Slow Money Northwest Breathes Life into Local Agriculture
August 31, 2015 | seedstock
by Traci Knight
In 2009, a group of angel investors in Santa Fe, New Mexico came together to build a mission to help local food systems grow and thrive.
During this two-and-a-half-day conference with representatives from 43 states and six countries, Northwest participants caucused and continued to meet on a quarterly basis.
These meetings inspired Tim Crosby to spearhead Slow Money Northwest. He now serves as the group’s director. To date, the organization has helped investors connect over $7 million to under 20 area businesses. Serving thirteen different northwest regions, Slow Money Northwest has provided different levels of technical assistance for over 100 businesses.
According to Crosby, people understand the complexity involved with food systems.
“People get it. They understand about hunger, social equity and the impacts that food production has on the environment. They want to know what to do about it,” Crosby says. “We are in a really interesting time. We have a chance to show what it means to make an investment. Now we can get to the solution and what it means to engage in a complex system. We get there by telling the stories and by letting investors speak directly to food producers.”
One of the success stories of Slow Money Northwest was one of their first projects, Willapa Hills Cheese, a Northwest creamery that was having trouble getting traditional financing. Initial investments were procured for equipment loans, at which time Willapa Hills experienced an explosion in business. Slow Money Northwest brought three people in to help them run their business, Their goal was to help Willapa Hills achieve profitability prior to any expansion. That step allowed the business to achieve stable growth and taught the company how to balance their product lines. Money is coming back to the initial investors and terms of the loans have been renegotiated to the benefit of Willapa Hills.
Experiences like this have caused Slow Money Northwest to realize that they needed to focus on impact investing and helping food producers learn how to manage their businesses and bottom lines.
“The slow money movement attempts to connect socially responsible investors to the places they live,” says Crosby. “In many cases, that means helping the farmer or rancher tighten up their finances and become more ‘bankable’. Once the business reaches that point, it is a matter of directing them to the right place, be it private investments, federal grants or even traditional lending institutions.”
According to Crosby, money is not always the bottleneck to growth. Good business development and technical assistance are very much a part of what Slow Money Northwest does. Another aspect is finding investors who have enough wealth that they can afford a risky investment.
Often, they work on aggregating credit investors, foundations or institutions that have over $5 million in assets, and match them with an entrepreneur who shares the same values. They typically focus on smallholders or mid-size farms that are losing ground. The operations are assessed and assistance is provided to make them viable candidates for angel investors.
Even with it’s many successes, Slow Money Northwest is refining its mission and perhaps even moving away from their name. “One of the benefits to the slow money movement is its flexibility and lack of a rigid framework, allowing regions to interpret or apply principles according to necessity,” says Crosby.