Collective Farming in Freiburg

Author: Patrizia Heise

The Freiburg Collective Farming Group has been founded in 2011. It started straight away with 200 members and now we are 260. Together we grow organic vegetables in a climate protective way. Also the community itself is a place for new contacts and friendship.
It is Thursday, the day of harvest and distribution. Together with 5 others I am working on the fields. We are all equipped with gloves and weeding hoes. Our task is to liberate the little saplings of beetroot plants from other weeds which take away light, water and nourishment. It’s not easy to tell … they all look so similar. Kathrin, one of the experienced professional gardeners of the Cooperative is helping us, patiently answering all our questions. After a few mistakes I got better in getting out the weed instead of the plant. By working here and helping I learn so much about gardening as well as coming into contact with people i would never have met otherwise.

All new beginning is hard
Spring 2008. The word of financial crisis hoovers like a dark shadow over us. I start meeting others who have similar questions: What is happening to our economy? Does it affect our personal life? What can we do? We find ourselves in an emotional state between fear, thoughtfulness and search for alternatives. If everything is crashing down, the most urgent thing you would need would be to make sure you have access to food. The idea to grow your own vegetable is close. So I start with a lot of enthusiasm to plant and sow vegetables and herbs in my own garden. But soon the first problems arrive: Part of the seeds do not sprout, and the rest is eaten by snails. The dream about food autonomy is shrinking. I do not want to use poison. At the end of summer I harvest some vegetable but it would never cover our needs completely. Soil consistence, weeds, right treatment of different types of vegetables, all that seems to be an art by itself.

Together we can do it
… I hear a radio feature about a community in North Germany that grows vegetables in foil tunnels. This seemed to make sense: To share work, costs and the harvest. From a flyer I learn that just in Freiburg such a gardening project is about to start. With friends I go to a meeting in the Eco Part of the town, Vauban. Many interested people are there… but no land. Still the idea is making sense to me so I become a member of the collective farming group. Only a few weeks later I got the news that land was found a few km south of Freiburg in a good distance by bicycle. The idea of collective farming got around and so we started straight away with 200 people. An enthusiastic spirit was already present at the first gathering. We have to find out how much every member has to pay every month so seeds can be bought, the old tunnels and the farm can be repaired. By spring, machines have been bought and everything was ready. Vegetables for 200 people were sawn and several point were established for distribution In Freiburg.

A social net is growing
2012. During weeding, Ulrike, a woman sitting next to me shares that she has founded a regional network. It exists already for some years. We talk about Freiburg becoming a Transition Town, moving to renewable energies. Ulrike thinks that her network has similar aims. This is the communication which makes me feel it is interesting to be here, as a part of a regional community growing our own vegetables. There are 5 working days per year, which each member has to do every year.

The annual financial contribution varies according to incomes between 300 and 900 Euros. There is a betting round for everybody to offer his voluntary contribution. Good harvests and bad harvests are shared. At Lunch time someone cooks for all helpers in the improvised kitchen in a Van with vegetables from our own farm. 6 to 12 people are sitting around the table in a family atmosphere. Those who cannot help on the field because of old age or sickness can help with the cooking. Sometimes children also come. The helping days are organized via the Homepage. Everybody can put his name into a calendar, so that the crew on the farm knows how many people are coming for help. Very often I am really wondering how this is working out and how relaxed everybody deals with the situation. Sometimes people quit their work the same morning. Still enough people are there to help. Sometimes little catastrophes happen like the ‘Tomato disaster’ we had.

On the day of distribution, time is short. The vegetables have to be weighted, counted and all has to be distributed on all the boxes for all the distribution points. On this day so many things go wrong. The numbers are not ok, somebody has weighed wrong or in a hurry mixed up something, the tomatoes are not enough for all but too late for a new counting …I can see that one woman is close to tears and wants to leave in the middle of the work. Luciano the main coordinator of this job finds the right words and together find a solution. No accusations, the work goes on in good spirits.

Optimistic into the future
The Collective farming Cooperative looks back to its second year now. In the first year the calculation didn’t work out completely. At the end of winter we ran out of vegetables, there was a long period of cold. We had a gap in the budget, which got filled by the music magicians Gilbert and Oleg from Switzerland who performed for us for free as an act of solidarity. Of course other difficulties come up. After 2 years we see that there are some members who work a lot and some who never come, some pay little and some a lot. There are discussions about justice and solidarity, sooner or later that comes up in every community. I trust in us that we can find sustainable solutions. By growing and sharing our own food we get connected. Not only vegetable is growing, but also feelings of togetherness and friendship as well. I feel that Freiburg has become a more interesting and colorful town to my eyes, just by being amongst people with similar thinking.
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