tomatoes and tomorrow

Serious backyard gardeners here in Whitehorse, who carefully watched the temperature in their greenhouses, already had metre-high tomato vines by May .

Serious backyard gardeners here in Whitehorse, who carefully watched the temperature in their greenhouses, already had metre-high tomato vines by May 1.

I complimented a couple of them in the downtown area as I walked my route picking up bags for the Whitehorse Food Bank during the last ecumenical food drive eight weeks ago. By now their first fruits should be well set, maybe even coming close to the table.

The late Richard Stuart, a noted Parks Canada historian, once told me the rich, unglaciated soils and long hours of summer sunlight around Dawson City made it the tomato capital of the territory a century ago. As I recall, he even mentioned it counting as a Yukon export, with the treasured fruit crated onto steamboats headed downstream for Alaskan markets.

Growing your own tomatoes, like gardening in general, links you to the soil. In an increasingly food-aware world, this might be a good starting point for getting a grip again on those first principles focused around family, community and stewardship of our environment that our global economic system seems to have woefully strayed from.

A recent BBC interview introduced me to a tomato-processing company trying to incorporate those first principles into its business. The Morning Star Company, founded in 1970 by Chris Rufer hauling tomatoes with his truck to California canneries, now accounts for “over 25 per cent of the California processing tomato production, supplying 40 per cent of the US ingredient tomato paste and diced tomato markets, with sales of approximately $350 million.”

This rags-to-riches story would be interesting, but not important if not for the Morning Star Company’s management model captured in part by its vision statement: “To develop and implement superior systems of organizing individuals’ talents and efforts, to achieve demonstrably superior productivity and personal happiness.” Its website goes further, highlighting their innovative self-management model.

As Rufer defines it, “Self-Management is the organizational philosophy represented by individuals freely and autonomously performing the traditional functions of management (planning, organizing, coordinating, staffing, directing, controlling) without mechanistic hierarchy or arbitrary, unilateral command authority over others.

“For Morning Star colleagues to be self-managing professionals, initiating communications and the co-ordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and fellow industry participants, absent directives from others.

“For colleagues to find joy and excitement utilizing their unique talents and to weave those talents into activities that complement and strengthen fellow colleagues’ activities. For colleagues to take personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable for achieving our Mission and shaping the Tomato Game.” (www.morningstarco.com)

The egalitarian, community building Morning Star approach fundamentally challenges the “grab with both hands” and “damn the human or environmental consequences” model notoriously pursued by many top executives.

“We should be thinking deeply,” argues Professor Kevin F. Hallock of Cornell University in a May article in Workspan (www.ilr.cornell.edu) when contemplating the fallout from the corporate pay disaster linked directly to the global financial meltdown, “about why 1) hourly earnings of workers at the bottom have been incredibly flat for the last generation, 2) only the top five per cent of workers have seen large earnings over that time, and 3) even against just these highly talented folks, the CEO pay ratio has doubled.

“But most importantly,” Hallock concludes, “we should be thinking about what, or whether these numbers forecast about future regulatory pressures and economic sustainability in the United States and other free-market economies of interest.”

Our backyard tomato, and those of the Morning Star Company, aren’t that different, nor are arguably the “putting people first” principles that underpin them.

Our national and international political and corporate leaders have some catching up to do.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.