Investing in Farmers & Soil – Help Wanted

As the international financial system enters its long-anticipated death spiral, it’s become even more urgent to figure out how to invest today’s dollars into strong, skilled and well-rested farmers and healthy soil capable of supporting local food systems tomorrow.

There are finally some good models emerging. Ellie Winninghoff writes about them in Soil Capital: A Ground-Level Investing Opportunity:

…while “voting with your fork” is one thing, actually figuring out how to invest in the local food economy is downright challenging. Small-scale farming is not exactly a high profit venture, nor is it what a fiduciary like a pension fund would consider “prudent.”

Yet last autumn, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based food co-op called La Montanita launched a microfinance fund for local farmers. The fund is already being emulated in Bellingham, Wash., and is being studied elsewhere. Its structure could well become a model nationwide. Not only does the fund’s mechanism cut the cost of loans to farmers, it reduces risk for investors and establishes incentives for the entire to community to collaborate. And unlike most pro-active, do-good “impact investments”  this effort relies on grassroots investors.

“We wanted everybody to be able to invest in the local food system,” says Robin Seydel, manager of La Montanita Fund. “We didn’t want just the large accredited investor.”

The focus on grassroots and non-accredited investors could be key to raising the funds necessary to restore the nation’s soil––a key to our survival, warns MacArthur Fellow and University of Washington professor David Montgomery in his groundbreaking book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

I think Winninghoff and the organizers of the La Montanita Fund are right – despite the rapidly evaporating “wealth” of the stock markets, bond funds and sovereign governments, there’s still money available for investment in “strategic foodshed programs” like these.

If a reader out there with business skills is interested in grabbing this idea and running with it for the Spring Creek foodshed, I’d be more than happy to contribute my writing and organizing skills to the project.


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