Woody Tasch has had “aha” moments big and small. In years working in venture capital and angel investing, he grew frustrated with the inability to direct money to the places he truly cared about. That led to the “aha” he described as:
“What happens when you step outside of what you’ve been taught about how investing or philanthropy is supposed to work?” Tasch said. “What if we were putting our money to work in a way that was really designed to help the end user, not minimize risks for the funder?”
In Tasch’s case, the end users are small farmers and organic food startups. That “aha” describes the philosophy behind the Slow Money Institute and SOIL — or Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally — the investment vehicles Tasch has created to help fund small organic farms and keep the money within the community.
The Boulder-based Tasch founded the Slow Money Institute in 2012, and since then it has given small farmers and small food startups more than $75 million in low-interest loans.
Tasch launched SOIL in 2017 as what he calls a hybrid of investing and philosophy. Local investors can form or join a SOIL group in their community, pool their money, and vote on which local small farms and food companies to support through loans. The loans are no-interest, and when they’re paid back, the SOIL group loans the money to a new farm.
Every member of a SOIL group, whether they donate the minimum of $250 or $50,000, the largest individual contribution so far, has equal voting rights. Boulder’s SOIL group, with about $500,000 in funds, is the largest, Tasch said.
“The goal is that it very gradually will grow into a reasonably sized pool of capital that can make a dent in the local food ecosystem,” Tasch said. “But however many of these SOIL groups we have, they’re always gonna be dots in a very large country. We want to make it possible for people anywhere to get in on this.”
What if someone wants to contribute to SOIL but can’t spare the minimum $250? That’s where Tasch’s newest investment platform, Beetcoin, comes in. Named as a play on Bitcoin, Beetcoin is not a cryptocurrency but a crowdfunding mechanism.
Beetcoin allows anyone to contribute any amount of money to a SOIL group. To have maximum impact, Beetcoin donations will be pooled and loaned as one. Tasch’s new book, “AHA! Fake Trillions, Real Billions, Beetcoin and the Great American Do-Over,” is a soft launch for the platform, which will roll out fully in 2021.
For Tasch, Slow Money, SOIL, and Beetcoin are all small ways of tackling what he calls the “big aha.” That one isn’t a realization that he’s had; it’s one he wishes the human species would collectively have:
“How not to destroy life on the planet, including ourselves,” Tasch said. “Having been of age for the first Earth Day in 1970, seeing how my generation was unable to grapple with environmental issues in a very meaningful way has been frustrating for me.”
Local, small, organic agriculture may not be a catch-all solution, but Tasch believes that its positive impacts are tangible. Carbon recapture. Improved soil fertility. Easier access to nutritious foods. Communities that are less dependent on global supply chains.
“The benefits of local agriculture are surprisingly broad,” Tasch said.
Perhaps the biggest benefit, Tasch said, is restoring peoples’ trust in each other and in their communities.
“To know where your food comes from, to work with friends and neighbors to support that, I think has enormous cultural value,” Tasch said.
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