(Slow) Food Launches a Triple Bottom Line FI Investing Journey

I will always be grateful to the friend, who introduced me to Slow Food. (She also opened my eyes to Jack Kerouac, radio in Phili, and so many other cool things.) My involvement with this international movement prompted me to start gardening in earnest and evenetually led to me volunteering at the amazing, mind-blowing, waist-enlarging bi-annual event that is Terra Madre held in Turin, Italy. Imagine spending a long weekend in a huge conference facility filled with unique heritage foods and the beautiful people producing these foods from around the world: tasting these delicious foods, discussing the challenges facing these food producers, and building cross-cultural friendships.

The simple yet important tenants that underpin Slow Food’s international movement state that food should be:

*GOOD: quality, flavorsome and healthy food

*CLEAN: production that does not harm the environment

*FAIR: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers

Given these tenants, it’s not surprising that Slow Food helped birth Slow Money, which “is dedicated to catalyzing the flow of capital to local food systems and connecting investors to the places where they live.” Slow Money chapters have been established in a number of cities and regions across the U.S. Residents of these areas have banded together to invest or lend money at a (s)lower rate of return in their local food system.

The three simple tenants listed above have resonated strongly with me since I first became aware of them. I consider every dollar I spend and invest to be a vote in support of whatever I am purchasing or directing it into as well as a vote against many of the things which I am not purchasing or investing in. As I mentioned in my last post, in the years I was working in Washington, DC I contributed to an employer based retirement account and took advantage of the employer match. At the same time I was becoming more and more disheartened with the investing options available to me through that plan, even the socially responsible ones.

Four years ago, I spent two weeks house-sitting in San Francisco. I was very fortunate that the timing of this house-sit coincided with a Slow Money Northern California meeting. Members of this Bay area Slow Money group have invested in such local food businesses as Love & Hummus, Hip Chick Farms, and Saint Benoit Creamery. It was at this meeting that I learned about self-directed IRAs (SDIRA). These accounts allow one to invest in alternative assets beyond stocks, bonds and mutual funds, most typically into real estate or small businesses. This was the vehicle through which a number of the NorCal Slow Money members were able to participate in these local investment opportunities. I find this concept of investing in sustainably-minded local businesses extremely appealing for numerous reasons. As soon as I learned about the SDIRA I knew that I wanted to open one and transfer my funds out of my employer based retirement accounts into one.

Because I had learned about SDIRAs during a nomadic 2 year period of my life I wasn’t settled and able to research SDIRA custodian companies until I moved to St. Petersburg, FL a couple years later. Finally, in 2017 I opened my SDIRA with a locally based custodian company. To date I have transferred about 75% of the money from my employer based plan into the SDIRA. For reasons I will go into in future posts I have been slow to get the money I’ve moved into the SDIRA invested. For the time being the brunt of this SDIRA money remains in a local credit union checking account waiting to be invested.

The largest portion of the monies I have invested from my SDIRA has gone to purchase a share of a permaculture farm about 60 miles from my home. I am very excited about this investment because it feels so aligned with what I truly value. The couple running this 10 acre farm are doing everything possible to reduce the properties reliance on outside power and water sources, planting a food forest and orchard, teachng classes, and oh so much more.

The next largest transfer of funds from my SDIRA account went to Streetshares, a U.S. based online platform which provides specialty finance products focused on the veterans market, including loans to veterans operating small businesses. Making this investment provides a small drop of relief in the bucket that is my frustration with how much of this country’s budget goes to the Department of Defense and how little of it goes to the Department of Veterans Affairs to support those who served our country often under such trying circumstances.

I have also invested in four sustainably-minded or community-focused businesses through, an online crowdsourcing platform for start-ups. It feels so good to use my money to fund 1) the revitalization of a historic Chicago neighborhood into a Black food & culture hot spot 2) buffalo based meat and fruit bars based on the Wasna tradition of the Lakota 3) an app to connect farm workers with good farm work opportunities 4) market intelligence and trading tools for recycling industry professionals.

Outside of my retirement accounts I have a few thousand dollars invested in alternative energy and Chinese currency ETFs. I’ve also dabbled in peer to peer lending through Prosper and Lending Club.

There are RISKS associated with all of these investments, but there is also risk associated with investing in the stock market. In future blog posts we will explore these and other alternative investment vehicles available to those who want to be more intentional in ensuring their money supports a triple bottom line. I want to be clear that I am still in the early stages of the learning process regarding these investment options and I am not a certified financial planner – far from it. I’m simply someone who so desparately wants to keep her money out of mainstream stocks and other extractive investment vehicles that I’m willing to  put the time and energy into exploring some alternatives. I hope to learn from all of you as well so please share your thoughts and knowledge in the comments section below and throughout this website.  

Is it important to you that your investments support a triple bottom line? If so, do any of your current financial investments support a triple bottom line? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

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