|Chosen papers on organic farming
Social aspects of organic farming
Pilot project: Organic farm with elderly people
Organic farming – as well as conventional farming – has the intention to grow food. Besides this mere production aspect many organic farmers chose for organic farming as they see this production method as suitable for the leading of a life style that they would like to follow: socially and in line with nature. In the following I am going to present the example of one bio-dynamic farm in the Northern part of Germany whose owners wanted to enrich their farm life by giving 10 retired people the possibility of living and working on their farm. I will introduce the history of the project, its current state and what the benefits of this social project are for the farmers as well as the other concerned people. Lastly, I will use the example of the farm to draw conclusions about the role that organic farming can play socially.
Description of the concerned farm and its farmers
The farm ‘Hof Klostersee’ is situated in Schleswig-Holstein, just 2 km from the Baltic Sea. The farm has been certified as bio-dynamic (Demeter) in 1990. Since then it also belongs to an association with more than 30 members of all Germany. On behalf of this association three families are currently working on the farm. The farm comprises 60 hectares and produces different cereals and sugar beans. Moreover there are 40 dairy cows and their calves, 40 fattening pigs, chicken, goats and rabbits. The farm processes milk into butter, yoghurt and six different kinds of cheeses. In a farm bakery the cereals are processed to bread, buns and cake. The farm products are sold in the farm shop. Besides vegetables and fruits are offered that Hof Klostersee gets from neighbouring bio-dynamic farms. Also wholesale products are available like cosmetics, bread spreads and wine.
The families who run the farm have a profound education in farming. Within each couple there is one partner who has studied agriculture on a university level. All the six are involved in farming in one way or the other. All of the three couples have two children, the oldest one is 20, the youngest one 2. The financial situation of the farm has been difficult in the starting years. As the farm is quite isolated, farm products cannot sell easily from within the farm shop. Nowadays selling on the market and in different organic shops helps to make profit. Very important for the financial surviving of the farm are the tourists that come every year to spend their holidays close to the Baltic sea. The farm offers guest rooms and camping possibility. Overall the farm is able to keep on going as it is as diverse as it is and not specialised. The people who live on the farm are very interested in anthroposophy and like to deepen their understanding of the anthroposophic world view by literature discussion and guest speakers.
Realization of the idea of old people on the farm
Very important for the farmers is also to share their lives with people of different ages and backgrounds but interested in farming. Thus the idea of enabling retired people to move to their farm came into existence. One old stable within the farm area had been unused for many years and appeared to be the perfect possibility for additional living space. The farm association decided to check out whether or not their idea would find interest. They put a small note into different farming magazines in Germany, telling that they were looking for old people who were interested in living and working with them on the farm. The responses were enormous – more than 120 letters and phone calls reached the farm. Thus the farm association took the decision to make the idea reality. With the grant of an anthroposophic bank the old stable was rebuilt into a house with six flats giving space for 10 people. The farmers arranged farm meetings with the 10 people who were the fastest in responding to their note. Over the building period of three years farmers and their future farm mates got to know each other. The old people who came to live on the farm are from all over Germany. They have been working in different professions and all had some memories of farming during their childhood but none of them had been a farmer. The old people were attracted by living on the farm as they had retired from their professional lives and were longing to do something productive in the company of nice people. Besides their partners or friends had died they felt a little lonely. Even though most of them have children and grand children the old people preferred not to live with them as this would make their childrens’ or also their own lives more complicated. To live on a farm in a quiet, healthy environment, with children, middle aged and old people, to have senseful tasks to do and to be of help and to receive help when needed, were the arguments that made the old people move onto the farm.
Effects of the old people on the farm
Since 2001 three couples and four single ladies are living on the farm. The farm does not function as a kind of home for elderly people: the old peoples’ flats are independent units with bathroom and kitchen. There are no common meals or entertainment programmes offered by the farmers. What they give is the opportunity to share farm live. In return they receive the rent that the old people pay for their flats. As the rent is still used to pay for the construction costs of their house, the financial benefit of the old people is non-existent. But there are other benefits that make the farmers convinced that they did the right thing when inviting people to live with them. The old people are enriching the social life of the farm. They are ten old people with individual life stories and experiences. Each of them contributes to the farm in her/his own style. All of them have found working field for themselves on the farm: they help in the preparation of yoghurt, put the goods into the shelves in the farm shop, sell in the farm shop, take care of the children, do the shopping, prepare meals, help in the bakery, clean the farm yard, prepare celebrations, plant trees, harvest apples… Even though they are not active in the primary production, the sum of their work is tremendous. Many of their works are things that the farmers do not manage to do due to an overload of work. Tourists, who have come to the farm for many years, notice that the farm has changed its appearance to the better. It now appears more cleaned up and friendly. The atmosphere has improved as farmers are nowadays less stressed as responsibility and work are distributed among more people.
But it is not the mere work that makes the presence of the old people so precious. Also cultural activities have experienced improvement since the old people have come to the farm. For annual celebrations like Christmas and Easter all the farm inhabitants prepare a cultural programme. Also the old people participate – with singing, playing the flute, reciting poems and reading stories. The discussions about farming and anthroposophy have become more profound. One old lady offers dancing courses to the tourists.
Also for the old people life has changed drastically. All of them enjoy living in their new home even though they had to realize that living in a big community offers many challenges. But they all enjoy the tasks they are doing as they can see that their doing is indeed making a difference to the performance of the farm, they enjoy the beautiful landscape and nature surrounding the farm and the interacting with the farm animals and different people on the farm.
For the future the most challenging task will be a serious disease or even death of one of the old people. All of the old people would like to live as long as possible on the farm; currently the farm inhabitants are thinking about changing one of the rooms that they have in the house of the old people into a room for a nurse who could come and live with them in case of several of the old people are in need of assistance.
Conclusions and outlook
After more than four years of running the project of old people on the farm, it can be considered a success. For farmers as well as old people life is in a way that it is meant to be. In the meantime other farms have become interested in the project and several articles and TV documentaries have been produced that show life on the farm. The general interest of the German public is big. The reasons are various but boil down to the one decisive: to escape the stress and hectic of modern city life and to follow a satisfactory work and lifestyle in a healthy environment. As more and more children in Germany lack the knowledge about the origins of their food, assuming that milk comes from a milk box and potatoes grow on trees, an intensified bondage between people and farming appears relevant. The awareness about the sources of food and its production is also important for consumers’ decisions. Most people will only be willing to pay the organic premium if they know why the organic food is worth the extra money. Currently the German ministry for agriculture supports the information spreading about organic farming. The public can learn about organic production methods on demonstration farms, open farm days, article and also school farms. On these children can spend up to one week with their school classes and participate in all farm work.
Organic farming lives from the people who are involved in it. Organic farmers often have to meet the ignorance and misconception of their doing by their fellow people. These encounters where farmers have to explain and justify their doing are necessary but often take a great deal of farmers’ energy. For the further spreading of organic farming it is important that farmers can work in a politically stable but also socially balanced environment. Meeting spaces between farmers and ‘the public’ are the perfect possibility to show what organic farming is about and to find new supporters. Hof Klostersee is one of them and probably the first in a long row of followers.