The Slow Money Alliance just wrapped up its first national gathering last week; combining ideas from the sustainable investing and slow food movements, Slow Money has also been getting some press. We move in some of the same circles as Slow Money people, and we fully agree on the need to re-align capital and sustenance. From Farm Power's perspective, the key is to get that capital moving into tangible projects.
During the successive investment booms of the past decade, money poured into increasingly "weightless" concepts; one common feature of websites, commodities derivatives, and collateralized debt obligations is that they were a collection of money and ideas rather than physical capital. People made enormous fortunes without ever producing a widget, building a facility, or buying any land. We've since discovered that this form of wealth creation is unsustainable; unfortunately, the sustainable investment movement continues to work with the same tools and concepts.
We've poured over three million dollars into our first anaerobic digester project. Now it's finally starting to pay off: each day thousands of gallons of waste turn into a truckload of digested fiber and enough electricity to run a house for more than a year. This physical capital requires steady attention; yesterday I wrestled with a hose full of manure, and that won't be the last time. Financial returns will accumulate over the next few decades--the definition of slow money. But we're producing green power, reducing greenhouse gases, paying farmers, and processing waste in a very tangible way. We are able to do this because local investors--and Shorebank--were willing to commit their money for the long haul.
Tomorrow I'm leaving for the Agriculture 2.0 conference, where I will give a short presentation on Farm Power. I'm hopeful that I'll meet plenty of people who want to create new tools and concepts for capital investing that can sustain us. My advice to the slow money movement: join companies and investors who are already building sustainable agriculture--start investing and learn while funding real projects.