Photos by Asia Morris.
Southern California food makers gathered at MADE in Long Beach Thursday evening to talk money, as in sustainable food money, at Long Beach Fresh's Funding Foodmakers event.
Entrepreneurs showcased their chocolate, gluten-free energy bars, hot sauce, spicy pickles and mead to a group of investors and local foodmakers curious as to how they might fund their own small food businesses, specifically through Slow Money SoCal, a nonprofit network connecting farmers, entrepreneurs and investors interested in strengthening and diversifying their local food systems.
Frank Golbeck, co-founder and CEO of Golden Coast Mead, a San Diego-based mead company focused on "crafting a comeback for the bees," generously poured sample after sample, explaining to tasters that "honey is the product of a healthy ecosystem."
Mary Abad, a member of Slow Money SoCal's San Diego Leadership, invested in Golbeck and Golden Coast Mead through Royalty-based financing, meaning Golbeck will pay her back depending on his sales. Royalty-based financing is just one of seven ways an investor can assist a small food business and is best for startups with "rapid, but uncertain revenue growth," according to Slow Money's website.
"I really like Frank because he is all about saving the bees," said Abad. "I think it's a way to connect to the land and he gives to one percent of the planet, meaning one percent of his revenues go to climate change causes. He's also educated me a lot on colony collapse [when worker bees leave a colony, leaving behind just a queen and underdeveloped bees in the hive], and I think that's a major problem."
Abad, who has a Wall Street background, plans to ride the coattails of the booming craft brew industry, while at the same time invest in an entrepreneur she personally knows and can believe in. Abad has become a small, but ripple-making part of answering the question, "What would the world be like if we invested 50 percent of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?"
"That's the thing, we don't know where our food comes from and we don't know where our money goes," she lamented. "We've become absorbed in this whole system, so [Slow Money] is just about being more aware."
Slow Money SoCal's recently forged mission statement, according to Abad, is to create an economy that serves people, not one where people serve the economy.
One of Long Beach's most vocal food sustainability advocates and Project Co-Coordinator at Long Beach Fresh, Ryan Smolar, mirrored Abad's motivation, saying, "The idea is to stop investing in Wall Street and start investing in Main Street and building up smaller responsible businesses in your community."
Smolar, who attended a Slow Money event in Santa Ana, said he was impressed with how they had articulated the different ways cottage food producers could raise money, "which is something that a lot of small food producers don't have: backgrounds in business and finance," so he brought the Slow Money SoCal chapter to Long Beach for the first time. Smolar says an international nonprofit organization like Slow Money can be a huge asset to a local owner trying to launch their product.
Not only were local food makers in attendance, such as Primal Alchemy Catering's Chef Paul Buchanan, but local community volunteers, as well.
Lee White, a school and community advocate and avid volunteer at Cabrillo High School, attended the event to bring back the information to both the parents and students she works with often. She says schools are much better off when they can be engaged and working with the community.
"I consider myself a sponge," she said as she tasted a gluten and dairy free probiotic cookie from a thriving Slow Money-assisted small bakery based in Costa Mesa, Royal Tea & Treatery. "I love finding out what's going on in the community and bringing it back to the students. I take in the information and then spread it out."
For White, imagining even the smallest group of Cabrillo High School students now armed with the knowledge that starting a small food business is an actual possibility is an idea that truly shines a glimmer of hope on our local and sustainable food future.