Tour: Urban Agriculture in Berlin

GFRAS Annual Meeting 2013, 24th – 26th of September, Berlin
5th of SeptemberMaxVomBauernGarten I. Visit to the „Bauerngarten“ at Berlin Gatow. It’s an urban farming project on the Berlin periphery renting small plots to citizens at three different locations within the urban area, managed by Dipl.-Ing. Max von Grafenstein. Max, who grew up on a farm near Göttingen, studied agriculture at the University of Kassel Witzenhausen. His special aim is to bring farming closer to the people as a real and hands-on experience, including week-end workshops and harvest celebrations. For an annual fee of ca. 230-390 € the members rent a piece of land of about 20-50 sq m which is already planted. Existing just for three years, he has now about 1000 gardeners on three different locations in the city. The circular plots are sprinkled with water from the nearby Havel River. The people just have to weed and eventually harvest. The Bauerngarten Havelmathen is located within the beautiful Berlin natural reservation Havelmathen south of the village of Gatow. The „Bauerngarten“ is certified organic under the label „Bioland“.

 II. The fields of Christian Heymann are located right next to the „Bauerngarten.“ In spring 2013, the trained farmer with 15 years of experience in organic farming launched the project „SpeiseGut“ on about three hectares of land. This agricultural enterprise combines the concept of Community Supported Agriculture („Solidarische Landwirtschaft“) with the direct marketing of its goods to well-chosen restaurants and catering companies in the region, which are part of the new urban green markets (e.g. Prinzessinnengarten, Culinary Misfits). Currently, the land is leased in a 10-year contract from the Bundesland Berlin, but – as Heymann explains – plans exist to buy land in the near future, as well as to expand in infrastructure, e.g. green houses, to prospectively serve about 150 CSA-members. Access to affordable land in the region Berlin/ Brandenburg is one of the difficulties to plan in the long run for a young farmer, particularly in the initial phase of such a business concept.
Due to the fact that Havelmathen has been part of a nature reserve (Landschaftsschutzgebiet), the soil has not been treated in improper ways in the past, which makes Heymann hopeful to achieve the official seal of the „Naturland“ association in less than the required three-year period to accomplish the conversion to organic farming. The advice of such networks and colleagues, as well as leaflets, information events, and social media channels have all helped to successfully campaign for SpeiseGut: apart from the partnerships with local businesses, the CSA has currently about 60 members, who enjoy vegetables and fruits, flowers, as well as a range of processed and preserved goods (honey, juice, jam, vinegar, oil…) for a monthly fee of 55 Euro. In harvesting a large yellow beet, Christian Heymann demonstrates his impulse to raising consciousness for the complex issues of biodiversity and food sovereignty: purchasing seeds of robust heirloom varieties such as neglected root vegetables and cooperating with a nearby socio-pedagogically-oriented company that produces the seedlings.ChristHeymannklein

III. The agrarian engineer Alfons Krieger works as a freelance consultant engaged in the conversion to organic farming in the North-East of Germany mainly for the “Verbund Ökohöfe Nordost e.V.” (formerly called Gäa-Nordost). For 13 years he has been working as a volunteer commissioner for certification procedures and developing the guidelines for this alliance of organic farmers, gardeners and organic food processors. Alfons Krieger’s main fields of expertise are the issues of soil fertility and ecological manuring. As part of his job he offers analysis of soil samples for local farmers and gardeners. Mr. Krieger emphasizes that due to the lack of financial resources of small organic farmers, he, as a freelancer, has to combine this kind of consultation work with sustainability certification for industrial plants.

IV. Heike Kruspe, specialist consultant of Bioland e.V. for East-Germany, introduces the nationwide association Bioland, which is financed by its about 5700 members. They are farmers, gardeners, wine growers, and bee-keepers. The membership fees vary according to the size of the agricultural or horticultural holding. Bioland itself is a member of the, umbrella association of organic food producers and traders (Bund ökologischer Lebensmittelwirtschaft, BÖLW). It is also a member of the working group of family farming (Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft, AbL).

With the instrument of an own limited company, the Bioland GmbH, the organisation manages to certify stricter than the EU organic seal and also operates as controller. Bioland is recognized and appreciated along other national and international private labels such as Naturland or Demeter. Key to this agrarian producers‘ based association is its advisory function; but also its engagement as lobbyist influencing agrarian policies and research, and as marketing and public relations device. Consultation on economic, technical, as well as infrastructure and conversion related questions can be booked as various packages for respective fees, either via the available telephone hotline or during on farm visits. Apart from that, information is available on their homepage and via a newsletter; paper-based brochures and journals are published by the Bioland press.

Producers‘ alliances between growers and processing businesses, all working according organic-biological principles, are given advice and support to by Bioland e.V. in order to enhance sales (directly marketed off the farm or via wholesale trade). Heike Kruspe mentioned the example of adapting to consumer needs and market niches currently „en vogue,“ such as the chokeberry (Aronia) or the demand for regional products and heirloom varieties of fruits used for dairy products such as yogurt.

V. Domäne Dahlem in Berlin-Zehlendorf. After a short lunch, the participants joined Jacqueline Jancke for a guided tour through the Domäne Dahlem. The Domäne Dahlem had been a state farm in the southwest of Berlin for more than a century. In times of crisis as a small inner city farm, the Domäne Dahlem once faced threats of being shut down and turned into a sports and recreation facility for the Free University of Berlin. But a group of citizens and neighbours were successful in transforming the farm into an organic farm, supported by a “Stiftung” (foundation) and operating also as an outdoor museum exhibiting traditional ways of farming combined with an outdoor leisure park and an organic food store. As such, it is very successful in financing this independent museum with these different forms of income.

VI. Bioland Farm Wendt in Berlin-Zehlendorf. Visit to the Bioland-Farm of Christian Wendt, Kleinmachnower Weg. This organic farm on the Berlin periphery (near Teltow) continues to be a farm which has been run by the family for generations. Christian transformed his father’s farm into an organic vegetable farm. His brother moved elsewhere out of Berlin (to the Uckermark in Brandenburg) where he is raising animals. Together they have developed an exemplary collaboration for direct marketing within the city of Berlin through the catering project of their sister Elisabeth Wendt. Elisabeth has been selling her brothers’ products on various events and organic festivals. Today Elisabeth has her own bistro near Christian’s farm. Christian Wendt produces grain, hay and also rents pasture and stable space to urban horse owners. His wife successfully trains horses and young riders.WendthofSehrKlein

VII. Elisabeth Meyer-Renschhausen, a researcher of the working group small-scale agriculture (Arbeitsgruppe Kleinstlandwirtschaft und Gärten in Stadt und Land) and in the steering committee of the community garden  Allmende-Kontor (office for commons), a big community garden on the former airport Tempelhof, talked about the current development towards a new form of „urban agriculture“ and Community gardening. In the whole world we see a new social movement for urban farming in the cities in newly founded “international gardens” and other forms of “community gardens.” Berlin has risen within just ten years to the status of a kind of “world capital” of this new form of urban agriculture.

(c) Elisabeth Meyer-Renschhausen