Thoughtful Investing in Farming and Food


On a lovely summer evening in June, 150 people came together for the kick-off of Slow Money Minnesota. The event came about because of the energy and interest bubbling up locally around how Minnesotans can do more to support a healthy local food system. The gathering provided an opportunity to learn about investing in food and farming, as well as sampling delicious local fare.

While Slow Money conversations have taken place in Minnesota, and some Slow Money-style investments have occurred, the timing was right to broaden the dialogue and leverage efforts. The event was designed to set the groundwork for expanding the flow of funds to promising and growing businesses, provide people at various levels of wealth to be able to invest locally, and, as a result have more successful farm and food businesses.

Movers and shakers from across the food, farming, and investment sectors, as well as interested individuals, attended the gathering. The great turn out was in part credited to the team of 20 hosts who helped get the word out to their friends and colleagues, provided input into the event, and pitched in as needed.

The program was short and lively. It began with introductory remarks and an overview of Slow Money. Then a panel of people representing different perspectives shared why they came, and the audience had an opportunity to pipe in too.

Next came three examples of local investing. First up was Joe Riemann, who shared how he and friends formed The Cooperative Principal, an organization whose aim is to propagate and support investment clubs focused on co-ops. The first club, CP Local 001, has been running for about a year and has invested $10,000. Debunking the myth that you have to be rich to invest, club members each invest $50/month. Members research co-op investment opportunities and at their monthly meetings share what they have learned and collectively make decisions on where to invest.

The second presentation featured Keith Adams. At age forty-five, Keith decided he wanted to follow his passions and start making cheese. Not in a position to get a conventional loan, Keith turned to his friends who pooled their funds and invested $150,000 to help him launch Alemar Cheese. He noted, “While any sensible person would have quit during the beginning years, I wasn’t sensible.” Alemar’s award-winning cheese is now distributed to stores across the country, and in 2014, Keith was able to give his investors their first dividend checks.

Ryan Schildkraut and Ben Klassen rounded out the investment presentations. As business attorneys, they had seen the struggles of businesses to find financing to start or grow their businesses. One client, Brauhaus Brew Labs, turned to Kickstarter and successfully raised the additional capital they needed to launch their business. This prompted the attorneys to look into the possibility of equity crowdfunding. They learned that to make such a mechanism legal would require legislation to be passed in Minnesota. Undaunted by the task, Ryan and his colleagues spearheaded an effort to get legislation introduced and passed in 2015. The new MNVest law, while still in the rulemaking phase, promises to provide new opportunities for businesses and investors.

The next part of the evening featured mini pitches from seven entrepreneurs. These included farmers, food processors, restaurants, and farming support organization. For their two minutes of fame, businesses shared their visions, their innovations, and their values, which ranged from connecting consumer to producer, localizing agricultural imports in the face of climate change, and combating economic injustice for immigrant farmers. The entrepreneurs included: Punk Rawk Labs, onFarm Storage Inc., Gyst Fermentation Bar, Keepsake Cidery, Hmong American Farmers Association, Hidden Stream Farms, and Mighty Ax Hops.

“If we are talking here about actually taking money and changing the world, let’s not just use the triple bottom line, let’s not do it just because it makes economic sense, let’s not just do it because it helps the environment, let’s not just do it because it helps community, but let’s think critically: What is the world that we could recreate with our money?”

—Pakou Hang, Hmong American Farmer’s Association, speaking at the inaugural Slow Money Minnesota gathering

The event concluded with networking and brainstorming, and participants left excited about the possibilities of using investing to support the Minnesota food system. The event was organized by a task force convened by Renewing the Countryside in cooperation with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Sustainable Farming Association, Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund and the FEAST Local Food Network. It was partially supported through a grant from North Central SARE, and grew out of previous support from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, The Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and Northwest Area Foundation.