A good day ~ Slow Money Comes to Pittsboro

May 20, 2010

Dad’s approach to happiness was pretty simple. He told me once,  “You’ve got your good days and your bad days. Now yesterday, I had to go to a funeral. That was a bad day. But, today? So far today has been pretty good.”

In my life, today was definitely a very good day. Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money, came to town and I was on the short list of people invited to hear him speak, and to spend the afternoon and evening with him. His passion, and his command of his topic made him an engaging speaker. He sized us up and decided to skip his Power Point, instead giving us a brain dump of his vision, laying out a delightful buffet of possibilities for us to attempt to digest. Use local money to invest in local food enterprises (LFE’s), offering low interest rates for both borrower and lender. A lively discussion followed as we chewed on how these concepts might be implemented in our communities, in our lives. The room was a Who’s Who of founders and staff from sustainable agriculture organizations, farmers, a “green” developer, a gourmet restaurant owner who serves almost exclusively local food, a regional sales rep from a national organic dairy, a self-defined “spent baker” who is helping to launch a miller of local grains, the owner of our local biofuels company, and the founder of our local twice-annual 4-day World Music and Dance Festival that keeps finding new ways to promote sustainability.

Woody Tasch brings his message to Pittsboro

There were others, and I could have spent an afternoon talking to any one of them. I loved being part of the expansion of Woody’s ideas.  The sense that we were part of something that could reshape our entire economy, and our local communities and our foodshed was palpable.  At times the room was electric.

A few weeks ago I tracked down a copy of Slow Money. My independent bookstore didn’t have it, and sent me to http://www.biblio.com/company/, a progressive alternative to Amazon. Actually I bought two copies. One to write all over, and turn down the page corners, habits from my student days that lets me go back and more easily find my favorite passages, and a clean copy to share with others.

This is an unusual book.  Tasch is a brilliant thinker and a poet, and while he claims not to know exactly how to execute the concepts put forth, he inspired me to try. It reads like a series of conversations, and is clearly meant to catalyze the reader into helping make Tasch’s vision of an economic overhaul and revitalization of local sustainable foodsheds a reality.

As an organizational development consultant I often said to my clients, “You need a five year plan, but if you wait until that is ready to begin your work, you will get too discouraged and bored to get the job done. You need to do something now, pick a winnable victory and just start! Meanwhile you can get the long-range plan written, adding in what you learn in these early attempts. You may make mistakes, but you have interest, passion and energy today in this room, so start here, and make something happen right now.

That is what Tasch seems to be doing.  An organization is evolving around him, and he alluded to the fact that a few groups, inspired by his message, are independently trying to put his vision into practice, finding ways to get some money in their communities/regions collected and distributed, and inventing the structures to do that. They are not waiting for Tasch to provide the blueprint, the perfect way to do this.  They are the pioneers. We can do the same right here.

So today was a good day. I finally met Roland and during the break we decided to hold an event next month to increase membership in his organization while promoting local foods and farmers, fundraising for our local coop marketplace, and having a great time.

With Mike and Tony we dreamed about the possibility of holding the next national (or East Coast) Slow Money Alliance conference right here, nearby, in the Triangle area.

I could go around the room and remember something I learned from each person this afternoon, or later while we toured ECO and the Biofuels plant, dined at the General Store Cafe where the ideas and just kept flowing. And the laughter, because we can have fun at this.

It is the hopefulness that grips me as I write.  In spite of the statistics that show it is too late to even bother, we will.  To the naysayers we can say “just you wait.”

Because when you really give up, you begin to shrivel up. And, at least from me, despair is painfully boring.  One can still walk around in the shell of a human body, pretending to be alive, but without hope and belief and passion and the willingness to engage in the promise of a sustainable, viable, humane, meaningful life for all humankind?  Life can get pretty dull.

Mission-related investing is apparently a hard sell, though it is not clear why.  Is it because we succumb to the feeling that it won’t help anyway, despair that it is too little too late?  Or fear that investing in ventures that are moral and good won’t pay? Afraid to take risks we think might cause us to lose money and have to make do with less?

The biggest obstacles to our having our lives, our world, our universe, just the way we want them are discouragement and disappointment, held in place by fear and despair.

Maybe, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Days like today fly smack, dab in the face of those feelings.  If they can knock them out of the ballpark long enough for me to get a toehold into taking action, I can be part of setting a new course.  Quick, we can use this momentum to move forward.

Because today was a good day, and I think there are more of them to look forward to.