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!
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.
We rode the wave of progress and by the end of the 20th century our stores had filled up with ‘stuff’ from all over the world – as had our kitchen cabinets, and our bodies. Tangerines from Spain, dresses from Bangladesh and appliances from Japan. We burned through millions of barrels of fuel from the Middle East, and gave up control of our life savings to a globalized stock market.
It all seemed harmless enough, and in exchange we got so much choice! So many creature comforts, and a promise that it would only get better and better.
But that wave turned out to be a tsunami, and while globalization has merit, it has come with unforeseen risks and costs to our psyche, to our health, to our planet’s ability to sustain life, and thus to our resilience as a species.
Today we are seeing a new wave, a new perspective on progress. One that is less extractive of our planet’s finite resources, and that reconnects us to home.
The new paradigm is to re-localize – to get “Running On Local.” Local food, local fuel, local finance, local friendships, local fun, and more.
In 2010 I heard an idea, espoused by Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money, of moving money into the hands of local sustainable farmers and the local food businesses that support them. It seemed we could make affordable loans to those folks who had a viable need for capital – money that banks and other conventional sources would not lend. I tried it and it worked. I’ve made several Slow Money loans and it has been a blast. I can stop by a farmers market, or Angelina’s Kitchen, a small Greek restaurant that serves local food, and I can visit with the friends I have helped. I can see that my small, low-interest loan has made a difference in their success. It’s heartening and hopeful.
In the last three and a half years I have helped facilitate over 115 of these direct, peer-to-peer loans in North Carolina from about 80 different lenders to 55 farmers and food entrepreneurs. Many of those loans are already paid off. They total about 1.2 million dollars and they have kept people employed in their own businesses, put more local food in our stores and restaurants, preserved small farms, and strengthened local economies. It’s brilliant and simple. We can do this in communities all over the US and beyond.
In our little town of Pittsboro, in rural North Carolina, we are “walking the walk” – with several farmers markets, a growing number of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and our very our coop grocery store, Chatham Marketplace. The Marketplace is now entirely financed with money from local citizens. We have a community scale biodiesel plant, a two-year program in Sustainability at our local community college, and a local currency.
We have stories to tell. Fellow New Society Publishers author and sustainability activist, Lyle Estill, and I have created “Running On Local,” a sustainability roadshow to promote the merits of all things local. We are sharing those success stories and helping other communities to re-localize.
“In a world of gloom and doom,” says Lyle Estill, author of three books on biodiesel and most recently of Small Stories, Big Changes: Agents of Change on the Forefront of Sustainability, “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.”
He should know. He runs Piedmont Biofuels, one of the few surviving community-scale biofuel operations in the Southeast, turning waste cooking oil into about one million gallons of B100 biofuel each year.
“Localizing?” Estill goes on to say. “We’ve done it. We’ve empowered ourselves, and others. We’ve written about our experiences, and we are happy to share them with you. We have practical ideas you can use in Anytown, USA. We spread hope.”
Together Lyle and I are going on the road to host powerful conversations in communities up and down the East Coast. We are taking our “Running On Local” message from Miami and Orlando, FL to Savannah, GA, and then on to Beaufort and Charleston, SC before heading up to Washington DC, NYC and Western MA.
Here are our current tour dates: Monday, February 24th, East End Market, 5:30 – 7:30PM, Orlando, FL
Tuesday, February 25th, Sentient Bean, 5 – 6:30PM, Sentient Bean, Savannah, GA
Wednesday, February 26th, PANINI’S On The Waterfront, 5:30-7:30PM, Beaufort, SC
Thursday, February 27th, Jericho Advisors and Art Gallery, 5:30-7:30PM, Charleston, SC
Wednesday, March 19th, Café Saint-Ex, 7-9PM, Washington, DC
Thursday, March 20th, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, March 22nd, Greenfield, MA