A question has come up in discussions regarding Cutia Taranului. The question circles around “what do the peasants get out of this” (this being Cutia Taranului) … usually with an undertone that is really asking “how are the peasants being exploited this time”. So, first of all, a great thank you to everyone who brought up the question. It is a just and important question since the peasants have been subject to years of exploitation and abuse. However, we were also slightly offended by the question because nothing could be further from our mind. With those two energies now consolidated I believe we can now answer that question thoroughly.
We spend hours (sometimes many hours) over a period of weeks (sometimes many
weeks … months) on the phone and when possible face-to-face with peasants that contact us (the only peasant family we reached out to were Ildi and Levente – our neighbors and first peasant family to join the project, all the other peasants learn about the project and contact us to inquire about it) regarding the project. It takes patience and conscious effort to communicate to them our intentions and how Cutia Taranului works.
We face much doubt and skepticism. We place no pressure on anyone to join. We realize that Cutia Taranului brings with and demands of peasant-families a huge cultural and intellectual shift … we appreciate every peasant family who gives us the opportunity to share Cutia Taranului with them. We are in awe of every peasant family that finds the courage to give it a try. (And we look forward to rejoicing with every peasant family that succeeds.)
When a peasant family expresses an interest to join the project, the conversation moves the next phase.
We learn from every peasant what they create and explore different directions for putting together a relevant and feasible box. Relevancy means a box that can provide a valuable and useful service to people in the city. Feasible means that the peasant can organize and deliver the box in an efficient and financial way. Financial means that at the end of a day of deliveries they are left with a decent profit.
That last “financial” part may seem obvious but in almost every case, if left to their own decisions, peasants will come up with either (1) nothing; (2) a box that is either irrelevant (people in the city are not likely to be interested in it) or (3) insustainable effort (the peasant family may end up losing money or making an insignificant profit). Our objective is not to flood the website with boxes, but to put out correct and relevant boxes that will, hopefully, be embraced by people in the city (as has been the case so far).
After numerous iterations we usually arrive at a good box and … we move to the next phase
Launch and “Adverstising”
We ask peasants families to write a page introducing themselves and to provide us with a photograph of them. However most peasants are not writers so … most of the time Andreea ends up interviewing them and authoring a page for them. The rest of the time Andreea reviews and offers editorial suggestions based on our past experience. When possible we usually end up photographing them too.
Andreea then continues to write (or help edit) a description of the boxes and the menu of additional, optional products. We publish all that information on the website, present it to them (which sometimes isn’t trivial … since they don’t aways have Internet access) and ask them to review it. We also add their information into the Cutia Taranului information system (which is being contantly developed as the needs of the project unfold).
We then send a notification to people who have signed up to the constantly growing (all over Romania) waiting list … we give them 24 hours advance notice to decide if they want to join. Then we begin to spread the word about the new boxes to the growing Cutia Taranului social-network. Then registrations begin.
Every registration arrives at our information system and begins a carefully monitored process. We relay registration information to peasant-families (when possible by email, many times by phone). We remind them that they need to call new members within a day or two to confirm the registration. We offer them guidance on how to speak on the phone, what needs to be asked, what needs to be avoided … how to be thorough, friendly and effective. We (try) to make sure that they do so in an orderly way by confirming with them after they speak to every member.
We then produce for them organized reports of their member lists and stay in touch until boxes are ready to deliver. We try to assist them in organizing an effective delivery route (instead of zig-zagging throughout the city). When necessary we send email updates to all the members of a box to let them know how things are coming along.
Before the first delivery we try make sure everything is in order. We send members an email letting them know that boxes are expected and what they (as members) can do to help in the process.
We then wait with excitement to hear from peasants and hopefully members how was their experience. Delivery of boxes has just begun so we are just now beginning to move into a reliable and recurring delivery schedule.
We charge peasant-families nothing for this entire process. We do it patienly and passionately and with no strings attached. Members pay the peasant directly. 95% of the revenues stay with the peasant. We ask for a 5% monthly donation (at the end of every month – based on actual sales) to support our continued work.
Ironically we’ve been systemically criticized by anyone with any business experience that 5% is too little to ask in return for what we do. We’ve spent a lot of energy speaking to these people about our motivations and reasoning. Despite continuous pressures to change this number we haven’t. We are very happy with it. So are peasants (who currently pay a lot more for a lot less).
The Remaining 5%
This is where the story takes an interesting twist. Everyone seems to be interested in the bottom line number but not a single person has asked where that money will go. Here is a list of things on our agenda:
- Funding our continued research on sustainable agriculture in Romania. We would like to see traditional Romanian agriculture evolve beyond where it is to better practices. We would like to see a system of agriculture that:
- Is better for the land itself and takes precious care of of soil fertility for future generations (as opposed to the current paradigm in which soil fertility is constantly degraded).
- Is much less oil and oil-product (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.) dependent.
- Is much less labor intensive then traditional “slavery to the land” agriculture.
- Is much more respectful towards and integrative with trees and forests
- Is much more respectful towards and integrative with animals.
- Is much more diverse.
- Is inherently organic.
- Is much more efficient and reliable.
- … in other words … more sustainable, more reliable, less expensive, less work, more and better food, more profits.
- Funding our continued research projects on diverse aspects of sustainable village life in Romania in the hope that others (hopefully a younger generation) will be inspired to give it a try.
- Creating a non-profit that will support the ongoing operation of the project and shelter it and everyone involved (peasants, members and us) from potential hostilities.
- Supporting other social endeavours that we would like to explore (that are too early to unveil and way beyond the scope of this post).
… and it’s all just getting started … so who knows what that list may look like in the near and far future