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Jody Smith Williams' - "Going Green"
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Slow Your Money Down and Help Yourself at Home

Are you upset about corporate greed and a financial system that rewards big banks with bailouts, excessive bonuses and no consequences for bad behavior -- while the other 99 percent of us watch our real wages, home values and 401-Ks plummet?

Do you wonder what investments the dollars in your 401-K are used for, and if they're sustainable?

Do you miss the original Waterfront Market, a locally owned, community-minded shop for healthy food?

Charlie Wilson has a plan that addresses all three of these questions and offers you a chance to join the Slow Food-Slow Money revolution.

Three years ago Wilson created Help Yourself organic restaurant in a tiny space on Fleming Street. With her restaurant, Wilson's intention has always been to create not only a place to fill one's belly with delicious and nutritious foods -- although it does that extremely well -- but also to share her knowledge and enthusiasm about health, nutrition and "better business" with the community, without compromising ethics or integrity.

When Wilson sees a need, she looks for a solution. Disappointed by the demise of the Waterfront Market and lack of access to fresh organic produce, Wilson set up her own farmer's market at Help Yourself. The weekly market has evolved into a community event: a place to buy a wide assortment of organic produce, local coconuts, tropical fruits and handmade crafts while meeting old friends and making new ones.

As wonderful as the Monday market is, Wilson's vision goes beyond. Two recent twists of fate have converged to launch her vision into reality. First, the organic-produce distributor stopped delivering to the Keys. Second, the laundromat space next to Help Yourself became vacant. And voilà: Wilson knew the time was right to expand her organic market and simultaneously set up her own organics distribution business.

Although many would consider the weekly treks to the mainland at 2 a.m. a deal-breaker, Wilson sees it as an opportunity to have more control over our food supply by connecting with and supporting more local organic farmers and offering distribution to other restaurants and purveyors up the Keys.

To manifest her ambitious vision, Wilson needs a refrigerated truck, refrigerator cases, renovations, additional inventory, all of which require money. Slow money.

The antithesis of Wall Street's "fast money" derivative schemes, the Slow Money movement promotes "nurture capital:" investment in sustainable businesses that improve people's lives and build communities through restoration of local food systems and local economies. The strategy is simple. We need to take a little of our money and start investing near where we live, in things that we understand, with food being the most important place to start.

I attended the national Slow Money conference last year in Vermont, a meeting of sustainable food entrepreneurs pitching their ideas for raw kale chips, organic dairies, mobile abattoirs and agricultural land trusts, to name a few. Half the attendees were folks who wanted to invest in just these types of enterprises, with the understanding that their investment would not be "making a killing" of unsustainable profits but, rather, restoring the soil and preserving local food systems while making a modest "patient capital" return.

Just as the Occupy Wall Street protestors have raised awareness and called out the problems of an inequitable economy built on cronyism and crooked politics and complete disregard for social contracts, Slow Money participants are creating the antidote by becoming (or supporting) entrepreneurs who see business as a tool for improving the health of land, household, community and bioregion.

Charlie Wilson is just such an entrepreneur. The expanded, every-day Help Yourself@Home market will offer organic produce, dried goods, artisan cheeses, pasture-raised meats and grab-and-go healthy meals. In order to serve the entire community, the market will accept SNAP (food stamp) benefits. The space will also be convertible to offer cooking classes or private dinners.

Wilson's new venture is an ideal project to encourage local Slow Money investors. A fundraising event takes place this Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Old Town Manor, 511 Eaton St., from 6 to 8 p.m. Investors will have many opportunities to support the new market, including raffle tickets for a Help Yourself 30-day meal plan, catered dinners or healthy cooking classes, larger sums in exchange for "carrot cash" and other benefits. Supporters can also pay it forward by donating to Wilson's "Help Yourself Helping Others" program that provides health and nutrition outreach to local schools, youth groups and nonprofits.

For more info and online donations, visit helpyourselffoods.com. To learn more about the Slow Money movement, visit slowmoney.org.