Community Assisted Agriculture

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Philosophy

Why I Support Our Table in Sherwood, Oregon
Cecil Denney

 Our Table is a 58 acre small farm located on Morgan Road in Sherwood, Oregon. It is organized as a mufti-tiered cooperative that includes workers, farmers and other producers. The values expressed by those involved both as producers and consumers address a number of issues that impact not just Portland or the Northwest. The following issues are ones that are of concern to me. They are related to why Our Table is an important resource for me to support.

Limits to Growth
There are limits to the resources of planet Earth. They may be large, but they exist. Already, we are beginning to see reduced availability of fresh, clean water. Food is in short supply in some regions due to drought while the population continues to grow. Simple logic tells us that there are limits to the number of people the planet can support if for no other reason, the limits of resources, water, food, shelter. At some point, it is obvious that planet Earth has limits to the growth of its human population.

Impact of Fossil Fuels on the Environment
In the development of the industrial revolution, no one considered the potential negative impact of using fossil fuel. We now know enough about the history and chemistry of global climate variation to see that human use of fossil fuels at their present level have already impacted climate in ways that will be detrimental for years to come. Global use of fossil fuel has supported enormous increases in agricultural production while also contributing to environmental pollution.

Perspectives on Wealth
There are three kinds of wealth. Primary wealth is the raw natural resources of the Earth and those natural resources that can be restored through the capture of solar energy by plants and man’s initiative. Secondary wealth represents the products that we can create out of the natural resources of the earth by adding energy and labor to primary sources. Secondary wealth is subject to decay at varying rates. Tertiary wealth is measured by trust documents (money) as to the value of primary and secondary wealth. It is considered by many as primary because it can be exchanged for primary and secondary forms. But, money is not wealth itself. Land is primary wealth whose value is determined by its use value and whether this use is limited or perpetual. With labor and energy land can be made to generate secondary value. That value can be easily exchanged for other goods produced elsewhere.

Compound Interest
Whether you are a borrower or lender, compound interest is addictive. As lender, we appreciate the idea that a small amount of money can become a large amount of money when left alone to generate compounded interest. Compound interest results in exponential growth. Exponential growth is inherently unstable. Compound interest is an important element of our capitalist culture. The desire to have goods and services now rather than later are the foundation of renting money at compound interest. On the other hand, bartering, saving for future purchases, recycling of usable goods, and sustainability in general can undermine renting money.

Worker Cooperatives Economic Model
It was not long ago that slavery was taken for granted. It was OK for one person to own another. The value of a slave was reflected in the cost of purchase or cost of raising a child slave. The value came from the ability to compel them to labor, to produce goods and services of value to the owner. We got beyond slavery even if we did not get beyond structural indentured services and discrimination.
     It was not long ago when women were also virtual slaves considered to be the property assets of their family or husband. They did not have rights themselves and their labor, their contribution to the sustenance of the family, their value was owned by their spouse. We have substantially overcome that form of slavery today yet criminal elements continue to engage in human trafficking. Discrimination based on sex still exists.
     Generally, we still accept that in exchange for a small sum, one person can own the creative labor if not the body of another person.

(A product or service is produced with raw materials, energy, and labor. A company makes little distinction when calculating the cost of a product or service. This can not be accomplished without workers who dream and design these products and services. Yet, the company typically reaches beyond the concept of labor to ownership of ideas and information produced by a worker, even ideas conceived and developed independently from the workers assigned tasks. It is as if the company owned the whole person, day and night. It is a slave concept. Only the company, not the human source of the idea is entitled to share in the profit that results. )

     People still consider it OK to sell themselves into a kind of wage slavery wherein they have no rights. Commercial enterprises consider human workers to be inventory upon which they can use to deliver a value to an end product. It seems obvious that when a company considers a worker as a piece of inventory the inventory(worker) has no rights to share in the profit produced because of his/her contribution to a product.

Health and Nutrition
Simple facts. Fruits and vegetables are important to our diets for good health. Fresh produce, harvested near its peak maturity is more nutritious. Transporting produce thousands of miles takes not only fossil fuel, but in most cases, it must be harvested before maturity. In many cases the addition of freshness preserving chemicals in the form of pesticides and even chemical fertilizers diminish the nutritional value in order to favor the ability to produce on a large scale.

Sustainable Use of Soil
When produce is grown, the produce extracts chemical nutrients and water from the soil. When the produce is then transported to another location to be consumed, in effect, the nutrients and water extracted from the ground are also transported away. Water is restored either through natural or artificial means to the soil but the nutrients are not automatically replaced. If the wrong kinds of chemicals are used in the production, they can and usually do negatively impact the quality of the soil organisms that differentiate soil from dirt. Over time, the rich soil which contains live organisms is converted into dirt without living organisms.

Value of Shared Risk
Insurance is a commercial financial process for sharing risk. People combine what alternatively could be savings into a common pool and those that incur loss can make withdrawals from the common pool out of proportion to the contributions they made to the pool. When a person purchases a product, it may come with (or without) a warranty that has a limited time duration. Generally, however, when a purchase is made, the purchaser expects the purchase to work as advertised. Corporations may purchase insurance to insulate themselves from risk. Bankers and investors hedge their investments with insurance. The 2008 financial collapse introduced us to Credit Default Swaps where investors and banks attempted to insure each other assuming good times would continue. How does a small farm manage its risk of a crop failure? There are several alternatives.

Metrics in Addition to the one of Financial Profit
Gross Domestic Product; profit; assets and liabilities; average sale price of homes; salary level — measures, metrics we use to determine the economic well being of our society. They do not measure the health of all we value about our society as we have all been lead to believe. The country of Bhutan has an index of happiness, which ‘measures’ spiritual well being. It is an example of metrics that go far beyond the limited dependence on financial status. Of course, having what one needs for survival is essential. But using money based measures in no way guarantees a fullness of life.

======= Conclusions =======

What do all these issues have to do with Our Table?
As a worker cooperative, Our Table offers an economic model that is not based on taking advantage of workers. The worker, in addition to earning an income, has ownership in the venture. Work is not for “the boss”. When work is well done a boss does not expropriate the benefit of profit from the work of someone else, the worker directly benefits. As a cooperative, it is not every person for themselves, but every person for the good of the cause. In a cooperative, one must learn a new paradigm of work relationship, one of cooperation, not competitiveness with the other workers. The worker’s work is owned by the worker, not some other owner. The competition goes beyond rival services. The competition seeks to honor and value work that provides a benefit to the community, not the subtle financial rape of your neighbors. Cooperative enterprises can call on the best of the human experience while expanding the circle of family-ness. Ultimately, the rise of cooperatives challenge conventional wisdom about how an economic system can work – not cut throat competition but competitive cooperation. Competition based on the best contributions to the common good. Only through the experimentation of models like that of Our Table can we find our way out of resource depleting consumerism society that ignores the limits of this planet.

Our Table seeks not just a producer-consumer relationship. The worthiness of the cooperative model asks the consumer to share in the risks that go with farming. A crop may fail, a weeks share may be sparse, but with confidence in the cooperative model and the fact that the workers put their own well being at risk, the consumer shares in the risk. It is an affirming, shared trust relationship not normally experienced. It helps even those removed from the primary wealth of the land and secondary wealth created by hard workers on the farm to get in touch again with real wealth and its risks and rewards.

We generally understand the term water-shed. Our Table represents a commitment to the food-shed. Much of the food grown in Oregon is shipped elsewhere while we import food from other areas. Keeping the radius of transportation small, less fossil fuel is required to deliver food. It also means the time between harvest and consumption of the harvested food is shorter and thus the nutrition and flavor is better. Our Table even delivers some of its food via human power (not fossil fuel powered) transportation. This exhibits a value worthy of support.

How long can you farm before you remove all the nutrients? How much fertilizer will be used to substitute for sustainable methods? Our Table farms on land trust that is committed to perpetual health. Our Table works organically to restore to the earth. What it takes out in nutrients Out Table is committed a perpetually sustainable method of farming restoring to the land the nutrients by natural methods. It works to be here not only for you, but your children and grandchildren and their grandchildren. Through its practices and economic model, it works for sustainable operations. The land and its ability to produce high quality food is a source of primary wealth that if nurtured can produce goods and services for many generations to come.

Our Table can and should grow. It is an important model for our age. It should be supported in the face of the limits to growth of our world population and the impacts of climate changes already in the stream of future assured impacts. They are producing good products with the right values and dedication of a committed community of workers invested in its success. They are demonstrating a model of business that can serve as an example. They are not demonstrating debt and consumerism. The are demonstrating mutual sharing, health, dignity of work, economic alternatives. This is why I support Our Table and enjoy their products while doing it.

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