First I watched the trailer. Then I read the book. Then I saw the movie. The super star: Michael Shuman. The hot plot: local investing.
The trailer was a talk on local and grassroots investing by Shuman last fall, hosted by The Local Crowd Monadnock. Inspired, I read Shuman's recent book Put Your Money Where Your Life Is.
This spring, I attended Shuman's first “movie,” a four-week workshop. My experience only got better and better, especially since I started out with a level of interest in investing comparable to, say, gathering information for my taxes. Necessary, but painful.
Then, as my level of knowledge about investing was even more pitiful than my level of interest, I braced myself for some good old patronizing disbelief from the experts: You don't understand how stocks and bonds work? You don't automatically compute rates of return? You've never heard of a solo 401K or a self-directed IRA? You don't even get the big deal about retirement funds? What planet do you live on?
I live on a farm planet. A small farm planet.
My fellow and I farm here in southwestern NH, growing three acres of vegetables biodynamically, working with draft horses, for our 60-member CSA garden. We also sell produce at a local farmers' market. We have been making our living as farmers for over twenty years, not an easy task, but one made possible in part by a thrifty budget and by friends, neighbors, and local vegetable- lovers.
Maybe someone loans us a truck, or barters plumbing or farrier work, or helps us set up our website. Someone helps us get the hay in before the rain, or helps us get our naughty horses back in the pasture after a jaunt around the neighborhood. Someone picks up our daughter after school, or makes us a surprise meal. Lots of someones sign up for shares of produce, or buy vegetables at our market stand. Both our farm economics and our quality of life depend on the community.
But now that we two farmers and our four workhorses are nearing our mid-fifties, we notice that a hard day in the field is a little more daunting than it used to be. How can we continue to live and work on a tight budget, on our farm, before and during retirement, and do it with care for our local community, which also cares for us?
Enter Michael Shuman. His dry wit and kind, down-to-earth manner, combined with his expertise in local investing, made for a pleasant surprise. (Turns out investing talk isn't nearly as painful as the taxes. It can actually be kind of interesting!)
Shuman gave an entirely digestible overview of investing in general, followed by a picture of the giant corporate investing world. Next was the welcome news of the range of possible local, grassroots investments: from paying off your credit cards to installing energy-saving devices in your home, from crowdfunding to municipal bonds, from helping friends or family expand a small business to investing in a company such as Equal Exchange, with its fair trade coffee and chocolate, which assists the small farmers who are our global neighbors.
My favorite part of the workshop was learning about people all over the country who are investing in their communities in all kinds of ways, from small farms and solar panels and affordable housing to co-ops and local restaurants and community loan funds.
In Port Townsend, Washington, there's the community-owned Quimper Mercantile, a department store started by community members because there was no place in town to shop.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, there's Zingerman's Deli, whose owners wanted to expand, but not become a chain. Instead of going wide, they went deep, by looking closely at what came into and out of the deli. Now there are around a dozen small businesses in Ann Arbor connected with the deli, including a bakehouse, a coffee roasting company, a creamery, a restaurant, and a fancy cake business.
In my own state of New Hampshire, there's the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund (homes, farms, food, small businesses!). People all over are investing in local economies, ecologies, and racial and social equity, all of which builds stronger, healthier, and more secure and vibrant communities.
Gee, it's enough to make a farmer want to save a little money and make a local, grassroots investment (even if it's at the hundred dollar level!). After all, we love community. We love small. We love local. We love sustainable. We love grass, and we love roots.
Our four work horses agree completely. In fact, they may be wondering right now why a farmer is writing about local investing this time of year. Shouldn't you be fixing the fence? So we can go out to pasture? And eat the local grass? Come on now, farmer.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, June 2 - June 8, 2021
The Local Crowd Monadnock - Mailing Address: 63 Emerald St. #114, Keene, NH 03431