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Slow Money Conference BillboardSlow Money, a national movement to transform the landscape of funding our food system, convened their fourth National Gathering earlier this week. In pursuit of goals such as to “accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration,” the organization has attracted some of the greatest minds on the forefront of finance and food to a common cause.

With shared agreement on preeminent principles, attendees descended upon Boulder, Colorado, Slow Money’s new home, to continue the conversation, among them 13 BGI students, one faculty member, and numerous alumni. A sunny first day begin with a welcome by Slow Money founder Woody Tasch and a compelling conclusion by Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food. Highlights flew through the twitterverse, captured at #slowmoney

  • Amanda Thomas ‏@emeraldedible
    @SlowMoney founder, Woody Tasch: let’s move #capital, near our neighbors, in places we understand, small business enterprise #slowmoney
  • Slow Food USA ‏@SlowFoodUSA
    RT@emeraldedible:”We live in a society where we spend more on losing weight than to eat. We’ve lost common sense”#CarloPetrini @ #slowmoney

Esteemed BGI Change Agents in Resident (CAIR) were in attendance, inspiring ongoing connections and dialogue about important systems change starting with our food system:

  • Marjorie Kelly ‏@marjorie_kelly
    @TellusInstitute: Facing urgency – pinwheel, one arm moving big change, another creating #generative alternatives #slowmoney
  • Bryan Welch @ranchocapp, @MotherEarthNews: With capability comes responsibility #slowmoney
  • Joel Solomon ‏@joelsolomon
    The #SlowMoney impressive 25 generative values laden entrepreneurs who did 5 minute pitches on stage. Courage + Love

Slow Money BGIAn important premise of Slow Money’s work has been to change the ecosystem of investing: “It starts with the soil. Entrepreneurs are the seeds. Investors are the water.” This was evidenced in the rapid fire entrepreneur showcase, which featured one BGI current student’s business Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies. Awards were given to two outstanding participants:

  • @Revision_Intl On fire with #cooperative #grocery, #generative #change making, fantastic! #slowmoney entrepreneur showcase #inspire #neweconomy
  • @HaydenFlourMill, the people voted, bravo! #slowmoney

Current student Diane Freaney caught up with Emma from Hayden Flour Mills, who’s honoring was celebrated soon after. Another Slow Money startup success story added to the week’s experience: Credibles, crowd-funding for small, sustainable food-related businesses, was a great platform for conference goers to support and enjoy local restaurants.

  • Arno Hesse @ahesse, @ediblecredits: Where our food comes from – they eat before we do. Pay it forward! Feed the system that feeds you #slowmoney

Speakers spanned a spectrum of investors, practitioners and thought leaders from NGOs such as FarmAid and SlowFoodUSA and many others doing good work across sectors:

  • Daniela Ibarra-Howell, @SavoryInstitute: Everything ties back to carbon: water, food, etc. Let’s put carbon back where it belongs #slowmoney
  • judy wicks @jwicks333, @bealocalist: 1st step of #neweconomy, choose a place, take responsibility & create a place you want to live & work #slowmoney
  • Mary Berry, The Berry Center: We are in a cultural, agricultural & environmental free fall #slowmoney
  • Mary Berry, The Berry Center: Educate our youth for #homecoming rather than #upwardmobility #slowmoney
  • @marjorie_kelly, @TellusInstitute: What kind of economy is suited for living inside a living being? #slowmoney

The depth, curiosity and intent of the participants and organizers was palpable. This created a courageous environment of vibrant possibility for the future of food and finance.

  • Amanda Thomas ‏@emeraldedible
    A listening recap: A deep hunger for healing & restoration and a deep gratitude that we can see it beginning to happen here #slowmoney #hope

Current BGI student Beth Robinette summarized the concluding sentiment with these poignant words in the closing circle, spurring us on to continue with hope and clarity:

“I’m struck by the urgency of this work. I hope you all feel energized and inspired by what you have learned these last two days.
Lets continue to conversation with everyone we come across.
But let’s not stake our success on swaying others or converting them to our cause.
Let us build the new system and attract others to our cause with our success.
We do not have time to ring out hands and fret because people call us dreamers.
We are dreamers.
Nay-Sayers be damned.
Politicians be damned.
Extractive corporations and abusive economic systems be damned.
Let us actualize our dreams with urgency and prove to those who would doubt us, or who cling to a dying system, that they are the ones who are asleep.”

Blog originally featured by Bainbridge Graduate Institute:

Systems Thinking, meet Design Thinking: A perfect match.

Photo credit: Brian Bomhoff

It’s about the journey, not the destination. This mantra sums up the overarching takeaway from summer’s Creativity & Right Livelihood class, generously applying to both topics. The power of innovation within each realm was powerful to eat, breathe, and think continuously while at Channel Rock for eight days, returning to orientation’s 140-acre off-grid eco-retreat center on Canada’s delightfully remote Cortes Island:

The 12 hour, three ferry adventure to and from captured the essence of the journey while the carefully orchestrated days of reflection and team process in between the travel spoke volumes. Encountering our authentic selves in a new light while shifting between multiple team processes, all while being unplugged and in a magically creative setting and state of mind, was liberating and empowering.

Photo credit: Amanda Thomas

Taking first year’s Hybrid MBA practice in systems thinking, with its brief foray into design thinking, to a new level felt like exercising a latent muscle that strengthened with consistent iteration and rapid prototyping over the course of the week. Combined with fascinating guest lectures and onsite opportunities to implement open inquiry via fieldtrips, we grew as a group in process and execution, culminating the week with team presentations. In a fun burst of creative exploration my team crafted a video for the business From Around Here while working from concept to pitch in 24 hours:

Our personal reflections became evident across small peer discussions and group exercises, finally evidenced in individual natural constructions, storytelling our present place in right livelihood in poignant and meaningful ways. The opportunity to play thoughtfully while being surrounded by co-learners in a delightful natural setting was everything I hoped for and more: another BGI delight for the memory books. A meteor shower overhead with bioluminescence in the bay each evening didn’t hurt either!

Photo credit: Brian Bomhoff

Fueling Food: Future Focused

“zero hunger” future — zero stunting of children for lack of adequate nutrition, zero waste of food and agricultural inputs in societies where people do not get enough to eat.” ~ Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, The Future We Want 

In a world with an unknown future before us, we have the opportunity now to influence the outcomes that will be experienced in our lifetimes and by future generations. With the current juxtaposition of hunger and  waste escalating, the issues of food waste, water and energy use in the food system are paramount to consider, study and address in the spectrum of contexts from local to global and personal to collective.


As sustained growth will continue to be needed in the face of constraints, we will need to produce more food on the same amount of land with less water. The cereal example is a prime instance where marked change is necessary, being that 30 percent of grains are lost to waste across the crops’ lifecycle.  Challenges such as these will require courageous innovators who continue to look beyond our current paradigms to create new concepts and business models that spark our imaginations. Here are some recent favorite examples experiencing marked success:

  • By creating an approachable, personal connection to food cultivation, Berkeley’s Back to the Roots is bringing a waste to food experience into homes.

  • German startup, Efficient City Farming is bringing mobile aquaponics into the heart of urban settings, requiring 50 percent less water & 70 percent less land to achieve closed loop vegetable and fish production.

  • Rubies in the Rubble is a small London producer making a large difference, birthed out of an environmental mission to divert food waste paired with the social objective of job creation – “what you put into life, is what you get out” is their vision embodied in an array of chutneys.


All this is fine & grand, but at the end of the day how can we each do our part to turn the tide? Consider these simple solutions to begin Reducing Food Waste at Events & find ways to Reduce Food Waste in 5 Easy Steps. The fundamental shift to begin to Waste Not, Want Not  starts with each of our individual decisions on a daily basis. May this result in a collective mindfulness across our world, of the bounty of food it provides us and the precious resources we must steward with gratitude.

“FAO believes that feeding all the of the earth’s population is possible if bold policy decisions are taken on enhancing poor people’s access to food, levels of food waste and how agriculture is used for non-food purposes. All depends on the choices made today in managing agricultural and food systems.” ~ FAO, Towards the Future We Want 

Fueling Food: Irony & Opportunity

Connecting many dots of previous discussions here, just this month Oregon passed model legislation allowing bycatch – which in Oregon is most often salmon (a sad loss in any amount, but especially as an average 8% is wasted across the industry) – to be processed for food bank use, a win-win for diverting a present waste stream while making a much needed source of healthy protein available.

Efforts like these are beginning to draw attention to this significant topic, as acknowledged in a fascinating McKinsey & Company study released late last year. Resource Revolution points to food waste as the third highest of fifteen areas in regards to opportunities for savings, both in resources and financial benefits – an estimated $252 total and $90 billion in reduced consumer food waste alone, which uses “8 times more energy than post-harvest waste” (Resource Revolution, p. 72). Exploring the different situational challenges in developing and industrialized countries, the main barriers regardless are summarized as capital intensity, supply-chain bottlenecks, and entrenched behaviors. Catalyzing change via pairing technology and research – whether being used to measure, track or improve food waste – is the key next direction the study targets.

Such research is being undertaken in beginning stages, such as FAO’s Global food losses and food waste 2011 study. Its results lead to illuminating, confirming data:

  • “Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.” ~ Cutting food waste to feed the world

The irony of this latter statistic, with vegetables being “the most commonly wasted food in U.S. homes, making up some 25% of avoidable waste” (Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?), is stunning when we consider how we’re wasting most what we need to be eating more of:


Fueling Food: Global Impact

Choices have consequences and the escalating impact of daily decisions equaling global and generational change is alarming. This year’s WWF’s Living Planet Report identifies and illustrates outcomes of our current choices, such as this:

Sadder still is the realization of how much of this commercial fishing depletion results from bycatch – while NOAA is beginning to track and monitor U.S. catch, the opportunity for improvement is massive worldwide, due to the state our our oceans.

The more thoroughly we understand our context as individual consumers in a global food system, the more possibility we can create for lasting change. Daily decisions are not stand alone and the rippling effects of a broken system and an off kilter food culture in the U.S. are showing up in lethal ways.

“One of the most striking aspects of the global food market is that while almost one billion people are undernourished, another billion are what the industry likes to call over-nourished – or obese.” ~ John Elkington

Our current ways are impacting many, from our children and to our oceans. Will we sit by, blindly eating every meal, or can we stop to think, consider our choices and their potential to create change with every bite? I know we can and hope we will.

Fueling Food: Policy & Possibility

“80% of the world’s hungry are directly involved in food production”

~ GOOD infographic

This colorful depiction of our current state and crises brings central attention to the two sides of food waste: beginning of supply chain spoilage due to challenges with storage, refrigeration and transport in developing countries and the high level of end use waste in industrialized nations. The juxtaposition of these issues framed by the opening statistic is fascinating when considering how low agricultural exposure there is typiclally with the demographic involved in the latter wastefulness. Perhaps this points to parts of the system that could lead to leverage points, and while we mull over behavior change, for now what do we do with our present waste stream to reduce its amount and capture value from inevitable food waste?

First, make the system visible – Finland has recently done so with the Foodspill I project documenting its progressive low level of waste in distribution:

Compare for example to Canada:

With a much higher percentage of household generated waste, policy efforts to effect change in this sector are beginning to bring momentum through small but substantial changes such as in Vancouver BC. Messaging to participants is as key as the policy enactment is itself and creative ways to frame the conversation continue to be needed.

“There’s no question that waste is an opportunity. Waste has incredible energy potential, and if that potential can be harnessed in a way that doesn’t unleash pollution, it can be transformative on a national scale.’’ ~ Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator

Exciting state specific policy is being formed in the U.S. to address commercial food waste, with breaking news out of Massachusetts. The impact this could equal is illustrated by numbers captured in 24 hour waste audit  at one Illinois Whole Foods.

Beyond compostable matter, associated packaging is an interesting component of food waste these efforts will have to address. What if the possibility of less to no packaging waste existed? Or does it? Enter the upcoming Austin, Texas grocery:

Fueling Food: Mindfulness & Innovation

“Of the land-community much has been consumed, much has been wasted, almost nothing has flourished. But this has not been inevitable. We do not have to live as if we are alone.”

~ Wendell Berry, 2012 Jefferson Lecture

The current of attention on food waste is rising the tide and lifting national and global efforts to address this problem through creative innovation. JWT highlighted “Food as the New Eco-Issue” in their annual ten trends in the coming year as well as in 100 things to watch:

From these large global corporate efforts to celebrity coverage to iconic local grocers taking a stand, the motivation and relevance of this topic can no longer be overlooked.

A driver behind this growing conversation is the embedded water involved in food production.

“About 65 percent of the water that we consume is in our food….If present levels of consumption continue, two-thirds of the global population will live in areas of water stress by 2025.” ~ Waterwise

Take for example 1/3 pound of beef, raised industrially:

 From an industry with troubling costs such as these can come promising advances as well, with the potential of anaerobic digesters becoming a reality. The opportunity to combine food waste with animal waste to create energy is being tried, tested and found successful across the U.S. and the world.

The Plant is taking a systems approach even further through repurposing a former Chicago meatpacking plant and creating a self-sustained vertical farm, brewing kombucha and beer while farming vegetables and fish, all in a symbiotic closed loop system centered around a digester. With ingenious replicable models like this leading the way, hope for the future is tangible and edible.

Fueling Food: Earth Day Opportunity

96 billion pounds per year = $136 billion/annually,

11 million pounds per hour,

3,000 pounds per second

of food is wasted in the U.S.

One Third

“North American consumers make more food waste than anyone else on the planet. But there’s an upside to that:

Just about any improvement will mean progress.”

~ Monica Eng, Diving into the food waste problem

We can seek solutions on so many fronts: home, school, work, restaurants, grocery, retail, production, transportation. What if instead, these entities banded together to address the problem across a system?

A simple ask for change followed in the 2010 documentary Dive details Jeremy Seifert’s exploration of L.A. grocery dumpsters and the policies in place that lead to such waste. Taking a daring stand, feeding his young family a primarily dumpster-based diet, Seifert exposes specifically the practices of Trader Joe’s that leads to bountiful nightly waste.

“Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you”

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Turning the brokenness of the food system on its head by living off its waste, Seifert makes an important statement about the ramifications of collective corporate decisions and the potential for consumer impact upon awareness. While past & present efforts driving change exist, a unified stance will be required to turn the tide in the hearts of consumers and the minds of corporations. Sharing is caring and today, on Earth Day, with future generations in mind, may we hope, ask for & actively seek change, individually & collaboratively.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

~ The Lorax