• 05.03.12

Credibles: An Investment System That Yields Food, Not Money

Call it Kickstarter for local food, but the money you put in doesn’t get you a free T-shirt, it gets you more local food. Think of it as edible credit.

When you support a Kickstarter project, you hope to get something in return if it gets enough funding–an album, maybe, or a video game. You’re not just funding the project, you’re prepaying for a product. Credibles, a project in limited beta from the Slow Money Alliance, is doing something similar with artisan food projects. The big difference: you can redeem the Credibles used to support one project for food at a different business, creating an entirely new investment model for slow food.


“Healthy food needs time and care to grow. We think in general prepaying for food is a little bit more in sync with the metabolism of nature, like how food grows,” explains Arno Hesse, the leader of the Credibles project. “This makes it possible for people who can’t write big [investment] checks to put some money in.”

There are two main reasons why a local food business would want customers to prepay for products: They want to expand to a larger facility or they grow food seasonally and need money upfront–i.e. if a strawberry farm needs money to get through the nine months until the harvest. “It’s seasonal working capital,” says Hesse.

Say you’re a big fan of kraut. Fortunately for you, there’s a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based raw, organic sauerkraut company on Credibles that needs money to move to a bigger facility. If you contribute to the cause, you’ll be rewarded with kraut products in the future. But wait: Maybe you decide that while you’ve given money to the kraut cause, you’d actually rather have fresh eggs. Amber & Son, a small family farm in Sebastopol, Calif., is offering them. Once the Credibles (also known as “edible credits”) system is fully up and running, you’ll be able to cash in your edible credits for those eggs instead of the kraut. “We balance [the money] in the bank between the businesses,” says Hesse.

As with Kickstarter, businesses may incentivize investors for putting in more money–not with interest, but with bonus items. According to the Bay Citizen, one Credibles business–Gelateria Naia–is offering perks for big spenders like a custom-designed gallon of their favorite flavor. Other businesses are offering discounts for large Credibles purchases.

Any number of artisan food businesses around the country may begin to accept Credibles as payment in the future (there are some legal hurdles to get around first, though). As the Credibles website explains, “If Dolores prepays a bakery, she may use her Credibles at the restaurant that David prepaid, as long as David can use his Credibles at the bakery that Dolores prepaid.” Consumers can spread their Credibles around, which is a boon for small businesses–they can support each other and reward loyal customers at the same time.

Customers currently have to print out their Credibles and take them into the store, but in the future they will be able to pay with their smartphones as well.

At the moment, Credibles is only open in limited beta in California and New York (there’s only one Credibles business in New York at the moment: farm to table restaurant Parish Hall, whose owner wrote for Co.Exist about what the restaurant industry can do to change our food systems). The service should become more widely available in three to four months.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.