Episode four dives in to what we need to be doing and thinking about when it comes to supporting the
people who grow our food and agriculture that nourishes people and planet. We talk politics - because food is always political. We hear about a few new initiatives in Berlin that are contributing to a stronger regional food system. And we get a bit of inspiration to incorporate more healthy, delicious and regenerative food items in our diets.
Peasant Agroecology as a solution to climate and food issues but declare that they are not only ignored but actively destroyed by incoherent policies, industrial monopolies and neo-liberal capitalism.
The past legislative period (2017-2021) was marked by some of the largest farmers’ protests in Germany since the end of the second world war.
Korn Labor: kornlabor.de
Jonna's family mill in lower saxony: bohlsener-muehle.de
Tiny Farms: tinyfarms.de
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
The Global Bean Project: www.2000m2.eu/global-bean-project
Elisabeth's Favorite Farmer: Benedikt Sprenker in Münsterland hofsprenker-roland.de
"There's Genbänkle (Patrick Kaiser), for example, he has, I think 2000 accessions of beans in his cellar fridge."
Bingenheimer is a good organic seed producer
"It is estimated that only 15% of Berlin’s food comes from the surrounding region."
"If one were to draw a radius of just under 100 kilometers around Berlin, this area would be enough to supply the capital plus the surrounding region with food."
"Universities and institutions like the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research and the University for Ecological Agriculture in Eberswalde are experimenting with legumes"
Mit Vergnuegen's 11 Hofläden in und um Berlin, die ihr kennen solltet
Get active with Food Sharing: foodsharing.network
Find a SoLaWi: solidarische-landwirtschaft.org/solawis-finden
Connect with local farmers in Berlin/Brandenburg: marktschwaermer.de
Trying to eat local, but still craving citrus and avocados? Connect with organic farmers around Europe and buy from them directly: crowdfarming.com
Samie: Hey. I’m Samie and welcome to Food in my Kiez
Do you have a favorite farmer? I ask because part of building more resilient food systems - and just resilience in general throughout our societies - is developing and maintaining relationship between one another and in this context, amongst all people along the entire food value chain. So this episode we’re diving into what we need to be doing and thinking about when it comes to supporting the people who grow our food and agriculture that nourishes people and planet.
We will talk politics - because food is always political - we will hear about a few new initiatives in Berlin that are contributing to a stronger regional food system and we’ll get a bit of inspiration to incorporate more healthy, delicious and regenerative food items in our diets.
And to kick things off, we find ourselves in…. Nollendorfkiez. I used to live in this part of town before I moved up to Moabit… and because it was a short walk from my flat, I became a regular at the Winterfeldtmarkt on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings…. It’s small, and cosy, something I always loved about it… and besides the few stands that I would buy groceries from, I also really enjoyed the treats there too — like the father son duo with the pastry and cake truck? Omgggg or the guy and his family with the stand in the middle slangin huge slices of tiramisu and espressos… delicious hahah
I went by one afternoon while working on this episode to talk with people there about how they think we, as consumers in the city, can better support our local farmers - and despite being steps away from stands with produce from local farms in Brandenburg, many of them were lost of ideas. But many also mentioned the Polish stand that usually sits in the back corner as their favorite vendor at the market. I was familiar, because I usually bought from them as well - the jars of homemade goodies and unique offerings always stood out to me, so of course I had to go by and say hello to Micheal (Mi-ky-el).
I told him a bit about this project and we decided to have a bilingual conversation - I asked questions in my very best German, he responded to me in Polish, and I got a friend to help translate later (shout out to Paulina!)
Micheal (in Polish): Most of the products come from central Poland, and from the seashore, where Szczecin is.
Samie: Micheal said that many of the products at his stand are from central Poland, but also from close to the Polish-German border, especially up near the sea and around Szczecin/Schetshin/. And this is significant, because when trying to eat more “locally” people tend to go by what feels like a safe bet: buy food grown and produced within your countries borders, or your federal state if possible. But although there is no official definition of “regional food systems”, we often say regional means anything within 200km of a city - so since Szczecin is just 145km from Berlin, farmers there are definitely part of Berlin’s regional food system…
Micheal: The polish village is very traditional....
Samie: Micheal told me about how polish villages, at least the ones he sources from, tend to be very traditional - with whole families working on the farm….. His eggs, for example, which multiple people at the market mentioned loving - come from a family of 4 plus grandma, a completely Bio farm with free range hens, he says, but if he wanted to advertise this, he wouldn’t talk much about the eggs; he’d rather talk about the hard work of these people and they ways they care for their land…similar to another farmer on the market who talked to me about choosing not to display his Bio certificates, because to him, it is more important - and has also shown to be more profitable - that his customers know him and know his product
[Interaction at the stand]
Samie: While speaking with Micheal, a customer came up and browsed his products. After a moment, she commented how he needed to mark where his products come from and the prices - that its a regulation in Germany - der Verbraucherschutz she said… and, I mean, although she is right… I had to laugh a little bit because you know, people loves their rules here haha… but yes – consumer protection laws are important - they’ve brought lots of positivity to our food systems, and food labels are an extremely valuable tool for transparency, accessibility and general food education, especially in supermarkets…. but what if, at least in a market setting, an unintended consequence is a missed opportunity to engage with the seller - to ask questions, hear stories, and build a bit of relationship between buyer and grower.
Micheal: Originally, historically people in Poland were mostly farmers….tradition of good food was present in the whole eastern Europe.
Samie: Micheal shared that historically, the people of Poland were all farmers and that the tradition of truly good food has always been present in the whole of Eastern Europe, but today, only 30% of the population lives in rural areas - small farms are disappearing fast. This means they are dealing with the same dynamics seen across the globe in agricultural communities: an aging workforce, land speculation, competition from big agri-food companies, and a production plan dictated, largely, by a global market less interested in quality food than with profit margins.
In Brandenburg, there’s a group of farmers working to resist such tendencies and instead reinstate a collective push toward more food sovereignty. They are known by the name Abl and led, in part, by my badass farmer friend, Julia Bar Tal…..
Julia - Abl: Ok, so I’m… my name is Julia Bar Tal from ABL. Abl is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bauerlicherliche Landwirtschaft. I'm the head of ABL Berlin, Brandenburg and Magdelenburg Vorpommen. The region NordOst, Northeast.
Samie: ABL is the German member of La via Campesina, a global movement that represents around 200 million peasant farmers, farm workers, seasonal farmers and indigenous peoples worldwide. They promote Peasant Agroecology as a solution to climate and food issues but declare that they are not only ignored but actively destroyed by incoherent policies, industrial monopolies and neo-liberal capitalism.
Julia - Abl: So I guess this characterizes Abl a lot that as a farmers and peasant organization, we will also never let political discussions like. Yeah, marginalize us away from our comrades in the struggle that we, as farmers who are fighting for our existence. And we really are, we're losing thousands of farms every year due to the financial situation that agriculture is in. Land is being sold out to investors. So it's more and more out of the hands of farmers, actually. I mean, just now here in Brandenburg, we're fighting for the Agrarstrukturgesetz and the old, powerful lobby in place that has not changed anything and doesn't want anything to change. That's going to be the hardest from all of the struggles, like regionally here in agriculture, political things happening. That's going to be the toughest cookie to bite.
Samie: Julia explained that this law - the Agrarstrukturgesetz - basically regulates how land can be sold and to whom.
And according to a statement by the political party, Die Grune, such a law would help to
- strengthen local farms,
- limit the influence of non-agricultural investments in the land market,
- curb the rapid increase in purchase and lease prices as well as land speculation,
- promote targeted agricultural structure development through a non-profit land corporation,
- and ensure a broad distribution of land ownership.
All necessary and important aspects to help overcome the challenges faced by farmers in the current economic and environmental climate.
Julia - Abl: I mean, there's a lot of examples. I can give you. One. I mean, like any bit of agricultural land, bigger than two hectors has to be, um, “gemenigt” - um, approved - the selling and should only be bought by farmers, by law and, uh, otherwise the, the, the selling can be, can be, um, stopped. And we have the situation where investors buy, like in share deals, they buy, um, parts of agricultural enterprises and then, you know, they get access to all of this land, the property land, or the rented land. I mean, that can also be very long-term rent contracts. So they get access to that without, because they're not directly buying land, but they're buying whole agricultural enterprises. And we live here……in the region that the Thünen Institute found as the region that had the most high percentage of land in the hands of this kind of investors from all of Europe. And, you know, and then you have to understand that these share deals. If they buy up to 95% of the company, they don't even pay taxes. Whatever hector I buy as a farmer, I'm going to have to pay purchase taxes, you know, and they get to buy 95, 94.9% of a whole agricultural enterprise with maybe thousands of hectors. They don't pay a single cent of taxes on that, you know? So there's like so many injustices in that.
Samie: Injustices like the fact that these non-agricultural investors can act independently of income from agricultural production - unlike farmers who depend on it. And in doing so, they’ve created a system of unfair competition - land is being traded at prices and in land sizes that are no longer affordable - or achievable - for local farmers. A few decades of this privatization has led to high land concentration where the highest bidder counts. Not who's living there, who's working the land or how sustainably they intend to manage it…
Julia - Abl: So Agrarstrukturgesetz with a lot of more things that I'm not going to fit into this podcast would be a really, really, really, really important thing. We've seen other federal states try to make one and the lobby always blocking it. It would be a great achievement if we, as the Federal State of Brandenburg with the most investors already owning. If we would be the first ones to push through with this Agrarstrukturgesetz that is so desperately needed. And, and people must also understand because they are always argumenting of, you know, the free freedom property and investment and blah, blah, blah, that he can't interfere into markets where we have interference into our markets all of the time. I mean, tax policies are made to interfere in our markets, you know, and the agricultural sector as being like the most heavily subsidized sector of any. We're not talking about a free market here
Samie: To quote the Die Grune statement again: "Our goal is a regionally anchored and rural agriculture that provides important ecological services for society and is appropriately rewarded for this.” So beyond a push toward more peasant agroecological practices on our farms, achieving this will also involve restructuring public funds in order to subsidize such a transition
That is what the EU Common Agricultural Policy (the CAP) should do - with ⅓ of the EU’s budget at its disposal, it aims to, quote: “safeguard European Union farmers to make a reasonable living and help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources”. It does that through two pillars: the first provides Farmers with direct payments while the second focuses on rural development and the wellbeing of rural communities.
The CAP has received consistent scrutiny over the years, with one criticism being that the scheme favours large scale industrialised agricultural practices, as subsidies in the first pillar are linked to the size of farms, rather than considering how the farm actually produces food, meaning large farms receive millions of dollars in subsidies every year - no matter how sustainable they operate: Of the 54 billion euros transferred to farmers every year, only four percent is expressly earmarked for climate and environmentally friendly production methods.
And as a friend of mine pointed out - the pillars are actually quite contradictory: the first essentially rewards farm growth, which often leads to mechanization and reduced human labor, while the second tries to revitalize rural areas - places that are being abandoned for lack of work and decent livelihoods.
But despite a large movement to persuade them – EU politicians at the end of last year failed to restructure the CAP in a way that would support more ecologically sound and regenerative agriculture. It is left up to individual members states in the design of their National Contributions, yet Bundesminister for Germany’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Cem Ozdemir, has said In terms of rewarding public services [i.e. the ecosystem services that farmers generate through more sustainable farming practices] the fresh start for EU agriculture subsidies “could have been bolder”
So, we must remain diligent. Beyond voting with our wallets, we have to make sure we are supporting policies and politicians that understand and value farming and agriculture as an important solution in dealing with the climate crisis
Julia - Abl: Every time the European union is sitting together deciding on the next, uh, common agricultural policies for the next few years, uh, we need the pressure o f society to bring that into the right direction. We need a common agricultural policy that supports sustainable agriculture, that supports farms that give workplaces, that offer education. Um, we need, we need this public money for public goods to actually be exactly that - that agriculture is, is then valued and, and honored also with this public money. If it fulfills these social and environmental and climate, um, things and not just because it has huge, vast hectors in their property.
Samie: Over time, I developed an image in my mind of how farming was being done – the image consisted of huge industrial farms with acres and acres of land and smaller farms - farms where the land was actually cared for, few and far between, kind of like little islands in a sea of industrial agriculture… so I asked Julia if she could help visualize the landscape of farmers in Brandenburg… because too often, I feel like the general discourse around climate change and farming fails to provide the nuance necessary to overcome the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” farmers….
Julia - Abl: Well, I mean, first I'd like to generalize one thing. If we look at the curriculum at the agricultural schools, they still don't teach another form of farming. So that's the basis on which people work. So, I mean, actually the ones who are doing industrial farming, they're the, like the good ones, because they do everything society and education tells them to do. And the Bio sector, for example, was the small rebellious, that did the other stuff. So, I mean, this is just a very basic thing. If we want farmers to be fit for the future fit for climate change, fit for environmentalism, fit for all kinds of challenges that we are definitely facing. We need to teach this form of agriculture. If, as a farmer, I want to do, um, environmentally friendly agriculture. It goes on after the school that also the advice that farmers get from professional advisors, the stuff that comes for free is from the company. So it's like, you know, you can have like from the big seed company or, but that's again, industrial agriculture. In the moment I want to do environmental friendly. And I need, because I didn't learn it in agriculture school. I don't get the knowledge from anywhere else. I need to pay a lot. I mean, some of these advisors cost 90 euros per hour, you know? And so I need to take time off from my farm, pay a lot of money to be told how can I change my farm into a more environmental friendly, more climate, um, adjustable system. And then I still have to invest.
So for me, it's like….. it's not islands and a sea, its the countryside of Brandenburg that I drive through and get to know a lot of different farmers. Uh, some of them, you know, on a personal level, you get along, you'll not get along. On agricultural aims, visions for the future, whatever the same, you know, some just partially some, it hurts a lot to try to get together. I mean, that's a normal thing….but I don’t see it as little islands, no.
Samie: So the reality is that there are hardly ever, if any, “bad” farmers – all farmers tend to care for their land - either because they are uphold ecological values or because they understand that their business and therefore their livelihood depends on it - but all of them, across the board, are simply just trying to survive in a system that has been, in many ways, stacked against them… In fact, the past five years have been marked by some of the largest farmers’ protests in Germany since the end of the second world war.
Julia - Abl: Within our demands, it was very clear that we in the AbL, we connect, uh….climate change, climate justice questions, as we're also connected to a global solidarity movement…. That the climate of course…………agriculture is the first victim of the climate - she can't produce without. She's one of the perpetrators. She's a great cause for carbon emissions, but she's the only sector who can also be a solution to climate change. No other market sector, or the car industry can't be a solution. You know, they can do lesser of an evil, but they can't be a solution. Agriculture can. We also demand that there stays an institution - that land goes back into the public hand, because we need a time, buffer, you know, to then see who is there in the region who wants to maybe, which young farmer wants to found a farm and give them some land
Our main demands. Well, the main campaign, and that's going to be continuous. It's called “Jeder Hof Zielt” - “every farm counts” - again, to make it very clear: we are losing thousands of farms every year, whatever we want to change. I said in the beginning, and I have to say it again. We can only change it with the farmers, even if you don't like a certain way, how a farmer is producing, you have to understand that if this farm goes down, then it's not going to turn into a lovely Bio, um, environmental paradise. It's going to be bought by an investor. So we need the farmers and we need the farming families and like the, the real farmers on the ground. And we need to work with them and do the change with them.”
Samie: In order to achieve some of the demands that AbL is striving for and better support our local farmers toward a more resilient food system, a few things will be important:
One is that we start to really think seriously about building a stronger network along the entire food value chain, which includes more people, in general, becoming involved in agriculture and the food system more widely. Another is that we, again, get to know our farmers and understand what it takes to do the work that they do. And lastly, hopefully, we also start to expand our eating habits to enjoy new crops and more resilient varieties that we may be able to start growing on our fields.
So, I’d like to introduce you to a few people in Berlin that are aiming to contribute to just that. The first is from a group that you’ve heard me mention a few times now. They're an association of very passionate, sometimes nerdy, and a bit bougie food lovers, chefs, producers and entrepreneurs who are doing the work to connect the city with the fields and curate genuine relationships between chefs, their kitchens and the people who supply them. So I sat down with Friederike, the young bosslady director of Die Gemeinschaft, to learn more about their theory of change
Friede - Die Gemeinschaft: I'm Friederike, the director of Die Gemeinschaft, which means the community in English. Um, and we are an association that connects, um, farmers with gastronomes and chefs, um, and, uh, artisanal food producers
Samie: Since 2018 Die Gemeinschaft has hosted a yearly Symposium which invites people in the city to get a closer look at the food system, from farm to kitchen. Last year they held 10 different sessions over a five month period, each one diving deep into a specific topic like soil, ferments, sweets and food education. But throughout the year, the association puts together farm visits and other educational opportunities for their members, many of whom are involved in higher-end restaurants in the city
Friede - Die Gemeinschaft: it started when a group of restaurateurs in Berlin that already were pretty product-based and focused. Micha for example, from Nobelhart & Schmutzig - Nobelhart & Schmutzig is a restaurant that works really locally - so he, before they opened, started to really go out on the fields and find farmers, find people that he wants to work with and got a network like this, but it was a lot of resources and work of course before. And I think in the last years the Berlin food scene really, really changed. And a lot of expats also came in. A lot of younger people opened up restaurants that had the same values and wanted to work also with farmers and food producers directly. And I think at the beginning it was a completely natural thing that people just asked Micha like, hey, can you give me the contact of that person? Or do you know someone who does, I don't know, great kohlrabi, you know? And I think at one point they realized, okay, how can we make these resources more accessible for more people? And also from gastronomy that we maybe don't know the people directly from.
I realized in the last years that it really is a system change. And I think in order to change the system, we really need to look at the people who can create change on a bigger level. So our theory of change, I don't think we say it like this, but it's like I said, the big two things: to bring people closer and create a network amongst each other. So I think it's very important that chefs understand what's happening in agriculture in order to also be able to buy it from the right kind of agriculture and support someone that is doing the right kind of agriculture every day and the other way around, right?
Samie: The other way around meaning farmers should also be aware of what kitchens need. It's a relationship that needs a lot of strengthening, especially for such processes to be accessible to a wider range of restaurants in the city. For now, I guess the hope is that this sets some sort of precedent
Friede - Die Gemeinschaft: So I think this understanding and close relationships and network is one of the tools to create change and the other thing then to have the information and the knowledge. For example, what is good agriculture? How do I see that this person actually works in the right way that I want to support? Um, how do I bring change into my everyday team? How can I work differently? Um, how can I create a diverse environment? How can I create a better place to work within? Um, but also how am I being political? How can I change the political scene in my own restaurant or in my own farm? Um, I think that's all knowledge that is not necessarily, um, accessible for people who work in food. Um, We want to provide a platform for this.
I'm always getting so frustrated about making better food choices and then people think that they make a good choice in buying maybe a plant-based alternative, um, at Lidl. Or like from, I don't know, um, those big chemical, industrial companies that create those protein alternatives. Um, but they don't know, or they don't think one thing ahead, where does this money go to and does it really support the people that are creating a better food system?
Samie: That's a good point - one the one hand, Food Tech has exploded with plant-based meat alternatives marketed toward die-hard meat lovers. And this is great! People need to be inspired to make that switch, and these products are definitely helping break down the belief that meat is a necessary part of every meal. But on the other hand, besides helping to reduce the amount of meat on our plates, are these alternatives really helping us achieve better agricultural practices?
Friede - Die Gemeinschaft: the idea is to really, and I think that's also what I maybe brought in a little bit more and what is important for me to really change the food system to the better, and one of the biggest things I see is knowledge. So we try to share knowledge because especially in the food scene there is not an education existing that really teaches you about agriculture or sustainability or, um, you know, social issues and topics. So this, I think is the platform also to share this knowledge amongst each other.
I don't think it's the right answer to say that people who can not afford good food or who, um, who are stuck in the system, for example, who go and have to buy a cheap food at Kantines or at their work or for their families, um, to put pressure them or blame on them. Um, I think there's definitely a need from politicians to create a system where that is possible. And at the same time, I think good food needs to cost a certain amount. The other day I also listened to a podcast where, I think it wasn't the US, but the amount of money farmers got changed from 60 cents to 14 cents. I don't know if it was kilo or - so this really shows like, the whole system is so crooked because then of course, farmers need to go bigger and sell more in order to get to the same level.
I think like collaboration and working together is one of the biggest things that I want to push. But because I, as Die Gemeinschaft, you know, I don't think we have specific guidelines to tell people like, listen, you should work like this or buy it from this person or, um, buy your products like this, it's more about giving people the tools and the ideas, for example, hey, you could work together and just, you know, procure things together. And what that is, I don't want to tell you, but like that's exactly, I think the innovations and the change that we need, especially in gastronomy to have a change of mentality basically. And that is what I think Berlin is also very special for, because if you look at other food cities or metropoles there's, I don't think there's such a tight knit community of people working in food. And in Berlin, I really feel that there is exchange and maybe a little bit less of an elbow mentality. Um, and people do exchange a little bit more. So that's what I would really like to, um, dip in and foster that mentality more
Samie: And hopefully, ideas like this can start to be expanded to many more restaurants and chefs in the city, places where the majority of people eat on a daily basis. I have some ideas for that, but you’ll have to wait until part two of this episode to hear them.
See you back here soon! And stay curious…
Samie: Hey. I’m Samie and welcome to Food in my Kiez
So, we’re back with part II of Episode 4! So, if you are just joining us you might want to go listen to part one of this episode first - but hey, totally up to you! This episode we are continuing our conversation about what is needed to achieve some of the demands of our local farmers, which you heard in part one….. And as promised, there are two other initiatives, plus some last thoughts with a special guest, that I’d like to share with you
We will explore ideas on how to get more people involved in growing food and into agriculture along the entire value chain. We will discuss whether Brandenburg can actually feed Berlin, and we will get inspired to fill our plates with yummy, regenerative food items that are both good for the soil and for our bodies. So, let’s get started…
The first person I’d like to introduce to you is Jonna from Korn Labor - an awesome initiative started by a group of women with an array of skills fueled by their various passions related to strengthening our food systems and supporting the people who grow our food. I sat down with Jonna to learn a bit more about her and the work she’s doing…
Samie: I met Jonna last year at one of the Die Gemeinschaft Symposium sessions, but I somehow missed hearing her backstory - the one that led her to the work she does now.
Jonna – Korn Labor: well the mill belongs with my family, the business, and they've been ecological producers of all things surrounding grains for 40 years. So I'm a bit in this like world and perspective of ecological and regenerative, farming and processing.
Samie: During the symposium, she curated the 4-day programme on Grains, naturally, and I learned a lot about Brandenburgs production landscape - like the fact that just 30% grains grown in the region end up as food for people. This, in part, is due to a lack of regional processing facilities - or in other words: a direct and secure local market to sell their harvests to, which would help ease farmers’ concern around the risk of growing new crops - something Korn Labor is keen on correcting…
Jonna – Korn Labor: there are a lot of issues surrounding the cooperation between farmers and processes and what does each participant in this value chain system really need. And so these are questions that I'm also addressing in Korn Labor. It's a project I do together with the former food companions, Olga, Stephi, Asia, Elisabeth……collective from Berlin and together we want to achieve or foster more diversity in the grain and the grain chain. So that means more diversity in the fields because we think its, well, from the perspective of biodiversity and what farmers need and crop rotation in their fields. It's a good thing to be more diverse and also as an adaptation to climate change and whatever may come. But we also want more diversity on our plates. We want more delicious plant-based meals. And so we want more flavor and more diversity in flavor, in different things and niche grains and legumes that are grown regionally.
At Korn Labor we want to bring people working in this field together so they can exchange which experiments they want to do, what they want to do differently and new and how they can cooperate so that it makes sense for everyone and not one actor goes into a lot of risk trying out a new crop, but that they already have someone they know will buy it from them at a reasonable price. And then someone who knows what to do with it. So it tastes good and people will want to buy it and eat it.
Samie: Farm planning is serious business - So many people I talked to while working on this episode wanted to make sure people understand that Farmers wear many many hats on a daily basis: they are not just farmers - they are biologists, botanists, soil scientists, ecologists, animal caretakers… they're looking at topography, hydrology, and so much more. And then also the social and political aspects of farming economics - they need to be business and sales people, and marketers, too! There's so many aspects of farming that are overlooked by the average consumer - and policymaker.
So while farmers manage all aspects of what farming truly entails, in order to support them in transitioning to better practices and potentially different crops, the market - meaning processors, retailers and consumers alike - must be ready to buy and enjoy their products. Its a circular system, intimately intertwined.. And at the end of the day - we all know something must change….
Jonna – Korn Labor: climate change for farmers mostly means more stress because it's droughts, increased temperatures rise and then rainfall gets less stable, more erratic some years with a lot of rain, some years with severe drafts. They run the risk of having very unstable yields or, um, decreasing yields on their fields. And at the same time, that doesn't always mean that prices increase because they're not only competing within Germany, but especially with a commodity, um, crop like grain, which is interchangeable. They, um, compete with, uh, grains from other European countries or even the world market. And that drives prices.
Samie: Instead, we should be working toward a more regional food economy. This would allow for many benefits, namely a stronger local economy and increased transparency of where and how our grains are grown. The self determination of our farmers would increase and relationships along the value chain would flourish as we regain appreciation for knowing that this loaf of bread or our favorite pastry was created from the grains grown by this or that farmer. The mass market, as it currently stands doesn’t allow for that - flour that you find at the supermarket is a mix of many different grains, old and new, in one big silo. So, while at the moment Korn Labor focuses solely on Berlin and the surrounded area, they aim to create a model that could be replicated in many regions across the country
Jonna – Korn Labor: It would be great if more people want to reactivate an old closed down mill It used to be that every village had their mill. I mean, of course that's not efficient. And, um, you don't have a big variety then in each mill, but then one village maybe had an oil mill. One village had a flour mill for wheat and rye. One had a mill for, um, I don't know, millets and uh, other grains that need other technology and so on. That's why the local processes and a very diverse landscape ofp rocessing companies that say, I'm here. I want to use locally grown chickpeas. Give me your chickpeas. Then maybe a farmer might want to try it if they see, okay, this startup that does a savory snack from chickpeas, maybe they can have a cooperation, an agreement, a contract even, that shares the risk between the two. I think this might be a very promising way for farmers to try new things and to widen their crop rotation and to go into that direction
Samie: I asked Jonna what she hopes to see in terms of the variety of crops that farmers in Brandenburg could start to incorporate on their farms - what should we be looking out for, in order to support this transition? Buckwheat cakes for example, or rye cookies?
Jonna – Korn Labor: Yeah, definitely. Um, all of that….haha....I mean, um, last year around the Corona pandemic there has been a surge of home bakers, all with their own sourdough starter in the fridge and the home baking and filling their hands. And then, which kind of flour do they use? Most flour that you get in the shops, even in the ecological, um, supermarkets, is also, you don't really know what you get. I mean, you get wheat, or rye or spelt, but you don't know where it was grown, by whom, and which variety is it.
In Brandenburg farmers grow a lot of rye. A lot of that also goes to animal feed and then the rest to, to what, like human food, like bread, bread, flour, and so on. But, um, the demand is limited. So farmers can’t just decide to grow more rye and sell it. First of all, the price is lower than the price for wheat, for example, but also, even though German bread and rye bread is world famous, there's only so much rye bread that Germans eat. And Germans also love their wheat. Uh, we like toast and, and everything like very light and fluffy breads and brotchen and cakes and so on. You need wheat for all of that. And at Korn Labor, we question a little bit, why is it that you need wheat for this? Why can't we experiment with rye and with other, not so demanding crops that are good for the soil - let's experiment and test how we can use these grains differently from what we're used to.
Samie: The other initiative I think is an important contribution to building a more resilient food system and more regional food production is Tiny Farms - a small-scale market gardening project hoping to inspire a whole new generation of farmers.
Tobias - Tiny Farms:I'm Tobias and I'm a farmer by background. I studied agriculture. I have been working in agriculture policies for many years…. and then I decided to go into practical farming again. Me and my co-founder Jacob, we founded the Tiny Farms almost two years ago and one of the big issues was the decision of the government of Berlin that 50% of the ingredients of school food should be organic. And we discussed it a lot and we thought, well, it should not only be organic, but local as well. And there is a big lack of local, especially fresh food, like vegetables from the region, although it's a very agricultural region. So we started thinking, okay, which kind of farm model would we need to improve the situation and to increase the local organic, veggie production. And that was actually the birth of Tiny Farms.”
Our slogan is “new work, new farming” and that is basically the two pillars of what we're doing. So we are farming in a bio-intensive or market gardening way, which is the model that comes from the US and Canada, over the ocean and there's a growing movement in Germany. Mainly CSA farms. So, SoLaWis in Germany. And this is a very well developed system of micro farming. it needs very little investment. It needs very little land, and it's mainly based on hand tools, but still very productive.
The other pillar of Tiny Farms is, as I said, new work because this is……very important for us to get new people into farming, to lower the threshold for people to get into farming. And that means we need a new system and new approach where you don't have to farm 24/7, where you can do it part-time, where it's easier for you to get in without having capital or having a million to invest before you can start. So these are aspects of the people side, of the work side, where we also try to establish a new system.
Samie: Brandenburg is home to some of the largest organic farms in Germany, but the majority of those harvests go to other EU countries or end up as animal feed – instead of feeding the humans that live right next to them, despite Berlin being the “organic capital” of Europe, at least according to Brandenburg's Minister of Agriculture.
Tobias - Tiny Farms: So when we started looking at the farm structure in Bburg, we were really surprised that many farmers are not really aware of the market they have in front of their farm. So Berlin is such a huge market and, uh, it does not make sense to produce, um, without having this market in mind. The question is, broadly, and that's, um, a topic I worked on in agriculture politics for almost 20 years, is that we keep losing roundabout 5,000 farms a year in Germany, and that's a vicious circle. No one has a clue how to stop this and this is actually something we want to stop and we want to counteract with a new model of farming. So, if we are losing that many farms, we have to find a way to also start new farms.
Samie: And so far, they’ve done a pretty good job at setting up a farming model that is attractive to potential farmers in the 21st century who happen to live in a city nearby. Market gardening is an extremely productive form of vegetable agriculture. It's human-scale agriculture, made and designed in a way that is manageable without mechanization, so you don't need big machines. It's very eco-intensive, meaning it produces a lot with very efficient use of space while also aiming to implement closed nutrient cycles which helps living root systems in the ground to better store carbon. Its pretty incredible to see - I volunteered on the farm last year and was amazed at the amount of produce we harvested in just one day.
Tobias - Tiny Farms: We are in the second year now, and this year we started our second farm as an experiment. So we…took a group of people. We call them the pioneers, which were round about seven people who said, okay, we are newcomers. We all lived in Berlin. We all have other jobs, but we afford one or two days a week to work on, on, on our tiny farm. So the outcome is the, uh……. Yes……If you, um, manage to organize them, if you give them the right tools and stuff, and if you have a well-organized farm system that allows them to really understand very quickly how to work, how to plant, how to harvest the product and then it, it does work.
Samie: I asked Tobias is he really thought the desire to be on a farm - to grow our own food - was held by enough people in Berlin to make this concept of “part-time” farming work in the long run - and he said the great thing about this first experiment was that this initial group of pioneers managed to develop a large group of volunteers to step in when and if help was needed and this, ultimately, created a system where the core group of part-time farmers was supported by a larger community of people from the city who could help ensure the farm work runs smoothly from day to day.
Tobias - Tiny Farms: The basic idea, or one important idea of Tiny Farms is that we, um, don't want to have only one tiny farm, but a network of tiny micro farms, um, who collaborate in what we call, um, virtual large-scale farm. Our impression is there is a lot of people who want to do this kind of work. Um, they don't want to be responsible for a farm…..maybe they don't want to make an investment, but they want to do this work. For many people….doing this actual farm work, so working with the plants with the soil, with the animals, whatever that's fun or joy for not only for our farmers, our helpers, but for any farmer, what they don't like and what we don't like is everything around. So is, um, administration, is all the office stuff. This is what we do for the tiny farmers. So we tell them, okay, you can really concentrate on farm work. You don't need to do, um, administration. You don't need to do, uh, marketing or selling or transportation. You can just do the work you like on the farm.
Samie: Tobias also shared that schools and other public Kantines, as well as some restaurants in the city have expressed interest in starting their own tiny farms. Imagine, just for a moment, a future where local agriculture is almost completely made up of small, organic market gardens that either supply a certain Kantine or kitchen with its produce, or collectively work to supply the many everyday restaurants and imbisses in the city – all through the collective power of individual, part-time tiny farmers. Such a set up would have ripple effects throughout our local, and global, economies…and it challenges so many ways in which our societies currently operate, but it could be really cool to – contrary to the institutionalized idea of development - aim towards societies that reclaim power in and of their food systems. I asked Tobias what potential he thinks there is to feed Berlin in this way
Tobias - Tiny Farms: Well, as I said, there is not the one fits all answer and it depends very much on what you're growing. If you're growing vegetables, if you're growing salads or corn, if you're having animals, whatever. So I think for our case, for vegetables, it's really highly productive to do it this way, although it's all manual work. So that is the really great thing about market gardening, that you can be productive, that you can make a living from half a hector without large machinery, without big investments. And as you saw on the farm, you can really produce a lot of vegetables on such a small plot of land. So I think for the vegetable side, this is a really promising model to do it, and a really ecological model, because it's really saving water. It's really saving energy and all the resources, and it needs less land and that's quite a big issue.
I mean, there are great new things coming up in addition to organic farming or, uh, so these, what we call regenerative agriculture, which covers a lot of practices for different, um, aspects of agriculture. So to become regenerative….this is the future
Samie: Regenerative agriculture…. Hmm, we’ve mentioned the term a few times now, but do you know what it means?
It was actually one of the questions I asked to people randomly on the street for this episode.. Most people had no idea what I was talking about, haha but one woman named Claudia, who I met at the Winterfeldmarkt, had a pretty decent answer…
Claudia: This kind of, for example, our minerals are in Earth and that means that our minerals are in the fruits who are growing there. And that means that when we grow foods and the minerals from the earth goes into the fruits.. or in the veggies or the Gemuse or whatever, we also have to nourish our earth. That is important to know for all listeners, that this is a synchronicity in your life that you exactly hear this message today to think about your balance in life, what you're giving, what you're receiving. And how to treat others.
Samie: True…this kind of equilibrium that unpins the idea of something regenerative could be applied to many aspects of our lives, but in the agricultural context it means managing a farm in a way that enhances the entire ecosystem of that farm, with all parts giving and taking in collaboration with one another. This type of agriculture is much more resilient than the monocultures our industrial food system has become reliant on, and climate change is only increasing its importance.
And on that note, I’d like to introduce you to one last person working to transform our food systems and food habits for the better. Her name is Elisabeth, and she’s lovingly known as the Queen of Pulses by those who know her and her passion for this incredibly resilient and versatile food staple.
Elizabeth: I'm always super excited when people ask me to talk about pulses because A: I can talk about them for hours and B: um, I really think it's a very, very important crop for the future of our planet because it kind of answers a lot of the challenges that we currently facing in versatile ways. And I'm always fascinated by how many levels it does.
I think maybe the connection between local food and pulses is that most of the pulses that we consume in Germany are not local. And that's an interesting fact because due to the industrialization and the cultural focus and appreciation of meat this culture has kind of been neglected in Germany a lot. And I think we're now in a paradigm shift where we're recognizing again, the value of legumes for their regenerative properties and for their like humbleness in many senses because they consume a lot less. They need a lot of less water. They need less CO2 in order to produce nutrients and protein than animal based products…..but at the same time, since there has been such a neglect for them, our farmers are missing knowledge, how to grow them. We're missing varieties adapted to Germany, we're missing the facilities to actually transform, dry, package them.
Samie: Quick side note for clarity before we move on – Legume is a broad category that includes any plant that grows in a pod - so like peas, peanuts, soybeans, and green beans - while pulses are the edible dried seeds we eat that come from plants in the legume family - so lentils, chickpeas, beans, and split peas.
If this is new information for you, no worries - you are definitely not alone. Our understanding of this broad and again, versatile food group is generally lacking. And while meat has been marketed to us as the ultimate source of protein, a comparable serving size of legumes often provides our bodies with as much if not more protein as meat - and, not to mention other nutrients like potassium, fiber, magnesium, and iron. Hundreds of varieties of beans, lentils, peas and other pulses are the basis of rich and diverse cultural traditions worldwide, Europe included, but sadly, our connection to and appreciation for them has faltered…
Elizabeth: I think this is also, then again, related to price and to disconnection because when people go to the supermarket they think, ah, it's a bean, whatever beans are all the same, it's just a white bean, right. It's just a staple. I don't know how it grows. It's just like rice or pasta, I don't know. And I think, yeah, this is due to the fact that the industry around beans has developed in a lot of places in the world, like Canada, for example, for beans, it's high up, or Australia for chickpeas, India. So like this food has just, or this family has just become, yeah, we also have become disconnected to it, I think and to how it grows. And at the same time a lot is happening. Like there's a huge interest now and people are starting to ask themselves. And there's also a couple of really motivated farmers in Germany that are trying to experiment like this.
Elizabeth: My favorite farmer, Benedikt Sprenker in Musterland, who actually I recently sent a package with seeds to, because I came back from Italy, talking to lots of farmers in Italy who are preserving the varieties, adapted to their local climate. And I sent him some, um, because A: Italian farmers are facing more and more struggle because with climate change, their climate is shifting, um, so sometimes growing the beans that are closely related to their to their climatic environment just doesn't work anymore. And at the same time, B: I sent the seeds to him because we just don't have big amounts of German adapte seeds. So we just have to like start trying again.
And at the same time, there are huge seed banks, uh, like there's Genbänkle, for example, he has, I think 2000 accessions of beans in his cellar fridge. And there's also other really great initiatives of like small-scale farmers or gardeners, who are preserving the seeds. Um, but I feel like there's some kind of a gap between those like private initiatives and then actually like commercial agriculture in Germany where there's like breeding step just never happened.
Samie: Such considerations - as well as just the simple practicality of growing more and new varieties of legumes organically on fields in Brandenburg, is something Elisabeth has had the pleasure of experimenting with as one of the Pioneers last year at Tiny Farmers….
Elizabeth: Well, I think I was super grateful that they let me experiment… with legumes there last year and yeah it was actually quite a hard process for me to decide which variety to grow there because I was also again, trying to figure it out. Okay. Which kind of legume would be reliable for a good yield. Which would be a legume that people in Berlin actually want to consume and want to try out? And so I decided to just try out many different kinds, to see how it goes and what happens. So we grew sugar snap peas, which then actually become peas later on, kind of, which was super interesting to me. I didn't know that. and then fava beans. Then some edamame, which was kind of a cool experiment, I think. And then finally some climbing, um, runner, beans, actually some Austrian variety and a pink variety from Bingenheimer which is a good organic seed producer. So we tried these different things and we're actually gonna grow most of them again this year. Actually this year, we're probably going to work together with the restaurant and…… actually I had, I had the chance right before we talked now to, to decide together which varieties we're going to grow and when we're going to do another experiment this year in order to, yeah. already know who's going to want it and who's going to take it. And, um, yeah, with this work, we're going to have a customer that is able to experiment with whatever outcome will come.
Samie: So again, the importance of a planned and reliable market is being seen in its ability to help push agriculture in a new direction - and Berliners are starting to show up too: organic regional fruit and veggie box subscriptions are up by 60% since 2020. However, It is estimated that only 15% of Berlin’s food actually comes from the surrounding region despite the fact that a recent study found that Berlin/Brandenburg is in a unique position to achieve self-sufficiency, despite having relatively un-fertile soil, medium rainfall and low crop yields compared to elsewhere in the country.
In fact, if one were to draw a radius of just under 100 kilometers around Berlin, this area would be enough to supply the capital plus the surrounding region with food. Pure organic farming, which tends to require a bit more land, would increase the radius to 110 kilometers. The research I’m citing, which I’ll link in the notes, didn’t compare against agroecological systems - which are often more regenerative, but it did say that if less meat were eaten and less food thrown away, the area would shrink even more significantly. This would allow all inhabitants of the metropolitan region to be fed with bioregional cereals, dairy products, eggs, vegetables and fruit - with the exception of course, of things like coffee, cocoa and tropical fruit that doesn’t (yet) grow here.
I say “yet” because our climate is changing. I keep talking about “new crops” that farmers will be able to grow because as the climate changes, so does our ability to grow more and new things. Universities and institutions like the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research and the University for Ecological Agriculture in Eberswalde are experimenting with legumes, because as the weather and the climate becomes warmer on average and as the growing periods become longer it's starting to make sense to grow chickpea and soy, which is actually great because it aligns with the trend and demand for more plant-based organic, regional food - and if our plant-based lifestyles are intersectional ones, then we need to be caring about the fact that your organic tofu comes from soybeans grown in your region and not from deforested parts of Brazil…..
Elizabeth: when we look at Bburg we're in an area with the most drought in Germany, and that's probably going to increase with climate change so that, for example, in summer, for six months, you have more evaporation than rainfall. So you really have very little water to work with, which is why a lot of people are interested in chickpeas, for example, here in the region, because this is a legume variety that can handle drought really well and I personally see a lot of potential in this crop because at the same time in Berlin, we have a lot of like diverse food culture which already uses chickpeas… so yeah, in my mind, it's kind of obvious that that's going to happen, that farmers are going to grow more chickpeas in the future. But this is still connected to a couple of challenges because we don't have varieties adapted to the season because, compared to, for example, areas where chickpeas usually grow so fast or North Africa, maybe, our season is a lot shorter. So we need to develop varieties that ripen quicker.
And then another potential I see in Germany….. is the maize cultivation. We have so much maize cultivation. And if we look at this traditional technique from Mesoamerica, La Milpa, where maize grows fantastically with climbing beans, both in a symbiosis for the soil because they are two types of plants that support each other really well, but also in the symbiosis of food, because they actually have amino acids that are complementary and when eaten together, we actually get all of the amino acids or proteins that we need. I think it's a really cool fact and it's a shame that so far, so much monoculture of maize, and I think it could become more maize and beans. And I know in Austria they are doing already a lot of experimentations for this successfully, but many times for like producing energy and biogas, which I think is extremely stupid. And we should instead find, or invent machines that divide the maize corns and the beans corns and use them for food and have polenta with beans. Haha.
Samie: In thinking about the many benefits of legumes being increasingly integrated into our food systems, I asked Elisbeth how she helps people think about all the different varieties that could potentially end up on our plates, and how we can better support farmers in getting us there…
Elizabeth: It's really still challenging. I mean, I keep having ideas of like, wow, I need to create an online shop maybe for cool pulse varieties, because so far it's really hard to find them. I mean, you can definitely look out with a big attention in supermarkets because slowly, slowly. regional pulses are popping up in stores, which makes me really excited. So for example, regional, organic lentils, sometimes you can find them or lupins or sometimes even chickpeas. So really pay attention, if you see those, grab them immediately because those farmers are being extremely courageous to try out new cultivation forms and they need support because as I said, not every year is going to work out. So it's really important to support them and also think about, I guess, be open to pay more because most of the times these are smaller scale cultivations,, especially if they're organic.
I mean, I, I think we are in a system shift where we need impulses from all of the sides, and that's not one solution to enable this transformation, but we need consumers to change what they expect or what they consume, what they asked for. We need farmers to be open to experiment. We need politicians to set the right frameworks and to support the most sustainable practices and inhibit or prevent the not sustainable practices. We need chefs and producers to start paying attention to how they select ingredients… Yeah, I think the push and pulls must come from all of the sides at the same time in order to really make this transformation happen.
Samie: So, as always, theres lots to think about and chew through here…. But I hope this episode provided a useful glimpse into the realities facing our farmers, the labor behind our food and the beauty that comes from diversifying and thus strengthening our food systems.
I also hope I could inspire you to get out there and in some way, be part of the change that is needed across the entire agricultural value chain. The majority of the conversations I had with people randomly on the street while working on this episode turned into me simply sharing information about different initiatives and programmes that they could get involved with if they wanted to.
Things like the food sharing network, food CoOps, or SoLaWis, short for Solidarische Landwirtschaft, or Community Supported Agriculture projects. Join one, start a new pick up spot in the city, or volunteer with them on delivery days.
Also, come out in solidarity with Abl in upcoming events and actions, or look in to being a part-time farmer or helping out at Tiny Farms. Or maybe you're an entrepreneur, and your next move is to build a food startup that seeks to collaborate with a local farmer and some new crop they’re experimenting with.
And of course, keep on experimenting in your kitchens. I’ll share some resources in the show notes for that as well.
Thanks for being here and as always, stay curious ;)
Samie: Hey ya’ll, thanks for listening to this episode of Food in my Kiez. If you enjoyed it, make sure to share it with a friend or two and subscribe now to be sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes. You can follow me on Instagram @FoodinmyKiez or send me a message at email@example.com - I’d love to hear from you.
🌱 Audio for this episode was produced by Grettch ⬅️
🌱 Research support by Jess Stenhouse
🌱 Production, Script, Narration and Creative Direction by Samie Blasingame
Thanks again for listening. Until next time