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Slow Money: An interview with Carol Peppe Hewitt and Lyle Estill

Slow money authors and advocates talk about why people should think local instead of global when it comes to money

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Carol Peppe Hewitt and Lyle Estill don’t have any money. They want you to know that. But someone does, and they want you to know that, too.

The two authors and advocates came to Orlando recently to discuss the principles of slow money, the movement to get ordinary people to invest (sorry, lend; we’ll explain the distinction later in this interview) small amounts in local entrepreneurial endeavors, rather than putting their money into large national investment banks. The term “slow money” was created by former Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation treasurer Woody Tasch. As a companion concept to slow food – the movement toward more local food production – slow money encourages people to use their risk capital on ventures specifically related to food and agriculture.

Back in North Carolina, where she’s from, Hewitt founded Slow Money NC, which can boast having connected more than 50 entrepreneurs with more than 115 slow money loans. She used those stories to write her book, Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food With Slow Money. She tours with friend and fellow activist Estill, author of numerous books on sustainability and the founder of Piedmont Biofuels, a small energy concern in Chatham County, N.C. The two of them spoke at East End Market to an open group one night and then to an invite-only meeting of local activists the next morning.

While the term slow money is often tied to food-related endeavors, the implications are much larger. The system proposes a way to get communities more invested in their own health and security, but it can look risky for those searching for start-up capital or thinking about making a loan. Not only is the potential for loss present, some may fear stepping on the toes of state and federal regulatory agencies.

Whether you’ve got a dream for a small business or a few thousand dollars you’d like to see at work in your own town, Hewitt and Estill’s advice and philosophy is a good place to start.

Orlando Weekly: Why would anyone get into slow money? Why do it – from either the perspective of an investor or an entrepreneur looking for financing? Why would slow money be the way to go, as opposed to traditional investment?

Lyle Estill: Most of this stuff is too small for banks to be interested in, so if you’re a borrower, you do it because you can’t get other financing. And, from an investor’s perspective, you do it because it gives meaning to your portfolio.

Carol Peppe Hewitt: And it strengthens your local community. It builds relationships with people that run projects that you think are inspiring and valuable. Broadening that idea of meaning in your portfolio, what’s meaning for you? For most people, part of that is connection to other people. And then you really are adding businesses – farms, businesses – to your community that you can then enjoy. So there’s a payback beyond financial.

Probably the scariest question for most people looking to invest is how to properly vet what you’re investing in. How do decide if the business you’re looking at is sound?

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