Imagine you are seated on a patio in the Tuscan countryside. The fresh mozzarella coupled with sweet tomatoes, ripe from the warm sun, pairs beautifully with the garlic sourdough bread and crisp local wine. The setting opens the heart and soothes the soul. The vineyard you overlook is in its crucial stage of ripening, that last conversion of acid to sugar, and the company of friends and family couldn’t be better.
Why are we drawn to such a scene? What distinguishes the Italian gestalt is that the essential character of the place grows out of community relationships fostered around a shared meal. But we don’t have to go miles across the sea to find this synergy. It can, and in fact, does exist in our own communities if we take the time to recognize and cultivate our foodshed’s infrastructure.
This is a Call to Action to the people who appreciate the healthy ripple effect of a vibrant local food economy. It’s for people who want to grow their own Italian Riviera in their backyards. These are the people who appreciate the importance good food has in generating healthy communities and have the will and the means to develop a healthy local foodshed. We can recognize and recommit to being part of a great place, deepening our rootedness in our very own communities. In essence we are calling on all of us, who appreciate the importance that good food has in generating healthy communities, and who want to grow our own Italian Riviera in our backyards as well as to do our part in building resilient foodsheds.
Last March, I was honored to participate in the City of Riverside, California’s GrowRiverside Conference, the fourth year of an initiative to elevate local food and agricultural systems, economies and education. At the Conference I had the opportunity to experience the beginnings of a comprehensive food system and the potential to integrate much of the infrastructure that I envision in a resilient foodshed. The City of Riverside’s “Green Belt” is 4,600 acres dedicated to farming; it includes co-op owned farms and agro-ecological farming practices. Agro-hoods offer owner-occupied co-op homes within a community of local growers. A local food hub aggregates and distributes the harvest in collaboration with CSAs, farmers’ markets, natural food stores, and the EBT programs that broaden access to healthy food choices. Educational initiatives for the public reflect the multi-faceted nature of local food systems and include programs in agro-ecological farming practices, financial literacy, coop ownership and management, ethnic and cultural adult education, public engagement to influence food and agricultural policy; health and wellness, and a parallel path in culinary arts. Riverside’s educational system integrates inquiry and food awareness, and elevates leadership capacity throughout the community. In 1998, Riverside invested in the Riverside Unified School District’s central kitchen that produces and serves 35,500 meals daily — breakfasts, lunches, super snacks at the end of the day, and summer meals — to elementary and high school students. Sixty-five percent of these meals are free and 48 percent are locally sourced. These K-12 students, who grew up with elementary school gardens and have eaten good food for years, developed a life-long curiosity and standard around their own vitality and the food that supports their good health. The people of Riverside are collectively creating a dynamic infrastructure to ensure that food systems fulfill the needs of a robust community foodshed for each community member of every age and background.
Riverside is developing a successful model, co-evolving its foodshed to be democratically driven, growing its food and farming infrastructure from the ground up as inclusive processes. This contrasts with well-intentioned charitable efforts that often impose “This will be good for you” on community members who are isolated and wary of programs from which they might benefit. Consider instead, inviting young people to participate in the processes involved – Life Path Career Development — so they know what they are eating, enjoy the benefits of good food while cultivating their personal gifts and self-esteem. Now go one step further; each of us can participate in learning about, and developing our living food systems in our own respective communities.
Lynne Twist, in her plenaries and her book Soul of Money, reminds us that we have the opportunity to live the most fulfilling lives because of the challenges we have set before us. She posits that by challenging ourselves to view our “culture of money” through a new lens and create a spiritual relationship with our finances, we are transforming ourselves and our values toward leading fulfilling lives. Currently, our capital system is locked into a conceptual mindset — instead of a fluid, systemic value system — that idolizes money above all else. Any nod to the economics of community benefits may move us towards philanthropy, whi ch in turn increases the disparity of income. Philanthropy commits funds to those causes we believe in, but it does not enable paths to ownership among those to whom we claim to be in service. What philanthropy does do, to some extent, is track community benefits through various metrics — often not transparently.
These metrics are further developed in critical local investment paths and long-standing valuation systems that undergird our thriving hometowns.
As investors, perhaps the best way to undertake the challenge we are offering is through Direct Relationship – Driven Investing. This type of investing is the “greener than organic” standard in which the investor knows the entrepreneur personally. The investor may have the opportunity to perform due diligence with other local investors as we do in Slow Money NoCal’s Investor Group, SOIL — Slow Opportunities to Invest Locally. You may have the capacity to step up in moving your money even farther forward by serving as an enterprise invest or mentor and champion and represent the enterprise to other investors to ensure the entrepreneurs succeed. Entrepreneurs can elevate their ventures’ potency based on traditional investment metrics as well as Community Benefit Returns on Investment. Local investing drives the safety, good food, and quality of life we seek.
Thankfully, there are mechanisms with which to participate in Direct Relationship Driven Investments (DRDI). I mentioned Slow Money, where local investors gather by region to invest as if food, farming and fertility matter, meet entrepreneurs, get to know them, and ultimately invest money in enterprises that benefit the community while also showing the promise of being financially successful.
We can also invest locally and carry less personal risk by advocating within a community of people, such as the Garden Club in Riverside — Master Gardeners, nursery owners, et al — to create a Community Based Development Organizations (CBDO). Through CBDO’s, as one of the Public Private Partnership platforms, we can mount Direct Public Offerings (DPO), as Economic Development & Financing Corporation in Mendocino did to enable local investors to invest in Mendocino Wool and Fiber, a keystone enterprise in a burgeoning fibershed. Now we are stepping up as catalysts, helping our hometown retain its agricultural land, and become a haven for all community members in your verdant watershed, your sunset through orange groves with sentinel tall palms, your desert vista expanding to a pale purple mountain horizon, your wind over waving grain, your promontory over a stormy sea. What better place to start investing locally than in our own local farms and food enterprises and infrastructure?
If you want to investigate local foodshed resilience in your community, contact us – firstname.lastname@example.org or – email@example.com. We seek to serve you in your community’s transformation fully realizing your roles in celebrating the place you call home.
Article by Theo Ferguson and Stuart Valentine
Theodosia Hamilton Ferguson, founded and serves as the CEO of the California social benefit corporation, Healing Living Systems, Inc.
Whose mission is creating climate stability through agroecology. Theo is an active investor and advocate in the infrastructure of the community food, farming, and finance space for 15 years. Theo is a founding member of Slow Money National, Slow Money NoCal, and SOIL — Slow Opportunities to Invest Locally, Slow Money NoCal’s investment group with whom she has developed a broad local food farming, and finance infrastructure portfolio in California and Iowa as direct relationship driven investments (DRDI) using Community Benefits ROI as a fundamental investment filter.
For more than that dozen years, Theo has served as an advocate,entrepreneur, and investor in public dialogue undertaking deep inquiry into the impacts of food, farming and finance enterprises and their true cost pricing and true cost accounting metrics. This inquiry has elevated the observation that a community foodshed resilience movement can serve as a SEA change in redefining the dynamics of the capitalistic economic system. By offsetting the negative impacts of eating industrial food and the commensurate medical costs individuals and families must pay — offsetting the costs of indentured eaters of Big Ag and permanent patients of Big Pharma — community members can experience the safety, health and quality of life returns realized through local direct relationship driven investing. Theo has been a member of the Social Investment Forum for 14 years.
Stuart Valentine, Founder, Centerpoint Investment Strategies
Mission and Service Role: To build true wealth for our clients and ourselves by guiding human creativity and financial capital to optimize the conditions for growing sustainable communities. We do this by helping our clients invest their money in both Public instruments and Private Placements that reflect their values, personally inspire them, and actualize their financial goals. In addition, they can expect to work with like-minded individuals committed to bringing about positive change on the planet.
We also affirm our responsibility to evolve this field of SRI/ESG/Impact investing from within, as active participants in an investment ecosystem whose ultimate purpose is to provide for the wellbeing of the investor and to be in service to the common good.
In my role as Co-Director of the non-profit Sustainable Living Coalition, I am dedicated to enhancing the conditions for a renewable energy powered demonstration of community food, farming and finance infrastructure through investments, community activism, and convening. In 2016, this includes a convener role in Fairfest 2016’s Planetary Local Food Summit, an event series that invites community members of Fairfield, IA & beyond to participate in visioneering an integrated, economically vibrant Local Foodshed Resilience Program (LFRP). The goal of adopting the LFRP is to establish a transferable Proof of Concept that can support other communities in the design of their own solutions towards local food shed resilience.
Representative of and Securities offered through Financial West Group (FWG), Member FINRA/SIPC. Stuart Valentine is a member of the Socially Responsible Investment Group within FWG. Centerpoint Investment Strategies and FWG are unaffiliated entities.
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