Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer warms up the crowd at Slow NYC's 1st Showcase photo by Bonnie Hulkower
This past weekend, Slow Money NYC hosted its inaugural entrepreneur showcase and resource exchange at the Commons in Brooklyn, New York. Hundreds of people came to check out the showcase finalists and listen to panelists who spoke about how we can build a resilient, sustainable economy by increasing our investments in small-scale food and farming enterprises close to home. The resource exchange featured exhibitors who offer a range of services in the sustainable food and farming industry. The showcase featured the ten Slow Money NYC entrepreneur finalists, selected out of thirty-eight applicants, who gave presentations on their businesses. Attendees ranged from sustainable farmers, business developers, lawyers, accountants, potential funders and investors, as well as interested members of the general public.Background on Slow Money
When I told my friends that I was attending a Slow Money event, most of them gave me quizzical looks or sarcastic replies. Slow Money NYC was formed in 2010 as a network of food activists, investors and entrepreneurs. They believe that by restoring the environment, through sustainable farming practices, we will in turn restore the economy. Slow Money NYC is part of a national movement and organization founded by Woody Tasch and inspired by the principles laid out in his book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. In his book, Tasch suggests that investors should invest in businesses within a 50 mile region of where you live. According to Tasch, although the investment might initially lead to a smaller return or a slower return, it will be a return that betters your community.
Slow Money NYC and the Goal of the Day
The goal of the day was to inspire conversations about how to grow the local food economy and create a space for businesses to showcase and share their techniques and to offer a breadth of solutions for improving regional food production. The Slow Money NYC theme was echoed throughout the day: "Inspire. Connect. Invest." SMNYC encouraged potential investors to form slow investment clubs, to invest directly in the showcase entrepreneurs, or to invest via intermediaries. The group is exploring the ideas of a food credit union (similar to the permaculture credit union in New Mexico) and peer-peer lending programs.
The presentations took place on the 2nd floor, meanwhile the resource exchange, with over twenty exhibitors in social impact investing, food activism, community economic development, and entrepreneur services had booths on the ground floor. Exhibitors included: Acción USA, B Lab, Brooklyn Food Coalition, Center for Agriculture Development and Entrepreneurship; ioby.org; Glynwood; Community Markets, Contact Fund, The Moderns; Mission Markets, Equity Trust, Freelancer's Union, Glynwood, Good Food Jobs, Net Impact, Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NY), NYC Small Business Services, NY Industrial Retention Network, NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets, NYC Hospitality Group, SCORE and others.
Borough President/Food Advocate
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who has made urban agriculture and increasing access to healthy food a priority of his administration, gave the opening remarks. Stringer highlighted that through his Go Green Harlem Initiative, he learned what could be done in NYC in the short term. Stringer believes that "whichever city grabs urban agriculture will start a new economy." Stringer stressed that one of the ways city government could help would be to create a Food and Markets Department with a commissioner and staff to figure out how to increase access to healthy food and produce, instead of access to fast food. Stringer gave shout outs to all five boroughs in his remarks. Majora Carter made sure he included the Bronx. Someone else from the audience made a push for New Jersey being included.
Highlights from the Showcase and Panels
The ten finalists in the showcase were: AgSquared, Bronx Bees, Brooklyn Bouillon, Brooklyn Grange, Cayuga Pure Organics, Egg Restaurant and Goatfell Farm, Encendia Biochar, Kortright Creek Creamery, NYFoods Organics, and Vokashi. Bronx Bees is a project of the Majora Carter group. They are the only large scale organic honey producers in NYC. Bronx Bees also consult and provide assistance to others interested in setting up hives. Their mason jars of honey have been selling out through word of mouth at farmers markets. The woman giving the presentation dressed up like a bee, she must like really like bees!
The panel discussion "Making Your Dream Enterprise into a Real Business: Pre-Plan for Success," featured Entrepreneur Tera Johnson, founder of Tera's Whey, a successful sustainable food business; Business Consultant Chris Harmon, Center for Agriculture Development and Entrepreneurship; and Funder Elizabeth Bueno, Acción USA, a leader in urban micro-finance and business development. Jill Slater, a sustainable food consultant and urban planner, remarked to me that she "never felt there was a dull moment." She attended the panel discussion and was very impressed with Tera Johnson and her ability to raise $14 million in two years for Tera's Whey. Other attendees that I spoke to were also inspired and felt that if Tera could do it, so could they; they only needed to figure out how. Hopefully Slow NYC will help them arrive at that answer.