The revolution will not be microwaved.
That was the title of a 2006 book by food fermentation king, Sandor Katz, and it may well have been prescient.
Social media is changing our food culture in ways that could not have been imagined a decade ago. It’s changing the way we think about food, and the way that we experience food. It’s changing how we prepare food—and it’s changing how we eat.
These are some of the Hartman Group’s findings during the Seattle-based consultancy’s research for a study, Clicks and Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture.
* 82.3 million Americans (49% of those who use the internet) say they learn about food via social networking.
* 67.2 million Americans (40% of internet users) say they learn about food via websites, apps or blogs.
* 54% of the people that use social media discover and share new food experiences.
“I love chicken fried rice,” one young man from Seattle said. “But I was so confused about adding the egg [that] I watched six YouTube videos to figure it out.”
Not so long ago, food was a utilitarian affair—“uniform, predictable, efficient and economic,” the consultancy says, “packaged and processed.” Today, though, eating has become a “form of creative consumption.” Food has become ”pleasurable, beautiful—and real,” and now, through social media, we have become a nation of “food voyeurs.” We are learning—gasp!—how to cook.
Does this mean that the impact of social media on food culture is yet another example of what Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christiansen calls creative disruption? Christiansen argues that a disruptive technology usually creates a new market and value network over a few years or decades—one that eventually displaces an earlier (and usually very successful) technology.
The signs are certainly there. Social media, after all, does not operate in a vaccum. Consumers are becoming active participants in food culture, and the underground movement Sandor Katz described seven years ago is in public view.
copyright ellie winninghoff
Nature is as important to the economy as manufacturing or agriculture, and remains an untapped investment opportunity, according to Mark Tercek, a former Goldman Sachs managing director, now president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. He argues that the concept of conservation must be expanded to include not just the “dynamics of the forest” but also specific decisions businesspeople make up and down the supply chain.
In an interview, Tercek said he agrees with futurist Hazel Henderson’s paradigm-shifting depiction of the economy—not as a pie (divided between the public and private sectors) but as a cake, a four-layer cake where three layers of infrastructure support the private sector. In addition to bridges and roads (the public sector,) there are families and communities (which she dubs the “love economy.”) And the foundation of that cake—the mother of all infrastructures—is nature, or natural capital.
Or, as some put it:
“The global economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.”
Tercek takes this a step further by actually comparing the economics of built or gray infrastructure such as pipes and treatment plants with green infrastructure consisting of woodlands and grasslands, wetlands and rivers.
“Green infrastructure is usually cheaper than gray,” he says, “and it’s more efficient. And unlike gray infrastructure, it accomplishes many things at once.”
see more here:
Slow Food, Slow Money
When Woody Tasch, in 2008, published Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, and launched the nonprofit Slow Money to catalyze the flow of capital into small and local food enterprises, he did not have a clue how to do it. But he captured the zeitgeist. Five years later, 650 farmers, ranchers, local food entrepreneurs, food activists and investors met at the fourth Slow Money gathering in Boulder in late April.
“Colorado imports 97% of all the food we consume here,” said Michael Brownlee, co-founder of Localization Partners, LC, a Slow Money affiliate in Boulder. “We’re an agricultural state, and this profound imbalance is part of the context of Slow Money here.”
According to Brownlee, the food localization effort in Colorado is no longer about a “preferential lifestyle” but rather about economic development. Denver mayor Michael Hancock recently announced an official food localization goal of 20% by 2020, and Brownlee says Slow Money will be a key part of the strategy.
“What we’re engaged in is restorative economics,” he said. “We’re learning how to restore agriculture and food production, which means getting to reverse the widespread damage by big industrial agriculture and a globalized food system. Not surprisingly, it turns out we’ve got as unconscious about how we feed ourselves as we have about what our money is doing. Slow Money is about becoming very conscious and very deliberate with both.”
The highlight of the conference was the pitch-fest by 24 stellar entrepreneurs representing every aspect of a re-imagined locally based food system. It was the final presentation, though, that brought a standing ovation—and the $50,000 prize. Revision International works in Westwood, a Denver neighborhood where the average family income is just over $11,000 and one-third the residents are under 18. Last year, it helped over 200 families (including 40 Somali refugee families who spent 16 years in refugee camps in Kenya) produce an estimated 25,000 pounds of fresh produce on 1 1/4 acres of land. Now those families want to establish a for-profit cooperative, sell their excess, and eventually expand into value-added products.
“We’re competing against a different mindset that solves food deserts by plopping down a grocery store then walking away,” Revision International CEO Eric Kornacki told the crowd. “This paradigm contends that to solve poverty, all you need to do is give tax breaks to Walmart and let them create jobs,” he said. “In contrast, the Westwood Food Coop will localize the food system while reclaiming a food desert and planting seeds for a self-sufficient community. It will increase food production, increase healthy food access, create good-paying jobs, and more importantly, generate wealth that is controlled by the community—and stays in the community.”
More at my post at Barron’s Penta here:
A new tool for investing directly in small and growing businesses is beginning to gain currency among angels and impact investors
“I’m a raving fan because I think revenue-based financing aligns interests [between investors and entrepreneurs] better than a lot of traditional investment vehicles,” says Jerry Carleton, an attorney with the Immix Law Group in Portland, Oregon that has organized a couple of dozen RBF financings during the last five years.
One beauty of RBF, he points out, is that it renders the valuation conversation—often an awkward and belabored one—irrelevant. He has used the technique to raise funds for manufacturing and service businesses as well as high tech.
In Seattle, serial entrepreneur Michael “Luni” Libes, who has been an entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Washington and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, where he also teaches entrepreneurship, has started Fledge, a “conscious company” incubator based on the TechStars model. Like TechStars, he mentors start-ups in exchange for 6% of the company. In his case, though, RBS accounts for half of that.
“This model allows me to support entrepreneurs that are establishing lifestyle businesses,” he says.
Although technology investors are often “agnostic” as to whether their clients want to run their businesses forever or flip them and start again, impact investors are drawn to RBF precisely because it does not require an exit. “Exits are destabilizing events for employees and for the community,” says Juliana Eades, president of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, a community development financial institution that provides loans to small businesses in the state. “I like RBS because it solves the exit problem and it is mission compatible.”
Another impact investor that’s embracing RBF is the VSJF Flexible Capital Fund, a for-profit subsidiary of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Charged with accelerating Vermont’s green economy, its mission is to provide “near equity” (subordinated debt as well as royalty financing) to fill a gap and strengthen the state’s sustainable agriculture and food systems, renewable energy and natural resource sector.
“We are working with companies that are built to last; hence, we are looking at sharing in the upside of the business through revenue sharing rather than ownership,” says Janice St. Onge, deputy director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and president of the VSJF Flexible Capital Fund. “We’re not about working with companies that are built to flip.”
the rest of the story can be found here:
Winter Gardening in Maine with Eliot Coleman
“If I had studied Ag in college, they would have convinced me that what I do every day is impossible,” says vegetable farmer, educator, researcher and author Eliot Coleman. Best known for growing vegetables year-round in unheated greenhouses in northern Maine, Coleman has been called America’s most innovative small farmer. Not only is he reinventing the harvest, he’s helping to turn the economics of small farming upside down.
The story began when Coleman read Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life, the best-selling classic of the ’60s credited with spawning the era’s homesteading movement. “I thought they were crazy,” he recalls. “They didn’t eat peas in the winter because peas didn’t grow in the winter. I thought: What’s wrong with the freezer?”
But Coleman, who majored in Spanish literature because he spent his summers managing a ski lodge in Chile, was attracted by the Nearings’ independence and ability to survive against all odds. When he read that a teaspoon of soil contained a million organisms, he was so intrigued that he dropped his usual summer plan of mountaineering to try organic farming. When the old-timers using chemical fertilizers began asking how he was able to grow certain vegetables, he realized that organic growing was probably easier.
“It turned out that organic farming was so simple,” he says. “I’m not buying anything. The world’s best fertilizer is compost, which you can make for free, from waste products, in your own backyard.”
A year later, Coleman quit his college teaching job and headed to Harborside, Maine, where the Nearings sold him and his wife 40 wooded acres for $33 per acre, the same price they had paid for it 20 years before. He chopped down trees, removed stumps and built a one-room house for $700. In 1970, a Wall Street Journal article featured the couple growing 80 percent of their own food and living on $2,000 per year.
Coleman loved talking to his new neighbor and mentor.
“It was like college all over again,” he says. “Here was a man who had debated Norman Thomas, survived a trial by the U.S. government in 1917 for writing an anti-war pamphlet and run for the Senate in New York City on the Communist party ticket. Man, this was pretty good if you liked ideas, and I loved ideas!”
In 1974, Nearing offered to pay Coleman’s way to the second European organic farming conference. It was a turning point. Although there were no models for small farming in the U.S., the small farming tradition never died in Europe. There, among other things, Coleman visited the farm of Louis Savier.
“It wasn’t until I stood in Savier’s garden that I realized how well it could be done,” he writes in The Winter Harvest Handbook (2009,) his third landmark book about organic growing and the four-season harvest. “Quality was everywhere: the organized layout, the tidy, closely spaced rows, the ranks of cold frames and hotbeds, the dark chocolate-colored soil and, most especially, the crops glowing with health.”
On another trip abroad Coleman saw his first mobile greenhouse, a concept he now calls the “best (or actually rediscovered) gardening idea of the 21st century.”
Rather than growing summer vegetables like tomatoes in the winter in a heated greenhouse, the notion is to grow winter vegetables such as spinach and carrots in the same ground he uses in the summer. The issue is light, not temperature. Since there is less light in winter, the vegetables simply take longer to grow. It’s less about growing food than harvesting food year-round. The goal is to eat fresh produce throughout the year.
“It’s a different arrangement of time and a different appreciation of quality food,” he says. “We’ve managed to turn winter from deprivation to celebration.”
Although Coleman is a market grower, his four season farm in Harborside is also experimental. Why do beets grow better in seaweed and cabbage in autumn leaves? He sends them to a lab to find out what the differences are. He has also dreamt up new tools—better hoes, small electric tillers, tools for working the soil at various depths, different ways to put crops in the ground, alternative transplant systems. He has given the ideas away, just to get them out there. “I am using techniques now that I didn’t even dream of 20 years ago,” he says. “I am succeeding at things I failed at 10 years ago.”
In these ways, Coleman is helping make the small organic farm a viable enterprise—the first step, he says, to changing the world. “It’s very difficult to control people who can create products without purchasing inputs from the system,” he says. “Fertile soil has the power to make the small farm far more independent of purchased inputs and even more independent of the corporate world.”
Foundations are using program-related investments to practice philanthropy in the for-profit world
“I’m super-excited about this tool,” says Julie Sunderland, director of program-related investments at the Gates Foundation, which increased its PRI budget from $400 million to $1 billion. “I think [PRIs] are really powerful. I like the focus on the programmatic goals and programmatic intent. Holding ourselves to those standards provides a real powerful screen for us in terms of identifying investments that we think can really make a difference.
“You can do some real creative things,” she adds.
Even though they are investments, PRIs are not limited to the for-profit world; indeed, until recently, most have involved low-interest loans to nonprofits and real estate projects like affordable housing, charter schools and community health centers. They’ve been used to leverage commercial capital in multimillion-dollar community development projects. And together with grants, they were used to build an entire $30 billion industry of community development finance institutions, the mostly loan funds thuat serve minority and low-income people.
More recently, however, foundations have expanded their reach, and the IRS last year published additional guidance with respect to the types of projects that are permissible as PRIs. Until then, the existing examples (dating back to the l960s) were about US-based disadvantaged individuals and deteriorating urban areas. The new examples are based on projects for which foundations have sought and received private letter rulings, but the facts were changed to provide principles-based guidance.
For example, PRIs can be made for projects in foreign countries and for-profit projects with potentially high profit margins. They can even include below-market rate loans to and equity investments in the same entity. And they can be targeted toward a variety of charitable purposes that are not included among those that usually define nonprofit 501c3 status, such as advancing science.
This is the second part of a two part series about PRIs. Part one is: The Untapped Power of PRIs, the previous post.
see the story here:
Program Related Investments are little-known tools that expand the way foundations can put their money to good use
In 2011, when the Gates Foundation made a $10 million investment in Liquidia, a Research Triangle, N.C.-based nanotechnology company, it set off a firestorm of controversy in the nonprofit world.
The foundation is known worldwide for its charitable donations—indeed, Bill Gates has joined with Warren Buffett in famously pledging to donate at least half of his fortune to charitable causes. The investment was a program-related investment, or PRI, which means that it could count toward the foundation’s 5% “charitable distribution”—something usually made up of grants and other gifts. But here was an investment—in a for-profit company, no less. Venture capitalists, in fact, had already invested $50 million in the company.
To learn more about this amazing “social venture capital” tool, and how foundations have used it to leverage as much as 70X their original capital in a project, see the rest of the story here:
The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund has helped organize cooperatives so communities that live in manufactured homes can own their property
The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s transformative work in the mortgage market for manufactured homes is a model for systems-led change
Manufactured homes in mobile home parks were not an always intriguing alternative for low-income people. Homeowners could be evicted on 30 days notice simply because their landlord wanted to do something different with the land. And their value depreciated over time. The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s transformative work in the mortgage market for these homes has changed that.
To read the rest of the story, go here:
How the new philanthropists’ intellectual capital is changing society
Unlike the days of yore, when folks waited until retirement before turning into tea-and-biscuits philanthropists, many newly wealthy Americans today are rolling up their sleeves and starting small-to-medium foundations when they are in mid-life transition. Foundations now in the hands of people in their 40s control a charitable war chest worth some $83 billion-nearly twice the giant Gates and Ford Foundations combined. But it’s not the size of the philanthropic assets in question that makes this mid-life group so important, it’s the little seen intellectual capital they are building that will be critical to tomorrow’s society.
To read the full story at Barron’s Penta, go here:
The CARS rating service includes deep dive due diligence and analysis
Local wind farms that finance services for low-income people, microfinance for Native Americans, conservation easements that protect working waterfronts and the lobster industry in Maine. These are the types of activities financed by “community development finance institutions,” or CDFIs, most of which are revolving loan funds that serve minorities and low-income people. But while there is huge interest by impact investors, it can be baffling to analyze a nonprofit and understand the risk of investing in one.
Fortunately, there is a way. CARS (the CDFI Assessment Rating System) is the go-to rating system for these loan funds, most of which are nonprofit. It also performs deep dive due diligence and analysis.
To read the rest of the story, go here:
CARS’ website is here: