I've you've been reading this blog a while, you know that I sometimes count my food miles, the distance that something travels from being grown or raised or caught, through whatever processing or production it gets, to the point at which I photograph and then devour it. It's interesting to think about since transportation costs money and energy, and because buying things from far away sends your money - and sometimes your jobs - far away.
Thinking about these issues has led me to join, indeed to co-found, a group called Sprout Lenders. Inspired by Slow Money (itself inspired by Slow Food), Sprout Lenders is a group of people putting their money to work for local food businesses in the form of an investment club offering loans. I'm writing about this not to pat myself on the back, but in the hope that both of my readers will help get the word out to local food businesses that might benefit from a Sprout Lenders loan. We're looking for greater Boston food businesses with local and sustainable bona fides (not necessarily official organic status) that need cash for expansion or working capital.
Slow Food and Money
Slow Food is a movement founded "... to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." Slow Money came out of the Slow Food movement and describes itself somewhat less succinctly but I like the 4th principle a great deal, "We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises."
Sure, I've got access to a dizzying array of food from around the world, much of it organic or artisanal. It feels nice to support small businesses and farms around the world. It's also nice to support small businesses and farms in my own community. Some of the Slow Money principles sound anti-growth to the free market enthusiast in me, but why not be pro-growth right here where I live?
If you believe in any of the ideas of Slow Money and Slow Food, how can you advance those agendas in your community? Buying local and eating local are great starts, but individual action only goes as far as your own spending. Activism, advocacy and lobbying are other paths. In the organizing discussions at Sprout Lenders, we wanted to take our experience in business and orientation as capitalists in a kinder and localer direction.
Equity investing might be the "slower" path, being more involved in the running of the business and having a long time horizon. Lending, however, is somewhat lower risk for us as beginning investors, and it fits the seasonal and cyclical needs that a lot of food businesses have for working capital. If we're successful, the loan fund will grow with interest on repayment, and we can help several businesses a year become a little more successful themselves.
Sprout Lenders is taking applications for loans now for the spring/summer round. It's not just for farmers, it's for any food business that thinks and acts locally in the greater Boston area. Please help us spread the word.