July 11, 2010
Like most of the world I spent a huge chunk of the afternoon watching the FIFA World Cup Final. What is more, I’ve spent enough time in the Netherlands that I am a mild fan of the Dutch team. So I had someone to root for. It was, as most of you probably know, a hard fought game that Spain won in the last two minutes of overtime by the score of 1-0. And we are not done watching television in the Thompson household, either. Tonight there is the premiere of Murder on the Orient Express with David Suchet as Poirot.
In the meantime, it looks like we’ll spend the waning hours of this Sunday afternoon wringing our hands over CSA beeswax. Yes, folks this is the Thornapple CSA daytime soap. It’s a cavalcade of escapades, trauma and drama. Here are just a few of the highlights.
So what should the CSA do about members who do not sign up at the very beginning of the year? Now I hasten to add before getting into this that I am not a member of the Thornapple CSA core group, and what I think about these questions means absolutely nothing. It’s just that I happen to overhear conversations on such questions while I am puttering around on my computer listening to Roger “Jim” McGuinn singing “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” on my i-tunes. I’m long past the time when my hair’s just right and my pants fit tight, and I get easily distracted. I’ve undoubtedly failed to get all the plot twists right, but nonetheless here’s what I think.
Don’t go there! This is a quagmire. There will be no principled way to sort this out once you get started trying to figure out a fair system for pro-rating. It’s not, for example, fair to just divide the number of weeks by the number of dollars, because the earliest weeks in the distribution are the weeks when the size of the pick-up is the smallest. And then there is all that chard we have to endure before we get to the really good stuff at the end of season. And of course there is the fact that people who signed up on time have actually been working on the farm for the last twelve weeks. “Sweat equity” as the core group charmingly calls it. (Not that I do any sweat equity—Diane’s contribution more than makes up for my share). We can all understand why latecomers might think it’s fair to pay less, but this is a case where all the time spent trying to figure out what would be fair is an unfair burden to place on the core group members.
And then there is the question of what to do about the carrots. Our next crop of carrots have apparently become so overrun with weeds that they are getting strangled out. Do we recruit extra “sweat equity” to save these sweet chubs, or should we resort to hired labor? One point of view is that they are not worth the money or the aggravation, but that just brings up another issue: do we just let the members suck up this casualty of the wet spring (that’s the CSA way, after all), or do we dip into the meager treasury and buy some carrots from another farm? Here, I remain agnostic. It’s not up to me, anyway. Carrots are certainly better than chard, but I’m not going to risk a knockdown brawl the next time the core group meets in my dining room by venturing an opinion on this one.
And finally there are the interpersonal relationships that make belonging to a CSA the next best thing to Peyton Place or As the World Turns except without the sex. These include clueless boobs who complain about the “hired help” that takes charge of distribution day. Wake up folks. This is a volunteer activity. There is no hired help (well, maybe just a little in the case of the carrots). If you don’t like it, pitch in and do it yourself. Then there are the personality intrigues that make life interesting, but probably don’t belong in a blog that can be read by any idiot with an internet browser. Sorry folks, I’m not going there either. I’ll be in enough trouble already if people start bugging Diane about carrot futures.
Yes, it really is part of what the CSA experience is all about, especially when the organizational base for the group is the membership itself as opposed to someone who, say, already is a farmer. This ain’t a grocery store and it ain’t even a business enterprise. It’s a social movement, folks, and as Oscar Wilde himself once said “The only difficulty with socialism is that it requires too many evenings.”
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University