Category: 2017 June – Investing in Sustainable Agriculture

A Guide to Sustainable Farmland Investing – Healing People and the Planet

By David Miller, co-founder and CEO, Iroquois Valley Farms

>> Back to June 2017

We at Iroquois Valley Farms are pleased to announce a new corporate entity as we begin our 11th season of operations. In 2007 when we started the company, our idea was simple – growing healthy foods on organic soils would be good business. We are now setting the table for the next decade. Incorporating everything we have learned, we recently reorganized into a new public benefit corporation, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, PBC to further scale our commitment to connect investors and family farmers in the field of sustainable agriculture. Currently, we are raising funds for new farm leases and mortgages that are national in geographic focus. We already have investments in 13 states (including contracted investments) and a pipeline to significantly expand the company.

Benjamin Belcher IVFarms - GreenMoney Journal

Iroquois Valley Farms will be entering Virginia – their pending purchase of Creambrook Farm for the Beichler family will be an investment in a pasture-based, organic dairy. An investment in Iroquois Valley Farms directly supports regenerative farming families like the Beichlers. (Ben Beichler pictured)


There are two private offerings currently available to accredited investors: our REIT equity shares and our short-term fixed income option “Soil Restoration Notes”. We expect a non-accredited offering prior to yearend. This is still a new asset class for most investment portfolios. It is important therefore to get started on the right foot. We realized early on that we needed to educate our investors and advisors on the basic economics of our business. As such in 2011 when we started to scale the company, we created a “Guide to Sustainable Farmland Investing”. This guide still has broad relevance even in today’s impact investing markets. Here’s an updated version of that guide:

1. A Real Asset. Farmland is a non-depreciable real asset with an income upside. Most investors are likely under-allocated to this combination food/farming/health sector or not invested at all. We focus on the highest and best use, organic and specialty food production.

2. Don’t Buy Blind. We offer an existing portfolio of farmland with experienced farm families – not a promise to purchase into a blind pool. Our farmland investments (over 40 in total) are already under lease or mortgage agreements on economic terms and accruing revenue. Benefit from our successful ten-year history of operations.

3. Natural Appreciation. Where can one invest in an asset that naturally increases in productivity and value over time? Organic farmers say that it takes 10 years or more to return the soil to its natural fertile state. Properly managed organic farms become more productive every year. Our original investors (ten year history) have seen double-digit annual growth in share price.

4. Growth and Income. In addition to the natural appreciation of the real asset, investors also receive upside income exposure to the tenant’s farming business. Our most common lease structure limits the downside rental rate while allocating a portion of farm revenue in good years to the company. Our mortgage business provides important income and enhances credit quality. Our farmland investment portfolio (about 70% owned and leased acres is coupled with 30% mortgage assets) could be characterized as both growth and income.

5. Stock for the Next Generation. We are a next generation investment with over 70 percent of our leased land under contract to Millennials. We are also providing mortgage financing to young farmers. We started our Young Farmer Land Access Program in 2012 to focus on the next generation of farmers. To date, we have funded $18 million under this program.

Young Farmer Land Access - GreenMoney Journal

6. Carbon Benefits for the Climate. Our focus on living, organic soils, and diverse crop rotations using hayfields, cover crops, woodlands and pastures, help to sequester more carbon back in the soil where it came from. While not paid directly for this yet, carbon farming is an increasingly important public benefit provided gratis by our farmers.

7. Diversify Your Egg Basket. Everyone knows this agricultural adage. On a regular basis we are buying farms in multiple counties and states, with diverse business plans, different farm families, varied markets and distinct soil types. We average into the highs and lows by ongoing purchases and mortgage appraisals. How risky is your investment basket?

8. Farmland is Illiquid? Sustainable farming is a long-term investment by the farmer and investor. However, by building a private company (now a REIT) with broadly held equity ownership, we are building liquidity year by year through an expanded investor base. With over 300 equity holders and note issuances, we are currently planning for a non-accredited offering later this year that will impact thousands of new clients. Shareholders accrue redemption rights after a seven-year vesting. We envision a public offering in a few years.

9. Generational Stability. Our most common tenant legacy is four generations — that is almost 100 years of family homesteading in one county. They usually have parents and grandparents still farming. We are sustaining family farmers with generations of experience and securing the healthy soils that will feed our children.

Farmer Generation Legacy - GreenMoney Journal

10. Grass Roots Capital. The Jobs Act of 2012 increased the mandatory conversion to a public company from 500 investors to 2,000. We are a young company with a growing investor base, now in 35 states and DC. We are geared to have thousands of investors and engage the public to enter an asset class historically closed to them. We consider it a socially just endeavor.

11. 10-Year History of Balancing Risks and Rewards. Our farm tenants minimize operating losses with crop diversity, crop insurance and long-term lease tenures. The company offsets land price volatility with functional and geographic diversity, ongoing acquisitions and growing productivity. Leverage is managed to maintain a positive cash flow. Our 10-year track record is available for public view (see our Key Financial and Operating Statistics Report).

12. Support Healthy Food Production.
Was Rachel Carson wrong? Are pesticides OK for your children and grandchildren? The health costs of a broken food system are just starting to be tallied.

“What we do to the land,
we do to ourselves.”
– Wendell Berry

13. Changing Farmer Demographics. According to the National Young Farmers Coalition, 80 percent of farmer-owned land and 90 percent of farmer-leased land is held by farmers who are 55 years or older. We are impacting a new generation of young farmers that are growing more local and organic foods. This trend has strong legs.

14. The Advantage of the Middle. We built this company by focusing on the mid-size family farmer. We can expand to smaller or larger farms if we wish, but the mid-size farmer is our bread and butter client. The mid-size farmer has scale to support a family, but is small enough to do so with sustainable farming operations.

15. Use an IRA. About 25 percent of our investment capital is self-directed IRA or qualified retirement funds. The company was started with IRA rollover funds and this continues to be a good long-term investor fit.

16. No Sales or Management Fees. We operate as a company, not a fund. There is no 3rd party management company charging special fees. Our corporate staff is compensated by salary, bonus and/or incentive stock options. There are no front-end fees, back end carried interests or profit shares to partners. We have not paid brokers or bankers to sell our equity or notes. Financial advisors can assess client fees knowing that there is no double tier fee structure.

17. Buy and Hold. Here’s an asset that one can hold indefinitely. Lower your portfolio management stress! Farmland isn’t going anywhere and our farmers, mostly young, want it for the rest of their life. Replacing the vast monoculture provides an almost endless upside for new business.

18. Path Less Traveled. Less than one-percent of farmland in the U.S. is certified organic. Many farmers would increase acres under organic management if those farmers had secure long-term land access options. Iroquois Valley Farms provides both leases and mortgages to organic farmers. It is not too late to invest in the changeover to a more healthy agriculture.

19. Public Benefit Corp. Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, the parent company, is a PBC. The stated benefit is enabling healthy food production, soil restoration and water quality improvement through the establishment of secure and sustainable farmland access tenures. In other words, we impact the public health.

20. Low Minimum. We make it easy to get started and limit initial exposures. Our average farm purchase exceeds $700,000. But our minimum equity investment is 50 shares (currently valued at $30,750). Our minimum fixed income investment is $25,000.


For more information on how to invest, please contact David Miller, Co-Founder and CEO, or Kevin Egolf, Chief Financial Officer,

Article by David E. Miller, Co-Founder and CEO, Iroquois Valley Farms

Rooted by heritage in Iroquois County, Illinois, Mr. Miller returned to his native farming community in 2005 after a 30-year career in banking and real estate financial management. Purchasing a small 10-acre family farmstead, he re-connected with local relatives farming organically. In 2007, he started Iroquois Valley Farms LLC by connecting a small group of family and friends to a 142-acre farm.

Prior to seeding sustainable farmland ventures, Mr. Miller held executive positions at Bank of America, Santa Fe Southern Pacific and First Chicago Corporation. His extensive experience in structuring alternative real estate investments led to the formation of Iroquois Valley Farms, the first private company in the United States to integrate farmland and organic food production, utilizing mostly mid-size family farmers.

An MBA graduate of Columbia University’s School of Business and 1975 graduate of Loyola University of Chicago, Mr. Miller views education as the primary key to changing the nature and health of our current food production system. In this regard, Mr. Miller is a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Environmental Studies at Loyola and was recently honored by the University (Damen Award) for distinguished services in the field of environmental sustainability. He resides nearby in Winnetka, Illinois along with his wife and three children.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Sustainable Business

Initiate a Local Foodshed Resilience Program

By Theo Ferguson, founder, Healing Living Systems & Stuart Valentine, founder, Centerpoint Investment Strategies

>> Back to June 2017

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. - Foodshed Infographic
Click to Enlarge

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)[1]. 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 – or – We seek to serve you in your community’s transformation fully realizing your roles in celebrating the place you call home.


Article Note

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.

OSJ: 55 Main St, Suite 415, Newmarket, NH 03857  /  (603) 659-7626

This is not an offer to buy or sell securities. Such an offer can only be made by prospectus. Please check all information before making an investment.

Featured Articles, Food & Farming

The War Between Farm and Forest

By Sofia Faruqi, manager, New Restoration Economy, World Resources Institute

>> Back to June 2017

Hundreds of people have died in northern Kenya in recent months due to conflict between armed cattle herders and the wildlife conservation community. During my visits to this part of Kenya over the last two years, I was surprised to find livestock in a region renowned for wildlife. The grasslands are home not only to elephants and zebras but also to cows and goats.

Drought in Kenya has resulted in wild and domestic fauna competing for water, triggering violence between pastoralists and conservationists. While the Kenya situation reflects an extreme response to an urgent problem, the underlying tension between farm and forest is nothing new. About 80 percent of global forest loss is due to agricultural expansion, especially in tropical lands essential to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. Commercial agriculture is the major driver of deforestation in Latin America, while subsistence agriculture plays a prominent role in Asia and Africa.

Biodiversity has suffered as a result: Recent research concluded that wildlife numbers have declined by more than two—thirds in Kenya’s rangelands during the last 40 years, largely replaced by livestock—sheep and goat populations have soared by 76 percent. Similarly, severe wildlife loss has been recorded around the world, and the current global extinction rate is a thousand times higher than the natural rate.

Deforestation and land degradation caused by agriculture revolve around key sectors such as beef, soy, and palm oil. But these commodities are not competing on an even playing field—government subsidies make them artificially cheap. Subsidies are often justified to ensure food security and boost farmer incomes. Once initiated, though, they are difficult to eliminate due to vested interests.

Research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that agricultural subsidies in the top 21 food-producing countries totaled $486 billion in 2012. Annual subsidies in Indonesia and Brazil—the nations to suffer the greatest forest loss since 2000—are estimated to be $27 billion and $10 billion, respectively. Subsidies have a strong influence in shaping the climate for private investment in land use. A report by the Overseas Development Institute finds that economic incentives for agriculture far exceed subsidies to reduce land degradation, which total only $9 billion. And subsidies to restore degraded land globally—a potential area the size of Latin America—are far smaller still.

This uneven allocation of subsidies conflicts with the Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015 since meeting climate targets involves sustainable land use. In addition, more than 35 countries have made commitments to restore land through the Bonn Challenge, AFR100 and Initiative 20×20. Fulfilling these pledges requires the creation of financial incentives for businesses and individuals to restore land, as well as the elimination of subsidies that result in land degradation. Rethinking subsidies is essential for the environment and food security. World Resources Institute research estimates that we will need to increase food calories 60 percent by 2050. Degraded soils have low productivity, and the planet’s rising population requires restored and healthy landscapes.

The good news is we already have examples of countries that have successfully aligned market incentives with desired outcomes. For example, after national cattle subsidies were removed in Costa Rica during the 1980s, it became less profitable to engage in ranching, which made land available for restoration. This was part of the reason Costa Rica saw forest cover increase from 41 percent of the country in 1986 to 54 percent in 2015. Another important factor was the growth of the eco-tourism industry, which further reduced incentives to pursue cattle ranching. Travel and tourism contributed 13 percent of GDP in Costa Rica in 2016.

China is another example. The country’s “Grain for Green” program in 1999 increased food security by financing restoration of the Loess Plateau through subsidies for seeds and seedlings, as well as payments to farmers for ecosystem services. This project established 290,000 hectares of shrubs and trees and increased per-capita grain output by 62 percent. In conjunction with the subsidies for restoration, the Chinese government passed and enforced bans on grazing and cutting trees, allowing vegetation cover to expand from 17 percent of the region to 34 percent by the mid-2000s.

China and Costa Rica are examples of how the removal of subsidies which lead to land degradation and the implementation of incentives to restore land, are aligned with economic growth and food security.

These changes make it possible for countries to meet climate targets and restoration commitments.

The extensive subsidies for agriculture in the market continue to drive forest loss. This can result in dangerous conflict, as we see in Kenya today between the rural cattle herders and the wildlife conservation community. In a world of scarce resources and distorted incentives, the tension between farm and forests can become a matter of life or death.


Article by Sofia Faruqi, who manages the New Restoration Economy at World Resources Institute (WRI), which is working to identify the business models, financial mechanisms, and market incentives needed to transform disparate restoration projects into a thriving industry. The New Restoration Economy focuses on Brazil, Kenya, and the United States (

Prior to joining WRI, Sofia was a Portfolio Manager at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, an investment management firm in Boston, MA. Earlier in her career, Sofia worked as an Equity Analyst at Passport Capital; an Equity Research Associate at the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System Pension Fund; and an Investment Banking Analyst at J.P. Morgan. She has won multiple investment awards and her articles have been published widely, including the Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Project Syndicate.

Sofia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Arabic from Dartmouth College and an MBA from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. She is a CFA charter holder.

Featured Articles, Food & Farming

Woody Tasch - Founder, Slow Money - GreenMoney Journal

SOIL–Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally

By Woody Tasch, Founder, Slow Money

(Reader Favorite from June 2017)

I often refer to Slow Money as “the CSA of investing.” As with community-supported agriculture, our efforts revolve around informal, direct relationships and shared risk. Slow Money funding is flowing in a variety of ways in dozens of communities across the United States (and a few in Canada and France) — peer-to-peer lending, investment clubs, angel networks and pitch fests at public events large and small.

This year, we’re launching Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally—SOIL, a non-profit investment club, in the Boulder, CO area (as well as holding the SOIL 2017 Conference this October, details below).

This isn’t investing in the traditional sense. We’re using charitable donations and 0% loans to fund the next generation of diversified, organic farms and the small food enterprises that bring their produce to the local market. We’re building a permanent, member-controlled funding resource. This is investing that leaves the returns in, for the benefit of future generations.


Two Roots Farm, a start-up micro-farm in Carbondale, CO received $7,500 for drip irrigation and a walk-in cooler.

There are many social and environmental reasons why we are doing this. Climate Change. Nutrition. Community. There are also financial reasons. If we are going to do what needs to be done in the soil, then we are going to need to put aside some of our money in new ways.

This is what has been driving Slow Money activities around the country. Since 2010, more than $57 million has flowed through our networks to 632 small food enterprises: Cheese makers, artisan bakers, heirloom seed companies, compost purveyors, small diversified organic farms (F.A.R.M.s,*too), grass-fed beef producers, goat dairies, yogurt companies, farm-to-table restaurants, probiotic pickleteers, community kitchens, regional grain mills, local distributors, inner city cooperatives and more.

Here in Colorado, hundreds of individuals have attended regional events or committed capital to Slow Money projects, including four investment clubs, resulting in the flow of $3.3 million to 36 local food deals. In 2015, we started our first non-profit investment club, 2Forks Club in Carbondale, CO, and based on its success, we are now starting SOIL on Colorado’s Front Range.

* F.A.R.M., in Boone, NC, is a café that allows customers to pay whatever they can afford: Food for All Regardless of Means. There is a network of such “one world cafes” around the country, some 70 or so strong. Denver’s SAME Café (So All May Eat) is one. We haven’t yet funded one of these cafés, but I hope we will soon.

Local Soil - GreenMoney Journal

MM Local received a $100,000, 0% loan to assist in structuring their next round of financing.

Here’s how it works.

You become a member of SOIL with a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more. Then, members make 0% loans to local farmers and food entrepreneurs, by majority vote—one member, one vote, no matter what the size of your donation. When loans are repaid, funds are recycled into new loans.

We’ve been utilizing this model for the past two years over in the Roaring Fork Valley, where 33 individuals have contributed a total of $206,000, in amounts ranging from $100 to $80,000, to the 2Forks Club (named for the Roaring Fork River and the north fork of the Gunnison River). Seven loans have been made to date, with more in the pipeline.

“I’ve been farming for 20 years,” says 2Forks member Brook Le Van, “And I’ve never seen anything this heartening in the way it connects people and supports the local food system. Especially in the current climate, with so much divisiveness and uncertainty, this is just what we all need.”

Here in Boulder, SOIL is starting off with $75,000 from a dozen founding members. I am joined on our launch committee by Brian Coppom (Executive Director, Boulder County Farmers’ Market) and Amy Divine (Member, Women Donors Network). Helping us is a Kitchen Cabinet that includes a healthy handful of local folks with experience in food and finance. We’d like to think that given population and geographical factors on the Front Range, we’ll be able to achieve more scale than our sister group in the mountains,and that, over time, if enough of us keep at it, we can grow SOIL into a significant, community resource for funding local food systems, in Boulder and beyond.

Zephyros Farm - GreenMoney Journal

Zephyros Farm, a ten-year-old, four acre diversified organic farm in Paonia and the first certified organic flower producer in Colorado, received $23,500 to purchase a used refrigerated truck.

The spirit behind SOIL is reflected in the Slow Money Principles, which start with “We must bring our money back down to earth” and ends with:

Paul Newman said, “In life, we need to be more like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us ask:

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 percent more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

Such questions point in a fundamentally new direction, although the actions we are taking—making small loans to farmers—are in many ways quite simple. This balance between big questions and small actions is central to the change we are seeking and the community we are building.

Here’s another question, along with the partial answer that arises from slow money conversations:

Q. We’re giving our money to people we don’t know very well, to invest in things they don’t understand very well, halfway around the world in places that most of us will never visit: Does this sound like the recipe for a healthy future?

A. Put our money to work in things that we understand, near where we live, starting with food.

It just may be that, led by farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture and crowd funding and a few pioneering funds around the country, small food enterprises and local investing will mature over time as an asset class that produces predictable, risk-adjusted financial returns.

Or, it just may be that if we really want to nurture the slow, the small and the local, we’ll just have to find the gumption to go slow, small and local with our money — using not only our consumer dollars, but our investment and philanthropy dollars, as well. We may just need to splice into our 20th century investment notions the principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place, soil fertility, diversity and nonviolence.

Or…if that all sounds a bit much…we can just roll our sleeves up, do what we can locally, enjoy getting together once in awhile, celebrate a little conviviality with our neighbors, break bread and make 0% loans to local farmers and food entrepreneurs, for the good of all.

In this time of fake news and fake food, it’s nice to have something real to do with our money.

Poudre Valley Farms - GreenMoney Journal

Slow Money investors have provided $275,000 to Poudre Valley Farms in Ft. Collins, CO pioneering a new model for community ownership of organic farmland.


Article by Woody Tasch, the Founder and Chairman of the Slow Money Institute and author of “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered”, Chelsea Green. Woody is widely renowned as a thought leader in patient capital, mission-related investing and community development venture capital. He is former Chairman and CEO of Investor’s Circle (IC), one of the oldest angel networks in the country, and former treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation.


The Slow Money SOIL 2017 Conference

People are waking up to the importance of the soil. Soil fertility is vital for human health, resilient communities and strategies for combating climate change. But most people don’t talk about soil and money in the same breath.

October 16-17 in Boulder, Colorado, we’re bringing together a group of renowned speakers to explore the relationship between the actual soil and the soil of a restorative economy.Day One will include a full day of presentations, discussions, and productive collaboration, followed by a special evening program. Speakers include Daphne Miller, David Montgomery, Winona LaDuke, Bill McKibben (via video conference), Fred Kirschenmann and many more! Day Two is an opportunity for up to 125 people to focus on SOIL —Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally—our new Colorado initiative. We’ll explore the state of the local food system and what success would look like for this new program. The day will culminate with members of SOIL selecting one or more farmers/food entrepreneurs to receive 0% loans.

Additional Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Trillium Launches New White Paper on Investing in Sustainable Food and Agriculture across Asset Classes

>> Back to June 2017

A group of investors has released a new white paper, Impact Investing in Sustainable Food and Agriculture across Asset Classes: Financing Resilient Value Chains through Total Portfolio Activation. The paper was prepared by Croatan Institute with the guidance and close collaboration of Iroquois Valley Farms, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Organic Agriculture Revitalization Strategy (OARS), Root Capital, RSF Social Finance, and Trillium Asset Management. [See their websites below]

A December 2016 survey conducted by the Global Impact Investing Network found that impact investment assets allocated to the food and agriculture sector had a compound annual growth rate of 32.5 percent since 2013.[3] Using the Total Portfolio Activation approach, the paper provides a framework to help investors expand the scope of investing in sustainable food systems across common portfolio asset classes such as cash, public equities, and fixed income, as well as alternative asset classes such as private equity, venture capital, and real assets. It is the first of its kind to structure a total portfolio approach thematically around sustainable food and agriculture.

“We know that we have a responsibility to align our investments with our values and to put those investments to work to build a more sustainable food system,” said Matthew Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management. “The paper serves as a guide for sustainable and responsible impact investors looking to leverage their investments and broaden their impact across agricultural value chains.”

“Whether your focus is on redeveloping the resilience of local foods systems or fostering sustainable approaches to agriculture at a more global scale, impact investors have a critical role to play in financing links across the value chain,” said Joshua Humphreys, President of Croatan Institute, Senior Strategist of OARS, and a co-author of the study.“As this research shows, impact investment opportunities in this rapidly evolving field now extend across asset classes, and Total Portfolio Activation provides a useful framework for investors to understand those opportunities and re-allocate their portfolios to seize them.”

“By providing mission-driven enterprises across food and agriculture with access to capital, we are able to improve the infrastructure of local food systems while generating greater positive social and environmental impact,” said Kate Danaher, Senior Manager of Social Enterprise Lending and Integrated Capital at RSF Social Finance.

“This paper demonstrates how organizations such as Root Capital can help to address the market failures that have left agricultural businesses around the world chronically under-resourced,” said Rachel Serotta, Director of Investor Relations at Root Capital. “When we provide these businesses with essential capital and financial management training, they become engines of impact in their communities: family incomes rise, food security improves, women get their share, ecosystems thrive, and young people have the opportunity to lead.”


Important Disclosure:
The information provided in this material should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell the securities mentioned. It should not be assumed that investments in such securities has been or will be profitable. To the extent a specific security is mentioned, it was selected by the authors on an objective basis to illustrate views expressed in the commentary and it does not represent all of the securities purchased, sold, or recommended for advisory clients. The information contained herein has been prepared from sources believed reliable but is not guaranteed as to its timeliness or accuracy,and is not a complete summary or statement of all available data. This piece is for informational purposes and should not be construed as a research report.

Caroline White, Communications Manager, Trillium Asset Management
Article Note:
[1] Abhilash Mudaliar, Aliana Pineiro, and Rachel Bass, “Impact Investing Trends: Evidence of a Growing Industry,” Global Impact Investing Network, December 2016.


Croatan Institute –
Iroquois Valley Farms –
Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Assn –
Organic Agriculture Revitalization Strategy (OARS) –
Root Capital –
RSF Social Finance –
Trillium Asset Management –

Additional Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing

‘Drawdown’ and Global Warming’s Hopeful New Math

By Joel Makower, chairman & executive editor, GreenBiz Group

"DrawDown" - GreenMoneyJournal.comApril 18, 2017 marked the publication of an ambitious new book with the audacious goal of showing how to reverse the warming of the planet through a myriad of innovations, many of them led by business for profit.

“Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” (Penguin Books, Drawdown), was edited by the author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken along with a self-described “coalition” of research fellows, writers and advisors. (Full disclosure: I played a very small unpaid role in reviewing parts of the manuscript, and am included among the 120 or so advisors listed in the book. More details at

The book contains 80 solutions — “techniques and practices” — that are ready today, and 20 additional “coming attractions” — innovations just over the horizon — that collectively can draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to solve, not just slow,climate change by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Hawken is quick to point out that the book’s seemingly brash subtitle is a bit tongue in cheek: this is the only “comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” he said. But the larger point is not lost. The book, along with an accompanying website (, may be the first to provide the insight and inspiration, backed by empirical research and data, that could enable companies, governments and citizens to attack the climate problem in a holistic and aggressive way. Moreover, many, if not most, of the solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.

At minimum, “Drawdown” is likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.

Two and a half years ago, as the project got under way, I provided some context for Project Drawdown [1], the nonprofit created by Hawken to produce the book. While its roots date to the early 2000s, the project’s inspiration came in large measure from a 2012 Rolling Stone article by activist Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — “three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe,” as McKibben put it. His article offered a sobering arithmetical analysis underscoring “our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless” global predicament.[2] That article led Hawken to ask, “Why aren’t we doing the math on the solutions?” as he told me in 2014.

The new book aims to do just that: provide the metrics for the solutions needed to solve the climate crisis.

The 80 solutions that make up the bulk of the book are grouped into seven buckets: energy; food; women and girls; building and cities; land use; transport; and materials. To qualify for inclusion, a solution must have proven to reduce energy use through efficiency, material reduction or resource productivity; replace existing energy sources with renewable energy; or sequester carbon in soils, plants or kelp through regenerative farming, grazing, ocean and forest practices.

Each solution is ranked by cost-effectiveness, speed to implementation and societal benefit. Also included for each is its projected savings in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the solution’s total financial cost — the amount of money needed to purchase, install and operate it over 30 years — and its net cost or benefit — how much money would be required to implement the solution compared to the cost of repeating business as usual.

“Drawdown’s” aggregate bottom line is shockingly affordable: When you total up the
net first costs and subtract the net operating costs for all 80 solutions, the net operating savings add up to $74 trillion over 30 years.

Cold Calculations

Consider refrigerant management, the book’s No. 1 solution. Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — the chemicals used in refrigerators, supermarket cold cases and air conditioning systems — have up to 9,000 times greater greenhouse gas warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide,depending on their exact chemical composition. Ironically, these chemicals were tapped in the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons, which were found to deplete the planet’s protective ozone layer.

Last fall, a global deal was forged by nearly 200 countries to phase out HFCs by the late 2020s, but the chemicals will persist in kitchens and condensing unit for decades. Ninety percent of their climate emissions happen when fridges and AC units are disposed of at the end of their useful lives.[3]

On the other hand, creating refrigerant recovery “has immense mitigation potential,” said the “Drawdown” authors. After being carefully removed and stored, refrigerants can be purified for reuse or transformed into other chemicals that do not cause warming, they explain: “The latter process, formally called destruction, is the one way to reduce emissions definitively. It is costly and technical, but it needs to become standard practice.”

The book models the adoption of practices to avoid leaks from refrigerants and destroy them at end of life. Over 30 years, it calculates that 87 percent of refrigerants can be contained, avoiding emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

However, this is not one of the book’s more profitable activities. “Although some revenue can be generated from resale of recovered refrigerant gases, the costs to establish and operate recovery, destruction and leak avoidance outweigh the financial benefit — meaning that refrigerant management, as modeled, could incur a net cost of $903 billion by 2050.”

That’s a far cry from the No. 2 solution, onshore wind energy, not exactly a new technology, but one ripe for scaling; it already is cost-competitive with fossil-fuel energy in some areas, and continued cost reductions soon will make wind the least expensive source of installed electricity capacity.

“Drawdown” calculates that an increase in onshore wind from 2.9 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide and create a net savings of $7.4 trillion from business as usual by 2050.

Adding offshore wind energy could save 14.1 more gigatons of greenhouse gases and generate $275 billion in additional net savings.

Falling Shibboleths

In the run-up to the book’s official launch, I recently asked Hawken how the solutions presented in “Drawdown” differ from what he and his team expected to find.

“We had our biases,” he admitted. “We all do. We had solar and wind right up there. We had ranked managed grazing very high from just reading the anecdotal literature. We didn’t have food as high as we found that to be. We had EVs much higher than they turned out tobe. We probably had pretty much the same list that most people come up with: solar; wind; don’t cut trees; don’t eat so much meat; and electric cars.”

“It may seem logical”, said Hawken, but it wasn’t to be. “The only one of those that made it to the top seven solutions was wind.” One solution never made it onto the final list at all: biofuels. “They don’t actually have any net contribution whatsoever, and that surprised us,” said Hawken. “It’s a shibboleth that fell for us.”

I asked Hawken to reflect on what had changed during the roughly three years between the project’s launch and the book’s publication.

“I think the big shift for us was on the economic side,” he said. “During that time, we might have crossed some threshold where the profit that could be made from the solutions now is greater than the profit being made from the problems.”

Regenerative agriculture is another area of significant progress. “You’re seeing some literally good-old-boy farmers from Saskatchewan right down through Texas and into White Oak farm in Georgia ( — thousands and thousands and thousands of acres. Their costs are going down. Their productivity is going up. Their vet bills are 10 percent of what they were. The yields have increased. The inputs have disappeared. These guys are buying more land from farmers who ruined their land and are going out of business. And they’re practicing regenerative agriculture in different and sundry ways.”

Women’s Work

Still another area that yielded surprises for the “Drawdown” team were solutions involving women and girls. As the book’s authors explain:

Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from disease to natural disaster. At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully — and to humanity’s overall resilience. As you will see here, suppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt everyone, while equity is good for all. These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet.

With world population mushrooming to a projected 9.7 billion by mid-century, food production will need to rise, said the authors, alongside reduced food waste and dietary shifts. Growing more food on the same amount of land cannot be done without attending to smallholders, many of whom are women, whose farming needs have been much overlooked.


Read Joel’s Full article

Article Note

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Global Sustainable Investment Alliance Releases Biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016, now totaling $23 trillion

Global Sustain Invest Review

>> Back to June 2017

In Late March, the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) released its biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016, showing that global sustainable investment assets reached $22.89 trillion at the start of 2016, a 25% increase from 2014.

The Global Sustainable Investment Review brings together the results from regional market studies by the sustainable investment forums from Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand. Market information on Japan was provided by JSIF—Japan Sustainable Investment Forum; data on Asia ex Japan was provided by the Principles for Responsible Investment. GSIA leaders Flavia Micilotta, Executive Director of Eurosif: The European Sustainable Investment Forum; Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment; Meg Voorhes, Research Director at US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment; and Simon O’Connor, CEO of Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), held a media web conference on Monday, March 27 to discuss report findings.

In nearly every market represented in the report, sustainable investing grew in both absolute and relative terms since the beginning of 2014. Europe accounts for over half the global SRI assets (53%), and the United States for 38%. The fastest growing region is Japan—due in part to an expanded survey that provided information for the first time on the sustainable investing activities of numerous institutional asset owners—followed by Australia/New Zealand.

The largest sustainable investment strategy globally is negative/ exclusionary screening ($15.02 trillion), followed by ESG integration ($10.37 trillion) and corporate engagement/shareholder action ($8.37 trillion). Negative screening is the largest strategy in Europe, while ESG integration leads in the United States, Canada, Australia/New Zealand and Asia ex Japan. Japan’s primary sustainable investment strategy is corporate engagement and shareholder action. The fastest growing strategy, although also the smallest in absolute dollar terms, was impact/community investing.

Several GSIA members reported that the consideration of fiduciary duty was an important driver for sustainable investing, along with client demand.

While institutional investors still dominate the SRI market, with pension funds often comprising the largest percentage of institutional SRI assets, interest by retail investors is growing. The relative proportion of retail SRI investments in Canada, Europe and the United States increased from 13% in 2014 to 26% at the start of 2016. Over a third of SRI assets in the United States were retail.

Growing global concern over climate change has resulted in rising interest in green finance, including climate-aligned bonds. In fact, the growing interest in green bonds over the last two years has shifted the average SRI asset allocation. In 2016 in Canada and Europe, most SRI assets were in bonds (64%) followed by equities (33%). This is a flip from 2014 when 50% of assets were in equities and only 40% in bonds. China is another important contributor to the rise in green bonds as China is now the world’s largest issuer of climate-aligned bonds, with $220 billion in issuances according to the Climate Bonds Initiative.


To download the full Report please visit

Report Highlights

At the start of 2016, global sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) investment assets reached $22.89 trillion, a 25% increase from 2014. Europe accounts for over half of these assets (53%), while the United States accounts for 38%.
In nearly every market represented in the report, sustainable investing has grown in both absolute and relative terms since the beginning of 2014.
The largest sustainable investment strategy globally is negative/ exclusionary screening, affecting $15.02 trillion in assets, followed by ESG integration, applied to $10.37 trillion in assets.
Growing global concern over climate change has resulted in rising interest in green finance, including climate-aligned bonds.
Fiduciary duty and client demand are key growth drivers for sustainable investing.

About the Global Sustainable Investment Review

Now in its third edition, the biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review is the only report presenting results from Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand. The report draws on in-depth regional and national reports from GSIA members—Eurosif, Responsible Investment Association Australasia, RIA Canada and US SIF—as well as data and insights from the Principles for Responsible Investment, JSIF (Japan), LatinSIF and the African Investing for Impact Barometer. Together, these resources provide data points, insights, analysis and examples of the shape of sustainable investing worldwide.

The Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016 was made possible through the generosity of the report sponsor, Bloomberg.

About The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance  The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) is a collaboration of membership-based sustainable investment organizations around the world. It includes US SIF, UK SIF, Eurosif, RIA Canada, VBDO (Netherlands) and the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA). The GSIA’s mission is to deepen and expand the practice of sustainable, responsible and impact investing through intentional international collaboration. Our vision is a world where sustainable investment is integrated into financial systems and the investment chain and where all regions of the world have coverage by vigorous membership based institutions that represent and advance the sustainable investment community.

For more information visit –

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2017 Green Transition Scoreboard® Tracks Private Green Investments At $8.1 Trillion

Green Transitions Scoreboard ->> Back to June 2017

In late April 2017, the latest Green Transition Scoreboard® (GTS) found that, despite Trump’s anti-green policies, private green investments now total more than $8.1 trillion USD ($8,133,456,730,370).

Published annually since 2009, the GTS is a global measure of private green investment in five green sectors: 1) Renewable Energy, 2) Efficiency, 3) Life Systems (water, waste, recycling, community investing, e-learning and fintech), 4) Green Construction, and 5) Green Corporate R&D. Government investments have been omitted wherever possible and technological criteria are strictly applied.

The aggregated total is tracked by Ethical Markets Media, Certified B Corporation’s, team of experts and global advisory board, led by CEO Dr. Hazel Henderson, futurist/author and former US government science policy advisor.

Henderson said “The green economy is growing faster than anyone realizes. We knew that this good news on the progress of the global green transition couldn’t be fully covered by mainstream financial media and news programs whose advertising is still from fossilized sectors.”

GTS co-author Tim Nash, The Sustainable Economist, adds “Although the USA is expected to fall behind due to federal policies that put obsolete industries like coal ahead of thriving green sectors, large corporations are stepping up to invest billions in more efficient technologies.”

The full 2017 GTS report titled “Deepening Green Finance” can be downloaded free here: 2017 Green Transition Scoreboard.

Cities and states worldwide are now leading, energized by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many others. The UNEP Inquiry on Design of a Sustainable Financial System is successfully engaging conventional financial markets. Co-director Dr. Simon Zadek welcomed the release of the GTS report,

“With a changed political landscape, the case for green finance has to be strengthened, so your work is very important and has to be widely used.”

The GTS report traces private money shifting from incumbent fossilized sectors to emerging green opportunities. Financial firms are being forced to innovate as pressure grows from all side. Activist ethical investors and divestment campaigns are getting louder. New pressure from above is driven by the National Development Commitments (NDCs) signed by 194 governments under the UN COP 21 and 22 climate accords and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pressure is also coming from below with the rise of Silicon Valley’s Fintech100, including crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and reward currencies like SolarCoin.


For further information please contact:

Dr. Hazel Henderson
+1 (904) 829-3140

Tim Nash, MSLS
+1 (416) 821-9179

LaRae Long
+1 (904) 826-1381

About Ethical Markets, Certified B Corporation

Founded in 2004 with a mission to reform markets and metrics while helping accelerate the global transition from fossil-fueled early industrialism to cleaner, healthier, inclusive, knowledge-richer green societies everywhere. Its “Ethical Markets” TV series is distributed globally to colleges and libraries by or free at This global network of networks connects ethical investors, asset managers,green entrepreneurs, NGO leaders and academics. It sponsors the EthicMark®Awards for Advertising that Uplifts the Human Spirit and Society, with nominations for its 2017 Awards now open at, where past winning campaigns can also be viewed. A full list of information services is at

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From Soil to Sustainability

By Frederick Kirschenmann, Slow Money Journal (Winter 2016/17 issue)

>> Back to June 2017

Defining Sustainability

Soil to Sustainability - GreenMoneyJournal.comAs most everyone interested in sustainability knows by now, the concept has been appropriated by numerous entities and used in various ways, often to achieve different objectives. In his introductory chapter to the excellent 2013 edition of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report, Robert Engelman coined the term “sustainababble” to reflect this “cacophonous profusion of uses of the word sustainable to mean anything from environmentally better to cool”. Increasingly the term is used as a marketing tool, often it is used as an environmental metric, and, of course it is used extensively to describe an “improved” food and agriculture enterprise. While many of these uses may be grounded in good intentions, the result, as Engelman points out, has “a high cost”.

“Frequent and inappropriate use lulls us into dreamy belief that all of us — and everything we do, everything we buy, everything we use — are now able to go on forever, world without end, amen.” – Robert Engelman

Such a “dreamy belief” has certainly been prevalent in most of the visions of “contemporary sustainable agriculture”. Whether one belongs to the school of sustainable agriculture that is fixated on the notion that sustainability can only be achieved by intensifying the technology of our dominant industrial agriculture, or to the school of “greening” the system by inserting more environmentally friendly practices, or to the school that insists everyone must transition to organic, all are grounded in the belief that the fundamental principles of modern agriculture, which emerged in the early 20th century, can continue. According to this standard we simply need to tinker with the current system, in various ways, to make it “sustainable.” Although such “tinkering” can sometimes produce positive, short-term results, it fails to address the new challenges that will emerge in the near future. Occasionally pundits now refer to this “dreamy belief” of sustainability (appropriately, I think) as “Band-Aid sustainability.”

Historical Context

In his engaging book Culture and Agriculture: An Ecological Introduction to Traditional and Modern Farming Systems, anthropologist Ernest Schusky provides us with a summary of how the human species fed itself since evolving on Planet Earth some 200,000 years ago. I think such a historical context can help us to better frame the concept of sustainability. Schusky reminds us that for most of our time on the planet we fed ourselves as hunter-gatherers. Like many other species, we tended to live in small tribes, gather and hunt the food available in a particular place until the food sources became depleted, and then move on to another place. Apparently various methods were also used to limit population growth to keep population density within “carrying capacity”.

It wasn’t until the Neolithic Revolution, approximately 12,000 years ago, that we began to transition from “food collectors” to food producers by domesticating plants and animals. We began to live in settled societies and attempted to produce enough food in place to feed a local, settled population.

As Schusky points out, this new way of feeding ourselves was “land intensive”. It tended to mine the natural fertility of the soil. Consequently, much of this early agriculture was based on “swidden cultivation”, also known as slash-and-burn agriculture. In other words, a common practice was to burn off perennial plants, trees, or grasses — and then cultivate the soil and plant seeds (usually cereals). The natural soil fertility plus the fertility from the ash initially produced good yields the first year. However yields would decline quickly, as natural soil fertility diminished, so the general practice was to slash-and-burn a new plot of ground every year or two, and allow the first to lay fallow for 15 or 20 years before returning to cultivate it again, after soil fertility was restored.

In the mid-20th century we introduced a new form of agriculture, which Schusky calls the “Neocaloric Revolution”, because it is entirely dependent on “old calories”, — fossil fuels, fertilizers, fossil water, etc. The discovery of fossil fuels was the principle innovation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that industrial methods were applied to agriculture on a large scale.

While Justus von Liebig came up with the idea of substituting synthetic fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) for the “laborious” practice of maintaining soil health and Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch devised the means of making ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen in 1909, enabling the conversion to an intensive “input” agriculture—the adoption of that agriculture did not take root as the dominant form of agriculture until after World War II.”

There were numerous agricultural visionaries, soil scientists and ecologists
who issued strong warnings that this “N-P-K mentality” (as Sir Albert Howard called it) was the wrong direction for agriculture since it was contrary to the workings of nature and was, in fact, a “form of banditry” since it would steal the availability of healthy soil from future generations. (Howard, 1943) F.H. King, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Aldo Leopold, William Albrecht, Hans Jenny, Wes Jackson, and many others had similar concerns. They saw that maintaining the health of soil was crucial to any kind of truly sustainable agriculture and were all aware that modern industrial agriculture was still extremely “land intensive” and therefore damaging to the health of the land. We simply substituted “old calorie” inputs in place of healthy soil.

Of course, the immediate short-term benefits of industrial agriculture—the maximum, efficient production for short-term economic return—were too compelling to seriously consider the warnings of such visionaries.

However, Schusky reminds us that our “neo-caloric era” will of necessity be a very short period of time in the time-line of human history. We sometimes forget that this “modern” agriculture depends on a collection of “old”(nonrenewable) calories, which we are rapidly depleting. We also seem to forget that the first producing oil well in the US became operational in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859,(approximately 150 years ago), and it was fossil fuels (especially petroleum) that provided the cheap energy that sustained the entire neo-caloric economy. But all of these old calories are stored, concentrated energy—fossil fuels, rock phosphate, potash, fossil water, etc.—and these old calories had accumulated in the planet over many millennia. But once they are gone, the neo-caloric era, according to Schusky, must end, and we will need to redesign a new agriculture that can be “sustainable” in the post-neo-caloric era.

The point to remember in all this is that unless someone finally finds a way to invent a perpetual-motion machine, current, diffuse energy (sunlight) will never be as efficient (energy return on energy invested) as stored concentrated energy. Consequently, any alternative energy we may invent in the future will never be as “cheap” as fossil fuels have been.

In addition, we need to acknowledge the ecological damage that the excessive use of the old calories has caused — damage that will further affect the “sustainability” of agriculture — more severe weather events due to climate change, eroded and degraded soils, depleted biodiversity and depleting freshwater resources. These are the “sustainability” challenges that will confront us in the decades ahead.

Of course, as the old calories get used up they will become increasingly expensive, so the neo-caloric era will certainly end due to prohibitive costs long before all the calories are used up.

So, a good way to frame the question of sustainability with respect to our future food and agriculture system is to ask ourselves if the current, industrial system (and any “Band-Aids” we might apply) can still be “sustained” when crude oil is $350 a barrel, fertilizer costs are five times what they are today, we only have half the amount of fresh water currently available, we have twice the number of severe weather events, and our soils are even more degraded than they are today.

Anticipating the Future

Given the changes coming at us, a crucial challenge to sustaining a future food system will be to anticipate the changes and get a head start preparing for them. Perhaps we can learn a critical lesson from the research conducted by Jared Diamond. Based on his intensive studies of past civilizations, he concluded that those civilizations that anticipated the changes coming at them, recognized the value of their ecological reserves, and got a head start preparing for the changes were the civilizations that tended to survive for the long term (they were “sustainable”), while those that failed in that exercise were the ones that tended to collapse. In this regard, Schusky makes another important and sobering observation from his studies of human culture — namely, “that humans manipulate their cultures to achieve many practical, short-range goals; what they do not foresee are many more long-term undesirable consequences. Innovations that solve immediate problems often have built-in effects that eventually will cause major problems.” Perhaps these observations, from Diamond and Schusky, are among the most important to consider for anyone interested in achieving agricultural “sustainability”.

Given this scenario, it seems to me that the most urgent task before us now is to do all we can to restore the biological health of our soils, before the remaining old calories become too expensive to be a viable resource for continuing to “sustain” our food system. Of course other issues will need to be addressed at the same time — crucial among them: putting a cap on carbon, restoring our biological and genetic diversity as much as possible, restoring as many perennials as possible (forests and grasslands), eliminating food waste, and implementing the “right to food” and other recent UN proposals. However, key to future food sustainability will be biologically healthy soil!


Read the rest of Fred’s article at

Article by Frederick L. Kirschenmann shares an appointment as Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and as president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

This article appears in the Winter 2016/17 issue of the Slow Money Journal. Details at

Additional Articles, Energy & Climate, Food & Farming

Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey Releases New Book “The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity”

Whole Foods Diet -

>> Back to June 2017

“In the world of popularized diets, we can sometimes miss the broad agreements by focusing too much on the minor differences,” Mackey said. “When it comes to our health, it’s the overall dietary pattern that makes all the difference. By highlighting different proponents of whole foods, plant-based eating in this book, I hope to shed light on the broad consensus that exists among them, empower readers to make more informed food choices that promote health and vitality, and promote unity among the various health diet ‘tribes’.”

Part one of the book focuses on the nutritional science of diet, addresses popular diets, and discussed how health has evolved throughout time and across cultures. The second section provides guidance on how to navigate daily choices and how to adapt the Whole Foods Diet to meet different nutritional needs. This portion of the book also addresses the political, ethical and environmental consequences surrounding our food choices.

The last section outlines the 28-Day Eat Real Food Plan with recipes, shopping lists, helpful tips and tools to support healthy eating at home or when traveling.

Throughout the book, readers will find inspirational success stories and advice from leading voices in the plant-based-diets movement, including experts like Drs. Joel Fuhrman, Michael Greger, David Katz, John McDougall and Scott Stoll. Mackey will donate his royalties from the book sales to his three non-profit foundations, the Whole Planet Foundation, Whole Kids Foundation and Whole Cities Foundation.


More information is available at –

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