Occupy Dirt: Slow Food Meets Wall Street in SF, Where We Talk to L.A. Growers About What They Need

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Photo by Elnur via Shutterstock

Throw 400 growers and producers from 50 states with another 400 "investment" types onto the warehouse event space that is Fort Mason in SF and you get the third annual Slow Money Conference.

A few big corporate sponsors like Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms have stepped up to engage the dialogue about "slow food and the capital that makes it happen." Looking at the crowd you can spot the farmers and artisanal cheese makers from 50 yards. Lots of plaid and trucker hats worn without irony amongst the farmers. Prada eyeglasses and blue blazers amongst the investors. But halves are looking to "hook up" at the orchestrated pitches and the more informal "Organic Artisanal" vodka-fueled receptions.

I cornered some of the farmers looking to secure the cash needed to be local and sustainable. Here's what some of our L.A. growers, yep Angelenos, are seeking:

MR. TEZOZOMOC, SOUTH CENTRAL FARMERS

What do you grow?
We grow worker owner cooperatives. We grow ethnic, mixed organic vegetables (hey, kale is now ethnic?!). We have the largest CSA in L.A.

Where exactly do you grow?
We used to grow in South Central Los Angeles. In what used to be the largest community garden. Now we farm in Buttonwillow, California.

What obstacles do you face?
Local LA city politics. LA food policy does not support the restoration of the orivinal farm. Capital to start another cooperative. Mostly resources, capital, equipment, land, and water.

What do you need from the Slow Money investment community?
We need $350,000 investment to start another cooperative. Secure more land leases and capital equipment.

DAN ALLEN, FARMSCAPE

Whaddya grow?
We grow organic vegetables for residents, schools, and restaurants in Los Angeles. We start by working with them to set up raised beds, and we manage these plots on a weekly basis - from planting seeds and starts to leaving a harvest basket on their doorstep, and everything in between. We have been lucky enough to work with courageous trendsetters over the past three years on more than one hundred sites throughout the LA area.

Where?
We operate in the Los Angeles metro area, from the Westside to the Inland Empire and the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay.

What are the obstacles to being a grower?
In Southern California, we sit on top of what used to be some of the most fertile farmland in the country. Our biggest challenge is convincing people to have their yards represent their values by growing food and not grass.

Whaddya need?
We are looking for forward-thinking individuals and organizations who are excited to transform their landscapes, as well as capital to help us expand our operations.

Chili farmers from New Mexico and Washington state apple ranchers are also in attendance but harder to glean answers from under their 10 gallon hats when it comes to finance questions (big city press types don't elicit trust, what?). I did manage to get Denver urban farmer and Growing Power partner Lisa Rogers of Feed Denver to take a stab at the same questions about slow food financing.

Whaddya grow?
At Feed Denver we grow farmers through model incubator farms and hubs...and education programs. We grow fresh soil, veg, and fish (aquaponics) in infill city lots and our own greener greenhouses. Our herbs, greens, and heirloom veg are sold onsite and at our urban food hubs which also serve as education centers and community commissaries.

Where?
Denver, CO. Mile high!

What are the obstacles to being a grower?
Soil, knowledge, and experience...time and supporting resources

Whaddya need?
Seed money to stabilize our early operations and to strengthen our capacity to fully realize our mission. ($70-170k)

Notice the similarities? Notice the not-so-unreasonable requests for just that little nudge to kickstart their slow food ambitions? I'll track down a few farmers who are "occupying dirt" and then I'll find out some motivations from the "Wall St." side and why the two worlds are working together.