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Farmers, investors connect through Slow Money gatherings

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Luke Girling was not expecting a famous musician to drive a tractor on his Oceanside farm last weekend -- and then to be thanked for the experience.

But Girling, a farm manager for two Carlsbad restaurants and now an owner of a small organic farm, has learned that help shows up in unexpected ways.

Jason Mraz, along with Scott Murray, a local organic farm consultant, arrived at the 2.5-acre Cyclops Farm on Saturday morning and spent a few hours prepping the land. Girling continued the work through the weekend to get ready for his first growing season.

“We all need a little bit of help when we’re starting our businesses, and that’s why we’re here,” Girling said during Tuesday’s Slow Money SoCal gathering. “We’re trying to promote local foods and local goods. With the help of people that are very generous like Scott and Jason, I’m gonna get this great bump start to get started on this organic farm adventure.”

Slow Money SoCal acts as a gathering point to connect farmers, entrepreneurs, investors and everyday people, who are all interested in developing alternatives to strengthen and diversify the local food system.

The three-year-old group’s eighth event in San Diego was held earlier this week at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station and drew about 120 guests, who were instantly treated like friends and family.

Fourteen entrepreneurs offered samples of their goods -- including mead from Golden Coast Mead, paleo baked goods from Primal Bake Shop, spice blends from Savour This Kitchen, kombucha from Living Tea Brewing Co. and jams, spreads and vinegars from Krafted. Attendees learned about the philosophies and inspiration behind these small companies, and they also heard from local leaders during a panel discussion titled “The True Cost of Food.”

Similar events occur monthly, rotating between San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, and they can draw up to 200 attendees who want to connect with each other, with entrepreneurs and with the organization.

“We’re not here to sell to you anything or recommend anything; it’s really about creating a gathering where people can start to meet each other and help each other out,” said Brent Collins, executive director of the SoCal chapter.

He said the organization is about offering an alternative to “fast money” that leads to short-term profits.

“It’s really about place-based, relationship-based, experience-based process of investing, so we’re not going through a broker; we’re going directly to somebody who represents an opportunity to help us,” Collins said. “It’s helping to build healthy enterprises, communities and ecosystems. It’s achieving an ROI that’s more than profits.”

Slow Money aims to shift money away from the corporate Wall Street model and invest it in Main Street, which also represents half the GDP and is responsible for 75 percent of job growth, Collins said.

Investing in a company when you’ve met the founders and understand their philosophies offers local benefits through jobs and profits, minimizes risk, has the potential for better long-term returns, and is fun and socially rewarding, Collins said.

He became interested in the links between food, health and the environment when his son was diagnosed with autism, and doctors weren’t able to offer solutions. He spent a year researching, and left his position as a business growth strategist at a financial services company.

Consumers are essentially brainwashed, Collins said, and Wall Street’s grasp on the markets is horrifying. “This has gotta change,” Collins thought to himself. “Everyone recognizes this, but they just have this grip on us.”

People are becoming detached from each other, but Slow Money aims to be a mechanism to keep communities engaged, according to Collins. “Everything comes down to personal relationships,” he said.

To support local companies, Slow Money encourages the use of KivaZip, a third-party platform that provides 0 percent loans to entrepreneurs in both the United States and Kenya, with lenders starting as low as $5. Once returned, loans are recycled to other entrepreneurs.

Also supporting Slow Money are local investor networking clubs, which can endorse KivaZip borrowers. Members have access to $5,000 each. The Orange County club currently has about 10 members, but it’s aiming to grow to about 20, meaning companies could have access of up to $100,000, said Michelle Greenwood, the community collaboration director.

All participants are careful to note that they follow regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission: Slow Money events are not an offer to sell securities nor a solicitation of an offer to buy securities. The organization does not give investment advice, endorsement, analysis or recommendations. Essentially, Slow Money facilitates relationships, which could then inspire investments.

Frank Golbeck has received a variety of support through his involvement with Slow Money, and he is an advocate for local food systems and local investment.

Golbeck started making mead -- an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water -- about 10 years ago, first for family and friends. Four years ago, he started brewing mead professionally and co-founded Golden Coast Mead in Oceanside. After moving into its own production facility, the company now is able to distribute to 150 stores in Southern California, including Whole Foods and Cost Plus World Market. Golden Coast Mead also has two tasting rooms -- one in Oceanside and a new location in Julian.

Golbeck, who is proud to use local honeys in his meads, said he met many individuals who later offered loans at events such as Tuesday’s gathering at Stone Brewing.

“It’s been wonderful, because collaborating over our shared values has enabled a whole range of opportunities,” Golbeck said.

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