NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Woody Tasch, Founder and Chairman of Slow Money and author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.
I sometimes wonder whether the “numb” in numbers was just waiting for the 21st century. As in what my friend Lee said to me over breakfast the other day, after a cursory discussion about the week’s stock market turbulence, “I try to keep up, but it’s pretty mind numbing.”
Within a few minutes of that remark, the following sentence came from the radio, “Investors are struggling to make sense of this week’s volatility.”
Wild gyrations in the Dow. Jobless claims. The national debt. The price of gold. The price of oil. Retail sales. The body count from Afghanistan. Yen to the dollar. The number of cities each day in August that had their hottest day on record. $24 billion (McDonalds’ 2010 revenue). 1,100 (McDonalds locations in China). One every 18 hours (number of Yum! Brands restaurants — KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, A&W — opening in China). One-fifth (per capita water consumption in China compared to that in the U.S.). 19,000 (average earthworm population per acre in Boone County, Iowa). 1.9 million (average earthworm population per acre on Thompson Farm, an organic farm in Boone County, Iowa). 5.79 billion (record number of NYSE shares traded on August 16, 2011). Three trillion (annual Ogalalla aquifer overdraft, in gallons). 2.7 (average annual rate of depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, in feet per year). 200 (average thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer, in feet). Number of years until the Ogallala Aquifer is completely depleted (do the math).
So, how’s that morning coffee going down?
These are, certainly, mind-numbing numbers. They are the numbers that shout the Big Story of the 21st century: mankind heading towards a global population of 10 billion and the global economy growing from $60 trillion per year to who knows what, and everywhere we look stresses and strains on political, economic, cultural and ecological systems.
Behind the Big Story of these shouting numbers, however, is a Small Story that is sneaking onto the corner of our computer screens. Or, should we say, sneaking into a corner of the hearts and minds of thousands of folks.
This is the story of Slow Money.
The idea behind Slow Money is wildly fundamental: we need to take some of our money, a tiny fraction of it to begin with, of course, out of the accelerating, increasingly volatile, abstract, and complex global financial marketplace, where we can never fully know what it is doing or who it is doing it to, and put it to work in things that we understand, closer to home, starting with small food enterprises. It is a sobering commentary on the modern circumstance that something so common sensical as “building the soil of a restorative economy”would be called a movement or, even, a revolution.
We are still small, but sprouting. 15,000 people have signed the Slow Money Principles. 2,000 have joined the Slow Money Alliance, a national network and emerging group of eleven local chapters that are facilitating the flow of millions of dollars into scores of small food enterprises around the country. Six hundred people attended our second national gathering last year in Vermont and $4 million was invested in 12 of the small food enterprises that presented there. A local, organic food home delivery service. An organic creamery. An organic beverage start-up. An inner city farming project. And many more. Since then, $5 million has flowed into dozens of small food enterprises through 11 emerging Slow Money chapters around the country.
This year’s national gathering in San Francisco was another step towards our ultimate destination: one million Americans investing 1% in local food systems, within a decade.
Each one of us can take a small step towards fixing our economy from the ground up, a first step in the rewarding, hopeful and mind-UNnumbing process of bringing money back down to earth.
Photo credit Slow Money