When Woody Tasch went on tour to promote his book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, he had no idea his collection of musings on how to spark investment in local agriculture would turn into a movement.
But there he was, in Santa Barbara, Calif., discussing the book with a crowd of about 150, when someone raised a hand and said, "I'm in for $1,000." Nine others in the audience offered to throw in a grand. They didn't know what exactly they were committing to, but they wanted to use their money to invest in local food.
"There was this impulse to start doing it right away," Tasch says. "It became clear very quickly that it wasn't just a book."
That realization led to 17 Slow Money chapters and $23 million in investments that benefit more than 180 small food producers, all in just two and a half years. When Tasch visits Sarasota this Friday and Saturday as part of Transition Sarasota's third Eat Local Week, the conversation will be completely different than those during Tasch's first book tour.
"Now when I'm speaking, I'm not speaking about the book anymore," Tasch says. "I'm speaking about the network that has emerged." That network varies depending on who's investing. In some cities, a Slow Money chapter might be a for-profit investment club; in others, they're nonprofits. The concept of investing locally is so new, even Tasch can't say where it's headed. "We're in the heavy learning period right now," he says. "This is like a big group experiment slash demonstration project."
It's a project Transition Sarasota's Don Hall hopes Sarasota joins. Tasch will give a keynote presentation Friday night, as well as an investors' briefing Saturday morning.
"We really need to start investing in a bigger way in our local foodshed if we want this local food movement to work," Hall says. Sure it's great to pick up fresh items from your neighborhood farm, but how much of your 401(k) is tied up in local agriculture?
"We're not talking about people putting a second mortgage on their house to help somebody start a new farm," Hall emphasizes. For now, it's about small investments to help food producers get off the ground or expand. Hall says he's not sure how involved Transition Sarasota will be after Tasch's visit - he just wants to be a "catalyst" for the concept. It's part of Transition's bigger goal, which is to build "a more cooperative economy" that can make this area more self-reliant.
"It's looking at the food system as a whole, and seeing that there's a lot of different parts to this," Hall says. "It's not just the farm."
Although the farm will be well represented during Eat Local Week. The list of events includes a Know Your Farm Tour, as well as farm-to-fork dinners at Bradenton's Ortygia and King Family Farm. The week concludes with a Sarasota Harvest Ball next Friday night.
Unlike investing on Wall Street, putting your money into local agriculture yields immediate rewards. "It's very hard to get people to change their habits around carbon in the atmosphere," says Tasch, who spent years in mission-related investing. "But the food movement is an opportunity to actually do something that is tangible, that we can feel the benefits of right away."
"That's pretty powerful reinforcement."