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The Soil Trust helps put your money where your mouth is

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Buying local, artisanal, and organic is one way to help change the way our food is made -- but getting a real alternative production system off the ground will also take cold, hard cash.

We’ve written about the Slow Money Alliance on Grist before -- it sprang up as an alternative to "fast money" and what founder Woody Tasch calls our “out-of-control capital markets.” Slow Money steers investment dollars to small food and farm businesses. And it’s no coincidence that it sounds an awful lot like Slow Food, the movement that came to life in the late 1980s in response to the rise of fast food and the breakdown of local food traditions.

But, until recently, Slow Money has been aimed at people who can write a check for $5,000 or $50,000 to finance a food or farm startup. Now the organization has made it easier for people like you and me -- people who want to see big changes in the food system but don’t have big dollars -- to get involved through a new fund called the Soil Trust.

Now, the regular Joes can chip in as little as $50 online to help organic farmers, butchers, and jam-makers grow, and small-scale meat processors and food hubs get off the ground. The Soil Trust is meant to democratize the world of venture capital for people without deep pockets or investment experience but who happen to care about where their food comes from.

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These guerrilla cartographers are mapping the edible world

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Do you ever wonder how many vendors at your local farmers market are really local?

Cameron Reed did. So she mapped them for a school project. As she expected, the vast majority -- more than 80 percent -- did indeed come from within 100 miles, but Reed was surprised to find that a wide mix of products were grown and produced even closer to home -- within 50 miles of where she lived.

An updated version of the map Reed made will appear in an upcoming collection called Food: An Atlas, which will chart the world of food in some of its most inspiring and somber dimensions -- from food production, distribution, and food security to cuisine. Like many of those behind the atlas, Reed hopes to inspire people to think more closely about the origins of their food.

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Giving sustainable food businesses a needed push

The same thought popped into Cynthia King's head every time she walked by a vacant lot filled with dead grass, next to a church in her Berkeley, Calif., neighborhood: Why in the world aren't they growing something there?

Soon she had the idea for an "edible churchyard," reminiscent of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project. The concept evolved and is about to become a reality, as King plans to launch as many as six faith farms this year in collaboration with a local church and nonprofits. Congregations will have the final word on what to do with the food, but King now envisions a larger network of small urban farms being developed, including schools, homes, and nonprofits, where the produce grown in the gardens will be aggregated, distributed, and sold at a profit.

King says the idea may not have evolved if she hadn't attended an accelerator program from Local Food Lab. The company helps people develop business plans for food and farm start-ups that are both financially sustainable and environmentally responsible, with a big-picture goal of becoming the de-facto global resource for local food entrepreneurship. (Similar to incubators, which can last years, accelerators are usually intensive, boot-camp-like). For a $2,500 fee, Local Food Lab participants receive six weeks of mentoring and feedback on food and farm concepts that address sustainability challenges in the food system. They finish with a complete business plan and a chance to pitch their ideas to a group of investors and stakeholders on the final day.

Read more: Food

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Science says: Cut that steak in half to keep the climate in check

Photo by Jack Lyons.

Eric Davidson has no grand plan to turn you into a vegetarian.

But in order for us to avoid catastrophic climate change, this senior scientist and executive director at Woods Hole Research Center says people in developed nations may need to eat half as much meat. Yep -- you heard that right. This isn’t about the way animals are treated, nor is it about reducing heart disease. For the sake of the climate alone, we -- as a culture -- need to eat half as many burgers, and half as much bacon.

According to a recent study from Davidson, this controversial dietary shift is crucial if we want to get serious about reducing emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas.