Originally published in Capital at Play here.
Many of us working in agriculture and nonprofits don’t have extra money to invest outside of our baseline life-supporting endeavors. Yet others in our community are blessed with extra. My big question for these folks is: Do you have investments?
And then subsequently… Are those investments supporting soil health? Are they supporting land conservation? Are they supporting a vibrant community near where you live? Are they supporting ecosystem diversity? Are they supporting the microbial life that keeps us all healthy? Are they supporting the land stewards? Are they supporting climate resilience?
If not, do you want to change that? We encourage you to invest in regenerative systems. Here, then, are several things you can do to invest in the kind of world you want.
Understand How Healthy Soils Are More Important To Your Future Than You Realize.
Soil is the source of our lives, literally. Without soils and without the pollinators that our plants require to make their offspring (the fruits and vegetables that we ingest), we are a doomed species. Due to industrial agriculture—including heavy tillage, massive chemical inputs, and lack of attention to renewal—soils in the United States are in serious trouble. According to the World Wildlife Fund: “Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years”; and, according to the UN’s Global Land Outlook: “A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded, and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24bn tonnes a year.”
What this means for your investments is that, despite how well the stock market does in your lifetime or in the lifetimes of your loved ones, it’s of no use if the soil is too depleted to grow food.
Shop Locally And Organically.
While it may be obvious to most people at this point that shopping locally is important, why do we have only 2-3% of our local population, on average, buying food from local producers? Research shows that for every dollar you spend locally, 70 cents of that dollar stays in the community to circulate through local hands. For every dollar you send outside of your local community, 70 cents of it leaves to benefit other people and other places. For most us, we want to see our community thrive. We value local character, local businesses, local artists, local food producers, local jobs, and locally owned restaurants. We grieve to see our cities and towns taken over by strip malls and big box stores. Each one of us has a lot of power to strengthen our local economy and environmental and social networks by keeping our money in the community. Even if it means spending more on a product or service, it will benefit you so many more ways.
Regarding organics, the choice is simple, and for many reasons. Studies and anecdotal reports show that long-term exposure to GMO (genetically modified organisms), pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers, is markedly dangerous for your overall health, especially your ability to stay free from chronic illnesses. In addition to the health benefits, buying organic supports the farmers growing in ways that value the land, the soil, and the farming systems that add to life instead of detracting from it.
Invest In Biodiversity On Your Own Land.
Do you own land? Even a small yard? If so, are you growing your soil and habitat? If not, why not? If it’s about time and money, it can be done for very little if you do it yourself, or even faster if you hire knowledgeable folks to do it for you. Installing perennials is a smart bet for low-hassle maintenance, and investing in these long-term trees, shrubs, brambles, vines, and plants will attract pollinators, wildlife, bats, and all kinds of nature that make your life more wonderful.
Consider finding a native plant nursery in North Carolina, learning about planting with native plants, even enjoying them in their native habitats. With a focus on natives, you can contribute significantly to a healthy ecosystem in your neighborhood and region. Birds, insects, and other crucial links in the web of life need you for conservation and protection. It’s highly likely that you’ll get more joy and satisfaction from your yard than you ever thought possible.
Protect & Steward Your Land.
It’s no doubt that owning real estate is a financial investment with significant return. Especially over a lifetime or generations of lifetimes. Yet have you considered how you want your land treated when you’re gone? There are several options for protecting your land, both while you’re living and in perpetuity.
Conservation easements allow owners to continue to own and use their land, but restrict development. Sometimes there are tax incentives for this choice or even payments from local conservation organizations.
Preserves allow your land to be given over to a trust or conservancy after you’ve passed so that it will be protected for environmental or agriculture use as you deem and desire.
Stewardship incentives sometimes come from local, state, or federal agencies that help with creek or stream restoration, invasive species controls, forest management, trespass signs (for hunting, fishing, or wildcrafting), and other remediation and protection methods that you may employ.
Farm linking or matching services exist in many states and allow landowners to make agreements with farmers to use their land for agriculture. Ideally, you will specify an organic and regenerative approach in your contract and then you’ll be adding biodiversity to your land and economics to a local farmer. (A good resource is NC FarmLink: Ncfarmlink.ces.ncsu.edu/)
Support Regenerative Agriculture (And Regenerative Culture).
For those of us working at the forefront of the regenerative agriculture and regenerative culture movement, we are years, if not decades, ahead of mainstream solutions to the world’s complex problems. We need champions and funding if we are going to speed up the repair process. If you are able to set up a family foundation or even a donor-advised fund with your local community foundation, please consider prioritizing soil stewards. For some resources of folks who are forging ahead in this realm, seek out the following: “Healthy Soils to Cool the Planet–A Philanthropic Action Guide” (published at NoRegretsInitiative.com and “Regeneration International Funding Resources” (RegenerationInternational.org).
Find the ones that you feel the most passionate about supporting and lend support for multi-year, multi-project programs. The way that financial resources flow in this culture is upside-down and backwards. The systems and organizations that create the most destruction (poverty and pollution) end up with the biggest wins. And the ones that work for good in the face of all hardship are the ones that suffer. Please consider helping to reverse this trend. Find leaders you trust and fund them—invest in leadership, progressive ideas, and integrated movements.
Move Your Investments To Something Beautiful.
Reversing climate change, among other dire directives, is the challenge of our time. If you have extra money to invest, please consider investing with a “regenerative” portfolio. Regenerative investing makes sure that your financial resources are supporting life-giving endeavors. This could include social enterprises—private debt and equity groups that restore and strengthen communities, cooperatives, and other such innovative projects.
My favorite organization at the moment is the #NoRegrets Initiative, which is inviting wealth managers, investors, and philanthropists to think about utilizing integrated capital, curing resources, setting up regenerative assets strategies, offering investment perspectives, and capturing carbon through all that they’re doing.
When it comes to investing, do your research. Often “green” and “eco” investors still have your money in the stock market and have controversial, if not outright manipulative, guidelines around what qualifies. Many of these may not meet your standards for who and what you want to invest in.
Consider Giving Circles, Mutual Aid Societies, And Other Non-Traditional Formats For Giving.
When I fantasize about having extra money to give away, I imagine how much fun it would be to start a giving circle. In my dreams I would join more than one with different themes supporting things like women’s financial independence, community-based solutions, racial equity training—and, for sure, one of them would have a focus on soil health. Giving circles are a form of group philanthropy where each individual in the group donates money into a pool and the group decides together what project they want to support. It helps increase awareness and engagement on the part of all members and encourages more action and relationship with local organizations.
A mutual aid society has much historical precedent in provided services, benefits, and social activities to members. One recent such society is Co-operate WNC: A Regional Mutual Aid Initiative (WNC-mutual-aid.org). These grassroots societies are working alternatives to government assistance: Not only can they be helpful in emergencies and during disasters, but they have the potential to solve chronic, complex issues and provide alternatives to health insurance and homelessness.
Work for good.
For those with financial wealth, retirement often brings added time in their schedules to contribute. And for those without financial wealth but with extra time, so many movements could benefit from time, care, presence, and attention. Consider volunteering with a local organization or starting a local initiative. Our region needs investment in the building of the systems that will replace the failed ones. In all sectors and at all scales. Work with what you love, in a more just, inclusive, equitable, and forward-thinking way.
One fabulous example of everyday people starting a worldwide movement is England’s Todmorden town’s urban gardening project, now known as Incredible Edible (Incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk). Todmorden, with a population of only 15,000, came to prominence among us garden types along about 2010 when visitors from all over the world started taking notice of their public fruit, herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. All of the food is produced by volunteers and is available for eating by anyone in town, residents and visitors alike. The group desires both more self-sufficiency in food production and more community building, both of which they’ve achieved in spades; the Incredible Edible model has apparently been taken up by 120 groups in the United Kingdom and more than 700 worldwide.
By investing in the systems, people, and projects that are making our world livable, you are securing your future and the future of your offspring and creating the world you want. This is no small thing. Dollars drive the market. Let’s stop investing in destruction and instead invest in the regeneration.