• Published 27th Jun 2012
  • 6,337 Views, 396 Comments

Carrot Top Season - GrassAndClouds2



Carrot Top has to bet her farm to enter a competition against the Apple Trust. Can she win

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Carrot Top and the Ponyville farmers

“I call this meeting to order!”

Carrot Top was standing behind a podium in a small conference room at town hall. About twenty other pony farmers were crowded around the conference table, representing most of the major non-Apple farming groups in the area. Green Grape, who tended to wind up as the spokespony for these farmers, was sitting in front and looked attentive. Most of the farmers, in fact, looked interested in what Carrot Top was going to say. A few of the more sullen and disagreeable ones – Boxxy Brown and Red Onion in particular – were slouching near the back and appeared to be bored, but that was only to be expected.

The other Elements weren’t there. Raindrops had a late shift on the weather patrol; Cherilee had a late parent-teacher conference with Filthy Rich; Lyra and Bonbon already had plans, and so had Ditzy and Dinky. The latter four would probably have rescheduled and gone out to support Carrot Top had she pushed, but she wasn’t going to impose like that on them. Trixie had been available, but half the ponies in the room didn’t like the showmare, so Carrot Top had decided against inviting her.

But it’s alright, she told herself. This is a business proposal. It’s fair to all ponies involved and makes good business sense, so I should have no trouble getting them all to sign on. I just need to be confident and present it well, and…

But thoughts like that would have to wait. It was time to begin. “Alright,” said Carrot Top. “I’m here to present a proposal—“

“You’re here to beg for our help,” called out Red Onion. “Cause you just realized the Apples are gonna kick your flank from here to Stalliongrad!”

Carrot Top paused. “Uh, actually, no. I’d like to make a proposal that will, I think, be advantageous for all of us.”

Green Grape waved a hoof in a ‘go on’ gesture.

“All of us have farms that currently require infrastructural work – laying new irrigation pipes, mending broken fencing, rearranging fields -- but these jobs require such a large initial investment that we can’t afford to ever get started. And – of course – this just hurts us more and more, because without the latest equipment, or even working equipment in some cases, our daily chores take longer and longer, and we fall further behind. Furthermore, most of the grants and works projects that are awarded in the Ponyville area tend to go to the Apples instead of us, so we can’t rely on government help.

“However, just as most of us offer discounts to vendors who buy in bulk from our farms, a lot of the companies that offer the maintenance and expansion supplies we need will also offer discounts if we buy enough at once. If we were to all, say, buy the newest irrigation system and have it laid at once, we could do it together and save a substantial amount of money.”

“We know,” said Banana Split. “Every year there’s always a few of us who try to get everypony together to do a big bulk purchase, but there’s never enough farms with the bits on hoof to actually do it.”

Carrot Top continued on. “True – that’s usually how it goes. But let’s say that my farm does well in the Farm Competition. That’ll bring in a lot of bits. As it seems to be tradition for Ponyville teams to give back one-fourth of their winnings to the community, I was thinking that, if my farm wins any money, a quarter of the prize could be used for infrastructure projects like irrigation and fencing for our farms. Then we’d all be better off, and the money would go further because we’d be buying the equipment at the bulk rates!”

“And what do you want from us?” asked Grape. “We appreciate your generosity, but if you were just going to donate your money to us, you wouldn’t need to call this meeting.”

Carrot Top’s voice was clear and businesslike. “As Red Onion mentioned, it will be difficult for me alone to win over the Apple Trust teams or the big farms from other villages. They have access to expensive ingredients, equipment, and experts that I don’t. But if we pooled our resources, such as produce and equipment I’d have a better chance to win, and then we’d all have a better chance to get new equipment.”

Grape held up a hoof. “If I understand this correctly, you would like us to donate some of our produce to you, which you will use to help do well in the farm competition. Then, upon your return, should you have won money, you will spend one-fourth of it on general improvement projects for our farms. Is that the deal you are proposing?”

“Well, yes.”

There were murmurs, but Grape silenced them with a quick glance. “And, hypothetically, suppose you were to lose regardless? Then we would be out the costs of whatever we gave you, and would have nothing in exchange.”

Carrot Top paused. This was the hard part. “In that event, yes—“

“The total effect would be that you – and the Apples – would be no worse off, while we all would have suffered a financial loss,” finished Grape. “You are asking us, essentially, to gamble on your success.”

“It’s not a big financial outlay,” said Carrot Top as quickly as she could. “Nothing like restaurant-level quantities of food. Even if I make it all the way to the finals, I’ll only need to present twelve dishes or so. Twelve plates of food, and the bulk of it has to be carrots, which I grow anyway. You would stand to gain a lot more than you would invest.”

“Yes, but you also need to practice making the dishes. You may try several different things before settling on your final menu. And – please do not take offense – you have never done this before. You may damage or otherwise lose your ingredients through accidents in storage, transportation, or cooking, and thus need to obtain more. It is quite possible that you will need large quantities of our produce to have a good chance at competing,” said Grape.

Carrot Top nodded. Grape had valid points, and she wasn’t going to try to pretend otherwise – only to show, rather, why those points were outweighed by her own. “I understand that it’s a gamble. But it’s also a huge opportunity. Does anypony in this room have an irrigation system newer than fifteen years old?” No hooves went up. “It’s no wonder we can’t compete with the Apples. They have new low-water systems that are specially calibrated to only use exactly as much water as needed – no waste. They have the new plows from Neighjon that are twice as easy to move as anything I have. For that matter, they have a brand new fence with animal-warding spells. Me, I just have a regular fence, and every day I have to chase away rabbits.” There were chuckles. “If you support me, and I win, we’ll be able to dramatically improve our farms. You’ll be getting a four-fold return!”

“Yeah, that’s a big if,” called Boxxy. “Even with my cherries, you don’t have a shot.”

“You’ll be going up against some of the biggest farms in Equestria,” yelled Red Onion. “The Apples aren’t the only ones with a huge company behind them.”

“And even if it was just the Apples, they have political connections,” said another pony, a salmon-colored one that Carrot Top didn’t know. “They know a bunch of the judges.”

“Hang on,” said Lily. She grew flowers (edible and otherwise), and was one of Carrot Top’s friends. “Carrot Top’s an Element. The judges might like her because of that.”

Carrot Top blushed. She was trying not to bring politics into this, especially given what the Flim Flam brothers had been trying to do. But if a few of the judges did decide they wanted to support an Element, well, there wasn’t anything she could do about that. “Um. I’d like to hope that the judging will be based on the food, not political considerations.”

Red Onion burst into laughter. Carrot Top flushed, but didn’t say anything else. She didn’t think there’d be much of a point.

“I see the risk we’re taking, but where’s the risk to you?” asked Banana Split. “Or, put it another way, why shouldn’t one of us sign up and do this?”

“The risk to me is that, if I’m doing this, I’m probably going to have to spend all week working on it,” said Carrot Top. “Because Green Grape is right – I haven’t done this before. I won’t be able to tend to my farm much, and I don’t have the money to hire farmhands. So, yes, that’s going to hurt me, win or lose. That’s my risk.”

Split nodded thoughtfully. “Fair enough.”

A few of the ponies looked to Grape, who had shut her eyes. She seemed to be thinking hard. Carrot Top forced herself to appear calm, but she still felt extremely nervous. A ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ from Green Grape would mean the difference between having a chance and --

“Well. Ain’t this a cozy little meetin’.”

Every pony turned to see Applejack walking in through the conference room doors.

“Ah could barely believe ma ears when ah heard that Carrot Top had called on y’all ta help her in the competition, an’ that y’all had come runnin’. Still hard ta swallow, even though ah’m seein’ it right here.” Incredibly, Applejack sounded hurt and betrayed. “After all ma farm’s done fer this here town, fer y’all in particular, how could y’all do this?”

“Done for us?” Banana Split frowned. “What do you mean? What have you ever done for us?”

“There ain’t one of ya in here whose hasn’t had a bad harvest some year an’ who didn’t come ta us ta beg some apples just ta survive through the winter. An’ we always sold ‘em ta ya. Could’ve just looked away, but y’ar our neighbors an’ we helped ya. No matter how bad yar situation was—“

“Our situations are bad because of your predatory business tactics,” said Grape, in a crisp, clean voice.

“Ah ain’t gonna apologize fer runnin’ a successful business, or fer obtainin’ the resources ah need ta weather any kind of disaster.” Applejack had almost reached the podium by this point. Her voice took on a harsh undertone. “This town exists ‘cause of Sweet Apple Acres an’ the Trust. Our tax revenues fund more government services than any other business. The Apples feed more ponies more food than any three of ya combined. Y’all and this town need us, an’ that means ya need us ta have the money an’ equipment ta keep producin’ apples even after a fire, flood, or parasprite attack.” She was silent for a moment. “But ah know ya know that. So ah just can’t see why ya’r backstabbin’ us an’ helpin’ her try ta take us down, when it’ll just hurt yarselves even more than us!”

“We’re not trying to take you down!” cried Carrot Top. “I’m just trying to compete and—“

“Come on, Carrot Top, ya gotta know by now the odds’re against ya! All yar competin’s gonna do is make it harder fer the Apples!” Applejack glared at Carrot Top. “If the Apples go under, this town goes with it. Hay, if the Trust goes under, Equestria will be in real bad shape. So if ya have any respect or compassion fer any other pony, let it alone an’ stop interferin’.”

“You aren’t going to go under if you don’t win this competition!” yelled Carrot Top, exasperated.

“Besides,” said Grape, now looking very annoyed, “Even if your farm fails to place, that will have no affect on the overall Trust finances—“

“Ya can’t know that, either of ya! Farms are precarious, an’ the Trust is just a collection of farms. What if it has a bad year? We’re a pretty big part of it; it could need our help at some point. An’ if we don’t have this money, maybe we can’t help them so much.” Applejack scowled.

Carrot Top, guessed that it would be pointless to try explaining the size of the Trust to Applejack. “Are you really asking me to drop out of the competition?”

“What ah’m askin’ is fer ya – all of ya -- ta remember what it is we do an’ how vital we are. Ah want ya ta remember how much money we’ve brought in, an’ how many government grants. How many of ya we’ve personally fed in lean times.” She let her gaze drift from farmer to farmer. “Ah want ya ta think how ya’d feel if ya supported some pony when she was in a real pickle, helped pick her up an’ dust her off, an’ she went right on over ta yar rival an’ tried ta ruin ya.” Her gaze settled on Green Grape. “Ah want ya ta think ‘bout all that an’ then do the right thing. Let the Trust continue ta support Equestria an’ Ponyville, an’ don’t make it harder fer us ta bring home the money we need ta do it right.” She turned to stare at Carrot Top. “Just let things go back ta the way the usually are, ‘kay?”

Carrot Top flushed. We don’t owe you an easy victory! And one loss wouldn’t hurt the Trust anyway! “Well,” she said, slowly, “Who here would like for things to stay exactly where they are? Who’s perfectly content with the state of agriculture in Ponyville?”

There was silence for a moment.

Then Green Grape stood up. She looked incensed, but her voice was clear. “Carrot Top, I apologize, but I am not willing to donate some unknown amount of produce to you on the mere chance that you will win sufficient prize money to make the investment worthwhile. While I wish that I could afford such an outlay, it is simply not possible at the moment.”

Carrot Top lowered her head. Green Grape spoke for most of the ponies in the room. If she wasn’t going to help, that was it for the plan.

“But.”

Huh? Carrot Top looked up again.

“I will sell you grapes, raisins, wine, and any other food my farm can produce, of value equal to the irrigation system you mentioned – at the bulk rate, covering my entire farm. And I will let you delay payment for two weeks. You need not pay until one week after the competition, at which point you will have received any forthcoming prize money.”

“That’s the same…” began Carrot Top. But it wasn’t, because under this deal, Carrot Top would be obligated to buy the town’s irrigation system whether she won any money or not.

Green Grape’s gaze was not unkind, exactly, but it was stern. “Carrot Top, if you were not certain of victory, you had no business asking for our donations in the first place.”

Carrot Top didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t even sure she disagreed with Grape, exactly, but… but it was such a big risk…

“Are ya insane?!” Applejack swiveled to stare at Grape. “If she don’t place high, she’ll owe tens of thousands of bits!”

Before Carrot Top could figure out a response, Banana Split rose. “I’ll agree to the same deal as Green Grape.”

Carrot Top did the math quickly. If she won or placed well, she’d be fine. Better than before, actually, because she’d get to keep some of the prize money. If she lost…
If she lost, she would almost certainly have to sell the farm to pay off the debt. She had nowhere near enough money to buy the town’s irrigation system outright, and her friends couldn’t possibly get her enough.

“I’ll take that deal,” called Lily.

“Me too.”

In fact, depending on the market, the farm might not even cover that kind of bill. It was an old farm, hadn’t been maintained as well as it should have been, and Carrot Top could easily see a realtor managing to give her a fraction of its worth. She could wind up both homeless and drowning in debt.

“Me three!”

Red Onion was staring at Applejack with an ugly fury. “Yeah. Me four. Kick this idiot’s flank to Tartarus and back, ‘kay?”

This was getting ridiculous. Carrot Top opened her mouth to say that she wouldn’t take that deal. She wasn’t going to wager her farm on this competition. Bad enough that she’d have to trim back her time in the fields to design and prepare the recipes, but if she did this, she could be homeless in as little as two weeks.

“But,” Carrot Top began, “I don’t—“

“What, so you want us to give you our produce when you’re not even sure you can win?” demanded Boxxy Brown. “Is that it?”

“No, I—“

Green Grape rose. “I think we’re all agreed. Excepting Applejack, does everypony agree to sell Carrot Top produce and wait two weeks for payment?”

“Aye!”

“Carrot Top, think fer a minute!” Applejack looked flustered. “All this is gonna do is take down both of us! Dang it, ah don’t know if ya’ve got some vendetta ‘gainst ma or what, but this ain’t worth it!”

It’s not about you! thought Carrot Top.

“We all agree, then.” Grape turned back to the carrot farmer. “Will you take this deal?”

“Uh.”

Carrot Top could see the town farms with new, working irrigation systems. She could see their crops flourishing, growing better, and with less effort. The farmers could put their extra hours into taming new land, growing new crops, fixing up their dilapidated farmhouses. They could even spend more time with their families and friends. She saw the power of the Apple Trust checked, however slightly, with one of their advantages erased. She saw the farms still alive in a few years, alive and flourishing.

She also saw herself homeless, or forced to accept Greengrass’s help lest she wind up freezing under a bridge.

But then again… who was she to weigh herself against something every farmer in there so desperately needed? If she didn’t take this chance, they’d all continue dying slow deaths to the Apple Trust, and within fifteen years they’d probably all be bankrupt anyway. It wasn’t about beating Applejack or taking down Sweet Apple Acres, it was about keeping the rest of the farms afloat.

I’m too generous for my own good. I’m about to give away my farm. But she couldn’t do anything else. It was just who she was.

And so, knowing as she said it how stupid she was being, knowing she was probably signing her own eviction notice, she said, “I’ll do it. If you’ll get me those ingredients, then two weeks from today -- win or lose -- I’ll fund a modern irrigation system for every farmer in here that doesn’t have one.” That only excluded Sweet Apple Acres, but Carrot Top felt it was important to make that distinction. “I’ll calculate out what that’ll cost for each of your farms, and you’ll provide me with that value in produce for this week. And… I’ll try to win the competition.”

There was silence, and then Green Grapes started to drum her hooves on the ground in applause.

“Three cheers for Carrot Top!” yelled Banana Split.

I’m doomed, the carrot farmer thought.



“Hey.”

Carrot Top looked over. She had just left city hall and was wandering around the village. She wanted nothing more than to go home and hide. But she couldn’t, because somepony was talking to her.

She turned to see Applejack. The apple farmer was looking at her, and seemed almost… concerned?

“Why’d ya do that?” she asked. “Ya realize they’re all wantin’ ya ta fail now, right?”

“What? Why?”

“If ya win, they get new equipment. If ya lose, they get it anyway, an’ ya go bankrupt so they’ve got one less competitor.”

Carrot Top froze. “We don’t think like that,” she said, quietly. “Why, do you?”

“No! No, of course not!” Applejack shook her head. “Ya just bet yar farm ta try ta beat ma. Carrot Top, did ah do somethin’ ta make ya mad? Is this a grudge?”

“Applejack, I’m not out to hurt you, or Sweet Apple Acres, or the Trust. Honest. I just want to win the prize money,” said Carrot Top, feeling very weary. “I need it. And the other farmers need the irrigation system too.”

Applejack’s face showed that she didn’t believe her. “Look. Ah wish ah could buy that irrigation system fer the town maself, but ah can’t afford ta take that much money an’ sink it outside the farm. It ain’t gonna do nopony any good if ah spend ma money on some big charity project an’ go bankrupt, cause them the farm ain’t around ta help the town anymore.”

Carrot Top didn’t say anything.

“Look… when – ah mean if – ya lose, ah’ll give ya a good offer on yar farm, okay? An’ ya can stay with us till ya find somewhere else ta live.”

“…thanks.” It was practically no sacrifice at all to the apple farmer, but Carrot Top didn’t say anything about that. She knew that, by Applejack’s standards, this was incredibly generous.

“But don’t think we’ll go easy on ya. Like ah said, we’re gonna win. The Trust needs this money, and Ponyville needs the Trust.”

“You mean Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Whatever! However much y’all don’t get it, y’all do need us. Ah only hope there never comes a time when ya find out first hoof,” said Applejack. She shook her head. “Ah don’t want ta have ta crush ya. Honestly, before this whole thing, ah kinda liked ya. But ah’ve gotta protect the ponies that rely on our food. So ah’m gonna beat ya, Carrot Top, an’ win this whole thing despite you. An’… an’ ah feel real bad that ya could lose yar farm, honest, but there’s more important things at stake here. Hope ya understand.”

“Fine.” Carrot Top didn’t know what else to say.

After another few moments, Applejack turned and left. Carrot Top watched her go. That apple farmer, she knew, would never bet her farm to help other ponies. She’d never get anywhere near that position. If she’d needed the produce from the other farms, she’d have found some way to knock the price down in negotiations. But then again, she was good at that kind of thing. Carrot Top didn’t think that way.

I’m too generous. And now it’s cost me my farm. Unless I can somehow beat the Trust, not just Sweet Apple Acres but all the Trust teams, and also all the others…

“Hey, Carrot Top! How’d it go?”

Carrot Top turned to see Trixie approaching. “It went.”

“Huh?”

Carrot Top stared up at the night sky. “It’s kind of a long story.”

“Oh.” Trixie hesitated. “Not well, huh?”

“Not what I was hoping for. Now I’m under more pressure than ever.”

Trixie thought. “I’d help you, but usually when I’m under pressure I just get some bourbon, and that’s obviously not your thing.”

Having a drink or two to help her de-stress sounded great to the carrot farmer. “Brilliant idea.”.

“You’ve been a lot more appreciate of my ideas lately,” observed Trixie. “You should enter these things more often. Which idea now?”

“Let's get something to drink at Berry Punch’s.” Carrot Top began to lead the way.

“Um, I don’t recall that idea—“

“First round’s on me.”

Trixie smiled. “Objection withdrawn.”