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5 Ways You Can Boost Your Local Food Economy
April 30, 2014
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local food economy

An article by Emily Main that appeared in Rodale News, interviewing Derek Denckla, Network Coordinator for Slow Money NYC.

Around April 15th of every year, people fill out their tax forms and maybe hand over a chunk of their earnings to the IRS and their local and state governments. It’s a fact of life no one can avoid.

But have you ever thought about where that money goes? The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has calculated that $9 billion in taxpayer money was paid to farmers as insurance and other subsidies in 2013, and much of that went to farmers who were already billionaires and didn’t need the help. That same year, the bottom 80 percent of farmers who aren’t wealthy got about $5,000 apiece, according to EWG.

While you may never be able to opt out of taxes, you can opt out of supporting big agriculture operations, and do tons to support small farmers in your day-to-day life, says Derek Denckla, chair of the New York City chapter of Slow Money, a national nonprofit committed to increasing investment in local food systems. “The majority of people invest in the stock market, but we want people to invest in their local food system.”

More From Rodale News: How Your “Slow Money” Can Change the World

Shopping at your farmer’s market is a great place to start—but it’s far from your only option. “You can think of investing in a variety of different ways,” he says, and you don’t need thousands of dollars and a stockbroker to start….

#1: Shop locally. Even if you don’t have any extra money lying around, you can invest some of your weekly food budget in a local food business, be that a farmer’s market, a locally owned bakery, or a butcher shop that sells regionally raised meats. This kind of “conscientious consumerism” is even as simple as asking your favorite restaurant or grocery store if they use local ingredients.

#2: Join a CSA. If you have a bit more cash on hand (like, say, an IRS refund), invest it in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. These are investments in their own way, Denckla says, because you’re buying shares in a farmer’s harvest similar to the way a stockbroker buys shares in a company, only you profit in fresh veggies rather than money (and after all, you can’t eat money!). Of course, it can come with similar risks: If some disaster wipes out a farmer’s crop, you’re still out the money. But the farmer at least has some financial support to rebuild his or her farm for the next season.

Join Derek Denckla and Slow Money NYC on Friday, April 25, 2014, for Food + Enterprise, a daylong program dedicated to promoting change in the local food system, presented as part of the Food Book FairBuy a Day Pass Here.

#3: Move your money to a credit union. Big banks lend money to big companies, but small banks and credit unions are more likely to keep their loans close to home. “Move your money into a local credit union, and that allows those lending institutions that are aligned to your values to loan funds to businesses that you care about,” Denckla says. You might find a credit union that lends only to food and farming businesses, and some even provide no-interest loans to people who’d like to join a CSA but don’t have the $200 to $500 it can cost to buy a share.

#4: Give a local business a leg up. Thanks to sites like Kickstarter.com andIndiegogo.com, it’s easier than ever to invest in local businesses and nonprofits looking to get off the ground or expand their operations. And there’s no minimum investment, so you can help out as much as your credit-union account will allow.

#5: Be an “angel investor.” This might be an option only for the 5 percent, says Denckla, but “if you have $1,000 to spare, you have the minimum amount to place in funds that have a more direct impact on things you care about.” For instance, one small nonprofit called Equity Trust invests in farmland preservation and allows lenders to pick the repayment interest rate, so you can get some return on your investment. Another national group, RSF Social Finance, offers a variety of investment funds that support food and agriculture operations that benefit people locally and regionally. You can find other social-investing opportunities atSlowMoney.org.