Recently, researchers at the UC San Francisco and Berkeley compared pesticide levels in the bodies of American families for six days on a non-organic diet and six days on a completely organic diet. They found that shifting to an all organic diet caused rapid and significant drops in chemicals in participants’ bodies. The biggest reduction was in levels of organophosphates, a class of pesticides harmful to children’s developing brains.
The finding isn’t particularly surprising. The health benefits of organic food are well known. But shifting to an all-organic diet isn’t always possible for Americans. Our agricultural system remains largely dependent on subsidized synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that degrade ecosystems and pollute air and water. In fact, only approximately one percent of all U.S. farmland is certified organic. Obtaining the certification can be expensive for farmers who may have to buy new equipment and hire more employees. These economic challenges are bad news for our health, as well as the health of the planet.
According to the United Nations, organic farming can help store carbon in the soil. It is a tool we should be utilizing more to mitigate climate change. “Farmers need our help,” Alex Mackay of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, a finance company that provides land access to organic farmers through innovative leases and mortgages, told me.
“They’re never going to be able to make the environmental changes we need to sustain the Earth if we don’t give them financial assistance.”
Investors could provide this capital. Last month, the Bay Area-based GatherLab, a network that brings people together to identify social and environmental solutions, released the first publicly-available, regenerative funds list. The catalog of investment opportunities promises to direct capital to range of activities capable of restoring systems and mitigating climate change, such as organic farming and addressing forest health.
While investing in regenerative funds is different than other forms of environmental impact investing, such as investing in clean energy companies, the effect could be the same. A growing interest among investors in renewable energy has increased companies’ values and made it easier for them to raise more money and expand. Similarly, investing in regenerative efforts could also provide the support for restoration efforts to scale.
“No one has done it,” Ethan Soloviev, EVP of research at HowGood, Inc. and one of the developers of the regenerative funds list, told me. “We see investment as the acupuncture point for shifting the system. Investors can choose the businesses that grow.”
The new regenerative funds list also provides a means for investors to turn a profit while protecting the planet. Investors in Iroquois Valley Farmland, for example, can earn annual cash dividends, as well as a return on the value of the land over time. Farmland value typically grows at a rate of 4 to 6 percent over a year and has historically been less volatile than public equity markets. Given the additional value attached to a certified organic farm, there’s an opportunity for investors to make an even higher return while concurrently impacting our food supply and ecosystems.
There’s also an opportunity for the regenerative funds list to grow beyond low-tech efforts.
Scientists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have invented materials and technology that can rebuild sea ice in the Arctic and capture carbon in the air for use in building materials. These solutions can also help restore a healthy climate, they just need resources.
“We’re trying to cover the whole field,” Brendan Torrance, an investor and developer of the list, told me. “There are realistic solutions, we just need to get the entrepreneurs and capital together to make it happen.”
We already know that alternatives, such as organic food, offer immense health and environmental benefits. Unfortunately, until the market attaches an appropriate value to these solutions, they will not grow as they should. Investors can fill this critical gap and allow all of us to realize benefits before it’s too late.
GatherLab is hosting an event from May 22-24 in San Francisco around the investments and growing the movement. Tickets for the TRANSFORM: Climate, Communities and Capital conference can be purchased on Eventbrite.
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Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com