By Galen Guerrero-Murphy, MBA Candidate, Marlboro College Graduate School
The closing plenary session of the Slow Living Summit was introduced by Ralph Meima, Director of the Marlboro MBA in Managing for Sustainability Program, by highlighting a central theme of this summit: there is much to be gained, much that is latent. And these big things will be achievable through our interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation. The plenary session exemplified the cross-discipline collaboration and community focus that is happening, right now, bringing us ever closer to a slow reality.
The plenary panel was comprised of Terry Mollner of the CREW Fund, Trusteeship Institute, and founder of the Calvert Fund; Jesse Laflamme of Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs; and Cathy Berry of Slow Money.
Jesse kicked off the plenary session with an introduction of his family’s business, Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, a summary of the industry, and the importance of small-scale, organic methods. He described the shift in focus to organic methods that occurred on his family’s farm 15 years ago. Notably, he argued that if the dairy industry wants to get a sense of what is going to happen in their industry, they need look no further than to the egg industry over the past 20 years. As a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, I buy Pete & Gerry’s and Nellie’s eggs, and appreciate that there are farms distributing eggs with the Certified Humane standard in areas where little alternative to mega-farm eggs exists.
(That being said, when I find myself working in Vermont, I buy eggs roadside at any number of farms that put a couple dozen boxes of eggs by the road. I can see the living conditions, I can see the hens. To me, this intimate connection with my food is what slow is all about. Pete & Gerry’s is a great start to getting “slow eggs” distributed regionally to those consumers who have no other option. But we need more urban and suburban coops.)
Cathy followed with her thoughts on our human role (and predicament) and money’s importance in defining that role. She’s not going to tell you where to invest your money—slow money is about identifying where you are, how you live, and then focusing investments and transactions after reflecting on these questions. “Slow money is about looking at our lives and saying this is the circle that matters,” she commented.
On the topic of our human role, she commented that the historically-reinforced notion of human as conqueror must be revised. This notion has separated us from nature. We must remember the long forgotten truth that we are part of nature, not its conqueror. (On the subject of nature, I highly recommend Kate Soper’s book “What is Nature.”) Upon recognition of our role as part of nature, we must also realize our role in making the system work (community, environment, earth—NATURE—all the systems we are part of).
Tying this back to money, Cathy argues money largely defines how everything around us happens. We are a transactional culture. Re-imagining the concept of money is thus critical to redefining our role. We must think of money through how it fits our role in this space (community, nature…), and how it is an integral piece of our role in society.
What is an example of slow money, one may ask. Collateralizing a neighbor farmer’s tractor is such an example. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Cathy emphasized. But we’ve got to keep the grassroots, community focus so we don’t need the “outside guy to tell us what to do and give us the money.”
Another important topic Cathy touched on is security. Keeping money, food, and services local provides security—it makes our local systems resilient, diverse, and adaptable. In a natural disaster, wartime calamity, or economic breakdown, having local self-sufficiency keeps the community secure.
Check out slowmoney.org for assistance connecting the slow money dots.
Terry concluded the plenary session with a summary of CREW Fund, which is designed to help individuals and their communities create endowments, avoid painful securities laws, and invest in projects that can vitalize their local areas. Terry emphasizes the program turns multi-level marketing upside-down. The program strives to create ownership and investor autonomy at the lowest levels and to focus investments at a community level. To paraphrase Terry, you can give priority to the common good and be extremely successful at business. You don’t have to be greedy and cover it up with a bunch of niceties.
I’m fascinated by this model and feel it to may well provide a much-needed, subversive and collaborative investment network that prioritizes community investments while undermining the current economic paradigm and power structure. I’m certainly interested in investigating this more. Find out more for yourself at crewfund.org.
Comments from the audience were optimistic, thankful, and inspired. The Slow Living Summit certainly fueled attendees’ passion, fostered new ideas, and inspired optimism. We’re on the verge of big things. Big thanks to the SLS for providing this critical interdisciplinary setting to nourish our collective creativity.
(I’m inspired to plug one audience member’s comment: Brattleboro will have its first local, frozen produce processing facility so residents can enjoy local food year-round. Look out for it!)