Slow Money showing growth

STAFF WRITERMarch 7, 2012 

  • Slow Money NC is holding a "Booch, Beer and Sustainable Business Gathering" from 6-8 p.m. today at Ninth Street Bakery, 136 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham. (Booch refers to kombucha, a fermented tea drink.)

    There will be a light supper of local food and drink followed by presentations from the Ninth Street Bakery, Greenways Transit and Homegrown City Farms about their expansion projects.

    At 7 p.m., Bryan McGannon with the American Sustainable Business Council will speak.

    For more information about Slow Money NC, go to slowmoneync.org or call Carol Hewitt at 919-656-8889.

You may have heard of the Slow Food movement, which started as a response to fast-food Goliath McDonald's opening in Rome in the late 1980s. The group encourages production of local, sustainable food and has chapters all over the world.

Let me introduce you to Slow Money, a movement hoping to finance local food entrepreneurs and grow local food systems.

The Triangle group, Slow Money NC, has made small, low-interest loans totaling more than $500,000 to more than 20 farmers, food businesses and others since June 2010.

It was started by Carol Peppe Hewitt and two friends, Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels, and Jordan Puryear, who started the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival. The trio heard Woody Tasch, a founder and chairman of the national Slow Money group, speak and decided to help local farmers and other food entrepreneurs unable to get bank loans.

The majority of Slow Money NC's loans average about $5,000 and have helped such businesses as the Reliable Cheese Co. in Durham and Castle Rock Gardens in Chatham County. However, 16 people came up with almost $400,000 to help Chatham Marketplace, a grocery store co-op in Pittsboro, refinance its loan.

Slow Money NC is like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, two popular online fundraising tools used by hopeful entrepreneurs, but Slow Money NC replaces the online portal with face-to-face interactions. Tonight, interested folks are invited to the Ninth Street Bakery in downtown Durham to consider funding several projects, including a $30,000 loan to build a deck there.

Hewitt hopes there are folks who feel the same way she does about bakery owner Frank Serrell: "I can't eat enough baked goods to support Frank to the extent that I would like to."

Hewitt points out that she's not a banker. She merely connects local people who are willing to make loans with local business owners who need financing - an idea that encourages community and resonates with Serrell.

"Just like we're getting control of the food that we eat, I think we need to get control of our money," Serrell says.

A beneficiary of a Slow Money NC loan is Angelina Koulizakis-Battiste, owner of Angelina's Kitchen, a small farm-to-table restaurant in Pittsboro. Koulizakis-Battiste's business started as a takeout place with a table for two.

When the space next door became available, Koulizakis-Battiste wanted to add 23 seats but she couldn't come up with the $6,000 the expansion would cost. She and her husband went to three different banks. Each rejected their loan application. She refused to resort to a credit card with a high interest rate. With Hewitt's help, Koulizakis-Battiste got a $6,000 loan at 3 percent interest.

"Slow Money totally came to our rescue," she says. "It's the best thing we ever did for our business."

Slow Money NC reminds me why I love the Triangle's vibrant local food scene. The demand for local food is so high that we add farmers markets every year. Farm-to-table restaurants thrive as well as farm-to-table food trucks, and you can sign up for weekly deliveries of local vegetables, meat, cheese, seafood and even soup. People aren't just supporting the scene with their appetites; they are opening their wallets even further.

Not only does that foster community and strengthen our local food scene, but it also means more good food to eat.

Weigl: aweigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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