Agriculture in Kommune Niederkaufungen
Agriculture in Kommune Niederkaufungen
Communal agriculture in Niederkafungen, Summer 2012
The commune owns, leases and cares for quite varied pieces of land in and around Niederkaufungen. Our small dairy farm, Hof Birkengrund, just outside the village, has 5 hectares of meadows, parts of which are meadow orchards. We have access to a number of other meadows and pastures for hay and cattle fodder, some flat, some hilly. We have one and a half hectares of vegetable gardens and polytunnels in the Losse valley and a further field up on the hill top towards the hamlet of Windhausen. There are bees in many of the meadow orchards, some of which have been newly planted, others of which are some decades old. One commune house in the Wilhelmstrasse, has a neat farm-house garden under a pear tree. Even the day-care center has a couple of raised beds tended by the old people there. All of the cultivation and care of these pieces of land is organic.
Over a dozen people work in agriculture as their main activity. Many others help the collectives regularly or occasionally with various types of agricultural work, with the processing and cooking of the products, or have hobby plots of garden in the commune grounds.
The 3 agricultural collectives are:
- The “Rote Rübe” collective, a Bioland CSA market-garden with a farm shop and “Dreschflegel” seeds ,
- The “Obstmanufaktur”, a fruit growing, meadow-orchard care, and hand made jam and juice collective
- “Hof Birkengrund”, an EU-organic dairy farm with cheese-making
In the Kommune Niederkaufungen we try to satisfy as many of our own basic needs as possible. A high percentage of the commune’s foodstuff, mostly vegetables, fruit, milk products and meat, comes from its own collectively worked organic agriculture. We also offer our ecological products and services to the local population, for example, caring for and pruning the many fruit trees on Kaufungen municipal land. We see our organic agri- and horticulture as being practical, environmental conservation and a contribution to positive change and eventual sustainability.
The vegetable growers of the „Rote Rübe“ work together with „Wurzelwerk“ gardeners at the „gASTWERKe“ community in Escherode providing vegetables for the members of the „SoLaWi Kassel“ CSA project. This CSA provides for households, living groups and larger intentional communities in and around Kassel.
The „Rote Rübe“ also runs a community garden, working, composting and planting for the community garden members, who then weed, water and harvest their vegetables. About 30 plant varieties are grown for seeds and marketed over the „Dreschflegel“ distribution network and from our farm shop. The collective also offers some seminars and workshops.
The „Obstmanufaktur“collective is concerned with nearly everything around the subject of fruit, fruit trees and traditional “Streuobstwiesen” (meadow orchards). Threatened for decades, the meadow orchard with its wide biodiversity, great beauty, and a high ecological value, is a traditional landscape in the temperate, maritime climate of continental Western Europe. The collective wants to contribute to the conservation of the many traditional fruit cultivars, and also to the preservation of the large variety of species which live in a meadow orchard, through the active care for the existing local orchards, and wants to stimulate a return to this traditional form of culture through planting out new meadow orchards.
Hof Birkengrund is an “Aussiedlerhof” built in the 1960s. It has ca.5 hectares of pasture around it, but no arable land. In addition, we lease about 15 hectates of pastures and meadows around Kaufungen. The present dairy herd is made up of about ten milk cows, plus heifers and calves. Much of the milk is transformed to cheese in our own small dairy. There are also a number of pigs providing meat for commune consumption. The farm has an orchard with about a dozen mature fruit trees planted when the farm was built. In the last few years we have planted about 30 new trees on the farm, partly replacing trees in the orchard, partly on the edges of meadows.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is an alternative, locally-based socio economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA also refers to a particular network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit, and also sometimes herbs, cut flowers, and other agricultural products as well. Some CSAs provide for contributions of labour in lieu of a portion of subscription costs.
As it was – a short comparison of our previous structures with CSA systems
In the sense that “CSA generally is the practice of focusing on the production of high quality foods using ecological, organic or biodynamic farming methods”, “…with a much greater-than-usual degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders – resulting in a stronger than usual consumer – producer relationship”, (Wikipedia), the agriculture (dairy farming, fruit farming, seed production and market gardening) practiced in the Kommune Niederkaufungen shows some similarities to some CSA systems. It is small scale, labour-intensive organic agriculture owned and supported by an Income sharing intentional community of 60 adult members and 20 children, some of whom work in agriculture, all of whom consume the products of the agriculture. We, too, are interested in “increasing the quality of food and the quality of care given the land, plants and animals – while substantially reducing potential food losses and financial risks for the producers”. (Wikipedia) This includes, to some extent “a shared risk and reward” agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing”. (Wikipedia). When there are a lot of pumpkins the members of the commune eat a lot of pumpkins.
On the other hand, there is no “transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year” nor is there “a common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget:“ (Wikipedia) The farm and market gardening collectives have full autonomy in what they produce and in the quantity of product. This is based on the number of workers in the collectives, which changes over the years, and also on what is perceived as the needs and wishes of the commune members. The collectives also decide autonomously on the prices of their products, both for the commune and for the outside customers. (Although there is no flow of cash within the commune as we have a common purse, the commune “pays” the agricultural collectives for the food they supply by writing down the costs in the monthly commune accounts.)
The collective organisation of the commune’s agriculture
At present (July 2010) there are four commune collectives working in agriculture: an EU certified organic dairy farm with cheese making (Hof Birkengrund); a Bioland certified organic market gardening collective with a farm shop, concentrating on regional, seasonal and GMO free production; a further collective concentrates on the production of organic and “Gentech” free seeds for “Dreschflegel”; and another coolective, the “Obstmanufaktur”, is responsible for our extensive orchards, fruit trees, soft fruit bushes and juice production. The last three are all parts of the larger “Rote Rube” collective. A couple of people also look after the bees. The “transformation” of the agricultural products (freezing, bottling, jam making) is done on a voluntary basis by a number of communards, or, occasionally, by members of the commune kitchen /catering collective (Komm Menu).
Products and distribution
The dairy farm and the market garden are producing organic foodstuff for the commune itself, selling some products (fruit, vegetables, jams, cheese, yogurt) over our Rote Rübe farm shop, selling some dairy products to retailers in Kassel, 7 kms away, and supplying some foodstuff to two other communal projects in Kassel (Villa Locomuna and Alte Gärtnerei). In the past, there was also a small box scheme for a number of student WGs (living groups). The products are always fresh as they do not have to be transported long distances. The dairy farm is two kilometres from the commune, the fields of the market gardeners are nearer and the orchards are scattered through the district. Within the commune, most products such as milk, fruit and vegetables will be consumed within a day or two of harvest or milking. Produce for the shop or the projects in Kassel is mostly delivered the day after harvest or milking. (Deliveries to Kassel are made by the people driving our commune children to the Free School there; there is seldom an extra delivery trip.) This is much quicker distribution than in many CSA systems, which usually have weekly distribution or collection of products.
All agricultural enterprises are organised as collectives, with consensus decision-making in each of the collectives.
On paper, the Hof Birkengrund dairy farm has an “official” farmer, and the others, under the collective name “Rote Rübe” are part of our commune association for ecology, health and education –
ÖGB eV. – Verein für Ökologie, Gesundheit und Bildung. In practice, all collectives are autonomous groups without bosses or hierarchy. The members of the collectives decide who takes on the different tasks and responsibilities.
Land and animals
The farm is an “Aussiedlerhof” built in the 1960s. It has ca.5 hectares of pasture around it, but no arable land. In addition, we lease about 15 hectates of pastures and meadows around Kaufungen. The present dairy herd is made up of about ten milk cows, plus heifers and calves. In addition, there are a number of pigs and piglets. The meat from the pigs is for commune consumption and not for sale. The farm has an orchard with about a dozen mature fruit trees planted when the farm was built. In the last few years we have planted about 30 new trees on the farm, partly replacing trees in the orchard, partly on the edges of meadows.
Finances and support
The dairy farm, Hof Birkengrund, was bought in 1996. From the beginning, the it was supported and subsidised by the commune. The farm belongs to the commune, not to the farm collective or the “official” farmer. Many communards have helped with work on the farm, with renovation and rebuilding work, with hay-making and many other tasks. In summer, there are often visits from communards and their children, who have picnics, play in the meadows and happily drink warm milk freshly milked from one of the cows. There is great importance placed by nearly all communards on having organic agriculture as one of the commune enterprises, even if only a few have time and energy to regularly help out. Due to the importance placed on having agriculture and self-managed food production within the commune there has rarely been a problem getting funding for new machinery or new livestock for the dairy farm. However, it is not a profit making business, despite sale of some of our products. Only once in ten years has the dairy farm collective managed to bring in the average income of other commune businesses. In the beginning, it was almost completely subsidised by the rest of the commune. At present, it is partly subsidised. Both the Hof Birkengrund and the 3 Rote Rübe collectives produce good quality foodstuff to satisfy commune and local needs rather than with the aim of making a large profit through sales. It is expected that they should be able to bring in some money from outside, but not that they should concentrate only on production for sale.
Despite the wide variety of production and economic sub-systems used worldwide, there are probably very few CSA systems that have such a close relationship between the consumers and the farm owners – in the commune, the consumers are the owners. Although the workers in agriculture have wide ranging autonomy in what they produce and how they produce it, they are in direct daily contact with the other communards and can respond directly to questions about quality and availability of products. They can react rapidly to problems of supply and demand, harvesting more (or less) of a required vegetable, bringing more of a certain sort of cheese out of the ripening cellar or producing special cheeses for special occasions. (This can actually sometimes be rather stressful for the commune’s agricultural workers, but has definite advantages for the rest of the communards.)
Similarly, there are probably very few CSA systems that have such rapid distribution combined with such short distances. The majority of the communes agricultural products are consumed in the commune or sold by the farm shop. Our own fruit, vegetables and milk are always very fresh, as are the fruit and vegetables sold in the farm shop. The longest delivery distance to retailers is less than 10 kms. The combination of product deliveries with taking children to school is an important factor in keeping our CO2 emissions as low as possible.
On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect that many people will want to form communes that directly own the means of (agricultural) production, or that many farmers will want to turn their farms into communes or ecovillages with common ownership. So, compared to the usual forms of CSA, the agriculture practiced in the commune in Niederkaufungen can have only a limited application in helping to create “a relatively new socio-economic model of food production, sales and distribution…”.)(Wikipedia)
Definitions and quotes about CSA in Kursiv script come from
- Commune homepage German