After nearly 30 years as an investment professional, Edward "Woody" Tasch turned his energy toward launching what he calls the "Slow Money Movement."
The goal is to finance a healthy food distribution system, community-by-community, throughout the United States.
Woody Tasch grew up in New York City, the child of Russian immigrants who ran a successful family business in Manhattan's Garment District.
A child of the 60s, Tasch was heavily influenced by proponents of social responsibility and by writings such as Fritz Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful." Tasch still considers this collection of essays on ecological economics one of his guiding lights.
Tasch graduated from college in 1973 as an English teacher but, after just one year in the classroom, he moved to the boardroom, where he managed investments instead of students.
Among his positions in the world of finance was chairman of Investor's Circle, a nonprofit that funds fledgling social enterprises, especially those dedicated to environmental sustainability.
Connecting investors to the soil
Tasch believes it was the Slow Money Movement that brought all his talents into focus.
"Everything I've done has led here, through foundations and starting non-profits and doing venture capital investing, and whatnot. But I never felt like it was all going in a direction," he says. "It was always going against the grain of the other things. And now with Slow Money, we have a way of putting it all together, so it's moving in a specific way."
Tasch describes the Slow Money Movement as a new way of thinking about the relationship between money and the soil, connecting investors directly to the dirt.
Like the Slow Food, Slow Cities, and Slow Design movements that have taken off in recent years, Tasch's nonprofit is a response to the belief that many of the infrastructures of the modern world are simply too fast and too big.
He says the Slow Money Movement targets an industrial agriculture that too often destroys soil fertility and a Wall Street-driven capitalist economy that is out of control. "The reason it's out of control," he says, "is that the money is going so fast and in such large quantities that no one actually understands how to control it anymore."
"Nurture capital" from one million Americans
To counter this uncontrolled profiteering, Woody Tasch promotes an investment strategy that he calls 'nurture capital.' It deploys the power of finance to build socially and environmentally friendly enterprises.
He says that the notion of blending philanthropy and investment to help strengthen communities is still alien to Wall Street, where profit is king. But he believes the concept is attractive to many investors concerned with social responsibility.
"I think it's realistic to actually say millions of people will have the 'ah-ha moment' and will realize that it actually makes them feel better to start moving in a different direction. So our job is to make it as easy as possible to do that as soon as possible."
Tasch launched his Slow Money Movement at the first national gathering of the Slow Money Alliance in September, 2009 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. About 450 investors and food enterprise entrepreneurs came together to brainstorm ways to implement their goal on a practical level.
Tasch says there is one main focus. "We want a million Americans investing one percent of their assets directly into local food systems in a decade. To do that, and actually have it happening on a regular basis, would represent a kind of small revolution in finance because it is connecting people directly to where they live and to the land in a way that has never been done."
Investing in food, farms, and fertility
Tasch's vision of bringing money back to earth is laid out in his new book, ''Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered."
Tasch says he has no doubt that the Slow Money Movement will catch on. The second national meeting of the Slow Money Alliance is scheduled to take place in Shelburne Farms, Vermont, from June 9 to 11. Tasch expects it to draw three times the number of investors and local food entrepreneurs as the first gathering.
He says addressing the way capital flows from investors to investments is one of the biggest challenges facing Americans today.
"If we're actually going to make a difference for the next generation, we have to come up with some design that, if it works, will actually be able to have billions of dollars moving in a different direction within 10 or 20 years. And I just can't think of anything more important than trying to figure out that design," says Tasch. "It hasn't happened yet. I don't know exactly how it's going to happen. I don't know exactly when it's going to happen. But now I can add that I've been talking about this for a year and a half all over the country and it is going to happen."
Although the distribution network is still taking shape, Tasch predicts that by the end of next year, a handful of communities could have Slow Money funds at their disposal.
And when those investments start flowing, he believes it will show that Americans do believe that food, farms, and fertility matter.