What’s Slow Money?

Have you heard of slow money? Sounds weird, right? Maybe you’ve heard of slow food though, which is an idea that’s been around for long enough now that pretty much everyone knows what it means – it’s basically the opposite of fast food!

Isabelle-at-market-495x174Slow food is an international movement that got started in 1989 and has spread around the world as an antidote to the insidious spread of fast food and big agriculture. It promotes food that is:

  • good (high quality, flavoursome, and healthy)
  • clean (production that doesn’t harm the environment), and
  • fair (accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers).

We even have an accredited Slow Food Farmers Market once a month at Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, run by the wonderful folk at Melbourne Farmers Markets (disclaimer: I’m on the board so of course I think our operations team that runs markets is marvellous!) It’s a perfect fit, because Farmers Markets embody all the principles espoused by the Slow Food movement.

But back to Slow Money – how does it fit in? It’s really just an extension of the same ethos, but as it applies to money. It’s basically a movement to organise investors and donors to direct their capital towards small food enterprises, organic farms and local food systems, and through doing so improve the economic sustainability and resilience of farms and farmers, their communities and towns, and by extension our entire food system.

Slow Money was started in the US by a guy called Woody Tasch, and has now spread to Australia, as well as lots of other countries around the world. Since 2010 it’s invested more than $57 million into regenerative farming enterprises!

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It’s on our minds because we’ve been fantasising about attending the upcoming SOIL conference in Boulder, Colarado in October. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to attend a conference called SOIL? It actually stands for Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally, and will explore the links between actual soil and the soil of a restorative economy.

The demands of running a seasonal farm means we’re probably not going to get there, but of course there are many, many moves in the right direction here in Australia, like the new ORICoop Investment Trust that was launched this week. If you haven’t heard of it yet, have a look, particularly if you’re interested in finding practical ways to support and invest in organic farms. The best way to get involved is through their Pozible campaign (which ends in 14 days).

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Carolyn Suggate, founder of ORICoop, a new organic farming investment fund

Slowly, gradually, all around the world, people seem to be waking up to the fact that there’s a better way to grow, distribute and pay for our food, and that we – just simple, everyday people like us – have waaaay more power to influence it than we think we do!

 

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As organic farmers we experience this every day, whenever our customers choose to buy food from us rather than the supermarket. The growing number of people that care enough to seek out food that is produced locally, in a way that improves the environment rather than degrades it, who choose to eat seasonally rather than buying imported fruit and veg out of season, and who choose to buy direct from farmers through accredited Farmers Markets, online platforms like the Open Food Network or from the farm gate – all of those small buying decisions add up to a big influence, pushing our food system in the right direction.

So thank you. You all give us hope!

Inspiring young entrepreneurs

katie-vce-business-forum-latrobe-270x480Two things happened this week to make me feel inspired, enthused and excited about business.

latrobe-business-forum-katie-3The first was being asked to be the keynote speaker at the La Trobe Uni VCE Business Forum in Bendigo, presenting to Year 11 business students. Part of my presentation was about our two businesses (Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, our organic orchard, and Grow Great Fruit, our online business), and about the project I ran as the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner for Victoria in 2015, but it was also a great opportunity to share stories of some really inspirational young entrepreneurs that we’re connected with.

17360834_10154169480657167_517128767_nYou’ve no doubt heard of the lovely Gung Hoe Growers, who run a market garden on our farm (and in fact share the writing of this blog with us).  It was a joy to share their story of how (and why) they got started, their successes and failures, and to pass on their sage advice to the budding entrepreneurs in the audience, especially the advice not to be afraid to start even if you don’t know everything, and that you can do a LOT more than you think you can.

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But it was also fun to share the story of some other young businesspeople such as Grace, who at the tender age of 20 started her own fashion label called “Bedroom The Label”. One year later she’s graduated out of the bedroom (where she literally started the business) into a studio in Collingwood (Melbourne), has taken on an intern, and has recently scored her first overseas orders. You can follow Grace’s meteoric progress through her Instagram account here.

latrobe-business-forum-katie8I also shared Allie’s story, who is in the throes of starting his own tattoo business called “Stick With It Tattoo”. As Allie’s mum, I wasn’t hugely impressed when he bought a tattoo machine on eBay and started practising on himself, but a couple of years later I’m incredibly proud to see him enrol in a business course, negotiate the regulations required to open his own tattoo studio, and open his first business! You can follow his progress on Instagram here.

It was also pretty amazing to find myself being asked to present the keynote address at a business forum, but I can trace that directly back to having won the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award for Victoria in 2015, which gave me (amongst many other things) the experience and confidence to be able to take on this kind of challenge.

Which leads me to the other great thing that happened this week, which was attending the awards ceremony for this year’s Rural Women’s Award recipient on Wednesday this week.

rwa-kirsten-abernethy-cath-jenkins-480x269This year’s winner is Kirsten Abernethy (that’s her on the right in the photo), who has planned a fabulous project to help women in the fishing industry to find their voice. Of course there was a field of incredible finalists as well, including Cath Jenkins (on the left). I very much look forward to watching Kirsten’s progress, and the professional and personal development that I know from experience will come from her involvement with the awards.

rwa-alumni-lunch-2017-480x269Just one of the many ongoing gifts from being involved in the RIRDC Awards is being part of the alumni, so it was lots of fun to head to the alumni lunch after the awards and catch up with old friends, meet new people, and leave re-inspired to continue to grow in my business and personal life, and to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.

Katie

An autumn reflection on the summer that wasn’t…

Hi there,

Hope this finds you well out in the world. It’s officially the first week of autumn, but the garden looks like its finally hitting its summer stride…hmmm.

unnamed-5-5I’m very aware that I’m very green (young) in this business of growing food on a productive scale in order to feed the community that surrounds our ‘patch’. And this odd season has definitely got me thinking about it all, again, in a slightly different way. Reflecting this morning on the moment that made me truly wanna do this, I remembered that the feeling of not being able to control the elements was something that I relished. I loved that we had to work with it all, if you fought and resisted it or even worse tried to control it, you would be waging war with something that would never work.

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Ultimately, I still hold this value deep down, but I do have to laugh at myself looking at the moment now. It’s easy to soak up all the extremes when you don’t have to pay rent with tomatoes that were meant to come on 7 weeks ago. I’ve struggled this crazy season, and if people have asked I’ve told them, “It’s a slow season, I want summer to arrive!” I shocked myself by feeling a tiny bit of anger towards the joy people were having towards the mild summer. No, I thought! You don’t understand! We need it to be hot! (I’m not asking for a drought, please don’t misunderstand me!!) Another reaction people had was to look at me as if I was dumb…”Well, that’s farming, isn’t it?” and then they’d walk on their way. I was left standing there wanting to keep talking, but we did everything right, we were on time, we spent a lot of money on the good inputs, the good mulch, the irrigation, the seedlings, dedicated more time to be at the patch…

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Another part of the moment I mentioned before that solidified my desire to keep growing (pun intended) my knowledge, resilience and skills around productively growing food WITH the land is that I cannot deny how much it teaches us about ourselves. Seriously, this whole weather thing has made me look, once again, at how I deal with expectations, control, disappointment, bouncing back, coping techniques, taking a breath (lots actually) and being content with my true place in the world.  It teaches me so much.

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I’m at peace now with the season that was, and kinda wasn’t, and have accepted that these extremes, I think, will just become more and more commonplace. Unfortunately. My job is to learn how to produce food within that reality.

So, happy autumn, and may you listen to the natures around you.

Mel.