Thursday, June 14, 2012

Harvest Time!

Spring may not be that time of year we usually associate with the harvest, but those of us with stakes in CSAs (or farm cooperatives), or those who scout out roadside farm stands, or even those in big cities with fabulous farmers markets (there is something wildly amusing and thrilling about rising up from subterranean urban passages and finding oneself immersed in the middle of the Union Square Green Market in New York City, awash with a plethora of vegetables and cheeses and herbs and fruits and breads), know that spring--with its peas and various lettuces and chard and spinach and collard greens and kale and garlic scapes and tatsoi and and berries--is most certainly a time of plenty.

Yet we don't usually think of harvesting another commodity--one that became the center of a series of protests in Bolivia's third largest city: the Cochabamba Water Wars of 1999 - 2000. The city had contracted out the water supply to Aguas del Tunari (translation: the city privatized water). Prices for said water spiked. Ambiguities in the law, and the inability or unwillingness of both public and corporate officials to clarify such ambiguities and to answer the valid questions raised by ordinary citizens, generated a veritable Sturm und Drang. No, no, not an artistic and literary movement but high emotion and protests and revolts that, too, were associated with that late 18th century German movement.

Were pre-existing independently constructed, communal water systems covered? Did the law include water used by farmers to irrigate crops? Why did the government insist that the company also construct a dam--a move that was perceived by many, even inside the company, as an unnecessary "vanity project?" Was the company going to charge for the installation of water meters in each home? Did the contract include a provision that required home owners to apply for a license to collect rain water from their roofs? Was it really true--after all, one of the company's managers did state this publicly--that if people did not pay their water bills their water would be shut off?

Uncertainty, ambiguity, anxiety, rumor, senses of proprietorship, and good old fashioned digging in one's heals roused ire, stimulated mass protests--which did not end until a Bolivian army captain fired a rifle into the crowd on one particular day and killed a high school student. The result: public rage; company executives fled fearing for their safety; the contract was eventually "erased" (both parties agreed after lengthy legal proceedings to drop all financial claims against the other for presumed breach of contract and related damages); and the recognition that the crumbling, aged (and ill-functioning) water supply delivery system had itself been the victim too long of low tariffs, for without any source of adequate revenue to modernize the system, Cochabamba suffered from diminished and interrupted water service (hence the perceived need to "outsource").

A true collective action problem, or tragedy of the commons: all use it, but no one pays for it or wants to pay for it, or can pay for it. But as the now sadly departed Lin Ostrom, first female recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics noted, the tragedy of the commons is not so tragic after all. Indeed, the tragedy seems to relate more to proposed solutions: either private ownership or government regulation. There is space in between the two positions: local "regulation" through social understanding. Observing practices of farmers, fisheries, and water works around the world for decades, Ostrom argued that so long as all users (of a common resource) maintained a long-term perspective, they would monitor each others' behavior and develop (informal, social) rules regarding use without having to resort to institutionalized property rights or government legislation.

And so it is.

Possessed of a long term perspective (logic: I love to garden + plants need water + it rarely seems to rain in northern Delaware anymore; ergo: I need to conserve water) and self-interest (I'd rather devote my disposable income to other, more entertaining ventures than to paying higher water bills because of overuse use), I (ahem, my father) installed a rain barrel. But my readers already knew that.

I harvest rain as it is raining. The neighbors used to think I was weird, but now they smile and wave when they see me trying to hold an umbrella in one hand and carry pales of water in the other.

Two days ago Mother Nature treated us to a magnificent day of rain: 2 and 1/16" of rain to be exact!

So I went outside as it poured and emptied the barrel's contents into various old cat litter containers that I've collected over the years (um, yes, we have prolific cats).

I have eight such containers, which is the equivalent of having another water barrel!  Storing them in the back of the house/basement has an added benefit: ease of shade garden watering.

Happy harvesting!

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