limba: RomanaEnglish

Yoghurt Culture

„Archaeologists believe that human collecting of honey predates our cultivation of the soil … When by chance or intention honey is mixed with water, fermentation happens. When the honey is pure, it acts as a preservative and inhibits microscopic life. But honey diluted with water becomes a stimulating medium for airborne yeast to land, feast upon, and reproduce exponentially, bubbling and vividly alive. Within a short time, the honey-water will be mead, its sugars having been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of tiny beings invisible to the human eye.

… It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks. The production of mead does not require fire, and possibly it has been part of human life for even longer than controlled fire. Imagine the wonder and awe our ancestors must have felt as they first encountered fermenting honey-water in the hollow of a tree. Were they scared by the bubbling? Or just curious? Once they tasted it, they must have liked it and drunk more. Then they started to experience a light, giddy feeling. Surely some divine spirit granted them this substance and the state it induced.

… The learning of techniques to ferment alcohol and thus enter sacred states of altered consciousness is a defining characteristic of human culture, made possible by the life-cycles of humble yeast cultures.

… mead-making marks the passage of humanity from nature to culture.”

from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

If you learn to recognize it fermentation is everywhere. It is in the ubiquitous Romanian winter pickles and cabbages (sauerkraut), borscht, cheese & kefir & most other milk products, bread, beer, wine, soy sauce & miso, tea, coffee, cocoa, vinegar … so much of our nutrition is a product of fermentation! Today I’d like to share with you all a story about Yoghurt.

A few months ago Iulia heard from Madalin (a Bucharest producer) about his success in making Yoghurt. She then organized a conference call where Madalin shared his process with a few other interested producers. Horvath family, from Cluj were also on the call. For approximately two months their members have been enjoying a surprise of a small bottle of Yoghurt in their packages.

A few days ago Iulia came back from Cluj with a sample of that Yoghurt. It is delicious. It has a nice consistency and a delicate flavor that mixed wonderfully with the fruit salad that Iulia added to it. One bottle of yoghurt was enough for our two servings, but then it was gone … and I wanted more. To be honest we did have another bottle, but when I say I wanted more I really meant to say I want it to be available to us all the time.

The first thought that came to my mind was of my old industrial mentality: „How can Horvath family ramp up production and make more?” Then I realized that thanks to the nature of fermentation they don’t need to. We can make as much Yoghurt as we want!

Disclaimer: The oh-so-simple instructions work oh-so-well with naturally made living products. These instruction may not be applicable for industrially produced, lifeless, store-bought produce.

To make Yoghurt all you need is a little Yoghurt and some fresh milk (the milk that is delivered by the Horvath family is raw). All you need to do is add some Yoghurt to fresh milk, place it in a warm place (~20c, it will still work in a lower temperature but will take longer) and … wait! Within ~24 hours the consistency of the milk will begin to change. It is ready when … no need to look at your watch … it reaches a consistency and flavor you like. When it is ready, set aside a bit of Yoghurt and add it to another batch of milk. You are an independent yoghurt producer.

We don’t need large industrial food production that need strict regulations to provide us with low-quality food. We do need lots of small producers who care deeply about their produce and their customers because their life depends on it. Can there be a better way to embody that view then by every family becoming its own producer.

This also touches on our recent theme of the cost of choice. In an industrial mindset the burden of production automatically falls to the producer. Suppose we all wanted to have more yoghurt. That would mean that Horvath family would need to purchase larger fermentation containers, enough to be able to produce numerous generations of yoghurt for a steady supply. They would need to arrange a warm space to hold them all. They would need to sterilize them between uses. They would need to tend to the new „production line”. They would need to purchase and package many more bottles (creating more waste). They would need to finance all these additional tools, space and effort, and all that would at best yield a marginal difference in their income.

With yoghurt we have a sweet opportunity to experience something we don’t often get to experience as urban creatures. We don’t need to all agree to becoming yoghurt consumers. We can all become producers for whatever we want to consume. That small bottle of yoghurt is, if you want it to be, much more than a product, it is a seed for you to plant and nurture in your home, in your life. It is a teacher, if you want it to be, of a profound meaning of culture.


The Cost of Choice

We (and our producers) get asked a lot to make exceptions. Can I have the box delivered only once every two weeks? Can I have the box with less potatoes? Can I have not have the box for a few weeks when I go on vacation? Can I have the box the way I want it? The answer is NO and we would like to explain why.

We understand why members want to have choice and we acknowledge that it is a reasonable request to make. But having said that I am going to ask you, the member, to step outside of yourself and put yourself in a producer’s shoes (I promise to come back to you).

Being a Producer

Imagine you are a vegetable producer. When you are established and well-organized (which can take a few years!) you have a full work load. Your days are constantly full caring for the plants and weeds and water, caring for your workers, harvesting food and delivering it to the city.

Already in planning their seeding and planting producers have their members in mind. Knowing that they are serving a fixed number of members they can plan their planting with more precision and yield better results. For the producer there is no more guessing what will sell and what will not sell in the market. They are no longer thinking about growing this and that plant, but about assembling a complete and useful box to feed  you and your family. As a member of a box food is grown for you. Allowing everyone to order what they want would bring back uncertainty and waste.

Now lets zoom in on the harvesting, packing and delivering. If, for example, you have 30 identical boxes to pack, you settle into an efficient rhythm. You know how many sacks you need to harvest from each vegetable. You know how to layout out boxes or bags. You know what goes on the top and what goes on the bottom. You get into a packing routine that is simple and flowing. You pack 30 identical boxes into the car, drive to the city and at every stop pull one box out (it doesn’t matter which because they are all the same) and hand it over to the member.

Now lets introduce choice. Before harvesting, the producer needs to review each and every vegetable on the list and see how much should be harvested based on what people want this week (it can change every week). Then, when packing each box, the producer needs to make sure that every member gets what they ordered. The packages probably needs to be marked with names. Then, when packing the car the producer needs to consider his route through the city and pack the boxes in such a way that first boxes to be delivered are pack last (so that they can be taken out of the car without having to move a lot of other boxes).

You can see that the work gets much more complicated, with much more potential for mistakes. Introducing choice requires more work. How much is that work worth? Would you be willing to pay more for all that work? Would you be willing to pay more for choice? How much more? If we, as a community, are not willing and able to pay more but still making such demands of our producers, then essentially we are asking the producer to do more for us. This is NOT possible.

something is cracking under acumulated pressure

We have seen producers stress under these pressures and we are seeing it happening now as I write these words. This is why we strive for simplicity, consistency and continuity. We do not see any other practical way to make available to you a constant stream of quality, local and affordable food.

Industrial Food Standards

The standards of choice, variety, comfort and price we have come to expect around food have been set by a system of industrial food production, distribution and marketing. That is what you get when you go to the big supermarket chains which are taking over our cities (and gradually villages). You get parking, shopping carts, long opening hours and long aisles of shelves stocked with an overwhelming variety of low quality food produced far away by slave labor, with little consideration for anything else but profit.

These industrial standards are already so deeply embedded in our consciousness that we take them for granted. But we shouldn’t … in fact we cannot take them for granted. If we do we are essentially agreeing to the industrial food standards and will end up depending on them to exclusively control our food supply (because no small, local producer can meet these standards).

When working on Cutia Taranului I try to focus on constructive actions and avoiding giving attention and energy to the faults of the industrial food system. Creating better alternatives seems more useful and is more pleasant than examining what is currently broken. However I have been holding on to two articles for a few months, both in English and both related to giant food retailers in the USA. These stories give us a glimpse of what the future may hold for us if we too continue blindly down the path of industrial food production.

The first article What Happened When Walmart Left describes a recurring, systemic and intentional pattern where a Walmart opens up and brings jobs to a community and becomes a communal center (where people meet and connect). It creates a deep dependency between it and the community and then consumes the community and leaves.

“They developed a system that just made us worse off, and then they took even that away from us.”

The second article How Kirkland Signature Became One of Costco’s Biggest Success Stories describes how Costco uses its dominant retail position to corner producers (themselves huge business, nothing like a Cutia Taranului producer) and force them to either drive prices down or cut off business ties – this of course being a „success story” because in the end all that matters is profitability:

„Kirkland Signature, Costco’s store brand, is challenging manufacturers hoping to earn or retain a coveted spot at the warehouse retailer … Costco often introduces a new Kirkland product when its buyers or executives believe a brand isn’t selling at the lowest possible price … Before developing a Kirkland product, Costco usually gives a brand-name supplier the chance to make the Kirkland version, too, say company executives.”

Being a Member

So, coming back to you (as I promised), the member. It’s not that we don’t want to give you choice, we do, but we don’t think its possible, not now. If a box has too much for you and we, for example, ask you to find someone to share it with, it places a responsibility and effort on you. Can you feel it? When you ask the producer to bring you less food you are redirecting that responsibility and effort onto the producer. Can you feel that? Now multiply that many times over … because like you many other members want to make exceptions. Every time you, and others do that, it accumulates and you contribute more pressure to an already pressured system … until something cracks and breaks.

We talk to the producers a lot about this. Unfortunately, it seems that most producers will agree to take on the additional pressure and will do so with a (false) smile. They do so for many reasons. Some are embarrassed to say anything. Some are afraid to lose you as a member. Whatever the reason, the end result of you not taking responsibility for some of the effort, leaves it on their shoulders. And they carry resentment, and they stress & worry, and work hard, too hard, and they get sick … until something breaks. When that happens you, together with all the other members of that box, will stop receiving fresh, locally produced food delivered to your door.

Maybe one day we as a society will become more aware of and learn to value what it takes to produce good food. Maybe one day we will come to realize that there is no such thing as cheap food. Maybe one day we will realize that the prices we’ve become accustomed to are a lie because they don’t include hidden subsidies and do not represent the true cost of poor nutrition (such as the costs of health-care and medicine that are required to complement it). Maybe one day we will reconnect with the precious role food has in our lives. Maybe we will learn to better allocate resources towards good, local, sustainable food production. Maybe we will be able to use those resources to introduce more comfort, availability and choice. But that is not where we are now.

For now we are two facilitators and a few families (producers) doing our best to offer you an alternative in less than favorable conditions. We ask you to acknowledge and embrace the fact that you have a role in this beyond handing money over to your producer, when you receive the box. Your role is to figure out how to comfortably inhabit your place in a relationship built on simplicity, consistency and continuity. If you make an effort we will have a relationship, if not it will disintegrate.

Keep Food Alive

When we first connected with Crisan family they were in a process of winding-down the farm. They had sold off most of their sheep and were having an increasingly hard time getting their pork meat to market. In addition to the farm they were operating a flower shop in the city to complement their income. They now provide three different types of monthly meat boxes to dozens of families in Cluj.

Yesterday Paul Boros completed his first round of weekly deliveries. Paul is passionate about permaculture and has single-handedly created the most colorful and diverse box we’ve seen in Cutia Taranului. When we spoke to him he shared with us that he was about to leave Romania because he could not find a way to translate his passion into a livelihood. Cutia Taranului was to be his last attempt, before leaving.

We were in touch with a potential new producer with a similar story, she was giving up on staying in Romania and was about to leave for work in another country. A few days later (no a box wasn’t launched) she was gone.

Yesterday Iulia came across this story of Irina Toma who grows organic blackberries and was sharing how she is being pressed by large-scale resellers to sell her top quality produce for dirt-cheap prices (so that they can resell it for 3 times as much to stores who will package it in fancy, organic-labeled boxes and sell it for twice as much, most likely in other countries).

We want you all to know that when you join a box, really join a box – including the commitment and responsibility that comes with receiving a box regularly and staying with a producer for years – when you do that you are reversing those eroding forces which are diminishing our ability to feed ourselves. It may not seem like it to you, as a single individual member. But when we look at you all together, as a whole, that is what is happening.

When you join a box you choose to keep local food production alive.  When you joined the Crisan family boxes, their life and farm was turned around. When you joined Paul’s box you said to Paul „we appreciate your passion and your food, please stay”.

To us this is a vivid reminder that we have so much potential power in our hands to shape our world into the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Joining a box takes a little longer

We’ve recently introduced two changes to the process of joining a box. In the past all you had to do to join a box was to fill out a form. The two changes we’ve made are:

  1. BEFORE filling out the form we ask you to review a kind of agreement, a „declaration of intentions”.
  2. AFTER you submit the (still) simple registration form we send you an email with a confirmation link you needs to click to confirm your registration request.

The email confirmation after registration is a technicality we should have done from the beginning. We did not have the tools to do it. Now we do. But it is more than a technicality. By doing this we, you our members and us, agree to create an open channel of communication between us. Currently our communications are minimal and mostly about coordinating with producers. But more communications needs are slowly coming to the surface, making an open channel vital. Simply put, we don’t want you to find yourself in a position where a decision that effects you has been made in Cutia Taranului without you knowing about it (and in the future, we hope, without you participating in it).

The declaration-of-intentions is a more conscious and purposeful change. We’ve been observing the flows in and around Cutia Taranului for some years. We’ve witnessed flows that are good for Cutia Taranului (and everyone involved in it). We’ve also witnessed disruptive flows. The agreement is an expression of what we’ve learned. It takes a few minutes to read through it. Reading it, we hope, will create a better understanding of what Cutia Taranului is trying to become and what is your part in making it. It makes our invitation to you and your decision to join more clear and intentional.

This is also a good opportunity for past members (who have not met the agreement) to meet the agreement that new members are now encountering (the agreement may have additional clauses for specific boxes) – see it below:

Declaratia de intentii

1: Ce este aceasta?

Prin aceasta declaratie intentionam sa ne asiguram ca Cutia Taranului este potrivita pentru dvoastra si ca dvoastra va potriviti cu Cutia Taranului. Este o incercare de a crea o intelegere comuna si o aliniere a dorintelor noastre si dvoastra.

Aceasta va lua cateva minute din timpul dvoastra.

2: Ce este Cutia Taranului?

Cutia Taranului ofera acces la hrana buna si locala, punandu-va in legatura cu producatori care pot sa va ofere o „cutie”. Cutia e astfel alcatuita incat sa puna la dispozitie o varietate de produse de calitate pentru dvoastra si familia dvoastra.

Cutiile au pret si continut fix (nu puteti alege continutul cutiei), insa continutul se schimba in functie de sezoanele anului. Pe langa cutiile de baza, unii producatori va pun la dispozitie produse suplimentare pe care le puteti comanda si primi alaturi de cutia dvoastra.

Cutiile sunt livrate de catre producator direct la usa dvoastra. Unele cutii sunt cu livrare saptamanale, altele se livreaza lunar sau o data la cateva saptamani. Exista si cutii create pentru sarbatori speciale si sunt livrate o data pe an.

Cand va alaturati unei cutii intrati intr-o relatie pe termen lung cu un producator. Cutia Taranului nu este locul unde sa cumparati hrana o singura data.

3: Relatia

Cutia Taranului reintroduce relatia in circuitul hranei dvoastra. Relatiile iau timp pentru a se forma. Speranta noastra este ca dvoastra sa va bucurati de cutia pe care o primiti si sa alegeti sa fiti alaturi de producatorul ei pentru o perioada lunga.

Relatia este ceva ce nu exista cand faceti cumparaturi in lanturile de hypermarketuri. Nu stiti cine detine magazinul, nu stiti cine pune produsele pe rafturi, nu stiti cine produce mancarea, nu stiti cine e persoana de la caserie.  Nu stiti, nu va doriti sa stiti si probabil nu vreti sa stiti.

Cand va alaturati Cutiei Taranului ajungeti sa cunoasteti producatorul si speram ca ajungeti sa faceti parte din familia lor extinsa. Aceeasi oameni care produc mancare o livreaza direct catre dvoastra. Puteti vorbi cu dumnealor.  Puteti adresa intrebari. Puteti sa le spuneti ce simtiti in legatura cu cutia, produsele, relatia dvoastra. Aveti posibilitatea sa relationati.

Cand ei, producatorii descopera un nou produs dvoastra de asemenea veti descoperi acest nou produs in cutie. Cand ei traiesc abundenta si dvoastra veti experimenta abundenta (cand, de exemplu, Natura le ofera multe vinete, in abundenta, dvoastra de asemenea veti avea multime de vinete). Cand ei experimenteaza greutati veti simti si dvoastra asta (cand, de exemplu, o furtuna cu gheata distruge rosiile in gradina, in cutia dvoastra vor fi mai putine rosii sau deloc).

Producatorilor din Cutia Taranului se ingrijesc de dvoastra si ei va vor oferi sansa ca si dvoastra sa va ingrijiti de dansii.

4: Grija

Credem ca grija este ingredientul fundamental in Cutia Taranului.

Noi ne ingrijim de producatorii pe care ii facem disponibili pentru dvoastra. Producatorii nostri au grija de munca lor si de relatia cu sistemul ecologic care ii sustine (sol, apa, animale, etc.)

Ne ingrijim de dvoastra. Producatorii nostri se ingrijesc de dvoastra.

Piesa care completeaza puzzleul sunteti dvoastra, membrul cutiei. Fiecare interactiune cu producatorul este o oportunitate de a fi cu grija: cand primiti cutia, cand platiti pentru aceasta, cand oferiti feedback, chiar si cand renuntati la cutie (din orice motiv). Fiecare interactiune poate fi plina de grija sau fara grija.

Credem ca este imposibil sa avem hrana buna fara sa avem grija. Asadar, va cerem sa va ingrijiti, sa va pese si dvoastra.

5: Cand va alaturati unei cutii

Am facut sa fie simplu si direct sa va alaturati unei cutii. De indata ce ati terminat sa cititi aceasta declaratie de intentii va vom ruga sa completati un scurt formular cu informatiile dvoastra de contact. Cand trimiteti formularul completat, informatiile vor ajunge automat la producator si acesta va va contacta telefonic pentru a va saluta si a confirma cererea dvoastra de inscriere.

Puteti sa va alaturati la mai mult de o cutie. In fapt, o parte din membrii nostri s-au alaturat la mai multe cutii pentru a acoperi mare parte din nevoile de hrana ale familiilor lor (de exemplu: legume, carne si produse lactate).

Va rugam sa va reamintiti ca intrati intr-o relatie. Aceasta relatie nu este de tipul „cumpar o singura data”.

6: Cand sunteti membru al unei cutii

Bucurati-va de hrana proaspata si locala! Producatorul dvoastra si noi, organizatorii proiectului, incercam sa cream o experienta placuta pentru dvoastra.

Incercati si dvoastra sa creati o experienta placuta pentru producatorul dvoastra. Fiti acolo pentru livrare cand ati agreat sa fiti acolo, la timp, pentru a primi cutia. Pentru producator, livrarea este o mare parte din munca. Va rugam sa incercati sa faceti ce tine de dvoastra pentru a usura munca lor. Aveti la indemana bani potriviti pentru a plati cutia. Daca apreciati ce primiti si cum primiti, recompensati-ii cu un zambet, lasati sa se vada aprecierea dvoastra, poate ii si imbratisati uneori.

Daca viata pune la dispozitie anumite provocari (dupa cum se intampla de obicei) care va impiedica sa primiti cutia, va rugam comunicati cu producatorul dvoastra. Faceti asta cat mai curand posibil, cat de clar puteti si cu consideratie fata de modul in care influentati viata producatorului.

Cand va alaturati unei cutii, hrana este crescuta si produsa pentru dvoastra. Producatorul planifica productia pentru a acoperi nevoile pentru un numar limitat de membri, incluzandu-va si pe dvoastra. Va rugam sa  va asumati responsabilitatea pentru schimbul in bani pe care il faceti cu producatorul dvoastra. Daca nu puteti primi cutia la o livrare, va rugam sa fiti constienti de implicatiile pentru producatorul dvoastra si sa actionati cu grija si responsabilitate.

7: Renunarea la cutie

Puteti sa renuntati la o cutie oricand.

Cand apare acest moment transmiteti pur si simplu acest lucru producatorului dvoastra. Daca e posibil, va rugam sa le oferiti feedback si sa impartasiti cu dansii motivele pentru care renuntati. Feedbackul dvoastra poate fi de ajutor si ne ajuta sa devenim mai buni.

Lover Earth: Lets Talk About Money

Lets talk about money. The most obvious manifestation of it being the price of the boxes. I believe that the prices are not good, that they should be higher. However we, here at Cutia Taranului, don’t set prices, nor do we want to. When producers join Cutia Taranului we help them find a price that is right for their box. In the spirit of such guidance, we would like to guide you the members of Cutia Taranului, together with your producers, into a conversation about money and price. It may take some time and require some patience to enter make this conversation meaningful and good, so please bear with us.

Before we jump into this process I’d like to try to give us a context, a kind of lighthouse we can seek out when we get lost in this potentially complicated conversation. I’d like to talk about Mother Earth.

In his book Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein talks about the metaphor of Mother Earth. He points out that it is a ubiquitous metaphor that you can find almost anywhere on the planet, across continents, languages, cultures, developed societies, native communities. There are references to Mother Earth everywhere.

Eisenstein places focus on the word „Mother” and it’s implications. The word „Mother” speaks to a child-ish relationship. Whatever a child needs, mother provides. It is a relationship in which giving flows from mother to child. It is a relationship in which receiving may seem obvious … whatever a child needs miraculously appears.  It is also a good description of the relationship between human beings and the planetary ecological system, a not yet matured relationship. Whatever we need we take, with little consideration to the efforts required to produce what we need or to the consequences of producing it. It is indeed a relationship with Mother.

Eisenstein then asks what if what we are witnessing at a planetary scale is a coming of age of humanity? What if humanity is finally stepping out of its rebellious teen phase and maturing into adulthood which brings with it more profound relationships? What if we could focus the almost magical skills & tools that we have acquired in our coming-of-age, and enter a new relationship with the planet? This relationship would be less one-directional and more mutual. The planet would care for us and we would care for the planet. We would no longer be treating her as mother, but more as lover. Lover Earth.

The word for peasant in Romanian is taran (pronounced tsaran) and literally means „man of the earth”. The producers of Cutia Taranului are peasants, people of the earth. They live on (physically) and off (as in „providing”) the land. Their collaboration with the earth yields the food that nourishes you, the members. They are our direct representatives of forming a relationship with earth. They are our partner-lovers to Lover Earth.

It is in this context that I invite you, our members, to reflect about your part in Cutia Taranului and how your participation effects your producers. You have a direct relationship with their well-being. Their well-being directly effects their ability to relate with and be lovers to Lover Earth. What role does money play in that relationship?

  • What makes a price good?
  • How can you tell that the price of your box is right?
  • Is the price you are currently paying a good one?

Please, if you care to, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Waiting List

When we started Cutia Taranului (~5 years ago) it was a simple website with one producer. We did not know if it would work, if people would respond to a vague invitation such as „fresh vegetables for a family of 3-4 people”. People did and the first box filled up very quickly. Within a couple of days the box was full and there were still many people interested.

The project was just getting started and we did not have any information tools (we were managing a list of members in a manual spreadsheet). We did not want to take on additional administrative responsibility of managing a waiting list. We responded to people by suggesting they stay in touch by looking at the website and at the Facebook page where we would announce if and when places became available.

We were not prepared for the response that we got. We started getting emails from people practically begging us to put us on a waiting list. So when we got around to building an information system to support the project, a waiting list was added. Since then that waiting list, that we did not want to be responsible for, has continuously grown.

Before saying more about the waiting list and how it works we want to acknowledge and express our appreciation for you, the people who have joined the waiting list. It is a gesture that warms our hearts, inspires and supports us. It tells us that you are interested in what we are trying to do. It supports us in confidently saying to new producers that there are people out there, you!, who care about them and their work and are willing to enter a long term relationship around food.

When you join a waiting list we add you to a list of of people interested in Cutia Taranului boxes in a given city (it is not for specific boxes). In an era when so much communication floods us from so many direction, we choose to communicate sparingly, to not add unnecessary noise to your already busy email inboxes. Most of the emails we send are to let you know when new boxes, or places in existing boxes become available. If places are not available you won’t hear much from us (to the point that it may seem that we are not here anymore).

However, we now find ourselves in a slightly uncomfortable situation. The demand for boxes is much larger than places that become available. So when places do become available they get taken very fast. Many times, by the time you read our messages, the places that were available when we sent the messages are all taken. When you open the links we send you and arrive at the website you see that there are no places available. We apologize if this experience confuses you, but we don’t know how to keep you informed and avoid this unpleasant confusion.

The best solution to this would be to introduce new producers and boxes. We are constantly working to reach and communicate with new producers. Until we do find new producers we need to ask for your patience and understanding (and maybe, if you can, spread the word that we are looking for new producers who may be interested in joining Cutia Taranului).

Thank you for your interest.
Thank you for helping us „create this problem”.
Thank you for your patience as we work to „solve it”.
Thank you!


Is the meat safe?

Since we’ve introduced numerous meat-boxes we’ve been asked a few times about the safety of the meat. Is it safe? Are the animal tested? How is safety regulated? I would like to take this opportunity to answer this question broadly and in the spirit of Cutia Taranului.

These questions carry an underlying assumption that food that is regulated and monitored by centralized authorities is safe. But is that really the case? I would say that no, it isn’t. The media provides us with ample examples of food health and safety problems that occur despite regulations.

We need to take a step back and recall why we need food regulations in the first place. The answer is in scale of food production. There is a big difference between food that is produced on small scale farms vs. food that is produced on an industrial scale. In small scale farms there is a direct relationship between the farmers and the ecosystem that supports them: soil, plants, water, animals, etc. In indusrial production settings these direct relationships are absent. Farmers are replaced by low-wage workers, managers and stakeholders. In Industrial systems the motivation is to maximize profits through efficient production and reduced production costs.

Now ask yourself: Do workers doing boring, repetitive, routing work for minimum wage care about the qualities of the food they produce? Do managers and stakeholders seeking to maximize profit care? If we were to ask them they would probably say that they do, but in reality they simply cannot. It is no one’s fault and it doesn’t imply evil behavior. The incentives of the industrial system induce low quality and minimal safety. Food will only be as good and as safe as is necessary to sell it while maximizing profits. That is the nature of the beast.

That is why food regulations and inspections are needed. They are a disciplinary measure to keep a mis-incentivized industrial system in check. Yet even elaborate and enforced food regulations only reduce the chances of problems, there are no guarantees when it comes to s   afety. One thing is, ironically, guaranteed: food that comes out of the industrial system loses its most important qualities: freshness, vitality and nourishment. The more alive and vital food is the more life it has in. The more life is has in it the more perishable it is. The best way for an industrial system to provide safe food is to sterilize it, to remove the life from it so that it can handle storage, shipment and shelf-life. Food is made to look good instead of be good.

Cutia Taranului producers are not industrial producers. They are families that work to grow and create food that feeds themselves and their members. Their livelihood is directly tied to the quality of their produce. They are inherently motivated to care about the quality of their produce. They don’t need an inspector to watch over their shoulders to remind them they need to provide healthy food, they know this with every fiber of their being. The key to good food is more care not more regulation.

I constantly remind myself and would like to remind you not to think of Cutia Taranului as an alternative to the industrial food system. Instead think of Cutia Taranului as an alternative to your grandparents or uncles in the village. They sent you home from the village with vegetables, freshly butchered chickens and eggs. Were you concerned about food regulations when they gifted you with the fruits of their work?

However, we do acknowledge that when it comes to meat, an extra measure of care is required. What we are currently suggesting to meat producers is:

  1. To constantly improve the growing conditions, food and living conditions of the animals. A good and healthy life for an animal is a good indicator for quality and safety of meat.
  2. To butcher animals as close as possible to delivery to minimize time of storage (whether fresh or frozen).
  3. To maintain cleanliness and good sanitary practices in the slaughtering and butchering of animals.
  4. To conduct veterinary tests for large animals (such as bulls and pigs) and to make the results of these tests available to members who ask to see them.
  5. To deliver meat either warm (fresh from butchering) or frozen – nothing in between. Producers are not always able to live up to this standard, but they are moving constantly moving closer towards it.

Is there more that can be done?

Probably. This is where you, the members, come in. In the industrial food system you don’t have a say, you can either buy the food or not. With Cutia Taranului you have an opportunity to be directly involved. You can visit the farm. You can see how the animals are grown and cared for. You can see how the animals are slaughtered and butchered. You can ask questions and give feedback. You can (respectfully) share ideas for improvement. You can communicate with us (the organizers) and in the future we are planning to make it possible for you to communicate with other members. If you are able to help a producer make improvements we will communicate those improvements to other producers.

There are no guarantees, responsibility falls on all of us, including you a member who chooses to subscribe to a box. If you truly care about the quality of food that is delivered to you, Cutia Taranului presents an opportunity to actually do something about it. We encourage you to care and inquire about the quality of the produce you receive and make your own informed choices. It is also fine if you do not want to take on this responsibility, but don’t expect someone else to do it for you because no one can. Caring the way you do is something only you can do.



How about a wine box?

Some days ago Iulia expressed a wish for some red wine and soon after we were talking about the possibility of a wine box for Cluj.

During my first visit to Romania (7 years ago… wow!) I got to taste a simple and nice home made red wine. The host wanted to impress me and refused to give me water, only wine (it was around Christmas time) and so I also got drunk for the first time in my life. However after moving here I was disappointed by what I found in supermarkets. Even though there is a very large variety of Romanian wines (GO local!) most of the wines I tasted had an unpleasant after taste due to what seems to be an excess use of sulphates.

Since then I’ve tasted some other simple and nice home-made wines. I’ve tasted some more elaborate and very nice home made wines, red and white. I’ve tasted a variety of Tuica brews, but I’m not a fan. I’ve made and enjoyed my own home made Visinata (Tuica put to good use). I’ve tasted very nice black currant wine … and I know there is more stuff out there … home made, local, delicious. I know that it is possible to find these things by asking people who know people, some travelling may be required to get it … its out there … but it takes some effort to get your hands on it.

That’s where a box could be useful. I can imagine a monthly box that has a few bottles of wine in it with some seasonal specials and a menu of extras that members can order to meet their needs. However I am confident that there isn’t one producer out there who could provide this. I believe it would take an integration of numerous producers to create a box offering that recurring, stable and useful. It would take collaboration. Collaboration is not something that we’ve seen yet amongst producers (though we encourage ןא every chance we get).

There is, however, another kind of collaboration, which I have envisioned and occassionaly mentioned, and may be suitable for an experimental wine box. It is a collaboration based on an organizer who collectes produce from numerous producers, integrates the produce into a box servic and delivers boxes directly to members.

This organizer approach first came to me when I discovered how many elderly people there are in our village (and in my other villages) who grow relatively small gardens with excellent produce, who are incapable of organizing and delivering a box to the city. I imagined a person who was a good organizer, with a car who could collect produce from these small producers, provide them with a reliable and consistent income, and integrate their produce into a box service. That hasn’t happened yet.

Is there someone out there who is interested in being an integrator for a wine box (for either Cluj or Bucharest)? If you are such a person or know someone who could be such a person, please connect with us.

If you are interested in receiving a wine-box, please take a minute to fill out this form and let us know  about your wishes:

Numele (obligatoriu)

Adresa de email (obligatoriu)





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:





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.



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.



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


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



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.






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.