Slow Money 2014 — First Impressions

Posted on Nov 18, 2014 | 2 comments

Slow Money founder Woody Tasch started off the 2014 conference with three questions:

—What if we invested 50% of our money within 50 miles of our home?
—What if there were a new generation of businesses that gave away 50% of their profit
—What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soils 50 years from now?

At first they might seem an odd assemblage of questions. The first makes sense given Slow Money seems to be, from my first foray into it, focused on investors large and small, turning their attention and money to local farm and food-based biz. Which makes sense as Slow Money seems to have arisen from Slow Food, the organization that champions unique regional tastes as well as the idea of slowing down and returning food to the nurturing, relationship and community building role it has played in human history till lately.

Woody Tasch photo via Slow MoneyThe second reminded me of the huge upsurge in young people —Social Entrepreneurs— starting businesses that while using a for-profit format, have built into their mission some type of social goals that we usually associate with non-profits.  As a business owner myself at first I didn’t understand why they didn’t just start a non-profit if the giveback was as important as the business.

After the whole conference, one core takeaway for me personally was the real value of the social-entrepreneur business model and low/no-interest lending, of all things, as a powerful tool to create business that sow hope, economic justice and positive change in their communities.

I realized my mental picture of how businesses operate when compared to non-profits was simple and dualistic. The business, often started with loans, makes money for the owners from products or services while (hopefully) giving people jobs. The size and quality of each piece of that sentence vary widely, to say the least. Non-profits on the other hand, gather money from grants and donors and attempt to assist communities by filling the gaps by doing needed, charitable things. Not in the sense of icing on a cake but more likely in the sense of life raft.

In recent years with the loss of small-town businesses and the total metastasis of the big-box model, non-profits have had to also attempt to fill holes remaining even for people working full time — an example of the side of business that had me feeling sickish to be a part of ‘the economy’ at all. So how refreshing, liberating, HOPEFUL it was at Slow Money to see all these good people out there doing great things with business and investing.

It was such a refreshing counterpoint to the carnage of the corporate greed model. I needed to be reminded it’s possible to build a business that creates livelihoods while doing good and needed things in a community. And there are lots of social entrepreneurs doing it and a lot of them are young which as inspiring as heck. There are also older business owners leaving the profit-at-any-cost corporate world and starting afresh with goals that include long term community benefit. There are also non-profit organizations doing amazing and empowering work. It’s a diverse bouquet of small solutions and we need every one.

slow money book web

In upcoming posts I’ll tell you about the Kansas family farm that won the Slow Money Beet Coin award at the conference. Each attendee and each contributor to the Beet Coin drive got one vote and wow it was so hard to decide! Every single presenter seemed so deserving that Cheri and I got teary at times …and remember Cheri is one tough farmer so that is impressive!

First place award was a 70K three-year interest free loan and they plan to use it to begin offering milling services for non-GMO grains in their region among other things. (Lack of access to grain mills has been a stubborn bottleneck separating the farmers growing non-gm grains and the eager customers lining up to buy…)

However it was the two organizations that tied for second place (New Roots and Sustainable Iowa Land Trust that had my heart and that’s what I’ll write about next.

with love, Leigh

p.s. About Woody’s third question regarding improving soil. Ahhh soil. I’m going to talk a LOT about soil over the winter.  Ecologically, everything I love begins and ends and begins again there. It’s alpha and omega baby. Slow Money turned out to be a tent revival for my love of and dedication to all things that build and celebrate the soil, imagine that. 🙂

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More about the 2014 Slow Money Conference held in Louisville, Kentucky:  Note that the whole of the conference was available for free via livestreaming and if you register the videos are still available for viewing for free. You can use the program at the website to figure out which speakers spoke on which day. I’ll link to some of my faves in future posts.

More about Slow Money in general:

You can see snippets and find links to the entrepreneurs who presented for the Beet Coin award at the bottom of the page here: Another great feature about the conference was that all the presenting entrepreneurs’ contact information was given to all the attendees as many of those attendees came looking for investment opportunities.



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  1. Sounds like an inspiring conference. Regarding for-profit vs non-profit companies, I believe that our tax laws create a large gap between these two, and entrepreneurs who commit to social goals in their for-profit enterprises are attempting to fill that gap. Having started both non-profit and for-profit corporations, I became aware of – and somewhat frustrated by – that gap.

    Briefly, our tax laws largely prevent a non-profit from supporting themselves like a normal business: producing something, selling it, and using the proceeds to support their work. If a non-profit community garden like the Dig In! garden in Yancey county raised enough additional food to sell at markets to support itself, it would be declared a for-profit business, and lose its non-profit status! This means that to survive, non-profits must constantly seek donations and grants.

    However, organizations that give grant money to non-profits almost universally will NOT fund the biggest need non-profits have: operating expenses and salaries.

    The combination of these two things I see as the reason most non-profits constantly struggle. They ARE NOT ALLOWED to support themselves, and in reality, large foundations won’t support them either.

    My blessings to every entrepreneur who devotes a percentage of profits to charitable work, helping fill that gap.

    • Wow! Those are issues I’ve never thought through Mark. Thanks for that background. I wonder how non-profits like Will Allen’s growing power manage to sell at markets yet not cross that line? I’ve read about that from a different view – of the difficulty of farmers trying to make a living at what they grow selling side by side non-profit farms who also receive grants. Nothing is simple as it first sounds right! I sure am glad to be your county neighbor and look forward to seeing you soon!