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A New Network For Investing In Vermont's Food Economy

Angela Evancie
Meat for sale from Meeting Place Pastures in Cornwall is chalked up at the Burlington Farmers Market in May. A new network called Slow Money Vermont is looking to give individual Vermonters another way to invest in the state's food economy.

Purchasing a CSA isn't the only way for individuals to invest in Vermont's food economy. Or, it won't be, when Slow Money Vermont gets off the ground.

The new network, an offshoot of the national movement that aims to "bring money back down to earth," will connect local entrepreneurs with investors in an effort to contribute to the state's sustainable food economy.

"The idea is really about creating a community of investors that have a shared vision of supporting the local economy and the local food system by putting their money where their mouths are," according to Eric Becker, chief investment officer at The Clean Yield, an investment advisory firm in Norwich, and one of the organizers of Slow Money Vermont.

"The idea is really about creating a community of investors that have a shared vision of supporting the local economy and the local food system by putting their money where their mouths are." - Eric Becker, Slow Money Vermont organizer

The network will serve both traditional investors and "the main street investor," Becker said in a phone interview Friday. That investor, in his mind, is someone who has between $1,000 and $5,000 that she's looking to put to use.

"We want to address the full spectrum," Becker said. "Vermont already has a robust support system for food and farm businesses, as embodied in the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, but the gap that Slow Money will address here is that there hasn't been a good way for individuals to participate by putting their investment dollars into this area. So they can join a CSA or whatnot, but this is a way for them to actually to take the next step of perhaps taking their money out of Wall Street and putting it into the local community and into the local food system."

Slow Money Vermont is being incubated by a task force within the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, according to a release from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. 

Becker says the network will work with existing organizations to host events that bring together individual investors and food entrepreneurs. Slow Money networks in Boston and Maine are helping "move not just financial capital, but also social capital," Becker says. "There's a lot of relationships being built that pay off in ways beyond just finding that next investment dollar."

Kimball Brook Farm in North Ferrisburgh has already benefited from the Slow Money model; farm co-owner Cheryl Devos participated in a national Slow Money event at Shelburne Farms in 2010.

"I pitched ... the idea of a creamery in front of an audience, and then eventually came up with investors, partially through that event," Devos said Friday.

Kimball Brook Farm now has 25 investors, 24 of which are in Vermont, Devos says. "They've been fantastic supporters of our business in the ups and downs of getting it started and getting it running."

"Start-up businesses often don't have capital that they can get through banks or the usual lenders, and these Slow Money investors help businesses like ours get up and running," Devos says. 

Slow Money Vermont is just taking root, and will grow in the direction that participants train it. For now, Eric Becker says the network is planning to put on a series of events around the state.

"We haven't figured out exactly how many or exactly what format, but part of what we plan to do is entrepreneur showcases ... [Participants] can't formally make a pitch for investment dollars because of financial regulations, because that would be against the law at this point, but they can develop the relationships at those events that may lead to investment down the line."

A network launch event will take place on September 16 on the campus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. 

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