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Social Production



Our harvest truck loaded with ladders, buckets, crates and picking poles, rolled up to Margie’s home in Lafayette at 10 am sharp. Twelve volunteers ranging in age from 8 to 79 were already there waiting for us. Something ordinary was about to happen.

In about an hour, our volunteers harvested 90 pounds of persimmons. We left a small bag for Margie, loaded the truck and moved on to the next home. You’d be forgiven if you assume that the story is about spending a morning outside, making new friends or having fun while doing good.

The real story is hidden below the surface. It starts with two simple questions. How many people does this harvest feed, and much does this harvest cost?

The answers are straight forward. On average a farmer has to grow 5 pounds of food to feed one person for one day. Ninety pounds of fresh fruit can feed 18 people for a day. As for the operating costs of the harvest, since we are an all-volunteer, virtual organization, our biggest costs are insurance, fuel, maintenance and depreciation of the equipment. On average it costs us 12 cents per pound to harvest fruit.

Finally consider the fact that all the backyard fruit we harvest this year is grown naturally and is as good as any organic food we can buy. This means, using Margie’s example, collectively we fed 18 people equivalent of three square meals of fresh, healthy food at a cost of $10.80. In case you don’t have your calculator handy, this comes to 60 cents per person per day.

One can justifiably argue that this is not the full cost of production. Margie bought the tree and took care of it, volunteers paid for gas and there was wear and tear on their belongings and without hunger relief organizations like the food bank, we could not get the food to where it needs to go.

While the exact cost of feeding the hungry can be debated, you can triple our current costs and still feed a person for under $2 per day. “Social production” is about a lot of people each doing a little, using the existing infrastructure (including mother nature) for the benefit of the community. This is what our friend Dan Senter calls the big economy, “earth’s way of generating enough, so we can thrive and survive.”

FamilyHarvest-01Contrast this with the small economy, where we all participate and spend money for goods and services. I took this picture right after the harvest at my local market. These persimmons weighed under 5 oz each. Using this food it would cost about $37 per day to feed one person.