Two guys walk into a bar on a Friday night in August. What do they debate? The upcoming Bucks’ season? Nope. The summer concert line-up? Nope. The best tasting summer ale? Nope, nope, and nope. It turns out they talk about whether charity is necessary in a society that is truly equitable. At least this was the topic being debated between the two guys I eavesdropped in on this past Friday.
Pretty heavy stuff for two guys at the bar, you might think. On a Friday night. In Columbus, Ohio. Debating the necessity of charity in society. What’s going on? I have my theories, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Prior to walking into the bar, I had participated in an event focused on Slow Money. I, along with several other community activists run the local chapter that supports a national movement focused on grass-roots community investing for farming and food-based businesses.
Our event brought in two authors from North Carolina. Carol Pepe Hewitt, author of Financing our Foodshed: Growing Local Food with Slow Money, is the national organization’s model for making Slow Money happen. In just a few years Carol has been the catalyst in over 80 peer-to-peer Slow Money inspired loans for small businesses in North Carolina. Her book tour co-pilot, Lyle Estill, is the author of Small Stories – Big Changes, Agents of Change on the Frontlines of Sustainability. The stories Lyle tells are inspirational and often heart-breaking. Each story exemplifies the will not just to survive, but to sustain. The challenges of our culture and society make this path a rough one that only the bravest endure.
Along with hearing stories from all over, we told stories of our own. Thirty some people gathered to listen to stories of farming in Ohio. What would having a few cold frames do to extend the growing season for a local organic farmer? What does having new distribution channels from farms to neighborhoods, school organizations, and employee wellness participants do to the supply chain? How does a family farm focused on heritage livestock breeds and heirloom vegetable varieties get saved from the auction block?
These questions and others were asked and sometimes answered, but sometimes the answers eluded even the experts in the group who live and breathe in the local food arena. One question in particular stood out – What are we hoping to accomplish – what will success for our Slow Money organization look like?
So we return to the two guys in the bar debating about the necessity of charity in a truly equitable society. Just the simple fact that this was the topic being discussed gave me hope that we are a society that is changing. Sure, perhaps I just happened to stumble upon two poli-sci majors and everyone else at the bar was discussing the latest episode of Honey Boo-Boo. But I’d like to think not.
I’d like to think that transformative organizations like Slow Money, Forge Columbus, SBB (Small Business Beanstalk), and Evolver Columbus are making a difference. The fog from the decade of decadence – my generation, the 1980s, is still lifting. I have friends of my generation who are still focused on creating a financial cocoon that a nuclear explosion couldn’t penetrate. Maybe it’s due to leftover angst from all those music videos portraying glamorous wealth projected against a backdrop of Russian Soviets. (Think Little Red Corvette followed by 99 LuftBallons.) Maybe it’s been instilled through stories of financial ruin passed down through generations. Whatever the cause, the time for these cocoons has passed.
I’d like to think that someday debates about charity, investing in our community, our social structure and sustainability become commonplace among all members of society. The two guys at the bar on Friday were an affirmation that a change is happening. If two guys on a Friday night are debating a topic as deep as this, think of the potential for meaningful conversations at community cook-outs, coffee shops, or other gatherings across the state.
The central Ohio Slow Money group is in its infancy – we’ve only been meeting on a regular basis since early 2012. We’ve made a couple loans as a group and inspired several others. We are taking steps to redefine capitalism and are filling a need for supporting small businesses in a way that our systems and institutions do not.
Our vision for success is still being defined, but I do know that whatever it becomes, the world will be a better place for it.