She’s Hot

June 5, 2011

Hot and wet. Diane was not looking forward to another year of hanging out at the Allen Street Market on Wednesday afternoons, waiting for Thornapple CSA members to come by and pick up their shares. We’ve already had a week of August temperatures here in June this year. And it has been pretty windy, to boot. Holding down that awning (necessary to keep the hot sun off) was apparently quite a challenge. I heard the stories, but I didn’t witness the carnage. So it was time to think about a location for pick-up that would be a little more comfortable.

The Allen Street Market in west Lansing is a once a week farmer’s market held on Wednesday afternoons in a very spare parking lot adjacent to the Allen Neighborhood Center on Kalamazoo St. It’s the result of hard work by a number of neighborhood and local food community activists aiming to make fresh fruits and vegetables more readily available to people in this part of town. I know people who think of west Lansing as a “poor” neighborhood in all the senses that implies. I don’t think of it that way, but the residents are a mix of longtime and mostly working-class homeowners, MSU graduate students and the usual run of short-term semi-transient renters that often go along with grad students. I know a couple of MSU faculty who live there, too. There are also a couple of apartment complexes where significant numbers of refugees and recent immigrants live. Look at it however you like, having the market there once a week is a commendable project from a food ethics perspective. It blends opportunity for farmers with food access for people who don’t drive a Lexus or ride airplanes a couple of times a month.

Or at least the opportunity for famers is an important part of the theory. It’s not clear to me that this has been a big winner for small-scale farmers. For one thing, they typically sell more in Okemos, where people do drive a Lexus. Between you and me, one of the sore points for Thornapple has been a farmer/vender at Allen Street who was constantly complaining that our socialist ideas were hurting his business. It’s an excuse, I guess. And the Okemos market is more comfortable for everyone. After eight years, the facility at Allen Street is still little more than a sun-baked and weedy patch of old asphalt. Beggars can’t be choosers, apparently. This means that even while Allen Street has been holding its own, it does not flourish with dozens of venders. The “poor” lose out to the people who drive a Lexus. As one of my economist friends reminds me, “They usually do.”

So Thornapple is bailing out, too. Soon members will be picking up their shares in my garage, where Diane will not be quite as hot, and somewhat drier. This will help her save energy for some of her other projects. Say hey, for a brief on Diane’s other projects, check out the website of the Northwest Initiative. They’ve put up a sensational little video on their school garden project. I know that Diane will be a star on u-tube before we know it, even if she is less hot in our garage than on the asphalt.

Well, she’ll still be hot, if you know what I mean, and the video proves it. But she’ll be more comfortable. And she’ll still be wet, for the time being, though less wet on pick-up days than when she’s out in the fields (or hoophouse, as the case may be) at Appleschram Orchard. It’s been another wet spring in Michigan, and farmers have had a devil of a time getting their crops in the ground. Looking back a year I posted a blog entitled “Wet Spring”. It may be the worst blog I’ve written. I call attention to it just so you can A) note that there may be a pattern of wet springs emerging here in central Michigan. At least I’m not sitting by the fire this year, but June is not over and the Michigan temperatures are very changeable. And B) I’m hoping to make this week’s effort look good by comparison. The larger point of that blog and this one is another reinforcing lesson in the CSA way. Food ethics is not a domain of moral purity. Compromise is the name of the game, and balancing, adjustment and revision of strategy are always fair game. In the food ethics world we call this pragmatism, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Really.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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