Utne Reader Visionaries share their latest projects, ideas, and visions for the future.
Woody Tasch is the founder and chairman of Slow Money, an organization that urges Americans to invest in small, sustainable, and local food systems. The Slow Money alliance doesn’t maximize investors’ profits regardless of environmental and human costs—which is exactly the point. Instead, profits are centered around stronger, more stable and sustainable communities. Tasch is the author of Inquiries in the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. He was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 2010.
A few years ago, in Mark Anielski’s book The Economics of Happiness, I came across the words of Robert F. Kennedy, from the 1968 Presidential campaign. After recovering from the chagrin of not having heard these words previously, it became my pleasure to share them occasionally during public events. It was surprising to learn just how many folks have never heard them and wonderful to see how deeply audiences resonated with them.
We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. … It includes … the broadcasting of television programs, which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.
And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials … the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America—except whether we are proud to be Americans.
Today’s world of sound bytes and fast money has no time for such discourse. A billion dollars of fast money purchasing TV ads, it seems, is all too much like hundreds of millions of tons of NPK fertilizer applied to industrial farm fields—past the point of diminishing returns we zoom, degrading public discourse and diminishing the fertility of the soil as we go.
Which brings us around to the leaping earthworm, one Brook Le Van, who, with his wife Rose, operates Sustainable Settings, a few hundred acres organic farm near the Crystal River, at the foot of Mt. Sopris, in Carbondale, Colorado, and who, at the dais of a recent anti-fracking rally in Denver, displayed considerable imagination and erudition. It takes considerable reserves of both, when talking about cows and pigs and raw milk and food sheds and the water resources of Thompson Divide, to leap all the way to “anthropocene reductionism.” But Brook did it. In public. In a five-minute talk. I was there.
I’m looking forward to my next conversation with Brook, who is a Slow Money founding member, so that he can elucidate the relationship between Slow Money and anthropocene reductionism.
In the meantime, let’s appreciate the nuanced thinking behind RFK’s rhetoric and the strength of Brook’s grounded activism and remind ourselves that every time we support a small food enterprise, we are voting in a powerful, direct way for life after fast food and fast money.
Image: "Money" by Aaron Patterson, licensed under Creative Commons.