Why Thornapple?

December 5, 2010

File this one in the “Questions you never thought to ask” category: Where did Thornapple CSA get its name? The true answer to this question lays buried deep in the synapses of Jane Bush’s brain. Which is another way of saying it was Jane’s idea. But others in the Thornapple CSA immediately liked the suggestion. It provided a subtle link to AppleSchram, which is the name of Jane’s farm. You know, Thornapple; AppleSchram. It’s got that “apple” thing going. And then there’s Ryan Apple, who serves on the CSA core group. I think it’s a trend.

Almost all of the fruits and veggies for the Thornapple CSA distributions come from garden plots and hoop-houses on the AppleSchram premises. As members know well, Thornapple is a member-organized outfit, as distinct from a farmer-organized CSA. In the latter model, one or more farmers solicit subscriptions for the crops they are planning to grow. In a member-organized CSA it is the subscription holders who organize everything, including finding a place to farm and someone to do the farming. In the Thornapple case, we have been contracting with a different farmer every season, and soon the core group will be taking up that task for the 2011 growing season. The stable factor has been that we work off of Jane’s land.

AppleSchram farm is near Thornapple Creek, which begins in Eaton County, not all that far from where the Grand River takes a northward course heading into Lansing. It (we assume) eventually becomes the Thornapple River, which in turn flows mostly from east to west emptying into the Grand River over in the general vicinity of Grand Rapids. There’s actually a very informative article on the Thornapple River on Wikipedia.  If all of this is true (and, hey, I’m just the blogger here; don’t expect me to do geography), the AppleSchram Farm is in the Thornapple watershed. Which is a good enough reason to call this the Thornapple CSA, especially since it is such a cool name and it definitely has that “apple” thing going for it.

The core group is, as the name suggests, a group of volunteers at the core of this apple. While most members donate time and labor to do farm work, and everyone donates time in one way or another, members of the core group are donating extra time to meet, discuss and occasionally execute the key steering functions that keep the CSA functional. You could call it the steering committee, but that wouldn’t have the “apple” thing going for it. Which, I think you can probably tell by now, is absolutely the most important driving value of the Thornapple CSA.

Say hey, readers, if any of you are so deeply into apples that you have been yearning to be part of a core, this may be your chance. You do have to be a member of the Thornapple CSA, but what’s not to like about that? You should soon be able to find information about volunteering for the core group elsewhere on this website. (That is, if the core group gets its act together. If they haven’t yet as you read this, that’s all the more reason for you, dear reader, as a webhead competent enough to have found this obscure blog, might want to consider volunteering to help out!)

There are a lot of important decisions facing the core group. They are working on a mission statement, and spent some time yesterday sharing the life experiences that motivated them to be part of a CSA. They have to sort out some issues with distribution. My spouse and personal tie to the core, Diane Thompson is tired of giving up all her Wednesday afternoons as a volunteer who sits out in the elements at the Allen Street Market during distribution season. (Actually, this is not how Diane would put it. She would stress that distribution at Allen Street involves 5 hours out in all kinds of weather that is taking a toll on her spirit. But it’s my blog, and she’s just going to have to live with my sarcasm and verbal lassitude.)

The members of the core are thinking about what crops people actually want to get in their weekly distributions because it is time to get a seed order ready. There are also things that need to be happening out on the farm. Here’s a snippet from last year’s entry on that topic:

As for the fields that furnish weekly deliveries for Thornapple CSA, they have now been sown in a cover crop of winter rye. Cover crops are forms of “green manure” viewed as essential components of a sustainable agriculture. …  According to Wikipedia, Pliny the Elder is dismissive of rye, writing that it “is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation”. I guess Pliny never bit into a good Reuben sandwich. And then there’s ergot. Ergot is a rye fungus that can cause hallucinations. Scholars have speculated that ergot was the cause of dancing manias that occurred during the late Middle Ages. According to Robert Bartholomew, “During outbreaks many immodestly tore off their clothing and pranced naked through the streets. Some screamed and beckoned to be tossed into the air; others danced furiously in what observers described as strange, colorful attire. A few reportedly laughed or weeped to the point of death. Women howled and made obscene gestures while others squealed like animals. Some rolled themselves in the dirt or relished being struck on the soles of their feet.”

We expect this kind of behavior to be occurring at Thornapple by mid-March at the latest.

But there’s currently no farmer, which is another task. As for me, I just blog about this stuff. I’m not a member of the core. I’ve always been more of an orange man.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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