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Is It Time for a Green Tea Party?

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The idea of a Green Tea Party is awfully seductive.

What civility-craving, green-of-center soul wouldn't want to create something to counter the Tea Party's name calling and negativity? Is the Coffee Party the answer? (Evidently, it has over 170,000 fans on Facebook in a few weeks.) A Green Tea Party? (Turns out this name was used last year but didn't seem to go very far. I wouldn't be surprised to see it come into play again.)

Yet, however it's spun, rhetoric of the Tea or Coffee or Green Tea kind doesn't seem to completely hit the mark. It doesn't satisfy. It doesn't nourish. It's the political equivalent of empty calories and junk food, leaving us hungry for the real work of fixing our country, healing our cultural wounds, mending our broken financial system.

We all share an abiding frustration at the dysfunctions of Wall Street and Washington. We are deeply frustrated at the damage caused by money that is too fast, investment banks that are too big and government programs that are too complex. But the mark we are trying to hit isn't in Washington or on Wall Street. It's much closer to home. It's right here, in our own backyards, in our communities. That's why David Brooks wrote last week that both the welfare state and the market state are models that have failed.

So after we're finished with all the Partying and the protest politics, all the harangues against government that is bogged down and markets that have gone haywire, let's get down to work.

The new direction in which we must head can be called many things: relocalization, rebalancing, rebuilding, revitalizing, restoration and preservation, redevelopment, job creation, retooling, decentralization. This will take many shapes. I would suggest as one of the cornerstones of this rebuilding process the following goal: a million investors investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.

Investing in local food systems as a remedy for our cultural and political ills? Yes.
The first decade of the 21st century has already been labeled a lost decade, a decade of financial bubbles and terrorism, wars and deficits and a disastrous decline in political civility. Nothing is better suited to the course correction at hand than local food systems. Of all the things that need fixing in this country, none is more immediately fixable or better positioned to effect lasting cultural and economic healing than local food systems.

That's why when Change.org ran its competition for the Top Ten Ideas For Change in America earlier this month, two of the winners were farmland preservation and school gardens. That's why Food Inc. was nominated for an Academy Award. That's why Michael Pollan's books are bestsellers. That's why Slow Food has 100,000 members around the world. That's why farmers markets and community supported agriculture are enjoying such an upswing. That's why Buy Local campaigns and chapters of the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies are springing up all over the country. That's why Slow Money (of which I am the founder) was cited by Business Week reporter John Tozzi as "one of the big ideas for 2010."

We have begun the process of putting our money where our food is. And because our health depends upon more than caffeine (that is, Tea, Green Tea and Coffee can only get us so far. . .), we can sense, as we address the issues of our food system, the beginning of a more fundamental rebalancing.

In a world where our money is zooming around the planet investing in God Knows What, or, even worse, Wall Street Knows What, we should not be surprised to end up with a food system that imports tainted food from China, suffers from e coli outbreaks and recalls, gets only about a dime of every food dollar to the farmer, pumps our livestock full of antibiotics, and results in epidemics of obesity and diabetes side-by-side with hunger.

The litany of problems is long, but the point is clear. We need balance--and the balance we need must be achieved in both our food system and our financial markets. We don't want to be dependent on crazy financial schemes or far-flung food supply chains, the security of which is impossible to guarantee. We don't want our investments or our food filled with ingredients that we do not understand. We want new, simpler recipes for economic, social and personal health.

So, let's start fixing America--restoring our shared sense of purpose and our common dreams--from the ground up, starting with food.

Let's start building a new financial services sector, the nurture capital industry, to create the products, services and social networks necessary to support 1% of our assets being invested in local food systems. If it is prudent for the largest institutional investors to fund the venture capital industry, investing tens of billions of dollars per annum in a few thousand highly-speculative, high-tech companies, then we must see to it that it becomes prudent for millions of us to fund the nurture capital industry, investing billions of dollars per annum in tens of thousands of lowly-speculative small food enterprises and local food systems.

In a way, what could be more Tea Party-ish than this? The government is not going to fix our country. We are. One local investment at a time. One farm at a time. One school lunch at a time. One small food enterprise at a time.

Woody Tasch is Chairman of Slow
Money
, a non-profit dedicated to steering new sources of capital to local
food systems.  He is author of Inquiries
into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility
Mattered
.

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