Stefanie has finished agroculture in a university of Hohenheim and is curently working on her PhD.
Charlie and me appreciate the opportunity to wwoof at her farm very much. We have learned so many new skills and knowledge and I have to say, not all of them are about gardening.
Here are Stefanie's thoughts about organic industry and alternative approaches to modern day farming.
How does your relationship with agroculture started?
When I was a child. I was born in a family of farmers. I would pick up potatoes or go to the vineyards from an early age. Somehow accidentaly I started to study agroculture but it was not my initial plan. I was not accepted in social work program and it was one of the last moments to enter a study place. My parents said: ''Oh, you have to do something...'', because I already took one year out. During my gap year I was working in a botanical garden and in the university. So I knew the place and it was nice there. At least, I thought, I could go to the botanical garden... That's how I started to study agroculture.
How would you describe your business? How is it different from other box schemes?
Our business concept in English is called CSA or Community Supported Agroculture. Organic box scheme delivery system is fundementaly different from ours because we are not traders. What we produce goes to local community which supports us by buying shares. Now in the 1st year we could not completely fulfil our concepts because we started very quickly, advertisement time and growing time was more or less falling together. We calculated on our own how much money we would need to run the bussiness this year and divided it through the amount of people we can feed from our land. So the price turned out to be about 400 Euros per person per year. Usually it would be solved during a conference with all the members. You tell the budget of the year and the people would write on little papers how much they can pay for one or two shares, depending on how many they want to buy. When you would summarise this amount of money and look if it is enough to fulfil your budget and if it is not enough you do it again till it works. If it happens that you have more than expected, the whole community can think what to do with it. In autumn we will start to discuss what we can do with our new piece of land. Such chance of expressing customer's opinion about how to develop your farm further is rare, usually you would decide that on your own, including what would be economically better for you. This is more community based process but it also brings awareness to them how a farmer sustains himself. But you need to have a special amount of people and we are still in a process of finding them. (laughing) We try to grow as many vegetables as possible so that our customers would have a huge diversity of vegetables and we would also like to increase the amounts, provide some fruit, even some corn or old wheat varieties, make some more connections with other farmers. It is a problem though: can you include them into Solawi or is it a trade system like for example how we are selling the potatoes at the moment.
What is Solawi? Can you explain what actions, activities does it do?
Solawi means Solidarische Landwirtschaft and the concept comes from Japan where in older times, agroculture was more based on food delivery to homes. A farmer would get a secret letter with the amount of money in it for the vegetables people received. In the early 90s there was some examples like that in the US and since the 70s we also have it here in Germany. There is two, three farms which are very big in North Germany and all of their products are sold this way. They are very holistic farms living completely sustainably. Now the movement has spread and there is more joiners selling vegetables because it is easier for the young farmers. Usually it is a community of customers who look for a farmer which they can employ and who also look for the land from which they can support themselves with fresh vegetables but do not need to go and work in the garden in order to have this possibility. Last year there was an announcement that there is 30 new Solawis so the movement is really growing. But all of them are different in size: some have only half a farm as Solawi, some of the farmers divide their produce and sell some vegetables at the local markets and other half to the Solawi. You do not need to be certified because people trust of what you do although we decided to go along with all the aproving process because some nearby farmers spray pesticides and when in case of a loss of our produce we can show them the certificate and ask to pay.
How does your regular day as a farmer look like?
(laughing) We have different days. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday we harvest the produce and if it is a hot summery weather we start it early and if not - a little bit later. (laughing) When we try to have some lunch together around twelve or two and depending on a weather we either go relax for a little while or straight back to work. It is around 8 hours of work per day and we try to stay in that limit but of course there are days when we work more or less. But we try to make it fair and in case, we can always ask some help from the Solawi people or volunteers.
What is your personal opinion about bio dynamic, organic food industries? How do they differ and what major pros and cons you see in them?
For sure it is good that the organic food industry is growing and spreading because now you can find such food almost anywhere and I remember times when it was quite hard to find or quite far away. On the other hand, organic food is packed same as conventional food. I mean, in plastic. But of course, there are some movements which are trying to come back more to the roots and people like it. Even though the amount of organic food offered in the supermarkets is increasing, the specialised shops are run now just like the conventional supermarkets and are owned by big companies which dominate the market. It is not as harsh as regular supermarkets but they do get a lot of win out of this growing interest, attracting some big investors who are clever to see the change and know that it is sustainable. For example if a farmer is selling his organic potatoes for 1 Euro and in the supermarket they cost 2,80 it is a big difference so I presume that somebody makes big money from this. This is there we fall in the gap too while being local and affordable. We do wash some of the produce to keep it fresh for longer but we avoid waste and for sure you will hear from other farmers how big the concurence is in the organic sector, how they try to achieve the standarts because they have been told what types of salads to grow and when the bussiness men can control the price. This is not really fair. The power should remain with farmers and should not be so easily given away to the traiders.
Very different people come (laughing). What I like is that they bring new ideas, some want to work hard and some just want to cover their holidays but a lot of people share their influence, ideas and this helps to develop. Like i said earlier to you, at the beggining me and Jonathan were working so hard and we did not know what to do, all day long sowing, planting, watering... And when we discovered helpx. Two days after we signed up, some people wrote to us and it was really nice because neither of us had any previous wwoofing experience. We try to make it family based, for example, include people in cooking, writing their recipes - to make it international experience. All the farmers are laughing: so you talk only English now? They are so surprised that young people come and work for no money (laughing). They do not expect that, they think it is crazy. Mostly we had positive experiences. Like you and Charlie have brought so many new ideas and it is really nice. Because sometimes you feel the want to do something else but you just put all your energy maintaining basic tasks. But now... The house looks completely different! (laughing) And I guess my sister would not have made soap on her own any time soon. With this fixed schedule I sometimes fear that I will not see the world. I like travelling a lot and it was one of the main struggles when I started the bussiness but now it feels completely different after meeting so many people in such a short time.
What are your future plans?
Of course we want to increase the amount of Solawi members and we want to connect with more talented people to do some activities, workshops, like we already have Yoga exercises every Tuesday. So we wish to build a network where people could bring their knowledge, skills and get vegetables for free. But of course it is hard to achieve because we are still in this insurance, paying taxes routine. We would like to give it a try. Have a festival next year. Include local people, for example members form the music association. Because you can not seggregate yourself away from the community even if somebody has a different opinion. We have to interact. And this makes life easier.