Inspiration and practical advice: investing in food, soil

Resilient investors are typically very attuned to the need and opportunities for investing in local, regional, and global farmland and habitat regeneration. Even recently, it was often difficult to find viable avenues for making these investments, but things are changing fast.  See our Zone 6 resources for many tangible, evolutionary options; and here are two recent online articles that offer both practical advice and big-picture perspectives that may inspire you to dig into this zone more actively.

The first is a great overview from Don Shaffer of RSF Social Finance.  Published in Green Money Journal, this piece is a clarion call from a long-time leader social investing.  He leads off with this:

We believe it is now imperative to make a two-pronged case for sustainable agriculture: (1) it is the obvious choice for ecological stewardship reasons, and (2) we can feed the world in the 21st century using these methods. If you doubt this, I urge readers to check out developments at the Center for Diversified Farming Systems at UC Berkeley, for example. CDFS includes a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who are busting the myth that we need industrial-scale monocrops and massive applications of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides to support a food economy that can work for all.

While rightly highlighting some of RSF Social Finance’s many offerings (including their Social Investment loan fund, as well as several new and very targeted philanthropic funds: Social Initiatives, Soil Health, Biodynamic Farming, and Fair Trade), the article also cheers on key regional Community Development Financial Institutions in several regions, providing links for those who would like to invest in their area, as well as pointing to a couple  of other key national initiatives that offer investment and loan fund opportunities for resilient investors.

We were especially taken by another article that he points to, from Peter Donovan at the Soil Carbon Coalition.  Here, Donovan suggests that we need to reframe our approach to the emerging field of carbon sequestration, and see it as a larger-scale investment:

Carbon is not just a thing, but a complex–and complicated–chemical eddy in the flow of sunlight energy. We could think of the soil carbon opportunity differently, as the possibility of an investment in biological work and power, as an investment in a process rather than the imprisonment of a substance. We could and should slow the carbon cycle or circle of life, not stop it.

Recognizing investment is also much easier than quantifying sequestration. You can know if it’s working or not by sustained increases in soil carbon, water infiltration, and year-round photosynthesis and production without increasing inputs from nonrenewable energy. Biomass and litter cover can be reinvested in the form of surface litter, more absorption and retention of rainfall, and habitat for soil aggregate formation.

We totally agree with his concerns about the fuzzy metrics of counting the carbon being sequestered in most of today’s initiatives; as long-time permaculturists and gardeners, we are fully on board with this reframing toward investing in soil health, and very familiar with the many valuable ways that these investments pay returns, to us, to the earth and air, and to local ecosystems.  Explore the Soil Carbon Coalition website for more inspiration (including an interactive map featuring projects that are tracking soil carbon gains and losses, illustrated above)—then invest some time following links from Don’s article and our Zone 6 resources, to decide how your resilient investing plan can dig in a bit deeper in this crucial work of growing local farms and supporting soil health.

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    Rich Bailey


    We have one solution to sutianable secure freshwater and agriculture production. We welcome comments. Good article!


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