🎙️✨ EPISODE 6: Müllerkiez

Connections & Collaborations

The final episode of the season explores where we go from here: what connections and collaborations need to be established, and which can we learn from? How can we engage more people to be part of a food system transition that works for everyone?

Links & Resources

  1. The 2000m2 project where Tlayolan was based
  2. The name "Tlayolan" comes from the Nahuatl language and means "land that produces much corn" or "place where life-giving seeds abound" https://www.tlayolan.org/ 
  3. "Naturbund Seed Program:" --> www.bund.net
  4. Seed saving movements and community seed banks are clear and practical examples of food sovereignty”
  5. “There are a lot of people that die trying to defend this kind of agricultural system” 
  6. ZALF - Leipnitz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research: www.zalf.de/ 
  7. Berliner Ernährungs Strategy (The Berlin Nutrition Strategy)
  8. “15 Lebensmittelpunkte in Berlin and counting!”
  9. The Baumhaus in Wedding
  10. The PEACES model - personal, ecological, aesthetic, cultural, economic, and social
  11. SuperCoop “This is not a Supermarket”
  12. What is a Food Coop
  13. Food Coop Concept from New York, Paris and in Brussels: http://foodcoop.film/ 
  14. Robinhood Coop wealth redistribution concept → https://robinhood.store/ 
  15. The origins and definition of Terrapreta 
  16. The Nutrient Cycle by Ayumi Matsuzaka [video]
  17. Ayumi’s How to Make Terrapreta illustration


    Intro: Hey I'm Samie and welcome to Food in my Kiez.

    Samie: Ok friends, throughout the last five episodes (or seven, but who’s counting [laugh]) I’ve tried to take you on a journey through the many aspects of what it takes to understand and ultimately strengthen our food systems. And now here we are! We’ve made it to the sixth and final episode of Food in my Kiez - at least the first season that is. 

    So, to wrap things up, I want to leave you with a few more initiatives that, due to their commitment to collaboration and community, I find inspiration in, because at the end of the day, what matters most in my opinion is the way we, as individuals, come together to enhance our collective wellbeing. 

    So, this episode we’re up in Wedding, in what I’ve tactfully titled Müllerkiez, which is rather a play on the fact that Müllerstrasse is a main street that somewhat connects the locations of two of the initiatives you’ll hear about in a bit, than an actual Kiez - but if you’ve been listening along all season, and you know Berlin well, then you know my interpretation of a  Kiez and its name is quite lax… But I digress… 

    The first initiative I want to share with you is a farming project rooted in cultural identity and diaspora food that was formerly located just a bit north of Wedding, at the 2000m2 project, which is where I met with the founder, Monse. 


    Monse: My name is Monserrat Peniche. I am a Mexican living in Berlin since 2006. I am working in the —- Charité. In my free time, or like a hobby, is how I started everything here in Tlayolan.  

    Samie: Monse told me that everything began with the desire to cook with corn. Which makes sense, because I actually heard of Tlayolan from someone at a food workshop I joined where we were all asked to bring something that resonated with our understanding of the food system, and one participant brought a beautiful ear of dried, dark purple corn and said they grew it here in Berlin

    Monse: As Mexicans we eat everything with corn. Well, almost everything with corn. And a few years ago we realized that a lot of the corn that we [get] here in Berlin is transgenic or GMO or contaminated with some pesticides. So we wanted to know where we can find some kind of corns that will be free of all this stuff and, well, we are talking about 2008 when we started that and since we didn’t [find] it at the moment, we started to farm. To make our own milpa. 

    A milpa is a kind of permaculture kind of farming. Its a symbiosis between several plants. And in the milpa, it's important that they work together. So they grow together. The most known Milpa or the kind of Milpa in Europe is the Three Sister. So the beans, pumpkin and corn, but actually in Latin America they are a lot of kind of milpas. Everything depends with the weather. The soil. The kind of soil, how much water is around. This is the kind of Milpa you can find, you can find Milpas just with corn and pumpkins, or maybe just with chilies and corn. So corn will always will be there, but the other plants, they can change. They can be chilies, as I said. they can be different kinds of beans also. They can be also a lot of herbs that we use to cook also. They will grow together because they have some kind of symbiosis between them. Some of them, like pumpkins, give a lot of shadow and in lands where there is a lot of sun and so few water or rain, that is the first plant that you will find there because they protect the soil from erosion. And that's the point, they work together. 

    Samie: This symbiosis, like Elisabeth talked about in episode four when she encouraged us to eat more beans and polenta, is what we need more of in life, and in our agricultural systems. As we continue to have less arable land to work with, and unpredictable weather patterns, ensuring that our farming systems allow for more collaboration will only benefit us. 

    Another thing that we need to be doing is saving seeds. Seed saving movements and community seed banks are clear and practical examples of food sovereignty, especially in resistance to seed patents by large agrifood companies like Monsanto. Thinking back to that beautiful ear of corn that introduced me to Tlayolan in the first place, I wondered what other crops and varieties the association has tried to grow here in Berlin

    Monse: Well, you can see now. These seeds were from Yucatan and as you see, a lot of plants need a lot of sun and they need maybe one or two weeks more to have a better ripe corn. And that is sometimes what we see in some years, this difference that they need sometimes more sun, or more time to grow or more water, or sometimes they don't grow. So that is also part of the project now, to realize also how they grow here. Some of them we can already find here. Corn came to Europe a long time ago. And some of them, especially from Mexico, uh, the Naturbund project, this association, some of them they already brought here in Germany and they are already like, acclimated. So at the beginning we start with those kinds of seeds. Sometimes also we bring from Mexico, but we bring the really native seeds. But now we have also this problem in Mexico that you can find a lot of hybrid seeds and also, yeah, GMO seeds. So we take care of a lot of about that. 

    Samie: The day I joined them up at 2000m2 project was one of Tlayolan’s last days at that location. The members were harvesting what they could and cutting down the rest of the milpa, which is the reality of not having one’s own land. Thankfully they have a new place, 1 hector a bit west of the city, that seems to be semi-permanent 

    Monse: It's really exciting because finally we can start again our project as at the beginning. At the beginning, in Gatow, we have our Milpa area, then we have the tomatoes area. We have, uh, our chilies area, our herbs area. And we have also the kindergarten for all the children of the, the, the one to visit us. And it was a really beautiful time. And yeah, the mission has grown a lot. We are not just cooking now. We are also living almost all the important traditions, uh, that we have in Mexico. So Tyloyan is like a cycle where we start always at the 2nd of February, that is the tamales day in Mexico and that is when we also make our Tamales day. We invite the people to not just eat the Tamales, but also to hear about the project or what we do. We invite the people to start the project for that year, for the, for that, um, farming year. And then in between March and April, we start to grow the seed - to germinate and all those stuff - And then between April and May, that is when we transfer all the small plants to the, uh, to the big area, to the big land.

    We cook almost each week, everything what is in the land. And then in September is when we make our first corn day.  Normally it is the second Sunday of September.And then in November is when we make also our Dia de Los Muertos. And so we present our Altar, our offer to our past family and passed away people, and each year we dedicate our altar for the people that die taking caring or, how to say in English, defending the land and the plants and all that is such agriculture. And so they are a lot of people that die trying to, to defend that this kind of agricultural system, not, they are a lot of lands where on countries where people die and all that stuff. So the more known people tend to die in this kind of fight. We honor on that day. 

    Samie: I’ve mentioned before how there are conflicting beliefs as to how we will continue to feed a world shaped by climate change. Regenerative agriculture based on principles of agroecology and permaculture - like in a Milpa, or in circular market gardens - is what I believe is our best way forward. Another thing is that we learn to adapt to our changing climate by experimenting with what new crops we will be able to grow locally in years to come. Something that the folks at Tlayolan find a lot of value in. While the project started from a desire to grow corn, over the years they’ve tried to grow many more things too, but only in the last eight years or so has the warm season been long enough to grow certain things like chillies for example. They've seen a big change because it's getting hotter. Monse said some people don't really want to think about what that means too much, but it's a reality they have to deal with one way or another.

    Monse: Since a few years ago, when we started this kind of new goal of consumption, local consumption, Then we realized that we have also the responsibility to inform all the people about this and not just the Mexicans, also from another cultures now, because it's really important. If we really want to do something positive, we need to change our kind of life What we do at home is just. Um, many, a lot of people, they think that doesn't care or, uh, it's not a thing. You can not change something, but actually we can change a lot if each of us just at home change that kind of consumption. Since two years ago, we cooked Tamales with all the ingredients from local or regional farmers. And that is the point also: to show the other Mexican or Latino people in Berlin that we can still live in our culture and traditions and so far away, but without consuming products from all the other part of the world. And that is really important for us to take care of our planet. And do it something that's not just saying, yeah, we need to take care of the planet. Also impact our life with this kind of mentality. And that is where we see in everything what we cook. We cook as our tradition says but with local products and still, they are Mexican

    Everybody is invited here with us and of course, each time it is wonderful to have something new here because sometimes they also come with their seeds and we could grow something new too. And that's the nice in Berlin. You can find so many cultures and yeah, it is a nice Milpa. And we are open for everybody. We have the power in our pockets.


    Samie: Another initiative in Berlin inspiring more collaboration in the city is something picked up in the Berliner Ernahrung Strategy, which we spoke about a bit last episode. Last fall the Senate hosted a launch event for the strategy and there I met Beatriz, who took the stage to share a bit about the idea of a Lebensmittelpunkte. 

    Beatrice: My name is Beatrice Walthall. I work at, uh, the ZALF - the Leipnitz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research. I studied, yeah, urban studies with a focus on food systems. And currently I'm interested in how we can make our food systems more resilient. Um, more civic driven, more inclusive, um, with different projects. So I always try to combine academia and theory with practical projects, for instance, like the Lebensmittelpunkte. 

    The Lebensmittelpunktke is  a German word for food hub originally. It's an idea that we came across in the US but also in Canada and Toronto. And it's basically the idea of a multifunctional space, a hub that integrates different functions of the food system. So like food processing, food storage, food trading, but also food education. And, yeah, things like but we thought it's, it makes sense to translate it to German so it becomes accepted by the local community, by the neighbors. Um, so we translated it to Lebensmittelpunkte, which has a double meaning. It means the center of your life, but it also means, like, hub for food.

    Samie: There are currently 15 Lebensmittelpuinkte in Berlin and growing - ideally there will be one in every Kiez. And they're not as technical as Beatiz explained - they can be whatever the community around it wants it to be. The concept behind them is a modular one - Beatriz and her team have developed different “boxes” that one can pick in choose from – things like being a community kitchen, developing a community garden, being a pick-up depot for a SoLaWi project or a open space seminar room for educational workshops – a combination of ideally three or more they believe makes a good starting point. 

    Beatrice: Colorful, organized chaos. That's how I would describe them. Um, but it can also be a temporary Lebensmittelpunkt. You can have like, if one day of the week you don't use your kitchen in the cafe, you can give it to the local community and say, Mondays is Lebensmittelpunkt day. Or  it can be different times of the day. In the morning one group uses the room and in the afternoon somebody else uses this space. Or for instance, we also cooperate with a Kita that has a dry cold basement, which is perfect for food storage - they never really need it. So yeah, it can have many different shapes and functions in colors. And there I can definitely see a need for a shift - that we have to talk about food differently, that it's not just a commodity or nutritious object, but that it's a glue that can bring community together. In many ways, I would say it could increase the life quality, by having access to regional food, but also having access to a community, having access to people, to share knowledge, to learn from each other and just, yeah. Spaces that are not just economic driven, that are more like free in spirit and experimental and give space for ideas to be shared and grown.


    Samie: Exactly. The goal, as I understand it, is to develop more places in the city where the neighborhood can come together and discuss what the future of food can and should look like. But as we discussed last episode, local food initiatives such as this are mostly dominated by people who share the same socio-cultural and class background. Overcoming the challenge of creating spaces that are attractive to everyone, is a big focus at the moment 

    Beatrice: To invite everyone is one thing, that everyone feels welcomed is another. Just because you invite someone doesn't mean people feel welcome. So I always like to promote this idea of being active inclusive. And not passive inclusive. For me, passive inclusive is to say: I invited you, but you didn't show up, it's your responsibility. But no, go out of your way, go a step further, go to the people and meet them where they're at and try to reduce the barriers, why they would not want to come or participate or be included. So it has to be two from two sides. Um, coming to each other, the potential is there that every Lebensmittlepunkte could do it, but in practice it's much harder than we’ve done it, yeah, in theory. 


    Samie: One of the pilot locations for a Lebensmittlepunkte in Berlin was the Baumhaus in Wedding. They’ve managed to create a space that brings together lots of different people through their various programmes and projects, so I got in touch with Scott, one of the founders to hear a bit about what they’ve built over the years and how

    Scott: Well, my name is Scott Bolden and I conceived of Baumhaus because I knew that, um, I had this general sense of initiative inside of me that says what kind of do to make the world a better place. And I knew a lot of other people that had that sense of initiative. And so we were upstairs in our little, uh, WG up there and Karen also had that, that kind of a thing. So she said, I, you know, I told her what I wanted to do and use this room down here and see if we could get it and make it a place for all those people who want to make the world a better place, where they can come together and collaboratively support each other and take action and actually act on that sense of initiative.

    And let's talk about collaboration. It was like over 700 people that have made this happen. All right. You look all around you. This is like the work and results of over 700 people since then. This is the manifestation of, a lot of people do a little bit we can accomplish a lot.  This is the physical manifestation of that. 

    Samie: If you’ve been to the Baumhaus - which is German for Treehouse - then you know how magical it is. Scott, as a designer and engineer was a large part of imagining what the space could be. It has very high ceilings and a singular support column in the center - something Scott said could be seen as a disadvantage, but in this case, become the highlight. The column is now the tree that supports a two-story, multi-use community center. 

    Scott: And then there's a direct metaphor because the treehouse is a place in the neighborhood where all the kids come together and they pool all their talents and resources and skills, and they create a cool space where they have great adventures. And that's exactly what we're doing here, except for our great adventures have to do with making the world a better place or making the world a more sustainable place. Which means making it a more balanced place, dynamically balanced. Cause that's how we think of sustainability. Any system that is sustainable can keep going. And that means that you can also describe it being in some state of dynamic balance. And we see this dynamic balance thing because the average person gets the idea of balance. And then just, just make, just, you can just add the qualifier of dynamic, which means it's always in flux and change. Nothing is static.

    And it's helpful for people to know that they're doing the right thing. As long as they are doing whatever they're doing with their lives, they're taking the time to bring more balance into the world, personally, ecologically, aesthetically, culturally, economically, or socially. And that's our PIECES model, we call it. It's an acronym, the personal ecological, aesthetic, cultural, economic, social. And if you're doing anything to bring more balance in the world with the time you spend and the things you do when you're in that. We're all on the same team - team save the world

    , right. And you're doing the right thing. 

    So that's the general framework. And when I tell people what the Baumhaus is about, when I, when I consolidate that definition, I say, we're here to collaboratively support each other to live humane, meaningful, and satisfying lives. Cause that's what we all want - everybody on the planet. And we're going to do that by being in balance with ourselves each day and the natural world of which we are part of, right. And everybody can bring their own interests and talents and skills and fears and questions and curiosities and apply it however they want. And that is the basic flexible, contextual framework that we employ here that anybody can pick up and do everywhere. 

    Samie: In fact, Scott told me that's actually the idea. The concept behind the Baumhaus was created so that it could be easily replicated by others to fit their community’s local context. And the PIECES acronym is meant to help people not feel so overwhelmed by the many things that need our attention as we aim to collectively reverse climate change. When you think of the many personal, ecological, aesthetic, cultural, economic, and social needs that are out there, the hope is that you also feel inspired to contribute, in whatever way you can, however small or large, each and every day. 

    Scott: And especially realizing that, you know, if you put us in another context, the context that we're in now, These times that we're living and we're living now is the real save the world movie. And we're all improvisational actors on that stage. You know, it's not only the save the world movie, it's the action adventure. It's the comedy, it's the romantic drama, it's everything, you know, so go for it. Like if you're waiting around for like, oh wow. First of all of a career, and then I'll, you know, do something good, you know, forget it. The time for that is over. This is, this time is a time where we decide -.determine - whether or not we're going to stop doing the bad things and start developing systems to do the right things.So that maybe in a couple of thousand years from now, the climate can balance out where it's hospitable again for organized life on the planet. And we have to step back because here's the thing you've got, gotta take your ego back and say, look, even though during our lifetimes and our great-grandchildren lifetimes and their great-grandchildren, the weather might still get worse.Right. But you know what? We can change the system. So we all live a lot better. 

    Samie: How I first heard of the Baumhaus was years ago when I joined for a community dinner. I remember feeling instantly at ease. It was so relaxed, and welcoming, which I think is a really big part of creating spaces for the community 

    Scott: We do these community networking nights on Thursdays, every Thursday, which is quite a commitment in and of itself, but at the end of that, or during that, that, that thing, we, we bring together people to cook together. Now people can show up. It's an open event. And, uh, the whole place is, we call it an open greeting zone when people come here, which means everybody's, it's okay to walk up to anybody, introduce yourself. So it's a very low social barriers, really nice, very relaxed, open, authentic thing. People. Then they cook using a lot of the food that comes from the farms. And there's also rescued food that comes from the various different Bio Ladens that gets delivered - and that's what we cook with. And so people are cooking the meal together, getting to know each other, and then other people are engaging in projects or workshops during that time. And then around eight o'clock was a big bio-vegan, mostly bio-vegan vegetarian buffet that gets served . And, uh, yeah, it's really nice. And people enjoy each other's company.

    Samie: But what else does it take to make  spaces like this attractive to the community around it, and to a wider audience as well..   

    Scott: Well, I think you need to make more local connections with the people who were there, the real people, you know. Like for example, when we were building the space and before the Pandemic happened, you know, there you'd see, like I had like the Turkish kids running by and sometimes, you know, they'd meet the parents and every once in a while they come in and get us, you know, cause we're here in the neighborhood. I live upstairs, you know? Um, we're in, we're in contact with the people you have to be there and sometimes you have to go out and make yourself accessible. You have to invite people to come by. Sometimes you have to invite people to come by. And, and sometimes you have to invite people that like right off the street or you have to go to where they are, right? And not that it doesn't happen now, but you're right. It doesn't happen at the, at the scale and at the pace that I would prefer it did. But that again requires going out and trying to make that happen. When you do make that happen, you have to find some way to resonate with these people, because why should they come? Why should they break their habits or come to some of new social situation? What's in it for them? What's the, what's the point of resonance, you know what I mean? And so, uh, that's what you have to figure out. You have to find that out sometimes individually with people and just by talking and seeing where they're at and finding where that jives, what, how much more balance can this bring into their world and what ways maybe you start there, you know, and, and find something that makes sense. 


    Samie: Another project up in Wedding doing a pretty good job finding resonance amongst community members is SuperCoop – an alternative supermarket initiative who recently got their very own physical space inside the Osram Hofe across from Schillerpark. I met up with Johanna, one of the Co-Founders, to hear a bit about what it took to get this project started

    Johanna: I'm Johanna. I'm one of the co initiators of Supercoop, uh, together with, uh, Janine Marie and Jessica, and our goal is to make this like food co-op thing, even more connected to what people are used to, um, going to a supermarket right now. So giving the supermarket experience so that the behavior change is not enormous for the people. Um, but still from the, from the thing that this behind it's as transparent and as community driven as the food co-ops that probably a lot of people know where people just come together, they order together and then they, um, can, can pick up their food. But just with the convenience of a supermarket where you can just go to the opening hours and buy your things. 

    Samie: A Food Co-op, for those of you hearing this term for the first time, is a grocery store owned and operated by the members of the community that surrounds it

    Johanna: So being a member includes three different roles. So the first role is that you're a co-owner of the whole business. So you're really a part of the co-op you you're really wonderful. Uh, supermarket owners, um, which gives you the full transparency about also all the finances where we get the products from how the price has come together and then the second role is that you're a co-worker, which is this aspect of every member and. Uh, and the co-op working for three hours every month. So every four weeks you are doing your shift, which can be at the cashier, or like helping with cleaning, to shop afterwards or stuck into products in the shelves. Um, which first makes a connection to the food we buy, because we realized that it takes a lot of work that we can have all these amazing food options all the time. Then you also make a connection to the other co-op. So it also strengthens the neighborhood somehow. And then of course it allows us to have good prices and a lower margin because we save a lot on personal costs. And then the third role, of course, is that you're a customer and that you can come here and shop and get all these products from your own supermarket. 

    Samie: Supercoop is currently set up only for its members, with community days on Sundays that are open to everyone, but there are other food-coop models in the city too – like the LPG stores and Robinhood - so I wondered, how similar are those concepts to what Supercoop is trying to do?

    Johanna: There are certainly some differences, but, um, I think we have like similar goals in the end. Like we all want to offer good and fair food options, um, to our members and shoppers, um, with LPG it's a special case, because it functions like a pretty normal business and company. And you just have your membership card as like, um, um, yeah, like you can just buy it for reduced prices. Um, but it's not really being a co-owner or having the transparency and it's also not a co-operative. So I think that's very different actually, from what we do. 

    We’re also in touch with Robinhood and it's also really cool because they have two shops. One in Neukolln on Maybachufer, and another one in Neukolln. And they think from a more, a bit more global perspective, like really, how can we globally distribute money? So with everything they sell and their shop and all the profits they make, they want to redistribute on a more global basis. And I think at Supercoop, we think in a bit more regional context. Like how can we make a good food options accessible for the neighborhood, for the region, and how can regional farmers benefit from it? How can we build a more direct relationships to farmers working here in Brandenburg and the area? So there is some differences in the priorities we set, but we are also in exchange, for example, also in how we organize the members that come and work their shifts at a store. So just the two IT teams of Supercoop and Robinhood, they met, I think last week, to see a bit, okay, how are you doing this? How are we doing this? Kind of maybe collaborate and share resources. And what I really like about this whole, yeah, ecosystem in Berlin - alternative economy. Like how can we do things in a different way? Even if we are not the exact same concept and maybe we also don't exactly agree on everything that we do, or we don't do everything in the same way, it just needs different approaches. And we need to be open for that. 

    Samie: and beyond that, we need to be replicating ideas! The inspiration for SuperCoop comes from similar concepts in New York, Paris and in Brussels, but as far as what the Berlin version could be, the sky is the limit! 

    Johanna: We also don't know everything and also this question, like what is a fair price? I don't think there's a complete answer to that. So it will always be the question for us that we want to ask together. And then it's definitely a lot about education. And I think sometimes this comes pretty naturally with working your shift in the co-op, because then you meet the farmers that bring the vegetables because they bring their deliveries and then we put it on the shelves. So you see who's behind and you make this connection in a pretty natural way. So we also want to really build on that and strengthen more the relationships to farmers.

    We know it from some other co-ops that they do this, like meetups, with bringing also the different farmers that work with to one table and maybe also checking like, oh, maybe I can produce more onions this year. I can produce more of that. So also that there is a collaboration happening between the farmers we're working with. And then of course also making exchange possible between the farmers and the consumers, for example, like inviting them over, they can explain how they do their farming. Like, what does it mean? What does it also sometimes mean when there is a harvest going wrong because like, the weather was crazy. So what does it mean for prices and why are, maybe, some products this year more expensive than in other years? So that we also build maybe more - more empathy from consumers and producers.

    Samie: I asked Johanna what she and her team have learned over the course of building this initiative, and how she hopes to create something that is truly representative of the neighborhood that surrounds it 

    Johanna: We're not there in terms of diversity where we would like to be. And it's also not something that just comes from alone. Like you can't just say like, but our doors are open. Like just come in, like we're open for diversity. So yes, of course we are, but it's not enough and there's definitely also a lot of work to do on this side. It feels like a journey already, but it's definitely a starting point. So also, we're still discovering many, many, many things.  And, um, from my own perspective, I could never, um, see everything what's important to all our members. So that's where I also see this huge benefit. Like how can you build an organization that benefits a lot of people from one perspective. It's impossible. So we need to include all these different perspectives.

    And sometimes it's also like, it feels like, Ooh, that takes long now. Like we need to communicate a lot and sometimes maybe it's not - you need to find your ways and also there are discussions and people disagreeing but that's okay because that's also a bit whats part of a democratic system. So yeah, I think that's also a bit of what we've learned. Like it's a very, very cheesy saying now, but like, if you want to go fast, you can go alone. But if you want to come far, maybe it takes a bit more time, but you need to go together in order to make it work. And I think that's also what has been part of the SuperCoop journey. 


    Samie: One last project I want to introduce to you is one that is dear to my heart. Taking it back to episode three and the power of healthy Soil, it was my pleasure to sit down with Ayumi - the woman behind a grassroots composting initiative turned circular social startup in the city 

    Ayumi: Hi. I'm Ayumi Matsuzaka. I have different activity, one is making the Terrapreta soil substrate for yes, gardeners, communities, sometimes company. 

    Samie: Terrapreta is a type of soil originally found in the central Amazon. Archaeological evidence and carbon dating indicates that these soils were created over a period of millennia from about 9000 ybp through the activity of dispersed but relatively large and settled communities that were ultimately eliminated, presumably, by western disease spread by colonizers. It is nicknamed “black gold” for its color which comes from the deposits of charcoal within it, and because it is known for producing plants that grow three times faster and much larger than on land and soil that surrounds it. 

    Ayumi: Originally I'm an artist. So I was doing art projects with citizens, any kind of, uh, uh, material, natural material to work together. But then in Finland, I figured out that we could make a good soil out of human excretion because I use the compost toilet. I got the inspiration that hey, this is amazing that we could make personal soil out of our body waste. So I contacted soil scientists in Hamburg, they recommended me to meet Dr. Jürgen Reckin and Dr. Haiko Pieplow, they are both Terrapreta experts.

    Samie: Ayumi told me she spent an entire year helping these scientists in their garden, learning all about Terrapreta, but to really understand it, she needed to do it herself  

    Ayumi: I wanted to understand this nature cycle with my body as a body experience, what kind of resource I can combine and, uh, the knowledge, how much of knowledge I should learn, not only read in the book and is it ready  to, uh, share the knowledge to many people? Because science sometimes, um, innovative, uh, innovative knowledge is shared among a scientist. And that year of 2009, 2010, nobody, know, knew telepreata. And a scientist explain to me in their language. So 10% of a biochar, 4% of a clay you mix. And that was, uh, not easy for me. So it took one and a half year to close the cycle - nutrient cycle. I collected my urine and then made Terrapreta soil. I use this Terrapreta to grow vegetables and salad. And then I ate my own salad that was grown up with my own Terrapreta soil. 

    Samie: Now, some of you listening may be a little grossed out by this but hear me out – the dedication it takes to do something like this is, at least to me, inspiring. And sometimes we just gotta be part of something so that it really sinks in. 

    Ayumi’s experiment was ultimately more of an art project than anything – a way to, as she said, feel and experience the nutrient cycle, from start to finish. She even made a video documentation of it, which was shown in various exhibitions, along with a hand-drawn explanation of how to make Terrapreta which is used to support workshops given by the scientists she originally learned from 

    And by the way, not all Terrapreta is made using urine. Ayumi actually gives workshops all around the city to people wanting to make their own, and this is not necessarily part of it… 

    Ayumi: So we mix, uh, Biochar powder, um, that is activated with the microorganism and, um, make a fermentation, um, an anaerobic fermentation, um, with the microbes for four weeks or longer time. And then humidification that is a mixing with the soil after the fermentations. And normally you get a three months to one year, uh, time that compost worm, uh, eat up the old fermented material to make a good black soil

    Samie:  Check the show notes for links to the video and the instructions, but I was curious, because there are a few different ways to make your own compost - what is it about this process that Ayumi finds so attractive? 

    Ayumi: One is that it is, um, easy to do. Easy means that, uh, if you make a fermentation, then it's up to you when you mix with the soil. But if you have the fresh vegetables, then you need to deal with the time - time that you need to mix with, uh, uh, soil and to put the worms, and then control the amount of, uh, organic matter. This is a lot of experience, but Terrapreta, after you make a fermentation, it's really, if you make a fermentation today or two weeks later, or one, one months later, it's the same or better if you make a fermentation longer. So as a management perspective, it's easy to do. The second reason is higher quality because biochar will not be degraded in the soil. So normally, if you make a hot compost, you need to add the compost every spring, but the biochar works like a house for microbes. So they make a nice house for microorganisms. Biochar has a lot of cells, it has small holes and then microorganism will live there. And the third point is environmental matters - that if you use a biochar, of course, that you can capture the carbon material. Um, let's say CO2 emissions and so on. We can store the CO2 inside of the ground. 

    Samie: This is especially important in a place like Berlin and Brandenburg where the soil is extremely sandy. Ayumi said that using biochar supports the nutrients staying in the ground, rather than evaporating into the air, and can help turn sandy soils into very productive ones that allow us to grow more food. 

    Ayumi: It's very important that everybody knows the knowledge, how to create soil. So if we create really good soil for at least for our balcony and for our community, this makes sense. In a bigger vision, this knowledge should be shared in other places. And if we know the high quality of soil, then organic farmer can also come and maybe, uh, you know, we could help organic farmer. If there is a SoLaWi and tiny farm, you know, there are many opportunities we could, uh, join the activities. We are in the city of Berlin, that means that we don't have space to grow more vegetables. So if we don't have space, we should have high quality soil. This is a matter - why we need to create high quality soil? Because we don't want to waste even 30 centimeter, 50 centimeter, very small plots, or you know, this smaller space, but we like to have good and, and then tasty Basilikum, tomato or anything. So we should have a good soil

    Samie:  These days Ayumi is working on a new project that combines her passion for circularity and compost. It’s called Dycle - a mix of diaper and recycle - and its aim is to produce a compostable baby diaper inlay. This not only helps avoid the massive amount of waste that is baby diapers annually, but also aims to keep the baby waste - which is often quite pure - in a circular nutrient cycle that can benefit soil health in the city 

    Ayumi:  So our passion is to make, um, high quality of soil substrate. So even we have a body - business body of a compostable diaper, making compostable diaper is not our vision. Our vision is to create good soil because if we have a good soil, we can do everything, you know, that we can grow, uh, vegetables and fruits, plant fruit trees, or nuts trees. And if you have a apple tree here, we have a lot of fruits and nature give us really really huge gift. You know, 50 kilogram apples, maybe you cannot eat up. Then you make a jam or juice or baby food, you know, that's then maybe smaller business can start. So for us, um, this nature cycle or nutrient cycle is really key for everybody that, uh, It could support the local community, local business, especially, um, yeah, female entrepreneurs would like to start a new business in a longer term. That takes years and years and decades to make a regenerative system. However, this is a goal. 

    Samie: I love the way Ayumi thinks big, considering all the elements of a well-functioning ecosystem. This commitment to circularity is something I hope we can start implementing in many areas of our lives, not only in our food systems. 

    But if we aren’t eating good food, then we can't use what we waste. And just like that… it all comes full circle. If we want to implement circularity in this way, then we have to be eating well, which is why building a stronger, more resilient and ultimately healthier food system is so important. 

    So, get out there, and be curious. Question the industrial food system, reconnect to how your food is made, eat more things that grow out of the ground, support farmers near and far, learn more about different food cultures that are represented around you, value the people making their living through food, and take the time to build the relationships that will ultimately make our communities more resilient. 


    [Food in my Kiez Outro]: Hey ya’ll, thanks for listening to this episode of Food in my Kiez. This was the last episode of this season, so If you enjoyed it, I hope you go back and listen to the others - and share it with someone you love, too. As always, you can follow me on Instagram @FoodinmyKiez or send me a message at hello@foodinmykiez.com - I’d love to hear from you.

    🌱 Audio for this episode was produced by Grettch ⬅️

    🌱 Production, Script, Narration and Creative Direction by Samie Blasingame

    Thanks again for listening. Until next time