Boulder social entrepreneur and financial activist Woody Tasch is a big believer in the butterfly effect—the idea that small, local changes can have enormous repercussions in the world—as it connects to agriculture and financial investing. He drew on that principle when he started the Slow Money Institute in 2009, a nonprofit that aims to improve local food systems by connecting investors with small, mostly organic farmers and food startups in their own communities. He’s calling on it again with his latest initiative, cheekily named Beetcoin (a play on the cryptocurrency bitcoin).
Tasch introduces Beetcoin in his third book, Aha! Fake Trillions, Real Billions, Beetcoin and the Great American Do-Over, which is available for free in online installments. (A few are already live, with the last set for release in late September.) In short, Beetcoin is a grassroots approach to local investing, where individuals without deep pockets—so, most of us—can help financially support small agricultural businesses committed to doing the right things for the earth. But instead of loaning a farmer $25, an investor’s Beetcoin donation is pooled with funds from many others’ donations. The Beetcoin money supports the growth of Slow Money’s SOIL (Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally) groups. These local groups, four of which are based in Colorado, give zero-percent loans to farmers and startups. “Our hope is that a large number of people chip in $10, $25, $50,” Tasch says. “In the greater scheme of things, it’s small. We hope that over time it’ll grow.”
If you want to be a part of a local SOIL group, you can: Anyone who contributes a minimum of $250 is welcome to join, and everyone in the group gets an equal vote as to which projects to fund. Farmers and food startup owners present their projects to the group, explaining how they’ll positively impact local food systems, whether it’s by switching to regenerative agricultural practices, going certified organic, or anything else moving in that sustainable direction. Once the farmers or business owners repay the loan, the money goes back into the pool, where the process starts all over. “The money you put in stays in, and recirculates indefinitely,” Tasch says.
To date, SOIL groups have lent more than $800,000 to small farmers and food startups, many of which are based in the Centennial State. (Slow Money has given a whopping $75 million to such endeavors over the past ten years.) Recipients include Boulder County’s Aspen Moon Farm, Black Cat Farm, Ollin Farms, and Red Wagon Farm, and Fort Collins’s Native Hill Farm. The SOIL loans—and soon the Beetcoin funds, too—have helped those local farms pay for small but necessary things like drip irrigation systems, a hoop house, and a walk-behind tractor. Nothing big or revolutionary, but little things that improve farming operations.
“We’re not kidding about the slow part,” Tasch says. “The idea is to very slowly grow this thing. We’re trying to build a movement of people who see that banding together with your neighbors to invest for the long-term health of the community is important.”
This type of nurture investing may require new economic thinking, but that’s fine with Tasch. He’s not expecting Fortune 500 companies to make any major pivots overnight; he’s just trying to make do-gooding a little more practical. “If we’re going to do what needs to be done in the world today, it’s going to take lots of small local actions.”