A Report on the September 2009 National Slow Money Gathering in Santa Fe, NM

Dear New Mexico sustainable food community,

This is an in-depth report about my attendance September 9-11, 2009 at the National "Slow Money Alliance" Gathering in Santa Fe, NM. The mission of the Slow Money Alliance is to invest tens of millions of dollars in sustainable food systems across the USA.

This is a long writing, but juicy at the end — with a special postscript for New Mexico readers! — so I hope you read it all. The MOST IMPORTANT PART for New Mexicans is where I make some specific recommendations about how funds might be best invested in the future of NM sustainable agriculture! Because Woody Tasch, the founder and director of the Slow Money Alliance, lives in rural NM (and he is very open to grassroots input about investment priorities) I argue it would be wise if the NM sustainable food community were able to speak with one more-or-less unified voice about what we want and need in order to ensure a wildly successful future for sustainable agriculture in New Mexico. This report is, in part, an attempt to initiate a dialogue about where NM sustainable agriculture is going and how philanthropic investment of funds could help us get there … and, in the process, an attempt to re-frame the input of YOUTH, from the margins of this discussion to the center. (You can also go straight to the youth-focused heart of this discussion by clicking this link, and add your thoughts by editing the wiki. Or you can respond to me directly by sending an email to ethanagri4(at)gmail.com.)

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By Ethan Genauer

Traveling with my beat-up bike from the West Coast, where I had lived since January, I had 3 goals in attending the September 2009 inaugural national "Slow Money Alliance" Gathering in Santa Fe, NM:

1) To represent young farmers of New Mexico. As a young male who had spent 2007 and 2008 apprenticing & volunteering with "youth-full" community farms and food justice groups in Albuquerque — and simultaneously doing substantial outreach to young people by organizing youth-focused workshops & presentations on sustainable agriculture at a number of Organic Farming & Environmental gatherings throughout NM — I wanted to ensure that a youth perspective was heard at this gathering. Toward this goal, I distributed 100 copies of the list of "Leaders, Resources and Allies for Young Farmers of New Mexico" that I compiled in 2008.

2) To represent a strong Food Justice perspective and to advocate for investments by Slow Money in Food Justice initiatives, particularly within New Mexico — which is one of the USA's most impoverished, hungriest & food insecure states, with high levels of urban / rural and white / people of color inequality. Toward this goal, I distributed 100 copies of the 2008 "Food Justice Manifesto: A People's Movement Whose Time Is Now."

3) To talk to investors and participants about an idea I've had to establish a new Interfaith-focused Foundation for food justice and "spiritual agriculture," and gain a sense for people's level of potential interest in being partners with me in this endeavor. Toward this goal, I distributed 150 copies of a short, new draft "Interfaith Food Movement, Spiritual Agriculture, and Food Justice -- Foundation Vision Statement" that I wrote in September 2009.

For those who don't already know, the Slow Money Alliance is an autonomous "nurture capitalist" spin-off from the international "Slow Food" movement. Slow Money was founded by philanthropist & author Woody Tasch, who lives in rural New Mexico. The express goal of Slow Money is to gain over a million members and raise tens of millions of dollars to invest directly in local sustainable food systems across the USA.

At the Gathering, attended by hundreds, I saw that there is a very real excitement for this mission, and a powerful will to achieve it. For example, in the late afternoon hours of the Gathering's 2nd day, when I was feeling tired and bored, and it seemed like many people's energy was waning, suddenly something amazing happened: Within minutes, the group spontaneously raised $75,000 for Slow Money Alliance to hire a Development Director. Dozens of individuals stood up to donate $1,000 … $500 … $250 … $100 … and finally the announcement came from one wealthy person that he would donate the balance. Everyone was astonished! The whole energy of the Gathering shifted, and all of a sudden we all felt like we were part of something historic & monumental. This surge carried over into the next morning, which concluded the Gathering with productive break-out working groups that brainstormed & fleshed out details for the Alliance's practical evolution with respect to organizational development, membership, partnerships, fundraising, communications, and investment mechanisms.

As for Food Justice … During the first panel discussion, I had the opportunity to ask the Gathering's first question. "My question is for everyone here," I said. "I recently spent 2 years working with community farms in Albuquerque and I'm here because I feel it's vital to represent a strong voice on behalf of young people and food justice at this Gathering. Let's be honest: there is a divide within the sustainable food movement, and it's a divide between rich and poor. If you're rich, then you can afford to join a CSA, start a CSA, buy land, shop at Whole Foods, and basically eat whatever kinds of food you like. But if you're poor, then your options to access healthy and sustainable food are a lot more constrained. If you're a farm worker or working poor; if you're homeless, unemployed or uninsured; if you're a child eating school lunches; if your land has been colonized or your community has been gentrified — then it's likely that you're being totally left out of the sustainable food revolution. Food Justice is the idea that access to healthy and sustainable food is a basic human right. Food justice groups are realizing this idea in a variety of ways, sometimes by planting community gardens in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh food, other times by bringing farmers markets or grocery stores to them. Yet these groups are generally operating with little or no funds. If Slow Money is going to be meaningful, I think we must work to use our investments to bridge this divide. So my question to everyone here, and in particular to the panelists, is: How do you envision Slow Money using the tool of financial investments to bridge the divide between rich and poor in the sustainable food movement?"

Unfortunately, the panelists didn't have much to say in response. Only one of them — I think it was nutritional ecologist & This Organic Life author Joan Gussow, but it might have been the woman from USDA — took the bait, and she briefly described Philadelphia's model Healthy Corner Store Initiative. But this didn't begin answer my question about what SLOW MONEY would do. The other distinguished panelists — Slow Food International's Italian leader Paolo di Croce, North Dakota biodynamic farmer Fred Kirschenmann, Appalachian Sustainable Development's director Anthony Flaccavento, USDA deputy under secretary Ann Wright, and moderator Simran Sethi from University of Kansas — all chose to be silent, and the discussion quickly moved on to the next question.

However, throughout the Gathering, I met a steady stream of participants who introduced themselves to me and thanked me for the content of my question. This included conference organizer Michael Bartner, from Boston, MA, who thanked me for attending and said, "We need more people like you to be involved." I was also happy to see several panelists later in the Gathering who explicitly addressed Food Justice issues. These included a board member from People's Grocery, a pioneering food justice group in Oakland, CA, and Don Bustos, a Hispanic family farmer in the area of Espanola, NM, and New Mexico's statewide director of the American Friends Service Committee. In 2007 and 2008, I met Don through his frequent assistance — with labor, knowledge, equipment, and interns — in support of Dragon Farm and La Placita Gardens, two new South Valley school & community farms that strive to embody a strong "youth empowerment" emphasis. In his talk at the Slow Money Gathering, Don emphasized that sustainable agriculture development in under-served communities must be led from the grassroots by the communities themselves, and not imposed from the outside by well-meaning bureaucrats, investors, philanthropists, or NGO activists, whose ideas about what a community needs may not mesh with its people's actual desires.

While I had a lot of short conversations with people who seemed genuinely concerned about Food Justice, and this issue was raised in front of the whole Gathering a number of times by myself and others, I did not hear much innovative thought or specific ideas about how the Slow Money Alliance could use its investments to strengthen the Food Justice movement.

Indeed, as the conference progressed, one recurrent question for many participants was, "When the Slow Money Alliance succeeds at raising all of this money — millions of dollars — what are we actually going to do with it? What new kinds of investment vehicles in sustainable food systems are we going to create?"

Woody Tasch, founder and leader of the Slow Money Alliance, seemed to be relatively more comfortable and impassioned when expounding on the philosophy and poetry (and humor) of the Slow Money idea and its dominant, failing casino-economy antithesis than the mechanics of how Slow Money will manifest. "Nurture capitalism is a new kind of idea and movement," he said more than once. "No one has attempted grassroots philanthropic investment in healthy local living economies before on this scale, so we need to be OK with the uncertainty of how it's going to turn out." One idea he proposed early in the conference is to use Slow Money's first $1 million to seed new CSAs across the USA. However, participants in the Gathering did not express a lot of positive enthusiasm for this. Another proposal that Woody later stated is to use the first $1 million to invest in the 25 sustainable food entrepreneurs who gave short presentations about their projects on Thursday. (These were Vermont Smoke and Cure, SPUD!, Local Burger, Peak Spirits, People's Grocery, AnnaMarie Seafood, Old Windmill Dairy, Let's Be Frank, Sky Vegetables, National Cooperative Grocers Association, Lotus Foods, The Carrot Project, Nest Collective, Butterworks Farm, Straus Family Creamery, New Soil Security, Davenport Producers, Red Tomato, Terrain, Indigenous Designs, Milk Thistle Farm, Mary’s Gone Crackers, FoodHub, La Montanita Co-op, Local Harvest, and Pachamama Coffee.)

Despite this lack of specificity and the enormously wide-ranging possibilities, there was a high level of willingness by participants to simply trust the decision-making and investment expertise of Woody and his small circle of advisers and assistants who comprise the Slow Money Alliance's leadership. "We're fortunate to have a visionary in Woody who has talent and experience at making these kinds of investment decisions," said one woman. "Instead of second-guessing Woody and his team, let's focus on what we can do to help build this movement and get a million Americans to join the Alliance."

Yet personally, for me, this kind of instinctual trust for a hierarchy of professional "experts" is not the most attractive attitude. Instead, I am an activist who much prefers to have direct democratic voice and influence in the organizations that I'm party to, and I am not inclined to merely trust "experts," no matter how well-intentioned they may appear to be. I do think that Woody is a brilliant "big picture" kind of guy and a phenomenal organizer, communicator and motivator … and I lean toward trusting that his heart is truly in this mission for all of the right reasons. But I am not sure that he necessarily has an equivalent grasp of what specific financial strategies are most needed at this moment to best grow the grassroots sustainable food movement nor the nuts-and-bolts of what unique communities in different places really need. I also think Woody himself knows this, and it's one of the major reasons why he called together this inaugural Slow Money gathering in the first place — i.e. to hear directly from local and grassroots sustainable food activists and entrepreneurs about what we need. This did come out to an extent — particulary in small-group discussions about what local Slow Money chapters can start doing immediately (there are some already active in Santa Barbara, CA, Boulder, CO, and a few other places) and in the presentations by sustainable food entrepreneurs — but overall the Gathering was slightly more absorbed in abstractions and in national Alliance-building than may have been ideal. This is not a failure, but shows that a lot more local and regional grassroots work & input is needed to launch the Slow Money ship.

Because the bulk of my experience as a farmer is in New Mexico, and Woody lives here too, I want to contribute my advice about what the local sustainable food movement in New Mexico most needs.

And that is … FUNDING FOR YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, EDUCATION, OUTREACH, EMPLOYMENT, AND LAND ACQUISITION (and/or cross-generational preservation & transmission of existing agricultural landbases & cultural traditions) TO TRAIN, EMPOWER AND DEPLOY THE NEXT GENERATION OF SUSTAINABLE FARMERS! This is an urgent need!! New Mexico has a number of small-scale, drastically under-funded projects that are doing bits and pieces of this work, but we have nothing to match the crisis & speed with which New Mexico's older farmers and historic farmlands are disappearing. Young activists like myself who have tried to do this work and inspire other youth to get involved tend to receive zero institutional support, and there is a trend of frustrated young farmers leaving New Mexico to other climates and communities where our prospects are better. As Don Bustos said in his talk at the Slow Money Gathering, "It takes 15 years of hard patient work in New Mexico for a new farmer to succeed." But if young farmers can generally succeed much faster, easier and with more support in other places, who except the extreme hard core will choose to tough it out in New Mexico? The age of the average farmer today in New Mexico is close to 60. In 15 years, many of today's farmers will no longer be active; and unless we do more to engage the next generation to follow in their footsteps and help give them a head start with the capital & knowledge they need to succeed, the retiring generation of farmers will not be replaced. Could an influx of Slow Money be the key to enabling this transition? Or will we let Monsanto swoop in with genetically engineered chiles and corn?

If we are serious about facilitating the transition to the next generation of NM sustainable agriculture, we could start by considering the implementation of these SPECIFIC PROPOSALS —-> 1) Most importantly, create a cross-cultural statewide "New Mexico Young and Beginning Farmers Association" as a way to bring together the various small-scale local youth-focused food sustainability projects and augment our collective efforts as a conscious & disciplined movement. This will ultimately attract, connect and inspire a new cadre of young farmers, help them network with elders and mentors to acquire land resources and access professional development opportunities, and send them into schools all over New Mexico as messengers to continue the cycle. 2) Create a Rio Grande Youth Corps training & employment program to put young people to work along the acequias and in the fields of the Middle Rio Grande. In addition to cultivating the next generation of farmers, this will build a youth-centered bank of institutional knowledge about the status and needs of the agricultural landscape in New Mexico's populated central corridor, most of which is owned by middle-aged and older residents. 3) Develop a standard minimum curriculum teaching sustainable agriculture at every grade level in all NM schools, in the process honoring and disseminating NM's unique agricultural seeds, traditions & history. 4) Develop college-level sustainable agriculture educational programs in northern and central New Mexico, to complement the Ag Department at NMSU in the southern NM city of Las Cruces, which is predominantly focused on industrial-scale agribusiness (but has also recently launched a Small Farms Insititute). 5) Take advantage of NM's law that provides significant funds for schools to purchase local foods, by encouraging and offering incentives for growers to transition from animal feed or cover to edible crops, and encouraging new and young growers in strategic areas — like Albuqerque's North and South Valley — to supply this close, ready-made market. After all, the more our children and youth see and eat fresh local foods — and taste the difference between it and industrial produce shipped in from afar — the more they'll be inspired to grow and buy it themselves! 6) Develop an active educational network of New Mexico sustainable farms and food entrepreneurs who offer apprenticeships and training opportunities, similar to California's Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) or the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) in New York and Massachusetts.

As the Gathering came to an abrupt end at noon on Saturday, after report-backs from the 6 break-out working groups and Woody's assertion that he would like to establish some proactive Committees to help carry the Alliance forward, there was time for a few final words.

I seized my chance and took the mic, but Woody warned me to be fast, so I didn't say any of the above, and just took a moment to elaborate minutely on my idea of an Interfaith Foundation for Food Justice and Spiritual Agriculture. "Of course, faith-based insitiutions across America have many millions of members," I said, "and they control a huge amount of money and land, but instead of telling you more about this, I'll just give you all a copy of the vision statement that I wrote, and you can contact me if you're interested in helping this initiative." After this, I talked to an elder New Mexican white man who I had not met before. He described some of his profoundly impactful cross-cultural experiences, and his joy in seeing that many Native American youth in New Mexico are beginning to rediscover and relcaim their culture's traditional agricultural practices and spirituality. Hearing this made me happy too; supporting this revival is a central motivation for me to continue this work!

Before Woody could leave the building, I cornered him to express thanks for hosting this gathering in New Mexico, of all places, and told him about one revolutionary new farm in Albuquerque's South Valley that needs support. Called La Placita Gardens, this Chicano and indigenous-led community farm is restoring traditional agriculture on historic farmland, and in the process engaging some of the Valley's most at-risk and gang-troubled youth by declaring and demonstrating "La Cultura Cura" — "Culture is the Cure." Woody had to bolt to his next adventure in Italy, so we agreed to continue our communication by email.

And so … After the Gathering, I feel a moderate-to-high sense of confidence in the Slow Money Alliance's leadership and in the general interest by many of its members in embracing Food Justice issues … and I am happy with new contacts that I made at the Gathering … but after being away from New Mexico all year looking for yet not finding West Coast roots, I remain very selfishly unsure about what place & role there is — if any — for me personally in the Food Justice / Sustainable Food movement within this New Mexican "Land of Enchantment" that I love or … where else?!?

As of this writing, I remain landless & unemployed … still a radical young visionary without any concrete support to put the vision into practice … still hoping that eventually, maybe, someday (soon) the elders and funders of this movement will wake up and realize, especially HERE in ever dreamy New Mexico, "Land of Mañana,” that if we don't start to put our emergent but persistently under-appreciated "YOUTH FOOD MOVEMENT" at the center of our efforts and fund it appropriately, then ultimately it may all really just a big waste of time and money … and the future. Still wondering if I have the patience to fight for my vision of an inter-generational, youth-led revolution for food justice and sustainability in beautifully sun-drenched mountainous historic multi-cultural transcendental New Mexico, but tired of twisting alone in the wind…

In struggle & hope,
Ethan Genauer

p.s. for New Mexico Readers

I left New Mexico this winter, because I was homeless and unemployed, and I had become frustrated by the lack of real support for the youth development work I was trying to do here.

In 2007 and 2008, I took the initiative to interact with youth, educators, food activists, farmers, and landowners across New Mexico about the idea of forming a statewide, youth-led but inter-generational "Young Farmers Association," as a way to collectively maximize, coordinate and expand the exciting energy that is emerging from NM's numerous small local youth-focused sustainable agriculture projects.

Lots of people were excited about or interested in this idea, and I generated a list of a few hundred contacts. But as time went on, I began to feel that there were no other leaders in the New Mexico sustainable agriculture community — not even those who I was closest to — who shared my sense of urgency about actually doing this. The non-profit world repeatedly rejected me for paid positions that could have helped me initiate this project. Meanwhile, I spent much of my time volunteering to help establish La Placita Gardens in the South Valley, a community farm with a core "youth empowerment" mission. But without support, resources, assistance, a single serious partner in this work, or even a bare minimum of material security, I did not feel empowered to proceed. So I lost patience, gave up, and left. At least in California, I could be homeless and warm during the winter. Besides, I had a press pass to attend the Ecological Farming Conference there, where Woody Tasch was a keynote speaker. With no clear reason to return to NM, I stayed on the West Coast all spring & summer.

I finally came back (full circle) to New Mexico for Woody's national Slow Money gathering, in part because I hoped that maybe this gathering itself signified an opportunity to begin manifesting my ambition of cooperative statewide youth and inter-generational leadership in New Mexico for our sustainable food future — for real.

With the national Slow Money Alliance being established — with local Slow Money chapters getting started — with the prospect that actual money will soon begin flowing to address the most urgent needs of local grassroots sustainable movements, here in New Mexico and across the USA, I thought: "Would it now be possible to generate the consensus that here, in New Mexico, one of our most urgent needs is to begin seriously & collaboratively attracting, inspiring, mentoring, empowering, connecting and funding the NEXT GENERATION of sustainable food growers?"

That's my question to you all: the youth, elders, and leaders of the New Mexico sustainable food movement. I don't know the answer yet — but I am in New Mexico now, and I intend to try one more time to see if anyone else is with me and feels urgency to make it happen. If the answer is yes, let's not wait for the funds to appear … but instead demonstrate that we're serious and deserve them by beginning to build the framework!

And if the answer is yes, let me say this: I think our culture needs a transformational shift. Youth and elders must re-learn how to listen to each other, respect each other, accept each other's truths and knowledge without judgement or blame, stand together when times are hard, and resolve inevitable conflicts in healing & restorative ways that re-build our lost trust & unity.

As a 29 year old male (although everyone says I look 22) with 10 years of work as a volunteer, organizer and leader with grassroots social, environmental and food justice and sovereignty movements across the USA, I have a somewhat unique perspective — still young in age and heart, but on the cusp of the ominous 30s, with enough experience to perhaps be considered by some a movement "elder," yet with the maturity to know and respect that I have many elders with far more experience than me, and the ability to relate naturally to younger people as one of their own tribe.

As I near 30, I realize with sadness that our society tends to treat young people like cute trophies: We host sideline events for youth at professional or organizational conferences, applaud when they're not too shy to speak, once in a while give them an award, talk a lot about how they're so very needed to assist our progress toward a positive social future and about the huge problems they face (often created by us, the "adults") … but we generally fail to do much of anything concrete that would give them real leadership ability to define & create a healthy sustainable future on their own terms. Instead of learning to build positive collective solidarity together, youth are generally left competing against each other for the few bones — education, jobs, land — thrown down by the adults who own everything … who then wonder why many youth seek out alternative forms of solidarity in the "destructive" lifestyle of gangs, drugs, etc. Rarely do the "responsible" adults acknowledge that our society itself is environmentally, culturally, and spiritually destructive!

Hopefully, a cross-generational and cross-cultural but youth-focused association for the future of sustainable agriculture in New Mexico could provide an authentic transformational alternative. It would not only give direction and hope to many youth who want to renew their connection with the land, but also serve as a positive model and example to the broader society.

I am wiling to help be a catalyst for this vision, if there is a consensus of support and enthusiasm in the New Mexico sustainable food community, but this vision is not about me.

It is about Mañana — for everyone who loves and lives in this Land.

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What do YOU think? Does New Mexico need serious investment and coordination to attract, inspire, educate, empower, connect and grow the NEXT GENERATION of sustainable farmers and food entrepreneurs?

If your answer is yes, what should we do to begin making this happen?

Please contribute your knowledge and thoughts by adding to this wiki page, below!

You can also communicate with me directly by sending an e-mail to ethanagri4(at)gmail.com

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YOU: WRITE HERE

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