Eat Local Guide :: Boulder County Edition

 

The Local Food Shift Meets Occupy Boulder

[This is the text for an Occupy Boulder presentation given on Nov. 26]

I’ve been watching the so-called Occupy movement, though I haven’t felt compelled to participate directly until today. But I’ve been eavesdropping on the conversation as much as I can.

I’m very glad to be here with you today, and I want to thank Lauren Brillante for inviting me. And I want to thank all of you for being here. What is happening here is important.

One of the websites we pay close attention to is EnergyBulletin.net, which is actually published by Post Carbon Institute. Any of you follow it? Energy Bulletin has been providing considerable coverage of the Occupy Movement.

The editor, Bart Anderson, wrote this the other day:

The concerns we write about at Energy Bulletin are not being addressed by the existing political structures. Whether it’s peak oil, climate change, society’s lack of resilience, can anyone say that any government or any mainstream political party is acting in a way that we could consider adequate?

The Occupy Movement, and its counterparts in Europe and the Middle East, are shaking up politics in a way that we haven’t seen before. Certainly, neither peak oil nor Transition have caught the popular imagination the way that Occupy has done.

At this juncture, we can either retreat into our enclaves, muttering that Occupy doesn’t understand peak oil or the need for de-growth. Or we can learn what this scrappy, inspiring movement is all about, and take part in it.

It may mean giving up our preconceptions, but it is the way forward.

For now, I’ll just say that I’m not sure whether Occupy is actually a movement. It might be the beginnings of a revolution, or an outright revolt. We’ll see. But it strikes me that this same dilemma pertains to what I’m going to be talking about this morning.

Lauren asked me to talk about local food this morning, and I do have some things to share with you, then perhaps we’ll have some time for dialogue. My hope is that by the time we’re complete here today some of you will feel compelled to get directly involved in what we’re calling the Local Food Shift. I’m not sure if it’s a movement or a revolution, maybe it’s both. But I do know it needs you.

In this short time this morning, I’m going to attempt to weave together several stories that are beginning to become one single story in many communities around the country, and around the world.

Transition

The first story is of the Transition movement, which sprang up in the UK in 2006 to prepare communities for the local impacts of converging global crises—fossil fuel depletion (or peak oil), climate destabilization, and economic disruption. At its roots, the Transition movement is about communities designing their own transition off fossil fuel dependence, and developing a much greater degree of resilience and self-reliance. This is the process of relocalization, communities learning how to provision their most essential needs locally.

Our organization, now known as Transition Colorado, was the first officially recognized Transition Initiative in North America, and we helped launch the movement in this country, becoming a statewide Transition hub in 2008. But we’ve been working on relocalization in Boulder County since mid-2005.

Thankfully, the Transition movement has caught fire in many places. There are now more than 450 Transition Initiatives in 34 countries, with 103 of these here in the U.S.

The Transition movement is actually just a part of something much larger, a deep and rapidly moving cultural shift in our society which, in Paul Hawken’s words, represents the planet’s immune system kicking in, a powerful and even revolutionary grassroots-to-grasstops community response to the whole broad range of converging global crises.

Underneath all these various movements and organizations—and what we make explicit in the Transition movement—is the impulse for community healing and regeneration.

There are two areas where we see many of these movements beginning to converge and overlap. The first has to do with food, local food. This is the local food movement, or the local food revolution—or what we call it, the local food shift. The second has to do with shifting local capital to invest in the well-being of our communities.

The Local Food Shift

For the most part, this local food shift remains largely unmeasured, mostly far below the radar of government and industry and even media. But it is a revolutionary, seismic shift in our culture.

This local food shift is happening because it must.

Here’s the story: We are all living at the end of an era of food and farming that most of us grew up with and that we have come to take for granted, but which will change quite radically in the next few years—because our “traditional” or “conventional” food and farming system is already failing us.

The traditional or conventional paradigm tells us that it’s necessary to use fossil fuel-based pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to grow our food. That it’s better to process our foods to the point that they are almost unrecognizable to the body. That it’s necessary and beneficial to genetically modify plants grown for food. That it’s better for farmers not to save their own seeds. That it’s better to grow food on a very large scale, utilizing monoculture methods. That it’s necessary to use antibiotics in livestock production.

But we’re beginning to understand now that none of this has been necessary—or even better.

Right now we are living in a moment of historic transition. We are moving from a food and farming system that disconnects us from the land, cuts us off from the natural cycles and processes of life, alienates us from nature, hollows out our communities, and destroys our relationships with each other…

…to a food system that reconnects us with the land, brings us back in touch with the natural cycles and processes that are fundamental to all life, restores our relationship with nature, and renews our experience and sense of community with each other and with all life.

We are moving from a food and farming system that erodes soil, wastes water, diminishes biodiversity, wastes fossil fuels, spews carbon, relies on mechanization, modifies genetics, pollutes water and air, poisons the land, depletes the spirit, destroys community, creates economic disparity…

…to a food a farming system that restores and rebuilds soil, recycles and conserves water, increases biodiversity, sequesters carbon, produces its own energy, relies on human labor, breeds for resilience and saves seeds, purifies the water and the air, heals the land, feeds the spirit, builds community, and creates economic parity.

We are moving from a food system that enables the rich to eat well and forces the poor to eat poorly, to one that makes a wholesome, healthy diet a basic right for all our citizens, where this is taken as a responsibility and not a luxury.

We are moving from a food and farming system that is based on extraction and consumption, to one that is based on preservation, restoration and regeneration; from an exploitive, anti-ecological and community-killing agriculture, to a nurturing, ecologically sustainable and community-healing agriculture.

This revolutionary local food shift is already beginning to happen, and will ultimately happen. You could say that it is a course-correction that has become not only necessary, but inevitable. Besides, as Stan Goff says, “Our dependency on food is a terrible weapon in the hands of the one percent.”

EAT LOCAL! Campaign

Another part of the story is what’s emerging in our own work in Boulder County. In 2006, our organization began focusing our efforts on food—food localization, or what we’re now calling the Local Food Shift.

There are many reasons for this focus on food localization.

  • Like nearly all communities, Boulder County has a high degree of food insecurity. Nearly 15% of our citizens are food insecure. But actually, when we realize that our food supply is largely controlled by a handful of multinational corporations—including ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto—we realize that we don’t have anything close to food sovereignty. We aren’t nearly as free as we’d like to think we are.
  • Our globalized food system is fragile, is not resilient, and is subject to many kinds of disruption.
  • Beyond all that, localizing our food supply may be the best thing we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions—which for Boulder increased by 2.5% in 2012!
  • It may also be the best thing we can do for the health of our children and our communities.
  • And fresh, local, organic food is one of the very best things we can do for the health of our bodies.

Recently, we’ve learned that less than two percent of all the food we consume in Boulder County is actually produced within the county. This made us realize that we urgently need to shift our very export-oriented agricultural system to be able to feed our own people first, and then to export the surplus.

But there is one other reason for our current focus on food, and this perhaps trumps all the others. That is that food is not a commodity. Food is sacred. It is what connects us with life itself. If we’re eating food that is highly processed, shipped from thousands of miles away, adulterated with chemical pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, and genetically modified to the point that our bodies cannot recognize it as food—then we can understand that this kind of food disconnects us from life.

This goes right to the heart of the shocking decline we see unfolding in our society. It helps explain why, as we learned from scientific reports released just a couple of weeks ago, that carbon emissions in 2010 exceeded the worst case scenarios. We’re way out of control.

For these reasons, in 2007 Transition Colorado launched an extensive county-wide EAT LOCAL! Campaign, designed to both increase demand for locally-sourced food and to increase local food production capacity, but fundamentally to help bring about the local food shift in Boulder County—and beyond.

We’re working to localize the food system, starting with a modest goal of 25% food localization in Boulder County by 2020. And we’re encouraging and empowering other communities to do the same.

If we do this right, we have an opportunity to build a localized food and farming system that is economically robust, environmentally sustainable, resilient and self-resilient, one that ensures food security and food sovereignty and food justice for all, one that contributes to the health and happiness of our citizens, and that revitalizes our local economies.

Of course, this transition to a relocalized non-fossil-fuel food and farming system will take some time—because nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves must be redesigned and rebuilt. But this local food shift needs to start right in our own communities.

Food Localization as Economic Development

Here’s another part of the story. It turns out that perhaps the most compelling of all the reasons for food localization is economic development.

In the state of Colorado, we consume nearly $14 billion worth of food each year—and 97 percent of that food is imported from outside the state. This is an agricultural state, but our foodshed—the area we depend on for our food supply—stretches around the globe.

In Boulder County, last year our residents spent more than $900 million on food, but less than two percent of that food is grown within the county. And this is an agricultural county.

Because the infrastructure of our local food system has been totally dismantled in favor of chemical-based fossil-fuel-dependent corporatized globalized systems, we need to now quickly rebuild that infrastructure in order to regain the capacity to provision our communities with locally-produced food.

In Boulder County—as in most places—we know we will need scores of new farms, hundreds of new farmers, thousands more acres devoted to food production for local consumption, along with all of the food processing, storage and distribution systems that will be needed to support the local food shift. This is all going to take significant amounts of capital. Where will that capital come from?

Earlier this year, we were able to commission a leading economist, Michael Shuman, to begin a study on the economic impact of food localization in Boulder County and for the state of Colorado.

Shuman is an innovative leader in these kinds of studies, and he is the Director of Research and Economic Development for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

Michael released the first results of this study at our second annual Boulder County EAT LOCAL! Week about a couple of months ago, making it possible to begin to see what the economic impact of food localization could mean.

In Boulder County, Shuman’s analysis shows that a 25% shift towards food localization—just a quarter of the way there—would produce 1,700 new jobs, $82 million in new wages, and $137 million in annual economic output (the local equivalent of GDP), and $12 million in annual business taxes.

But really, these numbers in Boulder County are just examples of what’s possible on a larger level. Looking at the entire state of Colorado, 25% food localization would mean 31,000 new jobs, $1.3 billion in new wages, and $2.2 billion in annual economic output, and $200 million in business taxes. That’s the scale of the economic impact that a significant level of food localization can produce!

Of course, many of us working towards the local food shift have had some sense of how important food localization could be economically, but this is the very first time we’ve had such numbers to work with. And these numbers begin to change the whole conversation about local food.

So what we’re beginning to see is that the opportunities for growth and expansion in local food and farming enterprises are really tremendous. This may be one of the few areas where economic growth still makes sense!

Yes, there are challenges, and barriers, and obstacles, and we’re working hard to get a better handle on what those all look like. And we’re now hard at work on the second part of the food localization study project, developing a comprehensive action plan for actually achieving 25% food localization in Boulder County. We hope we’re doing this in such a way as to stimulate other counties in the state to develop similar studies and plans.

One of the biggest barriers to 25% food localization, of course, is capital. But Michael Shuman demonstrated that in Boulder County our citizens have more than $26 billion tied up in corporate stocks and bonds, and in pension funds, mutual funds, and insurance funds (and that doesn’t count what we have in our bank accounts).

For the whole state, that adds up to $442 billion in capital—near half a trillion dollars!

Amazingly, to totally capitalize a 25% local food shift would only require one half of one percent of that capital. In other words, in Boulder County only $126 million in capital invested in local food and farming enterprises would produce all the economic benefit that we’ve been speaking about.

But how will we get that capital to shift to the local food economy?

And that’s the segue into the next part of the story, the birth of the Slow Money movement, founded by Woody Tasch—who we have had the extraordinary privilege of working with and getting to know over the last couple of years. I’d say that his impact on our work has been profound.

Slow Money

Yes, localizing our food and farming system is going to take a lot of money—capital to be invested in rebuilding the infrastructure of processing, storage, and distribution, the infrastructure that has been eroded away over the last 60 years or so by economic globalization.

It’s also going to take a lot of new farmers, expansion of existing farms, and conversion of conventional export-oriented farms.

Now, it’s no secret that there’s a lot of wealth in Boulder County. But almost all that money is invested “out there” somewhere, zipping around the world. Woody Tasch calls this “fast money,” money looking to make as much money as quickly as possible. And the best way for fast money investors to do that often happens to be to invest in companies that are involved in things that are directly contributing to our global crises. And this fast money has been directly implicated, of course, in the crash of 2008—and the continuing economic implosions around the world that have all of us here today.

Woody is helping us understand that the economic crisis is exactly what you can expect when the relationships between money, community, and the land are broken—disconnected.

Woody wrote a most extraordinary book recently, published by Chelsea Green, called Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. This turns out to be one of the key aspects of relocalization, new forms of local investment that “catalyze the transition from a commerce of extraction and consumption to a commerce of preservation and restoration.” This means, especially, investing in local farming, and in the enterprises that are needed to support a healthy food and farming system.

Woody is teaching us about “Restorative Economics,” following the core principles of carrying capacity, cultural and biological diversity, sense of place, care of the commons, and nonviolence. This may be one of the most significant economic visions to land on this planet in recent decades. It’s radical, truly revolutionary, and you need to read it. Fortunately, you’ll love reading it. It’s pure inspiration, and highly poetic.

I’d like to share with you the Slow Money principles, to give you a sense of what this is all about.

In order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration, we do hereby affirm the following Slow Money Principles:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.

IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.

V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.

VI. Paul Newman said, “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:

  • What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
  • What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
  • What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

Slow Money is revolutionary. And it’s a revolution that we can all take part in. The goal is one million people investing 1% of their money in local food systems within a decade.

Woody’s book was published by Chelsea Green just over three years ago. It was the result of Woody taking some time out of his life to reflect on what he had learned in years experience in the investing world, especially socially-responsible investing. He just wanted to get his thoughts down, and I can tell you that he had no intention of creating a movement. But a movement is what has sprung up anyway, and those of us who are involved are all struggling to get our arms around what this movement is and where it is moving—and I can tell you that it is way ahead of any of our efforts to organize it or even articulate it.

Transition Colorado is now working very closely with Woody Tasch and the Slow Money movement. Our work in this arena has been seeded by an anonymous investor who has been deeply touched by all this and who committed a significant amount of Slow Money into our stewardship for this purpose. We hope to quickly expand that fund by attracting additional local investors. This fund will become a powerful tool for farmers who need to expand their operations, for local entrepreneurs who want to build businesses that could support the local foodshed.

In the Slow Money movement, one of the key questions we are asking ourselves and each other is: What would happen if over the next ten years one million Americans invested one percent of their assets in local food systems?

Towards this end, we’re catalyzing Slow Money Colorado now. And we invite you to become members of Slow Money on the national level, which will also make you members locally. Please go to SlowMoney.org, sign the Slow Money Principles, and become a member. These are ways you can get involved immediately. More is on the way, including local investment clubs.

But I want to end by talking a little about investing here—perhaps not what you expected to hear about at an Occupy Boulder event.

In February, I went to a gathering in Berkeley of Slow Money chapter leaders from around the country. There were about 20 of us, struggling to discover ways to talk about who we are and what we’re trying to do.

Woody said two things that weekend that really sank into my consciousness, that I think will change forever how I look at investing—and at myself.

First, he said that what he’s really up to with Slow Money, what this is really all about, is awakening investors’ biophilia.

“Biophilia” is the word coined by E.O. Wilson for the human propensity to affiliate with other life forms. Biophilia is the root of all environmental concern, an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. The word literally means love of life, or maybe even better, love of living systems.

Wilson suggested that biophilia describes “the connections that human being subconsciously seek with the rest of life,” and that these connections arise from an innate biological need. Interestingly, the opposite of biophilia is biophobia.

Biophilia is really about engaging the heart.

But the second thing that lodged in my being from that extraordinary weekend is the statement that immediately followed Woody’s first, and must immediately follow the first statement: Investors are not just people with financial wealth or investment portfolios. We all need to come to realize that we are all investors—by the ways we spend our money, by the ways we spend our time and our energy.

As Woody says, “If you eat, you are an investor!” We are all investing nearly every moment of every day. And most of us do all that without a tremendous degree of consciousness of how what we are investing in impacts our world and our very lives. So, what I get from this is that it is the intention of Slow Money, to awaken us all to our biophilia, our innate love for life, our deep yearning to be connected to what is alive and vital and sacred.

Until that moment in Berkeley, I never thought of myself as an investor. I don’t have an investment portfolio, or a 401K account. I’ve never showed up at the Investor’s Circle at City Club before. So now I guess I should say to you, “Hello, my name is Michael, and I’m an investor.” And you would all say, “Hi Michael!”

What’s waking up in me is not just my biophilia, my sense of connection with life. What’s also waking up in me is the realization of just how much this sense of connection is profoundly missing in much of what we’ve developed as a civilization in the last 150 years or so. And this missing-ness, I’m coming to understand, is precisely what has gotten us into such deep, deep trouble—which is what has brought us all together here at Occupy Boulder.

I’ll just close with an excerpt from Woody’s book, and then I’ll open this up for questions and discussion.

…Let us dare to imagine an investor who has the sacred passion of an earthworm, slowly making his or her way through the soil of commerce and culture, playing a small, vital role in the maintenance of fertility.

Now, whether such notions have any practical import to the task of creating this new entity called Slow Money seems, at first, implausible. But it isn’t so. The success of Slow Money will depend upon a vision that dares to be playful; that dares to assert a connection between human and humus and humility and humor; that dares to push back against the dismal science of economics and the hegemony of market mind; that dares to put money in its place, that calms money, in much the same way that ‘traffic calming’ is becoming part of the agenda for ‘smart growth’ in progressive communities, so that healthy relationships can once again begin to flourish; that dares to put ‘taste’ and ‘flavor’ back into investing, moving from the Big Mac school of fatty and salty buy-low/sell-high investing to the Coleman Carrot school of investing that celebrates the subtle joys of terroir and authenticity.

The investor as earthworm versus the investor as Master of the Universe.

For my part, I would rather emulate an earthworm than an astronaut. I would rather enrich a plot of land than grow the portfolio of a quant.

Does this make me a bad investor? No, it makes me a different kind of investor. I would argue that an investor whose financial activity is predicated upon extraction—upon the linear take-make-waste methodologies of a world that had never seen the picture of the earth rising over the moon—is not really an investor at all. He is not truly investing himself in that to which he is applying his capital. Quite the opposite. He is keeping himself completely out of it, denying any personal connection to or responsibility for that to which his capital is lending its energy. How is it that something that is all about exists and liquidity and anonymity can really be called, in good faith, investing at all?

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