What’s at stake? Investing in food and farming communities for optimal systemic health

By Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems


Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems

Vital Systems

Why Care about Food and Farming?

As food writer Michael Pollen says, “We are what we eat.” And the way our food is grown becomes both our bodies and the living land we eat. In the gastrological cycle, we eat and we uptake nutrients from our food which gives us our health and vitality. Vintner Paul Dolan says, “Plants fully express themselves—fruit fully expresses itself by bringing health and vitality into the space. If the space is healthy, the yield is a healthy regenerative system.” Now that we know we are all one intricately connected entity, let us begin to include our new sense of who we are—who sees, who speaks? Let’s look at food through our natural systems lenses. Further, we could begin to realize in a very deep, visceral way that all living systems are International Year of Family Farming. Investing your asset value transferred from fossil fuels or like holdings that you divested from your portfolios, would provide a “sea change.” Work with the Agrarian Trust to direct these funds in Community Land Trusts and Agricultural Land Trusts with Affirmative Agricultural Easements.


Living systems are healthy when all components hold efficiency and resilience in balance. This is our 3.8 billion year old heritage. Let us consider a natural systems lens. In a watershed water is always moving. An ecosystem is alive when energy flows freely through the system. Our economies are alive when we keep our assets in circulation. I conceive “capital watersheds” as biomimicing the hydrologic cycle, where money flows from larger financial reservoirs (long term assets) through a series of locks (specific protocols) to the tributary foodsheds. These flows continue on to finer allocations until they reach infrastructure and market investments to grow robust programs in local food and farming communities. This flow of capital investments has proven viable, and it produces tremendous community benefit.

By creating a capital watershed together we become aware of our financial inventory. This enables us to negotiate collaborations that draw from family funds, pension funds, funds with ESG benefits, and many other sources. By charting this financial asset landscape we can structure any investment to support our vulnerable food and farming communities.

There are critical, viable investments in search of capital from the capital watershed. Working collaboratively to produce more good food products sustains fertile agricultural land, multi-generational farm knowledge and farm culture, while ensuring that the land and farmers sustain their collective effort as the source of our food chains.

What Kind of Investments and Collaborations Have Been Created

There are two sources of capital—public good and market. Below we’ve given one example of each.

Example 1: Public Good Capital

Example 1: Public Good Capital

Colusa County in California undertook an economic development project to raise the average income of members in their community and increase the quality of life by increasing spending power in the county through job development. In this case, the capital watershed model uses the following flow:

Congressional Appropriations Committees allocate funds to HUD.

HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) allocates funds to State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

HCD forwards the grant to Colusa County.

Colusa County hires consultant, Community Development Services (CDS), to structure and maintain the allocation of funds toward a job-creating, local food enterprise, Premier Mushrooms.

CDS found financial partner, Farm Credit West, and netted 45 full time jobs for low-income community members and continues to track loan repayments.

Colusa County uses the loan repayments to further fund community necessities.

This capital watershed example worked because Federal capital was brokered by State oversight to a county with seasoned professional consultants who restructured the debt, complied with the CDBG requirements, and tracks required tasks on an ongoing basis.

Example 2: Market Capital placed in A Direct Relationship-Driven Investment

Example 2: Market Capital placed in A Direct Relationship-Driven Investment

Capay Valley Farm Shop is a 30-farmer community-owned distribution Food Hub. The enterprise grew from an internal community effectiveness strategy and was augmented by Slow Money Northern California equity investors. With flow of capital from the community and Slow Money, Capay Valley Farm Shop was able to buy trucks and rent a warehouse. The enterprise negotiated a mutually beneficial relationship with a fresh food web ordering and delivery service in San Francisco called GoodEggs.com Capay Valley Farm Shop products are 50 percent of GoodEggs.com sales in the region. In turn, 30+ percent of Capay Valley Farm Shop’s profit is from GoodEggs.com. Both enterprises are pleased with their relationship, and both are growing their capacities to serve individual, enterprise, institutional, and web distribution clients as a result. Increased income is earned, grows further infrastructure, and secures the land and lifestyles to sustain the sources of the food chain. Illustrated here.

Consider this

Everyday, we receive health and resilience from the knowledge and discipline of our food and farming providers.  We need them and they need us. I want to live in support of living systems. How do I live with the knowledge that robustness in food and farming systems roots us to a sustainable future? Knowledge of their failure puts all living systems in jeopardy.

Join a local Slow Money Chapter and share due diligence with like-minded direct relationship-driven investors

Start or restructure your Community Fund to feature local food and farming enterprises open to all investors

Plant your seeds for health and resilience!

Theo Ferguson, Founder, Vital Systems, Inc., food and farming investor and activist, http://vitalsystemsca.com

Memberships: US SIF, Slow Money NoCal, Founding Member: Slow Money National

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the information and referred me to others.

Article By Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems

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