Beetcoin funds local non-profit groups that make 0% loans to small organic farms and local food businesses. As opposed to crowdfunding platforms that host individual transactions, this is a new kind of funding system—with emphasis on the word system. Here’s how it works.
Making a donation or loan to an organic farm is a good thing. Doing so strategically, in concert with a growing movement, an even better thing.
Beetcoin promotes systemic change in a number of ways. It links the breadth of crowdfunding to the depth of local decision-making. It works at the intersection of investing and philanthropy. It expands value creation from the level of individual transactions to the level of community and movement.
We can say that Beetcoin’s design integrates elements of philanthropy, impact investing, crowdfunding and microfinance, but this is a mechanistic way of describing a beautiful result—new flows of capital dedicated to preserving and restoring small organic farms and local food systems, in ways that are as widespread, democratic and grassroots as possible.
The replication of SOIL groups is where Beetcoin begins. These groups are local non-profits that make 0% loans and are the flagship of the slow money movement’s second decade. SOIL stands for Slow Opportunities for Investing Locally. Five such groups—four in Colorado and one in Virginia—are currently candidates for Beetcoin funding.
New groups are in the pipeline around the country, along with emerging activities in Israel, China and Nigeria.
As Beetcoin grows, we can expand our network of grantees to include other closely mission-aligned initiatives, such as Our Table Cooperative (OR), Berkshire Agricultural Ventures (MA), Poudre Valley Community Farms (CO), Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, Maine Harvest Credit Union and Farmworks Investment Cooperative (Nova Scotia), as well as local Slow Money networks, all of whom are pioneering local non-profit funding models and catalyzing support for small organic farms and local food systems.
We will report regularly on the progress of the groups that receive Beetcoin funding as well as on the local farming and food enterprises that get funding from them. We will also host regular online events to foster conversation, shared learning and community.
SOIL groups pool local charitable donations from their members and make 0% loans by majority vote—one member, one vote, no matter the size of a member’s donation. To date, individual member donations to SOIL groups have ranged from $150 to $50,000, with farmers joining at $25. More than 375 local donor/members have contributed over $1.5 million to the first wave of five SOIL groups, and 60+ loans totaling more than $800,000 have been made (as of mid-2021). Pre-pandemic, SOIL groups were driven by in-person meetings of various kinds, including business meetings at which farmers and food entrepreneurs make presentations and SOIL members vote on loans. Mutuality, trust, conviviality, shared learning, shared risk—these are not just aspirations, but core elements of the SOIL process.
Your donation joins with those of other individuals from across the land and then flows to local non-profit groups in the form of grants. Most of the grants will be matching—that is, Beetcoin funds will be matched by donations raised directly at the local level. These matching grants will be used to seed the formation of new local groups and promote the growth of existing groups. The aggregation of Beetcoin donations and their strategic allocation to local groups is managed by the Slow Money Institute, in collaboration with Beetcoin Advisors and the Slow Money Kitchen Cabinet. These teams embody shared vision and trust built upon national and international relationships decades in the making.
Small organic farms are businesses, but the benefits they generate are not primarily financial. A vibrant local ecosystem of small organic farms and small food businesses promotes biodiversity, community resilience, climate mitigation and health, yet these do not translate directly or fully into the price a farmer gets for her food. Further, because small organic farms are. . .small and local food systems are. . . local, access to institutional funding is hard to come by. Capital needed to move the needle for a whole new generation of organic farms and local food systems? Even harder.
These are systemic challenges of the most fundamental kind. Some solutions are complicated—as complicated as fake meat and schemes to monetize soil carbon. Others are deceptively simple—as simple as Beetcoin and 0% loans.
Many initiatives have arisen in recent years to reconcile financial markets with social justice and environmental stewardship.
Considerable effort has gone into the development of new metrics, more transparent corporate reporting schemes, third-party certifications and impact investing. Yet, the imperative to generate “competitive returns” casts a long shadow, making it difficult to address fundamental questions about the power of mega-corporations, widening wealth inequality, and the long-term consequences of global economic growth bumping up against ecological limits. 0% is an unequivocal statement of intent to shift, radically and constructively, from an ethos of “how much can we make, how fast” to an ethos of patience and care.
Poet Gary Snyder puts it this way: “If the lad or lass is among us who knows where the secret heart of this Growth Monster is hidden, let them please tell us where to shoot the arrow that will slow it down.”
0% is one such arrow.
In his own entrepreneurial way, Paul Newman shot an arrow at this same target. “We want to be more like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out,” Newman once said. Newman’s Own gives away 100% of its profit—more than $500 million over several decades. 0% is to conventional lending what Newman’s Own is to conventional corporate finance.
A whole book could be written about the ethos behind 0% loans and Beetcoin. Oh, wait ... one was. AHA!: Fake Trillions, Real Billions, Beetcoin and the Great American Do-Over, by Slow Money Institute founder Woody Tasch.
The current decade is pivotal. Organic/regenerative farming and local food systems have a role to play in larger processes of reform, but the big questions are obvious: Can a new generation of organic/regenerative farms move the needle with respect to soil fertility and climate? Can we imagine a resurgence of local food systems robust enough, widespread enough to make meaningful contributions to resilience and healing?
Fifty years ago, there were only a few dozen land trusts in the U.S. Today, there are 1,400. The first community-supported agriculture program in the U.S. was started in 1986; today, some 600,000 Americans belong to 7,000 CSAs.
Fifty years from now? Who knows how many people in who knows how many communities will be making 0% loans to the next generation of organic farms and small food businesses, promoting soil fertility, community, health and peace.