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!

Organic farming across borders

This week we’re delighted to bring you a guest blog from Norma Tauiliili, who spent the week with us as a WWOOFer, but a WWOOFer with a difference!

Norma works for an organisation called Women in Business Development Inc (Samoa) (WIBDI), an organisation dedicated to strengthening village economies in Samoa in ways that honour indigenous tradition, use traditional and modern technology, and promote fair trade. The organisation works in 183 Samoan villages, and nurtures certified organic farming enterprises that annually puts more than SAT$600,000 (A$314,000) into the hands of rural families.

We very much enjoyed having Norma stay with us, and feel like we definitely learned as much from her as she did from us. We look forward to staying in touch and strengthening our connection with WIBDI.

We hope you enjoy her story.

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Hi, my name is Norma Tauiliili from Samoa. I have been offered the Royce and Jean Abbey scholarship by the Rotary Club of Bendigo to spend 3 months in Australia.

I work for Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), a nongovernment organisation in Samoa, as a senior field officer. I’m visiting Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens in Harcourt this week. My visit is all about learning organic farming, and gaining and sharing knowledge and experience.

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Norma learning how to pick pears (her “favourite fruit”)

So, my first day here was quite amazing. My first job was taking photos with Katie for International Women’s Day (taken by Larissa Romensky, from ABC). [MAFG: Norma was interviewed by ABC while she was at the farm. See the link to the story on ABC Online below.] Then it was time to go out there and start to learn something. Katie tells me they have about 20 Williams (pear) trees, and we went out picking some of them – we got 8 boxes of pears. This was very good and interesting for me to experience the work, even though we don’t have this sort of pear trees back home.

About ‘Women in Business’; it’s our vision that families in Samoa are valued and can contribute fully to their own development, and the development of their community and country through income generation, job creation, and participation in the village economy. We work with families and all Samoa to strengthen their capacity to generate and manage income, and lessen dependence on remittances for their daily needs. Therefore our mission is to provide and empower these families with knowledge and skills, and opportunities to access finance and markets.

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Chocolate and soap products produced by WIBDI

The Women in Business Farm to Table Project (FTTP) is about providing weekly organic baskets. It involves going out to our farmers and talking with them to see if they can supply produce we need for our fresh organic baskets. We give them the list of what produce we want them to supply and bring into the office (to be included in the baskets).

While at the farm our field officers check all the produce (quality control) to see if it’s OK or not. If it’s not good, it has to stay on the farm. We tell them to look out for a better quality of produce, because our customers will not be happy if it’s no good. Our customers send us feedback about the organic boxes, (negative or positive), as well as requests about what they want in the boxes, which is really good for us and helps us to improve our project work.

Once our farmers and produce arrive in the office, our FTTP Team spend their time assembling the produce into organic baskets, after paying our farmers. Farmers can choose whether they put some of their money into farmers’ savings through our microfinance manager, or they take it for their family needs, but it’s compulsory for every farmer to have some money saved in our microfinance – this helps them to save some money.

It’s up to our customers whether have their order delivered to their doorstep with our WIBDI fee of $5, or else pick up their basket from our office between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. Delivery of organic baskets will be ready between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Another thing we’ve done to support our local farmers is that we organized an Organic Night Market at the Samoa Tourism village in Eleele Fou in Apia. On a Friday night once a fortnight the farmers come together to sell their fresh produce, Meaai Samoa (Samoan cooking), fine mats, handicrafts, and plants to make some income.

Every night market our boys (field officers) go out and collect the farmers and bring them in so they can do the market. Afterwards they have to drive them home again. Our night market starts at 4 pm and goes until 9 or 9.30 pm. Most of our families, friends, and customers come down and buy our goods, and support the best of what our organic farmers have to offer.

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Norma learning budding (summer grafting), a technique she thinks will have application on farms in Samoa

You can read more of Norma’s story here at ABC online, and listen to the audio version on the Country Hour and on Pacific Beat, both on ABC radio on Monday 13 March 2017.

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Norma and Katie photographed for the ABC online story

 

10 Reasons Why You Should Apply For RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

Applications for the 2017 RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards have now opened, and based on what I learned as the 2015 Victorian winner, here’s my top 10 reasons why you should apply (as long as you’re a woman!).

  1. Some cheerful participants at a recent "Facebook for Farmers" workshop
    Some cheerful participants at a “Facebook for Farmers” workshop

    Get help to do an awesome project
    The award is project based, which means the winner is the person with the best idea for a project they want to do, not (as is commonly believed) an award for something you’ve already done. If you’re the kind of person that’s always working on projects anyway, or can easily come up with an idea for a great project that would help your community, the award is a brilliant way of getting a whole lot of support to put it into action! I had an idea for how social media could be used to help connect farmers market stallholders with more customers, and my award gave me a great chance to put it into action. (TIP: Go through the Expression of Interest process as outlined on the RIRDC website to get some early feedback on your project idea.)

  2. Speaking at the AusVeg 'Great Debate' on the Gold Coast
    Speaking at the AusVeg ‘Great Debate’ on the Gold Coast

    Improve your career opportunities
    Whether or not you win the award, even as a finalist you’ll learn new skills and meet new people that can help advance your career. If you’re lucky enough to win, you’ll also probably be asked to attend (and speak at) functions, you’ll get heaps of publicity; meet politicians, bureaucrats and other people in positions of power; learn how the wheels of government turn; and learn how to advocate for your causes – all of which can help you build your career. (TIP: get some advice from a mentor early in the process to help you use the award strategically to meet your career goals.)

  3. Attending the rural women's forum at Parliament House in Melbourne
    Attending the rural women’s forum at Parliament House in Melbourne

    Build personal development
    Leadership training, being asked for your opinion (and being treated as if your opinion matters), increased exposure to other leadership opportunities, and meeting lots of fabulous women role models will all help you build your confidence, your skills, and your sense of self-worth.

  4. The 2015 State Finalists
    The 2015 State Finalists

    Meet (lots) of new people
    This includes the other finalists from your state, winners from other states if you’re lucky enough to win, the awesome team at RIRDC, plus all the great people at the various events you’ll no doubt be invited to… (TIP: Set up a system for keeping track of business cards and making note of why you exchanged cards with someone, and follow up with people straight after an event.)

  5. Hugh and I were able to attend the NASAA National Conference in Canberra
    Hugh and I were able to attend the NASAA National Conference in Canberra

    Get financial support to attend events
    I had the chance to go to loads of events throughout the year in Canberra, Melbourne, and throughout regional Victoria that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have gone to, and every time was flown (when it was too far to drive), wined, dined, accommodated, and otherwise thoroughly spoilt. I had to earn my keep by speaking or otherwise being involved at most of them, but that was part of the value (see #10). Great fun!

  6. Get free AICD training
    As well as the $10,000 bursary (see #8), the award also includes some high-level professional training. I did the Australian Institute of Company Director’s Course to learn how to become a director, which gave me the confidence to become a director on a local community bank board. It’s fabulous training which will also help you become an awesome committee member of every other organisation you’re in, as well as helping you run your own business better (if you’re self-employed). If you don’t want to do the AICD training you can choose alternative professional development.
  7. katie black frock-386x628
    Trying on the posh frock for the national award ceremony

    You can justify treating yourself to a new wardrobe
    Unless you’re already equipped for attending lots of business (and a few formal) events, you’ll probably find yourself having to add to your wardrobe – I sure did! I love that I can now confidently dress for pretty much any occasion (and as an added bonus, finally have some great shoes and decent make-up!).

  8. Get a $10,000 bursary
    The purpose of the bursary is to implement your project (see #1), but you’re welcome to spend it as you see fit (within certain broad guidelines). I was able to spend a chunk of my bursary paying for extra staff on the farm to give me the time to put my project into action, which turned out to be one of the most life-changing aspects of the experience because we realised how cost-effective it is to outsource the pruning. Without the bursary we would never have taken the risk.
  9. You might just have to get more organised
    I have finally conquered my email inbox (I control it rather than it controlling me), and have set up some systems that allow me to get an enormous amount done in my life, without going bonkers. Admittedly I nearly went bonkers along the way from getting completely overwhelmed, but actually that was what forced me to finally have to face up to this ongoing problem, and find some real solutions.
  10. One of many speaking engagements I did during the year
    One of many speaking engagements I did during the year

    Get good at public speaking (or at least get lots of practice)
    For some people, this might be a disincentive for applying for the award, but if that’s you, I’d encourage you to challenge this feeling. As women, we have a much stronger tendency than men to stay safe, stay small, and not be heard, and our patriarchal culture reinforces this all the time. Changing our culture is a daunting task, but we can certainly challenge this within ourselves, one speaking engagement at a time!

Applications close on October 31, which gives you at least

  • 1 day to dither about whether you’re going to apply or not and then decide to do it (because after all, what have you got to lose…);
  • 2 days to talk to the state coordinator about your project idea (here’s the link to find all the details about how to do this, and the application form)
  • 7 days to write your application;
  • 7 days to get me (or someone else you trust) to have a look at your application and give you some feedback about it;
  • 1 day to submit

And that still gives you a couple of weeks up your sleeve if any part of that schedule doesn’t quite go according to plan!

Seriously, I’m very happy to make myself available for chats, looking over applications, or answering questions to make the process of applying as easy as possible.

It’s the chance of a lifetime – just do it!


RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Award

My project, called “Farmers Markets Building Communities” was made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Awards.