Betting on Earth Exchange

Never underestimate a former first-grade teacher. On June 9, amid a global recession, Beccah Boman marched into a meeting of the Asheville Buncombe Sustainability Community Council and passed out cards calling for donations that started at $500 and ratcheted up to a cool ten grand. The council—an initiative of the Asheville Hub project—is itself strapped for cash to fund such efforts as the Reading, Riding and Retrofit program that could green city and county schools.

But the council’s community-leader members are precisely the kind of folks Boman’s trying to reach for her own venture: Earth Exchange, a new philanthropic group that “brings together donors who care about the combined environmental, social and economic health of our planet with nonprofit organizations that provide sustainable products, practices or education.” Not one to think small, Boman aims to raise $100 million for her group.

“I’m used to talking about money,” says the fledgling nonprofit’s president. Years ago, she left teaching to become a stockbroker, doing well enough that she now has time for philanthropic endeavors with an environmental emphasis. Though still based in her native Minnesota, Boman also has an Asheville home, and that’s where her idea for Earth Exchange germinated: While talking with neighbors last year, she realized that a few local nonprofits could use her help.
Properly invested, $100 million worth of donations could produce about $5 million to $6 million a year in revenue, says Boman—which could provide much-needed support to such organizations as the Bent Creek Institute, a nonprofit housed at The North Carolina Arboretum and focused on research and development in the fields of natural and integrative medicine. Largely state-funded, the 2-year-old institute may face cutbacks this year.

Through one of her neighbors, Boman met Jeff Schmitt, Bent Creek’s director of research. Recalling his initial talks with the persuasive stockbroker, he notes: “There’s tremendous possibilities with Earth Exchange, [which can] help fill the [funding] gap, but it’s also in line with Asheville’s focus on sustainability and engaged philanthropy, [and] it’s not just about money. It’s about building relationships.”

Boman, it turns out, knows a Minnesota businessman with a keen interest in plants. He might donate to the Exchange on Bent Creek’s behalf, or collaborate with one of its local affilates, Gaia Herbs, she says. That’s an example of the Earth Exchange’s networking element, what Boman calls “bringing people together.” A St. Cloud, Minn.-based wind-turbine company is raising money to build plants around the country, she says—why not Asheville?

Meanwhile, HandMade in America co-founder Dan Ray told Boman about Kleiwerks International, an Asheville-based nonprofit that offers worldwide trainings in natural-building, permaculture, and sustainability techniques. And the folks at the Asheville Design Center told her about yet another local nonprofit, Earth Voyage, a Buckminster Fuller Institute affiliate with a unique earth-sciences education program.

Both are on the list of groups Boman hopes to help fund via Earth Exchange. And so is the Sustainability Community Council. Created last year, it needs leadership and money to get its projects going, Chair Mack Pearsall reports.

Maybe a schoolteacher turned stockbroker can help.

To learn more about Earth Exchange, go to www.earth-exchange.org.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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