Slow Money Louisville: The Value of Community

Since 2009, Slow Money has held annual gatherings on food, investing, and culture. Featured in Louisville was a broad line-up of some of the most influential entrepreneurs of our time who think outside the box of conventional economic infrastructure. Over three days, authors, activists, farmers, and food producers gathered at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts to discuss a new direction for our food economy. As a guest blogger and recipient of IDEAS 40203 ArtPlace America grant, gardener and baker Sarah Owens is bringing highlights of Slow Money to Creative Innovation Zone as a reflection of her 2015 Louisville-based project.

November 11, 2014

The second day of the Slow Money Conference featured a number of pioneering rockstars including Wendell and Mary Dee Berry, Eliot Coleman, Vandana Shiva, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. Panelists and keynote speakers reflected on lending, policy, GMOs and enterprise in the context of local economy. These themes were discussed with alternative lending strategies in mind for the small farmer or food entrepreneur.

The prevalence of industrial agriculture stems from the need for more and cheaper food.  There is often capital behind big business (both food and farming) but with large expense to rural populations, the soil, and our health.  Young people in particular – the generation who wishes to invest their time and sweat equity into more mindful practices – often don’t have the capital to invest in expensive equipment or land, nor possess the credit or experience to negotiate a traditional bank loan. This is not a new problem for any era.  But in order to convert industrialized conventional farming and food from toxic practices to more sustainable measures, we need lending that relies less on spreadsheets and more on taste buds.  The reality is that if you eat, you are an investor.  But what about the value of support beyond the mighty dollar?

As much as entrepreneurs need investment capital, we should also consider the assets of intangibles through investing our time and expertise into a strong community. Building relationships with customers and within our own industry leads to a network of individuals whose successes only benefit the whole.  The idea of individualism recedes and the concept of a healthy body steps forward. Once the cast of participants in the local food chain is mobilized, a new sense of awareness is created and each character is able to fulfill their own role in support of the other. The chain begins to look like this: If you have a tasty and proven product, you have a customer.  If you have a customer, you have an investor.  If you have an investor that understands your business and believes in your product, there is potential to grow in healthier ways than paying back traditional loans.  (More specific strategies concerning alternative lending will be discussed in the next post.)

This couldn’t be more true with the baking project I am launching in Louisville’s Smoketown community in 2015.  Aiming to bake bread with local, freshly milled flour is going to require the cooperation from individuals other than myself who are interested in contributing to this process.  There is currently little organic and alternative grain being grown in the Kentucky region, most of which is utilized as animal feed.  So the conversation begins with farmers about the potential to grow buckwheat, rye, and even types of hard winter wheat best suited for this region. The conversation will go nowhere however if these farmers don’t have a market, the land, or equipment to entice their entry into growing grain.

With the help of I.D.E.A.S. 40203, I am identifying how I can encourage investment to support farmers and a potential miller so that I can create jobs baking wholesome, nutritious bread. Together we can learn to excel at what we do best, allowing each person’s business to thrive and bring better food, healthier soil, and a stronger community to Smoketown.


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