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October 1999

Earthly Goods

Bavaria's organic farming industry provides Müncheners with choice produce.

Just minutes from Munich’s city limits, on all sides, the landscape quickly becomes rural — warehouses dissipate, apartment houses disappear. Fields of corn, wheat, spelt, cows, lambs, sheep and even sunflowers remind the traveler that Bavaria feeds its own. Or does it? That, after all, was the early ideology behind farming — a careful give and take between man and land. Today, farming is big business. Fields have been, and continue to be, destroyed by the disregard of traditional crop rotation methods, while more livestock than one farm can feed is crammed into inhumanely small spaces. The herbivores are fattened up on imported grains that often contain ground animal remains. It appears the profit-conscious farmer or butcher will do anything to sell more wares, including polluting the enviroment by shipping goods — by boat, plane and truck — internationally. Organic farming, conversely, places emphasis on “old-fashioned” agricultural methods. For a farm to be accredited by organic farming regulators, a few basic rules must be obeyed. Crops are rotated by genus — this year it will be a plant that takes nutrients from the soil, next year it will be one that puts those same substances back into the earth. Each plot is given a year to “rest” after three-five years. The number of livestock may not exceed what the farm can bear: sufficient feed should be produced on site so that it must not be procured from other sources, and the natural fertilizers won from the animals should not reach a level that destroys a farm’s ecological balance. It is, of course, preferable to sell organic-farming goods locally but, much to the dismay of hardcore consumers of the untainted foods, fruit and vegetables unavailable in certain climes — e.g., bananas, oranges and dates — are imported/exported. in glonn, 25 kilometers southeast of Munich, well beyond the bustle of city life, lies the renowned 185-hectare organic farm, Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten. What makes this “agriculturally-correct” producer of meat, milk products, bread, grains, fruit and vegetables, beer and schnapps so famous is its owner, Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth. As CEO of Herta, one of Germany’s leading meat and sausage wholesalers, from 1964 to1984, Schweisfurth expanded the company to include eight plants and 5,500 employees — thereby amassing a sizeable fortune — before putting his money where his conscience was. Though “naysayers” of the “bio-scene” argue that the ex-slaughtermeister is only in it for the bucks, most agree it doesn’t matter. What the Schweisfurth family is doing — son Karl now manages the concern, while the other son, Georg, runs Munich’s largest organic supermarket, Basic — is “the right thing.” In providing quality organic foodstuffs to the ever-educated masses, while respecting both earth and beast, the Herrmannsdorfer crew is doing everything to promote good behavior in the field. The public is welcome. Official tours of Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten can be made by appointment. But, for the curious, a stroll through the property, where you can shop at the on-site grocery store, sit at a picnic table, have lunch at the restaurant/microbrewery or just stop by to greet the pigs, does not require a permit. Unlike smaller organic farms, Herrmannsdorf’s look is modern with a rustic flair. Upon arriving, the visitor is met at the base of the driveway by a wooden sculpture of cows and an arrow pointing the way. The compound boasts a large parking area, replete with a blue “P” sign, like those seen at local tourist sites. More animal artwork lines the path to the main area of activity. A pamphlet-holding placard explains that artists have been invited to submit their nature-related works since 1993. Approaching the “nerve center,” the visitor is greeted by a circle of barns and farmhouses — original, renovated or new — that surround a beer garden with an adjacent playground as well as a small sheep pen. It is here, in the structures that stand on the hill, that wares are sold — both in the store and in the restaurant. This quiet “village” is where cheese wheels are formed, livestock is humanely relieved of life and not laced with nitrates to create hams, sausages and salamis. Here, a very palatable unfiltered beer — known as Schweinsbräu — finds its beginnings in a floor-to-ceiling mash ton. Administrative offices are located one spiral staircase away from the gastronomic and brewing areas — Schweisfurth and Co. are content to work amid the aroma of hops and organic Leberkäs. Input/output. Behind retail lines, the operation is running like environmental clockwork. In keeping with, and far exceeding, industry standards, Herrmannsdorf keeps the cycle of life tightly sealed. Livestock dung is used to fertilize crops, any excess is used to produce a gas which, when run through the facility’s “bio gas motor,” provides the farm with 15 percent of its electricity and heating. The other 85 percent is generated by three diesel motors. A special coupling device allows heating oil to be used twice. Run-off water, tainted by the excrement of animal and human residents of Herrmannsdorf is collected and clarified by employing “the hard work of millions of bacteria.” Big plans. Schweisfurth is taking his show on the road. Recently, the entrepreneur unveiled his concept for a bigger, better organic farm in Kronsberg, near Hanover. The project will involve investors, and will be sold upon its completion. In teaching other regions of Germany how efficient, cost effective organic goods production can be realized, it is the wish of the former cheap meat peddler to erase the need for earth-shattering practices in the commercial farming industry. Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten, Glonn, Tel. (08093) 90 94 34. Seven retail stores located in Munich. grass roots. Organic farming doesn’t have to be about huge profits. In fact, many small agricultural outfits are soley self-sustaining — nourishment, clothing and housing for the inhabitants, à la Little House on the Prairie, with a bit left over to sell to the townspeople. One hundred kilometers north of Munich, outside the town of Buchbach, lies an example of this type of community — with an inspiring twist. Within the confines of the Höhenberg Lebensgemeinschaft/Werkstätten-village, the visitor will spy no fancy machinery, no restaurant. In fact, the farm is a mishmash of hippie and esoteric — herb gardens and greenhouses lined with the remains of a melon harvest are interspersed with huts, old army barracks, living quarters with hand-hewn doors. The more than 100 residents and craftspeople of Höhenberg include 64 mentally handicapped adults and approximately 40 of their mentors. Two smaller group homes are part of the Höhenberg commune — in nearby Velden, 12 residents are housed, and in Buchbach, 8, all of whom are brought to the farm each day. A good idea. This unique program began over 30 years ago, when Luz and Ulla Schnizlein bought the 70-hectare property. It was their intention to work the land themselves, but after a time they realized that, on account of their advancing years, they could no longer manage the task alone. On the recommendation of a friend, the Schnizleins hired two young retarded adults to help. Not only was the couple pleased with the capabilities of their new employees, but felt that this kind of stimulation was beneficial their development. Subsequently, the Schnizleins added more extraordinary manpower to their team. Human touch. In 1978, Höhenberg was officially formed, having been donated by the retired couple to project overseers and therapists. To this day, the farm and its residential complex are governed by trained educators, who nurture the hidden talents of the special individuals, as well as parents and those with a special interest in the program. Wares are grown and produced to feed the program’s inhabitants — both human and animal — and sold to organic food stores, at outdoor markets and on site to raise money for salaries and upkeep. Guided by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the father of anthroposophy — a humanist philosophy encompassing everything from religion and aesthetics to botany — the Höhenberg crops are planted according to lunar cycles and the position of the planets. Demeter, an organization that regulates organic produce — its requirements dictate not only the highest standards of growing and harvesting, but the employment of anthroposophic practices — has given Höhenberg its seal of approval. Helping hands. Eight different work stations facilitate the growth and production of Höhenberg’s offerings. Residents are matched to an area based on severity of handicap and innate or learned strengths. Each department provides an ingredient helpful to another. For instance, grains grown by the agriculture team feed livestock and supply Höhenberg’s bakery. Textile and wool groups are provided with raw materials from sheep tended by the agriculture crew. Other output of the harmonic Höhenberg family includes cheese, candles, wooden bowls, cabinetry and fruit and vegetables. Juices, marmalades, meats, herbal teas and even chocolates are handmade from homegrown ingredients. Each station is run by at least two professionals, whose knowledge, patience and kindness allow workers — with such handicaps as Down’s syndrome and autism, sometimes in combination with physical disabilities, such as epilepsy and palsy — to, “strengthen social skills, be stimulated mentally and soulfully and take joy in a sense of team spirit and accomplishment,” as the farm literature boasts. Atypical day. An average day at Höhenberg begins with breakfast prepared by separate cooks for each house. At 7:45, in an attractive meeting hall/auditorium, the community convenes for the Morgenkreis (morning circle) to discuss stellar and planetary positions, sing and hash out important matters of the day. The Werkstätten are then manned until the noon to 14:00 break, and again from 14:00 to 18:00. A tour of the activities reveals a “no pressure” approach to production. While some quietly and diligently pull cotton or grind hazelnuts, others laugh and chat, or even kiss. Renate Brücher, teacher and leader of the candle workshop, explains that residents “are allowed to express whatever they feel, within limits of reasonable behavior, of course. If they get the urge to take breaks or smooch their boyfriend or girlfriend, they may. It’s a wonderful atmosphere.” The organic farmers’ free time consists of therapies disguised as recreation, such as disco parties, putting on plays, going to the movies or attending the opera. The Höhenberg dwellers are also offered classes, such as reading and writing, bible studies, language instruction, literature and sports. Romantic couples are allowed to “marry.” Some live together, some choose to live in separate houses and simply date. “It used to be that Höhenberg couples were forbidden to get serious,” explains Brücher, “but we found there was too much pent up sexual tension, which led to male residents inflicting abuse or pressure on their female friends. We now offer programs that deal with sexual awareness, and already have several couples.” What about babies? “As gruesome as it sounds, most of the women have been sterilized,” explains Brücher, “so there is no real danger of a pregnancy — which would result in an equally handicapped child. The mentally-handicapped pairs are beautiful,” gushes the wax specialist. “They are completely true to one another.” It would seem that this same loyalty — to the earth, the consumer and the 64 distinct personalities who breath life into the modest organic farm — is shared by Höhenberg’s administrators as well. Lebensgemeinschaft Höhenberg: 84149 Höhenberg, Tel. (08086) 931 30. The farm’s organic grocery store is open every Friday. Call for a seasonal schedule of opening hours. the conflict — conventional versus organic farming methods — rages on. In a world where we have the opportunity to buy genetically manipulated tomatoes, which have a shelf life of six months and a vitamin count of zero, it is certainly nice to know the folks at Herrmannsdorf and Höhenberg will, after the fall harvest, busy themselves with winter projects instead of growing summer vegetables in hothouses. It is, perhaps, unrealistic to think that organic farmers will ever have the capacity to feed the world’s bulging population, but proponents of the move back to mother nature will surely continue to try. <<<

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