I worked at Farm & Sparrow in Candler, North Carolina. We used a German-made mill that allowed us to use a wide variety of locally sourced grains, but it had many shortcomings. There is an American mill-building company, but their mills also often leave people disappointed and dissatisfied.”
So, he investigated possible design improvements that could make the mill both much more effective and user friendly. He traveled around North America to research mills new and old, and slowly his ideal mill design emerged.
“I built a 26-inch stone mill for a small grain farm in California, another for Boulted Bread, and a third for Farm & Sparrow, to replace the German mill on which I first learned about milling,” Fulton explained. “There is a nascent local-grain movement seeking to extricate grain from the industrial model and in desperate need of high-quality American-made mills. I had orders from four bakers and two mill/grain projects. I began construction on the first three mills ordered. We needed $12,000 to help finance these orders. We planned to pay the money back in 18 months or less.”
Two Slow Money NC lenders who are frequent customers at Boulted Bread made loans of $9,000 and $3,000, and New American Stone Mills is on its way.
Fulton is now collaborating with Andrew Heyn, owner of Elmore Mountain Bread in Vermont, to offer a larger, 40-inch stone mill for use in medium-production bakeries or specialty gristmills.
Farmers are planting more heirloom grain varieties, local milling is growing, and for us eaters, the bread and pastries just keep getting better— for the planet and for us.
Want to learn more about how you can help ‘bring money back down to earth’ ? Join the Slow Money NC mailing list here.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoon we held court at the Sustainability Tent to talk about the re-localizing movement, and whatever else came up.
The Saturday discussion encouraged two sisters to follow their dream and start a kale farm on their father-in-law’s property which had gone dormant and was just waiting for their spark, their initiative. They left ready and able to make it happen.
On Sunday we helped an urban window-sill gardener (a recent transplant from Russia, via Germany to Miami) find sources for heirloom varieties, and that was just one of several simultaneous fascinating conversations.
On Monday we moved on to Orlando for a fabulous evening with John Rife at East End Market and then for supper at the delightful Atherton Market, which you can read about in Lyle’s delightful entry in Energy Blog.
Then we found our way to Savannah, Ga. This was the ‘odd ball’ on our four-day book tour. This “Running on Local’ conversation was taking us from Miami, FL back to Pittsboro, NC, via Orlando and the coast of South Carolina.
Every evening was booked weeks in advance. Except one – Tuesday, February 25th.
It fell between Orlando and Beaufort, SC – and Savannah, GA would have been perfect.
First I began searching in the local food/local economy space. I looked for friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. I googled every phrase about “local and Savannah” I could think of, but found nothing. There had once been an active Slow Food chapter, but their Facebook page said they were looking for new leadership.
It was down to the last week before heading South, and I had gotten nowhere.
Then I came across my 2014 National Green Pages. Published by Green America, it comes every year, and I have never known quite what to do with it. But that day I checked the index and discovered two listings in Savannah.
The most promising was a coffee shop called The Sentient Bean. Checking their website, I discovered they have live acoustic music, and there was an online form to request to play there.
So I filled it in.
“We’re not a band,” I wrote, “but we’re a dynamic duo that promote local economy. We share success stories and get a lively discussion going on how to do all things local – local food, local finance, local fuel. Carol is a pioneer in the Slow Money movement, and Lyle is a maverick in the alternative fuel space. Both have written books and are great speakers. “
“In a world of doom and gloom,” remarks Estill, “where financial instruments are too complex to understand, and money moves at the speed of light, where governments are struggling to take action, and individuals are at the mercy of faceless global corporations, there are ways to localize all aspects of your life. We know. We’ve done it, and you can too.”
I filled in all the contact information, added a Facebook link to one of other events, and went to bed. The next day I found a reply in my inbox from Kristin Russell, the owner of Sentient Bean.
We’d love to host your tour and I think we’d be a good venue. Joemy is our events manager and she is cc’d at the email above. She will contact you soon to coordinate. I’m afraid I’ll be out of town, which saddens me as I’m very interested in this topic but I’ll help promote it through the farmers’ market and the local food policy council I’m involved with.
Wow. Fabulous. I had struck gold, and great coffee. But the date we were coming through town was now only 6 days away! I didn’t hear from Joemy that day, and I was getting anxious. Then I got a reply. It took a few emails back and forth to confirm the date and time, but we had a booking!
“Good morning Carol,
Alright, you are confirmed for Tuesday Feb 25 at 5pm. I will post it on our website and include it in our events newsletter and events calendar. You are welcome to use the attached press contact sheet to send out the press release.
Please send the link to your facebook event page, and I will share via facebook as well.
By now February 25th was only 4 days out, and I was already at the GrassRoots Festival in Miami!
But I found a quiet spot, got online and went to work. Out went the Press Release to all those media outlets, and Joemy got that Facebook link.
On February 24th we rolled into Savannah. I warned Lyle that we might be the only ones at this gig, but we went on in and confidently set up a table displaying our books. Lyle made friends with an innocent guy on a couch visiting from Missouri, and cajoled him into joining us. That gave us an audience of one.
Then they started to arrive. Two elegant white-haired men who helped start a local farmers market, and Teri, fellow founder and market manager. Folks from the Savannah Urban Garden Alliance. A young woman interested in organic farming, a landscape architect, and a woman in town from Toronto who paid Lyle for a book in Canadian currency. We added an extra table, then another, then another, to fit in about a dozen movers and shakers in the local food scene.
To the roaring of the coffee grinder we managed a fabulous conversation. We got a sense of the local economy movement in Savannah, and we shared what we thought might be helpful.
We sold a few books, and we made an appointment to go check out Thinc Savannah, a cooperative office space, the next morning. Out of that meeting came an offer to bring us back to town for a longer program, possibly as part of a day-long conference in May.
We left Savannah enthralled by the people and the places we had seen.
Lyle says “relentless touring” is the only way you make it as a performer. That means no nights off when you are on the road. No skipping Savannah.
I was pretty pleased with myself for pulling that gig out of my hat. But once I found Kristen, she really earned much of the credit. And then there was that National Green Pages, thanks to Green America.
I have been a loyal member of Green America since back in the 70’s. when it was Coop America. It’s no surprise that they know everyone who’s anyone! Next time I’ll remember to look there first.
The day of the event I had got another email from Kristin:
I’ve promoted via the Farmers’ Market, the local community radio folks, the coffee party, and a couple other progressive social groups. I just posted the poster on the Bean’s Facebook (I think!) which is the first time I’ve ever done that:) I hope you have a great, fun crowd and I’m sure I’ll run into you soon somewhere. Thank you so much for finding us!
And thank you, Kristen.
All that effort for a couple of sustainability vagabonds who were coming through town? Impressive – and I’m grateful.
Kristen is clearly a powerful networker in her community, and I look forward to meeting her. She has a delightful, welcoming coffee shop that serves as a meeting space for folks like us.
Lyle says we got the gig by my “sheer force of will.” I say we are all longing for a more resilient local economy, and when we find each other, we make good stuff happen.
I have never knew quite what to do about LinkedIn. In fact I had to resort to Google to be sure how to spell it. (turns out there are a variety of ways…)
But for months/years? I have been getting invitations from random people, many who I respect and think are quite intelligent, inviting me to Link In somehow. But why? As best I could tell this was a site for folks who are looking for work, or for professional connections – and those who are looking for potential employees.
So I pressed ‘delete.’ As an independent, small business owner for the past several decades, and a raging social activist prone to frequent and uncontrollable ranting and raving, I can only assume I am completely unemployable.
But the requests kept coming, and many were from folks I would love to do more than just ‘accept’ but who I would be delighted to spend the evening with – commiserating about the challenges we face as we try to save and nurture our lovely planet and all her species, and to also pat one another on the back for the pitiful, but real progress we make along the way. So we can keep on keepin’ on.
Tonight I decided maybe this might be a useful tool to help with all that, so I took the plunge and started accepting ancient invites, and even inviting anyone else that I thought might also be a ‘climate change/local food activist.’ I started with 8 ‘connections’ and within about an hour had taken that to 130. (Which says something about what my fellow activists are doing at 8pm on Monday night…)
And I updated my profile. Here’s what I wrote, keeping it under the 2000 character limit.
“Since learning about “Slow Money” in May of 2010, I have been meeting sustainable farmers in North Carolina who need capital (in the form of a direct peer-to-peer affordable loan) and connecting them to the generous people in their communities who understand the importance of protecting fertile topsoil, and who care about supporting local farmers/local food.
It has been a wild and busy couple of years – creating, and now riding, the Slow Money NC seesaw. First we found potential lenders who cared about soil fertility, local food, and building resilience in their foodshed. Many were also fed up with sending money off to Wall Street where it had no positive impact on their community.
Then we found hard-working, deserving farmers and innovative local food entrepreneurs (often in the same person) who just needed a few thousand dollars to start, run or expand their business – but had few, or no, places to turn to for help.
And we introduced them to one another. If they chose – a low-interest loan was the result, over a plate of gluten-free cookies, or standing in a field looking at a potential greenhouse site.
I like to believe we are making a difference. As of Feb 2013, over 70 Slow Money NC loans have been made to 30+ farmer/food entrepreneurs totaling about $640,000. (By the time you read this, that’s probably changed, as we are helping catalyze a loan or more a week these days.)
You can read about our antics at http://www.slowmoneync.org. If you got this far, I also hope you are chafing at the bit to make a Slow Money loan. There’s a place to tell us that at the website as well.
Not a lender today? No worries. Any donation helps ‘pay it forward’ and you can help make next week’s loan happen.
Either way, it’s a wonderful prospect that we just might get a trillion dollars or more out of Wall Street and into local farms. It would transform our grocery stores, our collective health, our planet’s ability to sustain us as a species, and it would be so much fun.
I hope you will join us.”
There you have it. Now it is time to get back to reading Borrower Information Forms, and potential Lender Pledge Forms and seeing who might want to meet and talk to whom. And making those powerful connections.
Here at Slow Money NC we have our own little private link-in to the small farm/local food movement. And we have work to do getting them the community capital they need to start-up, to survive, and to thrive.
That’s the real work on this seesaw. Thanks to all of you.