Book Review: “Slow Money”- How Current Financial Structures Wreck Soil Fertility

In “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered” Woody Tasch, former Chairman of Investor’s Circle, argues for a new financial system that brings money back down to earth by supporting small food enterprises (SFEs) and the local agricultural economy. In addition to myriad environmental problems in the public eye (i.e. carbon, water), Tasch introduces another in this collection of essays – depletion of soil fertility – which he links to our financial system. Our farming practices are abhorrent and strip the land of its fertility for future generations. Tasch contends that our obsession with speed and high financial returns leads to broken ecological and social relationships. “How can we allow money to accelerate endlessly, hoping that it will not accelerate commerce, erode culture, and degrade nature?” Tasch asks. We invest with a mantra of “Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later” and refuse to accept below market rate returns. This is a book about reworking business as usual to support the lifeblood of our economy – food and soil.

“Fast money does violence to the web of relations on which the health of communities and bioregions depends. It is not enough to steer money in new directions. We must slow money down.”

Slow Money is the title of the book as well as an NGO that Tasch founded in 2008 to incite the very changes he describes in this book. This book marks the beginning of a movement. Slow money, the term, describes the “nonviolent” and “beautiful” financial structures that will support investment in “small, independent, local-first food enterprises” and therefore soil fertility. Tasch posits that “Ford + Yunus + Petrini = Slow Money;” in other words combine Henry Ford’s hatred of speculative financing and the fast money of stocks and bonds, with Muhammad Yunus’ vision of social business which develops for-profit solutions to poverty and other social problems, with Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini’s vision of “food as a tool for social change” and there you have Slow Money.

Despite our current organics craze, Tasch presents the startling figures: only 0.5% of all agricultural land in the US is organic; only $100M of the USDA’s 1997 budget of $92B went towards small or mid-sized organic farmers;and in 2007 only a small percentage of foundation capital (0.1% or $50M out of $40B) and venture capital (<$1B of $20B with organics in portfolio) went towards organics or sustainable agriculture.

Tasch suggests several solutions – which include a Main Street Exchange, dedicated to building a “restorative economy” and a Ground Zero Fund to invest in the small food economy he describes. Though specific details are not a focus of the book, the message is clear: We need to rebuild the concept of fiduciary responsibility, such that “investors measure their success as much by what they leave in the soil for the benefit of future generations as by what they take out.”

“Slow Money” is an engaging read thanks to Tasch’s colorful writing style and heavy use of quotes from leading thinkers in the field. I recommend it to all interested in the topic. However, Tasch’s non-linear narrative style and at times esoteric language may be frustrating for some readers looking for a straightforward argument. I am absolutely on board with Tasch’s vision of a new financial system, and this book caters to those who are already thinking about these very issues. Tasch assumes a level of understanding that will make “Slow Money” less appealing to those who have never heard of N-P-K fertilizer (something Tasch mentions many times without stopping to define). Needless to say, Tasch’s argument is strong for reform – I personally began reconsidering where I keep my money and the returns I expect after reading “Slow Money.”

This entry was originally published on TriplePundit.