On a rainy November afternoon, we set off for Gostwitz, a small village near Riesa. Over the past two years, a small paradise of diversity has been created on two hectares in the middle of the large arable fields of the Lommatzscher Pflege: the solidarity-based agriculture (SoLawi) Baum.Frucht.Gemüse. Ramona Kempf and her partner are currently cultivating 1,500 m² of land in the open landscape and under foil, with the harvest currently going to 23 participants at a target value of € 85 per share. The plan is to gradually expand vegetable cultivation to up to 3,000 m², while the rest of the area leased from the Lebenstraum Gemeinschaft Jahnishausen, where the couple live with their two children, will be planted extensively and in a way that promotes biodiversity, according to Ramona. A lot of work has recently been put into removing the couch grass. This perennial herbaceous plant had infiltrated almost the entire area and had to be combated in order to be able to grow vegetables almost efficiently.
We immediately notice the rows of trees spaced at certain distances from each other, which run through the site in a serpentine pattern. On closer inspection, we see that the site is divided into three levels: crops close to the ground in the form of sage and various herbs, then further up various berry bushes, such as gooseberry and currant or willow, and on the top floor the trees planted at regular intervals, such as chestnuts. The keyline agroforestry system introduced in 2021 is designed in such a way that it specifically reduces water runoff and soil erosion, for example in the event of increasingly frequent heavy rainfall. Special trench slits are created parallel to the rows of trees, which collect the run-off water in a targeted manner and channel it to the drier slope areas and hilltops in a drainage-like manner. Before the system was created in Gostwitz, the houses in the neighboring residential area further down regularly had mud from the surrounding fields in their cellars or hallways. This is
now to be put to an end with the help of agroforestry. The vegetable patches, foil tunnels and extensive areas of the SoLawi are located between the rows of trees and together form a garden of variety and (bio)diversity. This year Ramona was awarded the Sustainability Prize as part of the Saxon Founders' Prize for the development of this regenerative agroforestry system and the operation of community-supported agriculture.
The activities of SoLawi Baum.Frucht.Gemüse have been positively received by people in the village and the surrounding area. Some of the residents are harvesting their produce, and people from Riesa and even Döbeln come to the depot in Gostwitz once a week to pick up their vegetables. It's just like it used to be here, say walkers who pass by the area on Saturdays and watch the hustle and bustle. In the future, the farm should cover its costs. Electricity is already generated by a solar system and the farm has its own well for irrigation.
Ali Habiballah is Zaituna! He produces delicate organic hummus and falafel on his own and sells his products in the Dresden Verbrauchergemeinschaft für umweltgerecht erzeugte Produkte and in several organic shops throughout the city. To further increase the regional share of ingredients, especially the legumes Ali uses for his delicious but secret recipes, we connected him with farmers from the region who already grow legumes or plan to do so. Like Eckard Voigt, for example, who grows green lentils in Doberquitz near Leisnig. We talked to Ali about the Zaituna products, the philosophy of his one-man business and his expectations regarding the newly created sensational regional product, lentil falafel. This time you can watch the interview directly on our YouTube channel, which you can also subscribe to. In the future, there will be even more "traffic" here and project results to see, hear and read. Have a look!
The Palais Café was originally launched in 2019 as a pop-up café in the Japanese Palace as one of the exhibition venues of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden to offer visitors a sustainable concept to refresh and relax during their exhibition visit. From a temporary project, the Palais Café has become permanent, enjoys an ever-growing fan base and thus also meets increased demands. I met with Agnieszka and Kathi, the two current operators, to talk about the day-to-day challenges and opportunities of running this special café in Dresden.
Organic - regional - zero waste! With these claims, the team of the Palais Café enters the race. Of course, not all products processed in the open kitchen are organic. The focus is rather on regional and seasonal food. From time to time, waste is also produced, because smaller quantities of food can still be purchased packaged. But the two women and their team still consider 'zero waste' in their daily operations, as well as the (re)use of containers and rescued food in their dishes. For example, they dry the herbs from the raised beds in the museum's atrium and make their own herbal tea from them. When this is not being offered to visitors to the museum for free, it is - of course - stored in reused yogurt jars ;-).
TALKING ABOUT FOOD WHILE YOU EAT: LUNCH FOR LOCALS
In addition to the core café business Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., the team also fulfills catering orders for up to 300 people, either at in-house events or any other occasions throughout Dresden & region.
"We see ourselves as an education provider, telling people about our zero waste concept and the processing of regional and seasonal food. This catches on and people come back," Agnieszka says. "People then have to put up with it when we don't offer to-go cups but reused screw-top yogurt jars with a deposit. That's the only right way for us." The educational mission is carried out together with partners such as the Lokale Agenda Dresden or the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, for example at the so-called "Lunch For Locals."
Since 2021, this format has been available on Fridays now and then, the result of many people's longing for Corona time to meet in person and exchange ideas about food culture and food sustainability. At this format, several people enjoy a menu conjured up by the Palais Café around a large table, engage in conversation, and experience with all their senses what regional, seasonal, and creative looks like on a plate. Many friendships and professional contacts have already been made at several Lunch for Locals editions.
PROCUREMENT AND DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD: BETWEEN URBAN GARDEN PROJECT, MARKTSCHWÄRMER AND METRO FOR REGIONAL PRODUCTS
In the new season, most of the vegetables come from the nearby Dresden district of Pieschen. There, it will be grown by the urban gardening initiative UFER-Projekte Dresden e. V., harvested and made available for pickup by staff from the Palais Café. "People are thrilled when they learn that the spinach in their lasagna was just grown in Dresden in an urban garden project," Agnieszka says. "It builds trust. People like it and they understand that short distances and local vegetables just make sense in times of climate crisis."
"Flour, sugar, eggs and milk are products we buy in larger quantities and therefore with less packaging," Kathi mentions. To this end, the Palais Café cooperates with the organic confectionery Bucheckchen in the Dresden district of Leubnitz-Neuostra (flour), with Hof Mahlitzsch (milk, 36 km), with the Cityimker Dresden (eggs, 13 km) and with the company Elb-Ferment (sugar, 3 km). "We have established personal contacts with most of the cooperation partners through the Marktschwärmer network," Kathi adds. At Marktschwärmer Dresden, the Palais Café was especially sought after during the Corona lockdown period with its homemade products. However, the effort to operate all distribution channels and the café at the same time has become too great since last year. Now there is no further activity planned at Marktschwärmer for the time being, but there are already plans to get back into it soon with shelf-stable products that can be stored for longer.
"As far as the logistics and procurement of regional and local food in organic quality is concerned, we sustainable restaurateurs in Dresden still lack something like a wholesale market for these very products," Kathi notes. "We have to procure all products in very small quantities and with short but still numerous and costly routes, although even with our throughput of food and beverages, it would be much more logistically efficient by now to source larger quantities, preferably regionally."
MULTIPLIER FOR A SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND CONSUMPTION CULTURE
Agnieszka and Kathi want to further disseminate their ideas for a sustainable food and consumption culture and encourage people to eat regionally and seasonally. "We can well imagine, for example, the Japanese Palais becoming something like a 'food hub' where people can come together and exchange ideas on a weekly basis - similar to a weekly market."
Unfortunately, the two have little time to initiate new ideas and projects and to pursue them together with cooperation partners, such as the Ernährungsrat or Lokale Agenda Dresden, etc. "We wish for the future to be able to get more involved there."
HERE you can find more information about the Palais Café!
It time for agriculture in Germany and Europe to adapt to climate change! There are many good examples and approaches to this worldwide. One of the reallabs and think tanks where people are experimenting and designing on the topic of agriculture in climate change is Domin's Hof in Peickwitz near Senftenberg/Südbrandenburg.
There, Thomas Domin applies well-known methods to his fields: agroforestry, farming with trees. But what are the benefits of agroforestry? The trees on the fields support the crop cultivation. They store water, slow down wind and heavy rain, collect moisture from the air and release it into the soil, provide shade, give birds a nesting place, which in turn eat the pests, enrich the soil with nutrients and diversify the (economic) yield of the farmer by offering energy wood, fruits or nuts.
The establishment of agroforestry systems helps to preserve and regenerate our planet. Farmers can even optimise their yield in the long term. In the beginning, however, a little patience, working time and money must be invested in order to establish an agroforestry system and initially to forego the yield previously produced on this land. The German Association for Agroforestry (DeFAF) estimates that if trees are planted on 10% of the field, then in the long run this can mean up to 17% extra yield from the wheat grown in between. Pretty effective, isn't it? The rows of trees mean that less land is driven over, which saves working time and fuel. The trees don't care, they still continue to compensate for CO2 ;-).
Anyone who is interested in regenerative solutions in agriculture, such as agroforestry, should visit Domin's Hof. With the OLGA project, we carried out studies on his land in 2021 and 2022 on the effects of agroforestry systems in the form of flat-planted agrowood structures on a neighbouring watercourse. More information on the results of the investigations can be found HERE.
On a grey November day, I set off with Daniel and Markus from NamNam Natura to the Bohemian Low Mountain Range where they have been managing a 3,000 m² fruit forest system in permaculture for a good four years. For me, it will be an active day of practice combined with discussions ranging from the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU to permaculture and romance to the firmness of the North Bohemian clay soil.
It all started in 2017, both still studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden, Daniel Landscape and Open Space Development and Markus Horticulture. The conviction that regenerative land management is possible was to be put into practice as soon as possible. NamNam Natura was founded. They got the land in the Czech Republic through a friend - of course at much more favourable conditions than in Germany. Many people have a romantic idea of agriculture. But in reality it is hard work, Daniel notes. Small-scale farming. Especially in fruit growing, almost everything is done by hand. He says that working in the office in between gives him some variety and that not every day is as physically demanding.
On the motorway towards the Czech border with four large cherry trees and a variety of berry bushes in pots in the van, we talk about the systematics of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its effects. Why haven't many more farmers already discovered regenerative systems for their land and soil? The framework conditions of the current CAP, state subsidies or sectoral legal provisions in nature and water protection are not yet geared towards regenerative and multifunctional land use systems. It is hoped that the new CAP 2023 will provide initial solutions in this regard.
The production area on the outskirts of Dřemčice, a village of 100 inhabitants, has grown quite a bit in four years. We plant vines, gooseberries, alders, apple trees, rock pears, black honeyberry, Sezchuan pepper, Tazy berries and Portuguese pear quince - because November is a good planting month. The more multifunctional and diverse the system, the better, says Markus. In the planting design, one makes sure that the combination of species is chosen in such a way that they support each other in their functions. In addition, the optimal use of space by planting in different layers (1st and 2nd order tree levels, shrub and ground levels) contributes to species diversity.
The heavy clay soil gives me a hard time when closing the planting holes. Daniel and Markus are used to it. Their skill in preparing the area and planting the crops reveals that they already have a lot of experience and are a well-working team. In between, I allow myself more of a breather with a view over the fertile plain of the Cheb basin, which is pierced by the typical basalt cones of the Bohemian low mountain range with a ruined castle here and there. Surely a great panorama, but on this day unfortunately in fog!
Daniel and Markus market the yield that the land yields - over 40 different types of fruit, plus nuts, mushrooms and herbs - every fortnight in the four Dresden locations of Marktschwärmer. Daniel and Markus invite people to shop regionally at Marktschwärmer, to try their products from regenerative agriculture, and perhaps to taste the diversity that permaculture offers and implement it in their own gardens. [Anke Hahn]
Website NamNam Natura (German)
NamNam Natura at Marktschwärmer (German)
The Permagold cooperative has set itself the goal of producing healthy, ecologically valuable food in regenerative agriculture. In harmony with biodiversity, the protection of climate, soil and groundwater, people should have access to food full of flavour from regional production. With its first farm in Nebelschütz, Permagold also wants to supply the residents of Dresden with fresh regional products. We talked to the chairman of the cooperative, Andreas Kretschmer, about the self-image and the "urban-rural bridge" in the context of Permagold.
Your slogan is "Agricultural turnaround by citizens". As a cooperative, what mission does Permagold fulfil in this respect for the Dresden region?
Andreas Kretschmer: This mission consists of two components: On the one hand, the decision in favour of a democratic cooperative model, which makes it possible to realise common goals with a large number of people, unlike in a capital company. On the other hand, the focus on management concepts that promote mixed cultures, such as forest gardens, permaculture and agroforestry systems. Permaculture, which gave Permagold its name, is not only a principle of cultivation, but also a culture of social coexistence that can enable a new experience in the value chain from producer to consumer. This is exactly what we want to pilot and implement initially in the Upper Lusatia region. It is already known from subsistence farming that forest gardens and permaculture systems work. We want to additionally prove that these systems can be scaled up on a large scale and thus generate an additional yield that goes beyond self-sufficiency and contributes to supplying the urban population. We practise organic farming as part of a system that is new in Saxony, in which aromatic foods are produced from mixed crops and brought to the regional market. Our activities are intended to increase regional added value, make the work socially affordable and generate enjoyment among consumers. If we succeed in this, I believe that Permagold can be a valuable addition to the many initiatives that already exist in the area of organic farming and regional marketing of organic products in the Dresden region.
Is the focus of Permagold more on supplying the city or is it about supplying the city and the countryside in equal measure?
AK: The focus is on supplying the city, but direct sales in the Upper Lusatia region also play a major role. That is why the revitalisation of village and farm shops is a core element of direct sales and our philosophy. We are in close contact with the producers. Taking Permagold Oberlausitz GmbH as an example, the village shop in Nebelschütz is also a social meeting place, just as you would imagine a corner shop in a rural area.
How is the urban-rural relationship experienced at Permagold, how does it currently become visible?
AK: This relationship is experienced through the large number of cooperative members, many of whom come from urban regions like Dresden. There, young people in particular are looking for a role that allows them not only to be consumers but also to be part of the entire value chain up to the finished food. They realise this through practical and physical work in the field or simply through the transfer of knowledge. How does the production and processing of healthy regional food actually work? Is this an alternative for me to Lidl, Aldi, Netto and Co.? Is it a way that I can live well, contribute to a healthy environment and sustainable development, and still do something good for my body? I think that Permagold eG can offer these possibilities with a certain commitment and long-term perspective and thus pursue its own aspiration to grow a little further every year and open up additional perspectives.
It is important that every voice is heard in the cooperative and that a lot of freedom is allowed in shaping a sustainable future. The most beautiful things are the planting, maintenance and building actions, where volunteers from the city always make their way to Nebelschütz and enjoy the work on the field and the evening get-together in a rural setting.
Do you think this can create a better understanding between town and country?
AK: The model of working with regional producers has the effect that local people are there every day and welcome any supporter from Dresden with open arms. This creates dialogue and an exchange of experiences and perspectives that you probably wouldn't have otherwise. Art and culture in rural areas also play a role, e.g. Land Art projects, the International Sculpture Days and village festivals in Nebelschütz. These are places where agricultural production and cultural life in the countryside come together and create dialogue and understanding for the Upper Lusatia region.
What advice would you give to young people who want to get involved in agriculture but have neither money nor land? How can they best contribute to the agricultural and food transition?
AK: I imagine school leavers who want to learn a profession in the environmental sector or are still unclear about what they want to do. In Germany is the great opportunity of the Federal Volunteer Service, where you can gain experience with numerous non-profit organisations. For more than 20 years I have been able to observe how young people, who have done a voluntary ecological year in animal husbandry or in plant and horticulture, have found their way in life through this or have been able to influence it enormously. They then went on to vocational training or to university to further deepen what they had learned. One of our former BUFDIs went to the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde to study environmental management, monitoring and agricultural marketing in organic farming. Networking with practising farmers already takes place during the studies. Especially in this field there is a need for skilled workers now and in the future, which can be covered by these young interested people.
On the other hand, there is hardly any free land for such people who want to work in agriculture. There are narrow limits to the independent development of an agricultural sector. A moderately difficult question is financing. One should not be afraid to tap into the usual federal state programmes, such as the start-up aid for organic farms. There is the 'Landwirtschaftliche Rentenbank' with its support for young farmers, there is the GLS Bank as an established environmental bank in Germany, which has its own support programmes especially for organic farming. You should seek the advice of experienced advisors to keep the entrepreneurial risks manageable.
Of course, it is always possible to become active in solidarity farming or in consumer associations, which are of course strongly influenced by urban areas but show ways into rural areas. At the Permagold cooperative we are also always looking for interested people who want to support us. Please feel free to contact us!
Sächsisch-Gut eG is a sales and marketing cooperative of producers from Saxony. Juliana Förster is an agronomist currently on parental leave. She is responsible for project management and public relations at Sächsisch-Gut eG.
Hello Juliana, what was it like when you started as project manager at Sächsisch-Gut, did you already know what to expect?
No, the whole issue of trade and the sales community was new territory for me. I first had to familiarise myself with the various regional structures and trade processes. Every day something new came up.
When and why was Saxon Good founded?
We founded the company in 2019 in order to be able to compete more strongly with wholesalers, to be more flexible and to be able to offer more products. more flexible and to have a better negotiating
position. At that time, the prices were so low that you couldn't even cover the insemination of the cow for a selling price of 20 euros per calf. We didn't want to accept that any more. We wanted to jointly develop innovative ideas in a cooperative and present valuable products to the trade.
What do you market as a sales and marketing cooperative?
The original idea was to market meat and sausage products. But now, because of the diversity of the farms, dairy products, fruit and vegetables and even a farm with its own oils are also included.
How many farms are listed with Sächsisch-Gut eG and what requirements do they have to fulfil in order to join?
There are currently 7 farms. We look to see if a company's products fit in well with our range. It must meet our standards and a regional connection must be recognisable. If a farm produces linseed oil, for example, the linseed should also be grown in the region and not imported from far away.
What is the advantage for the farms of being in the cooperative?
The many different minds that fight together for one thing: to produce valuable products for the region. You don't have to be a specialist everywhere, because what you're not good at, my neighbour might be good at, and vice versa. We all benefit from team spirit and group dynamics. This is a topic that has not yet fully arrived at many farms in direct marketing. Our members are involved from the first idea to the product in the shop: Everyone has a different perspective and that is good and enriching.
What is the essence of working as a marketing association? What are the advantages of being part of Sächsisch-Gut eG?
Every day brings a new surprise, no two days are the same. There are always new challenges that we face together. We meet about twice a year, with many emails and phone calls going back and forth in between.
We constantly check who needs what. The prices are agreed individually, which are often tough price calculations. In the meantime, we also have a joint product range that is marketed exclusively under the "Sächsisch-Gut" brand, such as the meadow salami, the Bauernschmaus and the hay cheese.
How have you developed since you were founded?
The early days demanded a lot of time and effort from each member farm. We had to find a common strategy on how to deal with similar product ranges of the farms. Of course, no farm wants to give away its market value, but we have to develop a common one.
We also consciously decided to form a cooperative in order to put the idea of community and not the financial aspects in the foreground. This always means short-term sacrifices for the individual farm, even if everyone benefits in the long run. There was also a lot of innovation: each farm took a new look at itself and developed further: For example, new stables were built in favour of more animal welfare and farm shops were redesigned with a completely new concept. We have all questioned ourselves and become more successful as a result.
Where are Saxon-Gut products sold?
In the farm shops and in food retailers like REWE. But many supermarkets have too high a margin, so we don't stand a chance with our relatively high entry price.
What tasks has Sächsisch-Gut set itself for the future?
We are looking for new sales channels, especially in the regional wholesale trade. However, they still have to wake up from their Corona hibernation. During the pandemic, many shops were afraid to stock up on expensive products. Logistics is also a constant challenge. We thought long and hard about how to handle this among ourselves. This is now done for us by outsiders. But we are constantly in the process of defining sensible small and large quantities for efficient transport. Even a forwarding agency had to give notice because it could no longer manage. That's why we are always looking for new ideas and looking around, for example in Brandenburg with Landlogistik, Youbuyda or Meck-Schweizern.
And of course we want to put the sales association on a stable financial footing. The sales association currently exists thanks to EU funding according to LEADER guidelines, but in the future it should be self-financing. Unfortunately, Corona has put the brakes on a lot of things. But I am confident. We don't have to be strong alone, even if you are a fellow sufferer at first.
Thank you Juliana, we wish you continued success! If you would like to try the products of Sächsisch-Gut, you can find information on the website www.saechsischgut.de about sales outlets in your area. You can find them on Instagram under saechsischgut.
Links to logistics service providers (websites in German):
Today we are guests of the UFER-Projekte Dresden e. V.. The association coordinates the network of eight community gardens in Dresden and carries out active educational work for sustainable and regional nutrition in the city. The conversation with Sebastian Kaiser, founding member of the association, takes place in the "Alte Gärtnerei" (English: Old nursery), a "jewel" in the middle of Dresden-Pieschen, which - as the name suggests - comprises a former gardening site and creates space for something new. The area is home, for example, to the "Edible City" show garden, the "Wurzelwerk" community garden and, last but not least, the Koko community kitchen container, where people meet to process the food they grow or to take part in educational events.
"We started because seven people wanted there to be more gardens for the city and its inhabitants, where people can grow their own food and there is space for meeting and exchange," Sebastian looks back on the origin of UFER-Projekte Dresden e. V.. "People in the city shape these spaces in a self-determined way, and we create the framework for this. We are a platform for everyone who wants that and provide the resources for it," he adds, stretching out towards the spring sun on the wooden seating in front of Koko.
Now the gardening season is slowly getting underway again in Dresden. New gardeners are replacing old ones, planting plans are being made and anticipation is slowly rising for the green that will sprout again. After two years of pandemic, there is an enormous need for exchange in the context of educational events and other meeting places. "We want to get out into the urban community more again," Sebastian says, hinting at the loss of face-to-face encounters and lively togetherness due to Corona.
With its focus on urban green spaces and gardens, UFER-Projekte Dresden e. V. is closely linked to the Dresden and Region Food Council and the solidarity farms (German abbrev. SoLawi) operating in the surrounding area. There were and still are community gardeners who also have harvest parts at one of the SoLawis, because there is understanding for each other and for the processes of production and consumption of food and sympathy. "Some city dwellers want to have their own grown food even closer and then come back to us from the SoLawi," says Sebastian. In this way, urban gardens and SoLawi cultivation areas complement each other very well for the production of regional food.
Community gardens alone will never be able to supply an urban society with regional food; other producers are also needed, such as large-scale urban farms, the SoLawis, the agricultural cooperatives in the surrounding areas or home cultivation on the balcony. Together, this mosaic of producer locations offers diverse resources for regional food.
All the food produced in the UFER community gardens is for home consumption. "The quantity is too small for that," Sebastian says. "The berry crops here in the old nursery are for self-picking, which is quite similar to selling. Currently we are already selling berry bushes, and maybe we will develop into a tree nursery one day. There's room for a gooseberry or raspberry everywhere," says Sebastian, underlining the association's vision of an edible city of Dresden. The refinement of the food grown in the gardens takes place directly on site within the framework of cooking or fermentation workshops as well as dinner events in the community kitchen container Koko.
"We offer the space for education and community for urban gardening," Sebastian summarises the core competence of UFER e. V.. Topics from the "big" agriculture happening outside the city gates have also been addressed, but unfortunately the exchange formats in an urban-rural context have been lacking so far. "The farmer from the surrounding area has too little time in the evenings to take part in our events on regional food," Sebastian is sure. "In the evening, after feeding and working in the stables, they often don't feel like driving into town to take part in a workshop or discussion round."
The big questions of agricultural policy are negotiated across generations in Dresden's community gardens during the evenings when people meet in the gardens to take care of the vegetable beds. What alternative nutrients do we add to the soil and how do we keep them there? What is the best way to build up humus? How do we make agriculture regenerative? What is discussed here on a small scale hopefully has a big impact on the future of our food systems.
Mona Knorr is a board member of WirGarten e. V. and a crowdfunding specialist. She lives in Dresden and explains to us in detail what WirGarten e. V. is all about.
A WirGarten - what is that and why did you set up?
A WirGarten is a professional vegetable farm that is organised as a cooperative and operates according to the principle of Solidarity Farming ("sharing costs and harvest"). In 2017, the first WirGarten was founded in Lüneburg - directly as a pilot farm for the WirGarten system, with which we want to enable further cooperative farms to be founded.
The association has already existed since 2015. At that time, my colleague Matti also advised agricultural businesses as an organisational consultant and saw how difficult the situation is on many farms with the low wages and the high responsibility that weighs on individuals and families.
Our vision was therefore to found a farm where this is different: to find a concept for a vegetable farm where the founders do not have to go into debt for all eternity, which is built up in such a stable way in terms of personnel that farm managers are also allowed to get sick, go on parental leave or take holidays. We saw the solution in a cooperative: The investments for the business are borne by the members of the cooperative, they are the owners. This also makes it possible that farm managers are not tied to one place for all eternity - they can move after a few years and continue their orientation without endangering the vegetable farm. This makes it more attractive for people to run a business as market gardeners and at the same time creates stability in regional supply.
In Lüneburg, we founded the first WirGarten together with 105 citizens, and the experience we gained there has been incorporated into the WirGarten system. By the way, the model for the first WirGarten was the Kartoffelkombinat in Munich, which at that time was the only cooperatively organised solawi in Germany. It is now a really big cooperative with over 1500 harvest shares - the WirGarten cooperatives will definitely remain smaller, at the moment we are assuming around 500-600 harvest shares.
Do you also help newcomers to find cultivation areas and build up the cooperative?
Yes, when they start in the WirGarten system, we provide a lot of personal advice and support from hour zero, so to speak. But it is always good to bring established institutions that are anchored in the region on board. For example, a credit union or an association can co-initiate a WirGarten. The network and the regional expertise that are thus available can greatly simplify the search for land and the finding of cooperative members.
What are the requirements for potential farm managers to found a WirGarten with you?
The founding team should consist of two farm managers: One person should have an agricultural education and three years of professional experience. This person manages all agricultural processes. The WirGarten system is designed so that the farm starts with at least 350 crop shares on 10 hectares of land. Managing such a large farm requires expertise and experience.
The second person takes care of all administrative tasks and is responsible for the business management as well as public relations and community building.
But we also help to find a second person when people first come to us on their own.
What is also possible is that groups of people, associations or NGOs initiate a WirGarten, and then the operational management duo is sought relatively early on. And due to the severe shortage of skilled workers in agriculture, our experience shows that it makes no sense to start a business without having the farm management first.
What does it mean when a starting farm decides to become a WirGarten cooperative?
When a WirGarten is founded, we offer end-to-end advice from day one. We provide support, for example, in the regional network analysis right at the beginning, in the search for land including the collection of soil samples, the preparation of a business concept, the search for collection locations and later also a land design. At the start of the operation, we provide training on how to organise the operating procedures efficiently.
For the administrative part, we provide support in setting up the cooperative, in legal and tax issues, and in communication and campaign work to build up the community that will later sustain the WirGarten. For these services we charge a start-up fee. However, it is important to emphasise that we see ourselves as advisors and guides, not as co-founders. This means that we do not do the network analysis, nor do we look for the pick-up locations, but we enable the teams to do this themselves.
Once the WirGarten has started, we provide ongoing support and advice on all agricultural and administrative issues. A broad-based advisory team is available for this purpose.
Each WirGarten cooperative is also allowed to use the name "WirGarten" and all communication templates as well as the common IT structures of WirGarten. This starts, for example, with the software for cultivation planning and member administration and extends to a ready-made homepage for the new business. A membership fee of 4.5 % of the annual net turnover of the new farm is charged for the use of the WirGarten system and the continuous farm advisory service. The provision and further development of a central brand and IT should ensure that the local teams can focus completely on growing the vegetables and building a strong cooperative community, which is complicated enough.
How do you assess the potential for a WirGarten in the Dresden region?
I haven't done any in-depth research on this yet. Basically, I think there is still potential here to inspire people to join a vegetable cooperative. However, I can't say what the situation is with regard to the land needed for this.
On your website you write that you are striving for fair and secure payment for founders? That is often difficult to achieve in agriculture. How do you make that possible?
We have given a lot of thought to this. When calculating the size of our start-up and target enterprises, we first looked at what target salaries and team size we were aiming for, and then we looked at the size of the enterprise needed to achieve this. Currently we assume that one starts with at least 350 harvest shares and a correspondingly large team in order to be able to compensate for staff shortages. By the way, you can look at the financial planning for a WirGarten on our homepage, which is completely free.
What are you proud of?
Our mission is to empower and encourage people and organisations to create a regenerative agricultural and food system with the regional community. That's why we make a lot of our knowledge available to everyone free of charge, such as the 300-page practical handbook and some tools. We have already helped many founders with this and many other vegetable farms are already using the calculations on start-up and target farm sizes, wages and profitability.
You also give courses and workshops on various topics, without people having to start a WirGarten right away...
Yes, we basically try to make the topic "Shaping Agriculture Together" accessible in different ways. The start-up course is very popular, and we run it together with a tax advisor. There is also interest in the topic of crowdfunding in agriculture, even among existing farms. That is exactly what we want to achieve. For us, the question is always: How can there be greater appreciation for agricultural work? For that, people need to understand and experience agriculture. It doesn't all have to be solawi or cooperatives, there are many other ways that farms can open up to the regional community.
Thank you very much Mona, we hope you can reach many new founders and that people in the Dresden region are willing to experiment and start a WirGarten. You can find more information about WirGarten at www.wirgarten.com or on Instagram at @wirgarten.
Have you ever served the Dresden "Fürchtenichts" salad for dinner? No? No wonder, because this old vegetable variety, like many others, disappeared from the fields due to the industrialisation of agriculture from the 1950s onwards. Priscila, a gardener from the Solidarity Farming Initiative (SOLAWI) "Dein Hof" in Radebeul, told us how these traditional vegetables are to come back to life as part of a Prospecierara project - and ideally could also end up on our plates again.
The farms Dein Hof, Johannishöhe e. V. and Albrecht Vetters propagate fruit and vegetables such as the onion "Dresdner Plattrunde", the melon "Köstliche aus Pillnitz" and several other varieties. The aim is to bring these varieties, which have so far only "slept" in gene banks, back into real cultivation. It is a long way until then: the seeds have to be multiplied, cultivation and marketing characteristics have to be reassessed and adapted. Re-registration under the Seed Marketing Act is a particularly high hurdle. But only in this way can the variety be sold as seed to nurseries. Varieties adapted to the regional location are often more resistant and often taste special. Unfortunately, our palate today is only used to standard varieties
from which bitter substances have largely been bred out.
As of next year, some old vegetable varieties can already be tasted. Customers and participants of the VG Verbrauchergemeinschaft für umweltgerecht erzeugte Produkte eG, Vorwerk Podemus and SOLAWI Dein Hof will then be able to discover the old treasures in the vegetables on offer.
For Priscila, working in the Prospecierara project is a way of implementing biodiversity in the field and preserving genetic diversity - a topic that has occupied her since her university days in Brazil. There, the conservation of local varieties is a very emotional issue, because traditional varieties always have people and stories attached to them - and the conservation of local varieties is an act of resistance against large corporations and variety patents.
Contact: Prospecierara (in German)