BRATTLEBORO—Could slowing down be the new fast track to a better future?
Strolling of the Heifers weekend began in town with the second annual Strolling of the Heifers Slow Living Summit, a conference celebrating a phrase that serves as an umbrella for the concepts of mindfulness, vibrant local economies, and building communities and commerce around a common good.
Summit registration rose 25 percent over last year, to nearly 400 participants from across the United States, and from Norway and Australia, who converged on downtown from May 30 to June 2, said Martin C. Langeveld, marketing director.
Orly Munzing, Strolling founder and executive director, called the summit “the serious side of the Strolling of the Heifers.”
The summit supports the organization’s primary goal of supporting family farms by connecting people to the local food they eat, she said.
“‘Slow’ embodies mindfulness, co-operation, sustainability, and resilience,” said Munzing in her opening statements on May 30. “‘Slow Living’ is a more reflective approach [to] how we live, work, and play as human beings on a fragile earth.”
“When we live slow, we become more strongly connected to the land, to our communities, and to our neighbors,” she said.
The summit organically grew from the Strolling of the Heifers’ Green Living Expo, said Munzing, who also credited Woody Tasch’s book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, with sparking her interest in the Slow movement.
“I was hooked,” said Munzing.
Tasch, who founded the organization Slow Money, also spoke at the summit’s opening session.
This year’s summit focused on themes of economy, community, and policies. More than 64 presentations covered topics like cooperatives, using a benchmark known as the Genuine Progress Indicator to measure the health of an economy, creative place making, spiritual well-being, and corporate personhood.
Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell spoke about the importance of academia and mission-driven businesses. She asked why Vermont’s government did not work harder to bolster the many mission-driven nonprofits within its borders.
Lori Hanau of Global Round Table Leadership of Keene, N.H., followed McClulloch-Lovell with a “tone setting.” She asked audience members at the opening session to honor the threshold they were about to cross, a threshold connecting to new ideas and people. She hoped participants would “embody living slow.”
Transforming to a new world
Building a new economy beyond the tradition of capitalism, unchecked resource use, and disconnected communities framed author Charles Eisenstein’s opening presentation.
In less monetized societies, Eisenstein told the audience, people live at a slower pace, and time feels less limited.
The author of Sacred Economics, Eisenstein joined panel members Tasch and John Restakis at the summit’s opening session.
Eistenstein described his work as discovering how to make money sacred so it takes the role of an ally rather than an enemy of the beautiful things people want to create.
The author believes that people were not born to hate Mondays.
“What happened?” asked Eisenstein.
His answer: at every juncture when “modern” people could choose between working less or consuming more, “we chose to consume more.”
The problem, he said, lies in the money system itself.
“Money is created as interest-bearing debt,” said Eisenstein. “There’s always more debt than money.”
This dichotomy fosters a feeling of “never enough money or time.”
The current money system, according to Eisenstein, only works if supported by endless economic growth and production.
In Eisenstein’s view, a “monied life” of consumption and efficiency leads to other forms of personal poverty.
“People tell me it’s in connection,” he said.
Although buying prepared food at the grocery store might prove efficient, people lose the connection with bakers, butchers, and farmers that make, raise, or grow food.
Modern consumption acts as an addiction, meeting the need but not the essential hunger, Eisenstein said.
“This system is in crisis,” he said.
The old days of defining economic prosperity are numbered, he said.
Part of people’s general feeling of unease boils down to standing in mid-transition. The old world and its money system is dying, he said. And although there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he said, no one knows if that light is from a bright new world or a freight train.
He describes the transition as a “birth process.”
Still, Eisenstein feels optimistic.
As the old world dies a new, beautiful one will emerge, he said.
He asked the audience to inspire and support one another during the time of change.
“We’re not crazy,” he said. “The old logic is falling apart.”
Tasch, author of Slow Money and founder of the movement bearing the book’s name, said that the future might not mean a splintered “either/or” between economic growth or Slow Living.
He asked the audience, “How can we learn to enjoy living slowly if money is zooming around the planet investing in things we don’t understand or believe in?”
Tasch said that it’s hard to overstate the value of “information-rich relationships” between people.
“Relationships are harder than transactions,” he said.
“We’re heading in a new direction,” he said. “We don’t have to perfectly define the destination — just believe in the new future.”
Restakis, author of Humanizing the Economy and executive director of the British Columbia Co-op Association, agreed that reciprocal relationships and connection with community feeds deeper human needs.
He also predicted that most of the goals held by the “Slow” movement, like reversing global warming, will remain out of reach until people “democratize the economy.”
Prevailing economic and business attitudes foster competition over cooperation and consumerism over community, Restakis said.
In his own work, Restakis has started to view the cooperative model beyond a reaction to corporate businesses. He said he perceives cooperatives operating on a personal level helping communities weather crisis.
The “cooperate” in cooperatives can connect an economy with a community’s social values.
The basic role of cooperative relationships is the key to the Slow Living movement, he said.
“Ideology triumphs when people can’t see alternatives,” he said.
The Slow Living Summit possessed the potential, however, to “break apart belief systems of an out-of-control capitalist paradigm.”
He hoped that summit participants would take their ideas and make them “present and visible for those not in this room.”
“The best things happen when people work together and care for each other,” said Restakis.