The Resilient Investor – Book Review

Invest in your best life.

You will never look at the word investment in the same way after reading The Resilient Investor. Investing is about more than money, it is about your life.

The full title of the book by financial advisors Hal Brill, Michael Kramer, and Christopher Peck is The Resilient Investor: A Plan for Your Life, Not Just Your Money. That should give you a clue this is not your typical investment 101 book and you will not be learning how to get rich by investing in the stock market. What you will gain is a broader perspective about investing and a toolkit to help you create your own resilient investment plan.

The Resilient Investor Book CoverI was interested in reading this book for two reasons. First, I was curious. I wondered if it was possible for three money guys to speak about non-financial matters in an understandable and useful way? Second, I wanted to learn more about investing in people, communities, and companies that are taking the long view and working towards keeping Earth habitable now and in the future.

Book Review

“Does the challenge of making informed decisions about your life seem far more complex today than it did even a short time ago? Does the future—your own and that of the world—feel highly uncertain, perhaps even precarious? We can sense you there, nodding in agreement.”

When I read the first few sentences of The Resilient Investor (above), I thought, “Yes that is exactly how I feel.”

Before reading this book, I would have automatically associated money with the word investment but I think the authors’ expanded version is much more useful because it encompasses your whole life and that is what is important.

“…try this on for size: investing is something that we all do by directing our time, attention, energy, or money in ways that move us toward our future dreams, using a diverse range of strategies.”

Readers as you move through the book you will learn about the Resilient Investing Map (RIM), a handy tool for making notes and organizing your thoughts about what you want to keep doing, stop doing, or start doing when it comes to investing in your life. You can work on your own RIM as you read the book, read the whole book and then use the RIM, or skip the RIM entirely and use your own method. I am taking the middle approach. I have read the book and now I am doing my RIM.

You will learn how to recognize your real net worth and about close to home, global, and evolutionary investment strategies (remember it is not just about money). A discussion of possible future scenarios encompasses a full spectrum of outcomes from doom and gloom to a bright new world. These scenarios combined with various investor profiles will help you identify your own worldview, where you stand, and what is important to you.

To help you evaluate your own situation and create a resilient investing plan the authors provide a step-by-step guide and examples from their own lives.

The book wraps up with a review of sustainable and responsible investing (SRI) an approach that screens investments for environmental, social, and governance factors as well as traditional return on investment financial measures.

The Bottom Line

Not surprisingly, tax season is what led me to read The Resilient Investor and write a review about it this April. I do not know about you, but money is usually on my mind when I am collecting and organizing information for our income tax returns. To me, this seems like the ideal time to expand my thinking about investing and to create my own resilient investing plan. I hope you think so, too.

The authors of The Resilient Investor, Hal Brill, Michael Kramer, and Christopher Peck are managing partners of Natural Investments, a B Corporation specializing in sustainable, responsible investments. Jim Cummings is a writer who works with Natural Investments and is the editor of the book.

Admittedly, Brill, Kramer, and Peck are not a diverse trio. They describe themselves as “three college-educated white guys who all co-own a specialty investment company.” However, they do have decades of resilient living and investing experience and a compelling vision for a resilient future.

The book is short (less than 200 pages) making it easy to read and carry around. The writing style is conversational and straightforward. A companion website offers more information and downloadable blank and example RIMs.

“In the end, despite our continued positing that the idea of investing needs to be expanded, there comes a time to drop the distinctions that divide our daily lives into categories. There is only one activity that we are all engaged with all the time: we are simply trying to live our lives the best we can.”

Reader Note: I first learned about The Resilient Investor while reading a newsletter from Natural Investments. Our financial advisor is a member of the Natural Investments team. When I asked him about the book, he offered to give me a copy. I chose to invest my time in writing this review because I think readers may find the book informative and useful.

Featured Image at Top: Purple Flower in a Metal Spring with Loose Petals on a Wood Surface – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Alta Oosthuizen

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Organic Food – Healthy Soil is Good for the Environment

Buying organic food is good for the soil and good for the soul.

Why should you shell out extra money to buy organic food? One reason is that healthy soil is important to your wellbeing, possibly in more ways than you think.

The soil is like different neighborhoods connected to each other by invisible underground roadways. Neighborhoods have their own vibe that depends on their location, climate, and building materials. Community residents vary widely, are mostly microscopic, and live in high-density housing. All inhabitants have jobs they perform on a regular basis for no financial gain or personal glory.

These communities form the surface of the Earth and support the plants that provide our food. The soil is essential for life. Yet, humans have paved over, poisoned, and even disappeared countless soil communities, endangering ourselves in the process.

Imagine watching your way of making a living, your way of life, literally blowing away in a cloud of dust. That is what happened during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s when severe drought, poor soil conditions, and high winds blew away the topsoil of over 100,000,000 acres of farmland. Tens of thousands of farmers lost their homes and their farms and millions of poverty-stricken people migrated away from the Great Plains in search of work. United States agriculture was decimated and the Great Depression worsened.

1930s Dust Bowl - Baca County, CO - Photo Credit D.L. Kernodle, U.S. Library of Congress
1930s Dust Bowl – Baca County, CO – Photo Credit D.L. Kernodle, U.S. Library of Congress

Belatedly, the federal government took action by forming the Soil Conservation Service to help farmers and land managers learn about the soil and how to keep it healthy and in place. They also oversaw projects across the country aimed at reforesting the land and preventing erosion.

“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

It seemed as if soil communities were finally earning some attention and respect.

But then in the aftermath of World War II, chemical manufacturers needing new lines of business began producing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and leaning on the government to convince farmers to apply these products to their farmland. Crop yields increased and so did air and water pollution. Pesticides killed crop pests and everything else from soil organisms to birds. This was the beginning of industrialized agriculture and a new assault on the soil.

Fortunately, there were other people and farmers taking a different path. Over several decades, they learned about the soil and experimented with holistic practices for keeping soil healthy without heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This led to the modern organic food movement that gained support during the 1970s when Americans were fed up with air, water, and land pollution and were taking to the streets demanding action.

It took a couple of decades, but eventually, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act leading to the USDA’s National Organic Program that standardized what substances can and cannot be used to grow organic crops, raise organic livestock, and make processed organic foods. It defines farming practices for keeping the soil healthy, reducing pests and weeds, and raising livestock animals without preemptive antibiotics.

Now that you have some background let’s talk about the soil. Then you can decide whether buying organic food (at least sometimes) is worth it to you.

What Constitutes Healthy Soil?

“Soil is a mixture of organic matter [remains of plants and animals and their wastes], minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. The Earth’s body of soil is the pedosphere, which has four important functions: it is a medium for plant growth; it is a means of water storage, supply, and purification; it is a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere; it is a habitat for organisms; all of which, in turn, modify the soil.” —Wikipedia

Healthy soil is alive with activity. Bacteria produce antibiotics, fix nitrogen (convert it for plants to use to form chlorophyll), and decompose materials to be recycled as plant nutrients. Fungi spread miles of filaments that transport nutrients and information among plants and trees. Larger organisms like ants and earthworms aerate the soil and mix things up as they move about.

These soil communities feed plants, absorb, hold and release water, maintain low levels of pests, pathogens, and salinity, and resist degradation and erosion.

If you grab a handful of healthy soil, it will hold together unlike dirt that will fall through your fingers.

Why is Healthy Soil Important for Growing Food?

At its most basic level, healthy soil provides a physical support system for plants. It holds together but is not tightly compacted allowing roots to grow and spread anchoring the plants above.

Healthy soil contains a wondrous network of microscopic organisms that deliver minerals and nutrients to plants so they can grow and thrive. Rainwater and irrigation water percolates through the spaces in the soil created by the aerators and then gets absorbed and released to the roots of the plants. Plants also receive assistance in fighting off pests and diseases.

How Do Organic Farmers Help Keep Soil Healthy?

Farmers who market their food with the USDA organic seal are required to adhere to the USDA organic program standards and be certified by a third party organization. Good stewardship of the land is at the core of organic farming.

Like people, healthy soil needs year-round care.

Organic Farm Cover Crop Plots at University of Minnesota
Organic Farm Cover Crop Plots at University of Minnesota – Photo Credit Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

For instance, if the soil is left bare and exposed after crops are harvested it is subject to being relocated without its consent. Rain can cause the soil to run off fields and wind can pick up the unprotected soil and fly away with it. Organic farmers protect their soil by planting cover crops, an apt name for crops grown to cover the land between rotations of income-producing crops.

Cover crops can also provide food for the soil. Leguminous plants like peas, beans, lentils, clover, and vetch are especially good at returning nitrogen to the soil. This so-called green manure acts as a natural fertilizer for plants. Other plants and animal wastes are composted and used on fields to feed the soil.

Maintaining biodiversity is important for soil and plant health. Organic farmers rotate crops and plant a variety of crops together making life more difficult for pests who can devastate a monocrop field. They also incorporate buffer areas of native plants that attract and provide habitat for pollinators, birds, animals, and predator insects that eat crop pests.

These are just a few of the ways that organic farmers contribute to keeping the soil healthy.

Why is Healthy Soil Important to You and Your Family?

Well, of course, there is the food. However, there are other benefits that might not readily come to mind when you think about healthy soil and organic farming.

In addition to providing water for plants and preventing erosion, healthy soil acts as a sort of time-release water purification and refilling system. As water seeps through the soil, it filters out impurities and pollutants. Depleted soil cannot perform this function. The water continues its downward journey through rock layers and refills groundwater basins in its path. You could be one of the many people whose drinking water comes from a groundwater basin.

Organic Farm Buffer Zone with Pheasants Forever Sign
Organic Farm Buffer Zone with Pheasants Forever Sign – Photo Credit Oregon Tilth

Healthy soil eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers, which are applied heavily on industrial agriculture fields. Besides nourishing the dead soil so that it can grow plants, these fertilizers run off into streams, lakes, and oceans creating dead zones where nothing can live. People rely on riverbanks and wetlands to prevent flooding. If these areas are dead, there is no protection.

When the soil is healthy, it eliminates the need for industrial strength pesticides. Spraying these poisons causes air pollution and runoff from fields causes water pollution. Widespread and heavy use of pesticides has had other unintended consequences. Pests have evolved quickly resulting in “super pests” requiring evermore powerful poisons. I am unconvinced that there is any safe level of exposure to pesticides for anyone and I do not believe farm workers should be required to wear masks and hazmat suits to work.

You may not realize that along with retaining moisture healthy soil grabs and holds onto carbon helping to keep it sequestered in the ground and out of the atmosphere.

Certainly, certified organic farmers are not the only farmers living in harmony with the land and contributing to maintaining healthy soil communities, but they have gone the extra mile to certify (prove) that they do.

Buying Organic Food Supports Healthy Soil

While reading this post, I hope you learned something about how important healthy soil is and how organic farming helps soil communities stay healthy.

You can promote healthy soil by choosing to buy organic food, at least some of the time.

Organic Tomatoes in a Paper Bag with Fresh Produce in the Background
Organic Tomatoes in a Paper Bag with Fresh Produce in the Background – Photo Credit iStock/mrPliskin

The purchase price of organic food is often higher than its taxpayer-subsidized industrial counterparts and prices may vary widely depending on the type of food and where you buy it. Be a savvy shopper and check prices at farmers markets, co-ops, farm stands, grocery markets, and even big box stores.

I realize that paying more for organic food may not fit easily into everyone’s budget so here are a few ideas on how you can support organic food in various ways.

  • Select one fruit or vegetable and start buying the organic version all the time or at least once a month.
  • Buy all organic fresh produce once a month or as often as you can.
  • Switch to organic milk, butter, cheese or the dairy product of your choice.
  • Try buying organically raised chicken, pork, or beef. It is expensive so you may find yourself eating less meat and more plants, which is good for you and the environment.
  • Support healthy land and people in your own community or region by purchasing organic food grown or raised locally.

I look forward to the day when all food is grown organically and everyone can afford it. I hope you will join me in buying at least one organic food item if you can, so we can inform the agricultural community at large that we want to eat food that is healthy for us and the planet.

Featured Image at Top: Close-up of Onions Growing in Soil – Photo Credit iStock/YuriyS

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