It Just Might Work: Slow money

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by Jordan Green

I spent my vacation earlier this month with my family in a turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion in Hardwick, Vt. There’s a book about Hardwick called The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food.

Hardwick is a nice place by North Carolina standards, but it’s poorer and less employed than the rest of Vermont. To revitalize itself in the face of disappearing granite-extraction jobs, the town has focused on local food production. The food co-operative doesn’t even sell Ben & Jerry’s, the state’s biggest ice-cream exporter; they’re supplied by a creamery that’s even closer to home. And just as an aside, can you imagine a town of 10,000 people with a food co-op? Similar to consumers, food producers in the area use a model of co-operative entrepreneurship. The aging cave built by Jasper Hill Farm is used to finish its own cheeses and those of other cheese makers. A local apple grower was persuaded to use local sourcing for eggs, butter and maple syrup to make apple pies. Claire’s Restaurant is a community-supported venture financed by local residents that buys local produce and bread.

The cost of doing business is higher when you source locally, but the social yield is also higher, and economic profits ultimately rise when local producers reciprocate. The producers share equipment, expertise, capital and, indirectly, profit.

That’s where slow money comes in. An investor circle of producers who have accumulated some surplus and people of goodwill with wealth is key to ensuring adequate financing for enterprises that support the social bottom line. We need organizations that can connect investors to local economies. The Fund for Democratic Communities in Greensboro is already working along these lines, and is a natural candidate for stepping up into a more full role.

The values underlying social investment might differ from place to place. It might be ecological sustainability in Vermont, but diversity in the Triad. Food likely comes into play everywhere, but in the Triad, the portfolio might expand to include tech, design and media.

Slow money is about taking the fate of our communities into our own hands rather than chasing large-scale corporations for jobs and mega-grocers to meet our food needs.

Let’s take our fate into our own hands.