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Pioneer of Slow Money Movement Launches Beetcoin to Boost Small, Local Farms

When it comes to funding local farms and food startups, social entrepreneur Woody Tasch believes slow and small wins the race. That’s the principle behind the Slow Money Institute, which Tasch founded in 2009, and his latest initiative, Beetcoin.

The Slow Money Institute connects investors with independent farmers, thus “catalyzing the flow of capital to local food systems, connecting investors to the places where they live and promoting new principles of fiduciary responsibility that ‘bring money back down to earth,’” according the nonprofit’s website.

The institute promotes the formation of self-organizing local groups with a focus on local sustainable farming. The groups host public meetings, on-farm events and pitch events and help facilitate peer-to-peer loans, investment clubs and nonprofit clubs making no-interest loans. According to the website, the institute’s work has generated more than $73 million for 752 food enterprises “in deals large and small.”

this photo shows the family that owns Ollin Farms, a recipient of a SOIL group loan connected to the Slow Money Institute and Beetcoin.

Ollins Farms in Longmont, Colorado, received a zero-percent loan from a local SOIL group.

According to Denver publication 5280.com, Beetcoin, which grew out of the slow money movement, allows individuals “without deep pockets” to invest in locally owned agricultural businesses “committed to doing the right things for the earth.” These small donations from microinvestors are pooled, and the money goes to support  local Slow Money’s SOIL (Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally) groups, which give zero-percent loans to small farmers and startups.

“Our hope is that a large number of people chip in $10, $25, $50,” Tasch told 5280.com. “In the greater scheme of things, it’s small. We hope that, over time, it will grow.”

There are presently five SOIL groups in the U.S.—four in Colorado and one in Virginia. Those five groups thus far have received $1.25 million from 304 members and issued nearly $800,000 in zero-percent loans to 60 agricultural entrepreneurs. There is a membership fee of $250 to join the group, and all members get an equal vote on which projects to fund.

Recipients of loans have included Two Roots Farm in Basalt, Colo.; Ollin Farms in Longmont, Colo.; and Native Hill Farm in Fort Collins, Colo.

pictured are the owners of Two Roots Farm in Colorado, recipient of a loan from a SOIL group connected with the Slow Money Institute

Two Roots Farm, located in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, received a no-interest $7,500 loan from a SOIL group to help purchase materials for a mobile walk-in cooler and a drip-irrigation system.

To receive funding, farmers and food startup owners pitch their projects to the group and explain how they will make a positive impact on local food systems. The loans might be used to pay for a new tractor or a drip irrigation system, whatever is needed to improve the operation. Once the loan is repaid, the money goes back into the pool for future loans. “The money you put in stays in and recirculates indefinitely,” Tasch told 5280.com.

“We’re not kidding about the slow part,” Tasch added. “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 … If we’re going to do what needs to be done in the world today, it’s going to take a lot of small local actions.”

Is Insect Agriculture Key to the Future of Sustainable Farming?

In a warehouse nicknamed “the Love Shack,” somewhere near Vancouver, black soldier flies are buzzing busily about, mating and making baby bugs and more baby bugs—up to 600 eggs at a time. Left alone, the larvae will quickly mature into grown-up flies, but most will never make it that far. They’re destined for something much greater—helping to solve the problems of sustainable farming, according to Reasons to be Cheerful, the digital news publication founded by rock star/artist David Byrne.

Easy to grow and packed with protein, fat and calcium, black soldier fly (BSF) larvae actually feed on food and agricultural waste—think stale bread, rotting mangoes and squishy veggies. And the larvae, in turn, make a perfectly good meal for livestock, including pigs, chicken and aquaculture-grown fish. After they’re fattened up, the larvae’s bodies can be pressed into a fat-rich oil, while BSF bodies can be ground into a high-fat, high-protein powder meal. Even their molted skins and feces serve a good purpose—they can be processed to make fertilizer.

Feeding the world’s livestock populations is a monumental task that puts considerable strain on the environment. As Technology Networks reports, livestock gobbled down more than 1 billion metric tons of feed in 2016 worldwide. Forty-four percent of the feed was produced for poultry, 27 percent for pigs, 22 percent for cattle and 4 percent for animals grown in aquaculture.

Grains, soy and fishmeal comprise most of the diets for poultry and pigs, while cattle also get small amounts of grain and soy in their diet. Even fish, which mostly eat pellets of fishmeal, consume some soy, grains and legumes.

this infographic illustrates how insects can boost sustainable farming efforts

Black soldier flies require a fraction of the space needed to grow soybeans. (Infographic by EnviroFlight)

Technology Networks notes that 80 percent of the world’s soybean production currently goes to producing animal feed. But growing soybeans requires large tracts of land, harsh chemicals and tremendous amounts of water, resulting in vast deforestation, decreased soil fertility and serious damage to the environment and biodiversity. In other words, feeding the world’s massive populations of livestock pose a vexing problem to companies committed to sustainable farming practices.

Enter the lowly insect. Most livestock species eat bugs anyway. And bug farming requires a tiny fraction of the space needed for soy cultivation. Even better, BSFs feed on waste, thus easing the pressure on landfills. Since wild fish are used to make fishmeal, bug farming could also reduce over-fishing. And unlike most crop plants used for animal feed, insects can be cultivated year-round.

High-level cultivation of BSF larvae can produce between 1 million and 2 million pounds of protein per acre, compared to 1,500 pounds per acre by soybean growers.

As Reasons to be Cheerful reports, Bruce Jowett, director of marketing for Enterra, a Canadian operation that sells farmed fly larvae products to commercial feed companies, said, “This is the future of food. We are diverting food waste from the landfill, and black soldier fly larvae convert it into protein.”

Chickens consume 44 percent of livestock feed.

Enterra is one of a number of early-stage insect agriculture companies, most of which raise BSFs. European companies include AgriGrub in England and Protix, which operates farms in the Netherlands and China. France’s InnovaFeed has built the world’s largest insect production facility to date and produces 300 tons of insect meal per year, with plans to scale up to 10,000 tons annually.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is exploring the use of insect agriculture for chicken feed to cut back on the need for soy protein. “That pioneering work is currently at the proof-of-concept stage,” Nicola Robinson, the sustainable supply chain manager for McDonald’s Corp., told Reuters last year. “We are encouraged by initial results and are committed to continuing to support further research.”

Reuters also notes that insect agriculture must still pass muster with government regulators, who need to make sure ground-up bugs won’t introduce new toxins into the food supply. Thomas Gremillion, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, said the method of using insects as animal feed must be thoroughly tested before consumers will accept it. “If there was a big change in how animals are being fed, I’d want to see some extra scrutiny of whether the animals were accumulating any kinds of toxins from the insects,” he told Reuters.