Ildi and Levente Embracing Spring 2014

Before I get to the body of this post I’d like to say this. The reason you get to see more images from Ildi & Levente then from other producers is because we are neighbor. We would be happy to post more images from other produers and that is where you may come into the picture. If you enjoy photography and maybe even a member of one of our boxes and want to get a closer look at where your food comes from and want to share those images with others then please do visit with one of our producers, snap some images and send them to us … we will happily publish them.

I think that this year’s centerpiece is Levente’s improvised heating system. Initially he welded together an old stove box and boiler to heat water which is circulated through pipes which heat everything from plants to young-chicks:

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Then due to frosty nights he added a hot air blower made up of all used parts: an old pump engine, a propeller from a broken down car and a radiator he found in a scrap metal shop in Cluj and a timer that switches it on and off (I think in half our intervals) so that the engine doesn’t overload.

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The heated greenhouse is already home to numerous generations of plants, some of which will be transplanted into other greenhouses where they will grow and mature still protected from potentially cold weather, significantly extending the growing season.

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One greenhouse is already filled with green – with plenty of spinach and soon radishes.

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In addition to the chicks pictured above there are two mother hens busy taking care of just hatched chicks:

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And continuing Levente’s metal-working season he has constructed an improvised power onion planter – which should transform a two week task into a two day task.

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This winter there was a substantial group of members who continued to enjoy deliveries from Ildi and Levente (and other producer-families) throughout the winter. Now with a growing season starting earlier, the “production year” has expanded amazingly … from about 5 months in the first year to 9 or 10 months. Wonderful evolution.

Summer Cancellations Again

Dear members of Cutia Taranului,

There are two things happening with Cutia Taranului that are causing us discomfort:

  • There are more than a handful of members who are asking for boxes once every two weeks (instead of every week).
  • There are quite a few cancellations piling up from members who are going away on summer vacation.

If Cutia Taranului was just about selling food then we wouldn’t be writing this. But it isn’t. It is about a supportive collaboration and for the most part long term relationships between families who produce food in villages and families who consume food in cities. One of the key features of this relationship is a continuous and reliable relationship for both sides. Canceling boxes (for either of the above reasons) compromises the reliability of the service.

Though its kind of dumb and obviosu to say this – we feel it needs to be said: plants don’t go on vacation and don’t stop producing food. The work and care that peasant families have put into farming does not and cannot “go on vacation”. The summer time, when people also go on vacation, is a time of peak production. Finally, after months of work, produce yields reach their peak … and just then … cancellations appear. The accumulative effect is a substantial loss of income for the peasant families for work they have already put in. Every time a box isn’t delivered is a direct loss to them. The work has been put in, the food is ready and the delivery route is already driven … but less boxes are delivered. This isn’t right.

It isn’t right because the burden falls completely on the shoulders of the peasant families (both for the work and the loss of income). The peasant families won’t say anything because you have put them in an uncomfortable situation. They are grateful for your memberships … more and more so as time passes and the relationships become long term ones … and so they are uncomfortable saying anything about this, but it hurts them.

We wrote about this last year (and were very happy when a few people acted accordingly) and suggested that the best option is “pass it on”. If you go on vacation or have to cancel for any reason try to find someone else: a friend, neighbor or family who can accept delivery of the box instead of you. This is really the best solution where you don’t have to pay anything, the peasant family get full payment and someone you care about gets to enjoy wonderful fresh food.

However given the cancellation this year we feel the need for a more aggressive intervention. As we see it there are two other options to better (than the current one-sided situation) deal with this:

  1. Members who go on vacation (or cannot find a way to deal with weekly deliveries) will have their memberships cancelled and their places will be made available to others.  When they come back from the vacation, if places are still available, they can sign up again and continue getting food. Please keep in mind that there is a constant waiting list of people, so we expect these places will be quickly taken up and will not be available when you get back.
  2. Members who go on vacation (or cancel for any other reason) will be required to pay half the price of every box that they cancel. This payment will honor and value the continuing membership that is being reserved for them. This way the burden of cancellation is divided between peasant families and members.

The 1st option isn’t appealing to anyone (except maybe new members in the waiting list) – it is forceful and feels alien. We prefer the 2nd option. We believe it is better aligned with the “continuous and reliable” aspect of a healthy Cutia Taranului relationship. It will remind everyone and demonstrate that the membership itself is valuable and deserves to be appreciated.

We will be encouraging the peasant families to go with the 2nd option. We hope that they won’t need to – because we trust you, the members, to do the right thing and be one step ahead of them (the peasant families). Maybe there is another option we haven’t seen. Find it and make it happen. Please take responsibility for your part in this precious relationship – if you are going to cancel, please do it right.If you appreciate fresh food appearing at your doorstop reliably every week then please show your appreciation by providing the same reliability to your peasant families. If you are going to cancel you may as well do it right.

Weather Report – Spring 2013

Following what felt like a drought during winter we’ve had an extreme spring. After the snows melted (for the last time) temperatures soared and it felt like we skipped over spring and into summer. It was really hot and really dry for 5 or 6 weeks. Then spring rains arrived. It’s been 3 or weeks of almost non-stop wet weather. Temperatures dropped (came down as low as 6c for a few nights), we even fired up one of the rocket stoves a few times. The weather has been mostly overcast, though we’ve had enough sunshine to start using the solar dehyrators (mostly plants for teas).

Most prominently we’ve been getting lots of rain. This has been quite a relief given the super-dry summer we had last year. While Europe is experiencing destructive flooding we are being blanketed by precious, well paced and well spaced (there’s time for water to soak into the ground) rains. I’m also doing a few experiments regarding water (much more on that in future posts) and the rain has been very collaborative.

A couple of weeks ago we got word from one of the Cutia Taranului producers that they were hit by hail and lost almost their entire crop. This morning we got a call from another small producer (getting started in life as a peasant and new to Cutia Tarnaului) who just notified us that he too lost most of his crop to hail yesterday. An hour or so later Andreea called me out to check out the bees – they were dancing like crazy outside the hive. It looked like swarming behavior – though it should not have been because we pre-emptively split the hive to “cheat swarming”. Andreea suggested that maybe they were indicating a change in the weather … and indeed ominous dark clouds were not far away.

Within minutes a storm broke out. Strong south-eastern winds (usually our winds come from the north-west) with strength that we’ve never seen before (granted we’ve only been here 2 years). Visiblity dropped as a blanket of water came down (and sideways) from the sky. A few lightning bolts also hit the ground. The winds have settled, yet moderate rain continues to fall.

I went for a walk outside to see my water expriments (going very well). Many grasses, a patch of mint and all of our potato plants are bent and leaning in the direction of the wind. One of Ildy and Levente’s greenhouse covers ripped open and seems to have been blown completely off (we can only see the arches of a naked greenhouse from where are – we are waiting to hear from them if they have suffered any other damages).

It’s all so fragile. We (all of us humans on the planet) live and exist within a certain tolerance of natural fluctuation. The more we stress the ecosystem the more extreme it becomes … extremeties that are outside of our tolerances of existence … expressing those stresses directly back into our life.

We must stop taking and start giving.
We must stop pushing and start dancing.
We must stop denying and start accepting.
We must stop denying and start embracing.
We must stop resisting and start surrendering.

Biosan Hit by Hail

We just heard from Mihaela and Kinga of Biosan that a hail storm destroyed most of their crops. It tore through their greenhouse covers and slammed into the plants below. We had a bit of hail in our area but nothing so destructive. It is amazing that this kind of devastation can occur in minutes:

They worked efficiently to get an early start this year and had already made a few deliveries of wonderful (we know because we got a taste) fresh greens to their members … and now this. The deliveries will stop. They will get started on new plants but recuperation will take some time.

There isn’t much (that I know of) to protect a garden from a hail storm. I believe that answers can only be found from a more macro view of things … diversity comes to me as a keyword. Diversity in a garden, diversity in the wider eco-system in which the garden lives … diversity increases the odds in your favor when nature strikes (somethings may be lost, but not all).

With Cutia Taranului diveristy gains additional context. Cutia Taranului transforms a hail storm into an experience of community in a very practical way:

  • Members of the Biosan box who just started to enjoy the fresh foods will have to find another source until Mihaela & Kinga can get back on track.
  • Mihaela & Kinga have invested care, time, work and money in their gardens and are experiencing losses.
  • Andreea and I were sad to hear about the damage and the frustrations Mihaela & Kinga are experiencing. We were very happy to watch them grow from a small experiment last year (when they shipped just a few boxes) to a small producer this year.

I should say that this isn’t the first time that Cutia Taranului has experienced casualties of nature. Last year, Farkas family also joined Cutia Taranului, they had a list of members who had joined and … they lost their entire crop to last year’s drought (which, unlike hail, can be mitigated, but that is another story). We saw the small plants when they were growing … they were all transplanted into the fields … and almost all the plants died (there wasn’t enough variety or quantity for box deliveries). The Farkas family may offer a box this year … their fields are planted, but this year they are more cautious and waiting to see how events unfold before extending an invigation for members to join.

I do believe that there are things that can be done to protect a community … and again the answer comes in the form of diversity. There are currently 5 peasant-families who will be delivering (some have not yet started, and more may yet join)  over 150 boxes of vegetables this season. The boxes are all sold out. However if (and we hope that in the future this will be the case) there were more producers and members then as a community we should be able to better cope with such events.

For example, Biosan members could temporarily (for a couple of months, or if necessary, the rest of the season) join other producers and continue to enjoy fresh produce. Peasant families could each (with what I believe would be little effort) commit to growing (at the start of the season when plants are still very vulnerable and there is time for re-establishing gardens)  additional seedlings as a kind of mutual insurance policy to help each other quickly restart when something like this happens.

As I am writing these words we are having a very rainy day … quickly alternating between radiant sun and downpours of water. We are conducting a few experiments with water so when there is a substantial downfall I go outside to have a look around. When I went outside a few minutes ago I realized that if such prolific rains would continue much longer (we’ve had a week of plentiful rain) they may cause flat and open fields to flood … drowning the still fragile plants (we are not worried about this because our gardens are built as raised beds which are naturally more flood tolerant).

Sidenote: I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again. It isn’t overall global warming that is a threat to food production, it is the increasing frequency of singular extreme events (a few minutes of hail, a few hours of heavy rainfail, a few weeks of drought) which do the greatest damage. This instability is most likely going to be a constant for many years to come. It is one example of the price we are paying for the ecological neglect we’ve been tolerating.

There is work to do in our food gardens to prepare for such events but there is also work to do as a community. I am sorry for the difficulty this event has brought to Mihaela & Kinga. At the same time I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the potential for Cutia Taranului to become a more resilient community.

When to Get Food?

When it’s available! That seems like an obvious answer but if you have gotten used to super-market mentality then that answer is not so obvious. If you shop in super-markets you can probably get pretty much whatever you want whenever you want it (though prices may fluctuate) … and you are used to it being that way.

Members of Cutia Taranului experience a different reality. Food is delivered when it beomes available. When it comes to vegetables, the boxes in spring are light and fluffy as they contain a lot of salad leaves, the boxes get heavier in summer when tomatoes and peppers appear and even heavier in fall as potatoes and other root vegetables become available. For the most part this cycle is governed by nature and it provides, when it comes to vegetables, a continuous supply of fresh food for 6-8 months (in Romania). We know it isn’t obvious because many (happy!) members were surprised when, last fall, the vegetable-box deliveries ended.

However there are other kinds of cycles in nature that are less continuous and more concentrated. We’ve recently launched a box with lamb-meat. This is a unique box since it is only available once a year.

In Romania (maybe also in other places, I am not a religious scholar so I don’t know) it coincides with the Easter holiday. However, and more importantly, it coincides with a natural flow. This is the time of year when lambs are born. Most local-Romanian sheep-herd owners, who have established herds, do not want to expand (potentially doubling) their herd (they have limited resources available for their herd and need to maintain it accordingly). This is also a time when sheep-milk-based dairy products are revived (sheep milk is available after lambs are born) and if the lambs consume all (or most) of the milk, then very little is left for producing cheeses. So the lambs need to be butchered (or sold!) now.

If you like lamb-meat then this is the time to get it. If you want it available for a longer period of time then you can purchase more, cut it up into servings, freeze it and thaw it as needed. Healthy, grass fed, organic lamb-meat (in the above mentioned box the lambs are slaughtered in the pre-dawn hours and delivered in the morning hours – it doesn’t get any fresher then that) is only available at this time of year. It won’t be available again until next year.

A similar cycle exists with pig-meat. In villages pigs are butchered for the Christmas holiday season. However there are practical reasons for that too. By that time pigs have matured and grown to provide plenty of meat and the cold weather conditions make it easier and safer to deal with fresh meat (which would spoil much faster in hot weather).

Even in our own small homestead where we grow Muscovite-ducks and chickens and we could theoretically butcher fresh meet whenever we want it (and sometimes we do), our freezer is filled in cycles. After the mating season we will cull some mature males (keeping only ones we wish to breed again next year). In early winter we cull the flock so that we don’t have to feed too many animals throughout winter (we keep good mothers and healthy males).

So keep your eyes open for these special boxes. Food is available when nature provides not when you want it. Consume it when it is available and preserve it for when it isn’t.

Walking Away From the King

I’ve donated to a Kickstarter  project called Money & Life. You can read more about why I donated to it on my personal blog. I am continuing to take in any existing video content I can find and I arrived at this too-short video … which touches precisely on the movitation for Cutia Taranului. I invite you to watch it and head over to the Kickstarter project page and make a donation. I really want to see this film and I want it to be available for many others to see.

 

This is the video that introduces the project:

Last Minute Cacellations

It’s summer time and people are naturally moving around more … goin away on vacation … and this has generated some friction with Cutia Taranului. People have been making last minute cancellations. Sometimes the cancellation is done responsibly … the peasant is notified a week in advance or by email. But sometimes they are occuring irresponsibly … cancelling by telephone or email a day or two before delivery or even not being at home and not answering a phone when delivery is already in progress.

It is fairly clear, to me and I hope to others, that the irresponsible behavior is … well irresponsible, inexcusable, disrepsectul … and should simply not happen. That is easy and obvious. However it is the “responsible” cancellation that I want to address.

Cutia Taranului is about fostering a mutual, complimentary and stable relationship between peasants and members. That last part … stable is a key ingredient. It is a peasant’s responsibility to grow and deliver food regularly … that is obvious to everyone (though it is far from trivial). But what about a member’s responsibility to stablity? If this is to be a mutual and reciprocal relationship … how should a member who goes on vacation for a week behave? The easy and again obvious solution is to cancel the delivery for that week. But is there a better solution … one that is built around a mutual aspiration for stabiity and reliability? For example, if you are going out of town for a week how about giving your box to a neighbor or family relative? Maybe they will enjoy it so much that they too will want to join the box?

If you shop in the supermarket then one of the inherent luxuries is that you only shop when you need and want to. Is it obvious that this behavior should be applied to Cutia Taranului? We can tell you for a fact that in some cases peasants DO NOT sell available produce in city markets because they prioritize and set it aside for their Cutia Taranului boxes. We can tell you for a fact that some products such as baked goods begin days in advance … the boxes are prepared fresh and by order. How can you, as box members reciprocate this commitment? Should you? I don’t have a clear answer … but I do believe that the question needs to be asked and that conscious and responsible decisions can be valuable. Don’t you?

If you have udeas on how to deal with this situation responsibly as a box-member then please leave a comment so that others may benefit from your approach to this issue.