Slow Money: Common Causes of the Food and Financial Crises

- by Joshua Levin
adapted from post on

“Food is the field in
which we daily explore our harming of the world.”  - Gary Snyder, poet; as quoted by Woody Tasch

Two Wednesdays ago, Woody
Tasch – an experienced VC and financier – spoke in New York on the concept of
“Slow Money”, and the connections between the current financial collapse and the
way we eat. 

Woody is the chairman and
founder of Investor’s Circle, a Boston-based network of socially responsible
investors.  The
Circle recently launched the Slow Money Fund, which aims to invest in local and
sustainable food systems.  I was pleased
to play a small part in helping organize and promote the event, which was put
on by Pure Projects, a social enterprise incubator.  (I also met with the two lead managers of the fund up in Boston, yesterday, to learn more about their strategy.)

I discovered
that Woody Tasch is a true rabble rouser and activist-intellectual-financier,
and I found some of his ideas to be truly profound.  Most stirring was his ability to articulate
an underlying systems-based failure of consciousness that has simultaneously
created crises in both our financial markets, and our food economy.  This is summarized is the fund’s motto:
“Bringing money back down to earth”. 

The idea is
that every security, and every derivative, is fundamentally connected to the
natural world.  However, the astronomical
acceleration of degrees of derivation, leverage, and turnover in these assets
has dangerously removed us from the true source of value and from the
relationships of good business.  The
result is a degradation that results not in only global environmental meltdown,
but in such terrible ironies as starving farmers, the obese poor, and tasteless
toxic food.  The ultimate potential
threat is the observation that the “collapse of every major civilization can
arguably be linked to a decline in soil fertility”. 

Woody argues
that this problem is not fundamentally one of technology, but of finance.  Despite the recent growth in food
consciousness, CSA’s, organics, etc., fantastically immense private investment
and government monies continue to flow to industrial agriculture.  The aggregate size of investment, tax
revenues, and philanthropy that currently flows to sustainable agriculture is
negligable enough to be considered zero.  Financiers therefore have a crucial role to
play.  Thus, the creation of Slow Money,
and the categorization of a new asset class: SFE’s – small food enterprises.

Several great
direct and indirect quotations from Woody’s talk:

 “From the dawn of human history until 1900,
the world economy grew to $600 billion in global output.  Today, the world economy grows by this amount
every two years.”

“In 2006, the measured
economic output of the entire world was about 47 trillion.  The total domestic and international market
capitalization of the stock market was $51 trillion. . . The amount of derivatives
outstanding, was, $473 trillion. . . Planet Finance is beginning to dwarf
Planet Earth.”  - Nyle Ferguson
(world-famous economist and historian), The Ascent of Money

 “The collapse we’re going through right now is
just the most extreme manifestation of a system that is designed to cut the
relationships involved in industry and substitute them with transactions.”

Below is the video from
Woody’s talk.  It is extensive.  Yet I highly recommend you at least drag the
cursor to 18:40min and watch Woody read two fabulous quotes from his new book,
Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.  This five-minute segment builds to a
passionate and inspiring crescendo on food, and finance.

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