2012 – now: Founder – Cutia Taranului

Cutia Taranului (Romanian for “Peasant Box”) is a CSA (community supported agriculture) project that connects local food producers to customers in a few cities in Romania.

When I first visited Romania (an exploratory visit) I was impressed by the abundance of local food. It felt like vegetarian heaven. Then we I moved a year later) here the vulnerabilities of the food system became more apparent. There was plenty of food being in villages but it was getting more difficult for it to find its way to consumers in cities.

Cutia Taranului was born as an attempt to bypass the obstacles that prevented local food from reaching people by creating direct ans lasting relationships between producers and consumers. Cutia Taranului is built around a fixed-box subscription that consumers can join. The price of the box is fixed and the contents change with the seasons of the year. Members (consumers who join a box) can also choose to purchase supplementary products from a producer.

The project currently supports ~20 producers who feed hundreds of families in numerous Romanian cities. The aim of the project is to bring together producers and consumers in a way that can lead to a sustainable and lasting relationship.

I founded the project and care for its internal aspects. I make sure that the project stays true to its values. I meet new producers and help to create clarity and alignment of values and expectations. I designed, developed, and maintain the software platform that supports it.

The software platform went through numerous iterations:

  1. It started out as a simple WordPress website for one producer. Registration was a contact form and information was manually added to a spreadsheet and communicated to the first producer (who had no connectivity and did not know how to use email) by phone.
  2. When the project gained momentum I developed a custom web application for managing the membership processes. It was built using a PHP framework (CodeIgniter). It ran alongside a WordPress installation.
  3. Currently the project is a extensively customized WordPress website. WordPress acts as a kind of operating system on top of which the custom application is built.

Design Challenges

At its core, the system is designed to facilitate long-term relationships between local food producers and local food consumers. As such it focuses on human beings and relationships and not on food.

In practice, this means focusing on clear and efficient communications. The implemented solutions make it possible for a small team to administer many producers and members while keeping everyone clearly informed and oriented with minimal bureaucratic overhead.

Automated Notifications

Automated messages are initiated by the system when events occur that require the attention of (or interaction with) a stakeholder. The events are declared i code and for each such event, a process administrator can then craft the actual communications that are generated by deciding what message to send to what stakeholder when the event is triggered. This way the messaging can develop and refine without any programmer intervention. And, indeed, messages have become a substantial content sub-system that drives the basic operations of the platform. Messages can be formed as templates and can include secured URL’s for follow-up interactions.

Anonymous Interactions

Anonymous interactions are limited UI interactions that enable simple interactions with users without needing to login to the system. They are programmatically declared and instantiated when required. Every instance creates a secure (nonce-based) key that can be accessed through a unique URL. Together with Automated Notifications, they make it possible for process administrators to shape interaction flows that involve multiple stakeholders.

Group Messaging

The constantly evolving relationships between producers and consumers made it difficult to use existing mailing-list solutions to send messages to the community. Therefore a custom messages tool enables a process administrator to target groups in the community.

The project website is mostly in Romanian but there is an English introduction page and an English version of the blog which captures some of the story.

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