What follows are my personal impressions. It IS NOT an official summary. It IS an invitation for other participants to add their impressions and reflections as comments to this post. Also I relied on my sometimes incomplete understanding of Romanian with some translation help that was available to me. Things may have gotten lost in understanding and translation.
On September 23rd (2018) we had a first community meeting. We invited producers and members (past and present) from Cluj to come together to an open conversation about Cutia Taranului. My wishes for this meeting were to meet face-to-face and get a direct sense for the members of Cutia Taranului (who we, as organizers, don’t get to meet) and to see if there is potential for connecting with a group of people who would be able to get more involved with the shaping of Cutia Taranului in the future.
The response to our invitation email was weak. Around 10 members showed interest, 7 said they would attend, only 3 showed up. In attendance were also four producer families and a couple of friends of the project. The meetings took up the full three hours we allocated to it.
We did a round of personal introductions and in doing so established „rounds” as a basic method of communications in the meeting. As the meeting progressed, especially when we reached a kind of tipping point in the conversation, it was challenging to hold a conversation in rounds.
We did a round of sharing what each person had on their mind (wishes, concerns, ideas, etc.) regarding Cutia Taranului. I gave, as an example,the subject of packaging (reducing the amount of throw-away plastic used in packaging). I explained that we (the Cutia Taranului administrators) neither have the resources to deal with all the potentially interesting and valuable subjects that come up. I also explained that we do not want Cutia Taranului to be a centralized echo-system: in this case where everyone looks to us to decide on what is important and to provide solutions. The point of this meeting was to see if it would be possible for participants in the echo system look to each-other: members to producers, producers to members, members to members. Despite emphasizing that packaging/plastic was just an example, others seemed to latch on to it.
Some subjects came up, including:
- plastic in packaging
- knowing in advance what is going to be in the box
- allowing members to order customized boxes
- members going away on vacation (especially in the summer time)
- „skip a week” – enabling members to efficiently notify producers about being away.
- including recipes in boxes
The conversation gravitated towards the issue of (lack of) flexibility of box content. This was because:
- There were so few members.
- The members that were present were relatively new to Cutia Taranului (a few months / weeks)
- Two of the three members wanted to talk about the lack of flexibility in selecting contents of boxes and expressed a wish to be able to order whatever they want.
In an attempt to embrace the circle as it was, I felt that an underlying theme in the subjects that were coming up was relationship and the ripples that our wishes and choices send out into the world. When the circle came back around to me I tried to integrate my thoughts (in a spirit that I usually express also on the Cutia Taranului blog: the cost of choice, lover earth). That seemed to irritate one of the members (= a third of the members preset) and that irritation dominated the last third of the conversation.
We took a short break to ventilate the circle, to drink some water and to allow people to connect informally. When we came back from the break, I asked Andrei (one of the „friends of the project” in attendance, and a permaculture designer) to open the circle. He pointed out that in the previous rounds someone said (and no one contested) that there are three „stakeholders” in Cutia Taranului: producers, members and us (organizers). Andrei pointed out that there is a fourth entity: the larger ecosystem we all partake in. I don’t know how that comment was received by the people present, but for me it was in alignment with the wider subject of relationship I was speaking to: I believe we need to learn to be sensitive to implications that go beyond what directly seems to affect us in the short term.
I was grateful that we tried to make this meeting happen. I was grateful for the producers who made an effort to show up and expressed themselves. I was grateful for the members that showed up. I was disappointed that so few members showed up. I was tired at the end.
Some of my personal echoes from the meeting:
- For now, I am personally not motivated to do this again (though everyone in the room, when asked in the circle, indicated they would like to meet again). For me, without more members, this format is not effective. Maybe producer-only meetings? Maybe member-only meetings?
- I do not have a sense of how it may be possible to get more members involved? I realize people are busy; that food may not be as high a priority it is for them as it is for us; that it is OK for people to want food to be a non-issue in their lives . Maybe it is too soon to get members involved? Maybe we need to wait until an explicit wish appears from members to get involved?
- I feel such a conversation, should it happen again, needs to be re-tuned. I realized that I am not really interested to hear what people want Cutia Taranului to be unless they want to be involved in creating it. There aren’t „free resources” available to respond to „requests” – we really cannot „take requests”. I do believe there is a possibility for more people to get involved and create more things together.
- Learning to be together, to really listen, to speak clearly, to make choices together … this takes time and can only be learned together. That means that if one day we do come together, we need to be ready to give this process plenty of space and time to mature into something valuable and pleasant.
Meeting participants are welcome to add their meeting impressions and thoughts as comments to this post.