“Small-scale farmers and self-sufficient home growers have always relied on plant matter for fertility. The concept of manure as fertility giver has come into prevalence through industrial livestock farming and resulting excess shit. Veganic agriculture is the future. We are convinced it is the most resourceful of the resources like land, soil, water and space and thereby emitting the least amount of climate gases. We are also working on a system where agriculture becomes a climate gas absorber, not emitter.” – Freddy, PlantAge
PlantAge is a vegan and organic farm in the Frankfurt (Oder) region. Founded as an association in March 2018, it was also later established in September 2018 in Berlin as a cooperative (legal entity). Pacific Roots Magazine has an ongoing commitment to feature vegan farms and veganic agriculture organizations worldwide and so we were excited not only to learn about this German farm, veganic from the beginning, but also to have the opportunity to interview them.
Interview with Frederik Henn (Freddy) of Plantage – Vegane Solidarische Landwirtschaft.
Can you tell us about the inspiration, motivation and thought process that led to you and your team decided to establish PlantAge.
Freddy: We came to PlantAge through our own eating transformation. In the Summer of 2015 we (Judith and I) backpacked China for six weeks. We were confronted with local markets and caged animals such as rabbits, chickens, turtles, dogs for sale to be butchered on the spot for their flesh to be taken home to eat. We were disgusted and felt sorrow at the same time and stopped eating meat. A few months later we quit animal products altogether.
Back in Germany in the Summer of 2016, I asked myself if the food that I consume is really vegan. Isn’t it true that all the farms have animals for the purpose of creating a fertility cycle? I was happy when I began to google ‘vegan organic farming’ and find out that there are a few farms that do not use any animal products in their farming cycle and that this system works. The interest to inspect such a farm was so strong that we visited Biohof Hausmann and instantly fell in love with vegan farming. In that moment we knew we wanted to be on a farm more often, if not be there all the time to enjoy the colors, the smells, the tastes and the freshness of vegan organically cultivated foods.
While Judith was studying Ecology and Environmental Planning at TU Berlin, I started my career in Business Development at several start-ups in Berlin. My frustration with limited roles combined with my longing for work outdoors motivated me to create the idea and the plan for PlantAge together with Judith.
Can you share more about your location?
Freddy: We wanted a farm in Berlin, but the city itself has hardly any farmland. If there is, it is very expensive for speculative reasons. Our co-op is registered in Frankfurt (Oder) because we want to be connected with the farming community and not be another Berlin hipster project. The farm itself is also located in a suburb of Frankfurt (Oder).
In Berlin we do work together with other groups on a city garden in Neukölln. However, this garden is mainly handled through the PlantAge association. It gives people the opportunity to experience farming first hand without the longer drive to Frankfurt (Oder).
Why did you choose these locations for growing?
Freddy: We had many visits to other farms, pieces of lands and talks with farmers. Over the period of one and a half year, we learned that the following criteria are very important and all highly relevant to finding a location for a vegan organic farm:
- Long-term use of land via rent or purchase option. There are many plots of land available now and in the future for an affordable price to rent.
- High degree of support and acceptance of existing local farmers. Our landlord is interested in the scientific understanding of vegan farming. The existing fruit co-op had already planned to establish an outside Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and we just happened to come along – perfect match.
- Fertility of the land. Our farm has 25-38 points from 100 of fertility. That’s quite standard for Brandenburg and in general quite low, but still possible to grow good veggies. Cabbages are hard to grow, because they need very fertile land.
- Beautifully situated including surrounded by trees & forests, for example, and no overhanging power supply line, noisy street, dirty water etc. Members can have a lovely natural experience on the farm and are more likely to come by for a visit or help.
- Access to public transport. To reach our farm you can take the local Frankfurt (Oder) tram from the main station to the farm. From Berlin you can start your 1.5 hour journey twice per hour. That is a quite frequent and fast connection for Berlin to Brandenburg. Most villages with farming options are only able to be reached a few times per bus and take much longer, even if closer to Berlin
- Water supply through a well or pipeline – we are connected to the city provided water pipelines.
- Storage and cooling facilities – we are located next to a huge fruit cooperative that is supportive and grants us good conditions for storages, cooling facilities and machinery to borrow.
- Local infrastructure like supermarkets, apartments, hardware stores etc.
- A local market that would buy our products, not just bought by Berliners.
Were there any specific challenges in establishing a veganic farm?
Freddy: It was challenging to find acceptance from farmers we asked for land. They couldn’t understand our motives and were quite on the tense side, feeling attacked in their traditional views. For many organic farmers, they already live the ideal farming life – except they kill animals for food when it’s unnecessary. Even when we did not actively confront them with their farming technique, they felt threatened by us.
It is challenging to create a vegan organic fertility cycle. We cannot rely on cheap or free manure, but instead have to buy compost. We are still looking forward to create our own compost cycle.
It was and is our main goal and value to produce vegan organic food, because we are vegans. It was also one of our key advantages to be the first and only vegan organic farm in Berlin – a city that is viewed as the Western Capital of Vegans. We were sure to start this farm here. If not here, where then?
Did your team have farming experience (veganic or non-veganic) prior to establishing PlantAge?
Freddy: Unfortunately, none. It is quite hard to find people with the experience. However, elements of vegan farming are standard in every gardeners handbook, ie: mulching, undersown crops, mixed cultivation, rotating cultivation, etc.
Can you share more about your story and team? Who you are, where you all come from? What brought you to farming and specifically veganic farming?
Freddy: Judith and I are a couple of 5 years now. We enjoyed the vegan farming experiences at Daniel’s hof and also did many trips to Brandenburg, because we do not like the noise, pollution and overcrowding of Berlin. When we knew that farming was a passion of ours, we picked up a mini-job a Gemüse Ackerdemie, a non-profit that teaches children through practical gardens at their kindergartens and schools how to farm. We started as farming instructors while learning on the job ourselves. Being outdoors and planting living food was just so much more connective than working on a computer 9-5.
During Judith’s study program, she learned more about how intensive agriculture is affecting our environment. Pesticides and the overuse of manure is a serious threat to ecosystems and our drinking water. Germany is a rich country, so we can afford the cost to clean the water, but that is not how it should be and not a system that we personally want to support. But instead of pressuring farmers or politicians and waiting for them to act, we decided to take it in our own hands.
For me, it helped that my sister works at Gemüse Ackerdemie, my cousin studies agriculture and I know from my family stories, that my grandpa was working in a garden. My great grandma was like an expert and on the other side of my family my great grandparents all had their small self-sufficient gardens. To me, coming from the countryside, but not being connected to the land, I felt shameful and lacking the essential experience of life. I deeply wanted to know the techniques by which to grow a great variety of vegetables.
Are you actively involved in veganic farming networks locally, nationally or globally?
Freddy: I am personally a member of the vegan organic farming association– Biozyklisch-veganer Anbau. After a three day seminar on vegan organic farming I decided to join and support the association.
We also joined a vegan organic facebook group, which is quite active and resourceful. to exchange gardening tips, We also created our own group for vegan organic farming in Berlin, but that one is not as active yet.
What is your perception of veganic agriculture currently Germany? Europe? Globally?
Freddy: There are a few individuals like Ian Tolhurst in England or Margarethe Langerhorst in Austria who have farmed vegan and organically for a long time. Networks are just currently starting through the initiative of Axel Anders and Johannes Eisenbach.
99% of people do not know that vegan organic farming is a thing.
Quite many organic farms are vegan, but not by design, rather it just happened that they don’t have animals or use manure.
Small-scale farmers and self-sufficient home growers have always relied on plant matter for fertility. The concept of manure as fertility giver has come into prevalence through industrial livestock farming and resulting excess shit.
What is your perception of the future of veganic agriculture?
Freddy: It is the future. We are convinced it is the most resourceful of the resources like land, soil, water and space and thereby emitting the least amount of climate gases. We are also working on a system where agriculture becomes a climate gas absorber, not emitter.
If products were labeled vegan organic and consumers would know about it, I think they would prefer to buy them. They’d rather eat tomatoes that were plant-fed rather than feather, blood, horn or poo fed.
I think it’s both interesting and important for people to just see fruits and vegetables that were grown veganically- to learn that it is not only a possibility but a reality. Can you share more about your use of social media and the plantAge website to share what is going on at the farm?
Freddy: Since we are not farmers by formal education and have no recent farming tradition in our family, it was very important to transmit our message well. We understand ourselves as organizers of consumers who bring together enough consumers to start a farm, and employ professional farmers. A state-of-the art looking website, paired with clear communication about our goals is the first step for building trust in us and our care for detail and professionalism. Ultimately, we want customers to trust us and become owners of a farm by investing their money to a project that was not existing at the time.
Facebook is great for events and sharing of controversial articles, as well as pictures from the farm and the veggie box
Instagram is like our live-reality-tv-show where we post stories almost daily for people to see what is happening at the farm. We use it for educational purposes and to display the elements of farm life and work. Instagram stories make our project come alive wherever our customers are.
Can you share what you are growing in different seasons?
Freddy: We have planned each veggie box for the year. Generally we have more in the Summer and Autumn and less in Winter and Spring. We substitute veggies with stored fruits like apples in the winter, apple juice, regional hemp tee, flour and the like that we try to buy vegan organically sourced.
Can you share any resources (digital, books etc) for those interested in learning more about veganic farming and/or gardening? (German language resources too)
Freddy: Yes, our website https://www.plantage.farm/biovegan
- Ein auf dem Biocyclic Park in Kalamata gedrehtes Interview mit Johannes Eisenbach zum Thema „Was ist Humuserde?“
Our own survey
Umfrage im Juni / Juli 2019 zum Thema Pflanzenschutz
- Tierbefreiung (96): „Der erste Biozyklisch-Vegane Anbauverein im Gespräch“ und „Mögliche Organisationsstrukturen für die bio-vegane Landbaubewegung“
Can you explain and share more about your cooperative & veggie boxes?
Freddy: To receive a veggie box it is mandatory to become a member of the PlantAge co-op, whereby we ensure investment capital, but also a higher degree of identification with the project. As a member, one must sign at least one share of 150€, multiples of 150€ are possible. For covering basic expenses like the bi-anual mandatory coop-audit we charge a 25€ annual fee.
The veggie boxes are ordered in a subscription model with at least a one year term. This gives us planning security. The boxes cost 79€ per month and are delivered every week except for Christmas and New Years. We only deliver 46 boxes per member, to allow members to skip 4 deliveries, i.e. when they are on vacation.
We do not want to be a veggie box supplier, but create a community of empowered citizens who take farming matters into their own hands. The responsibility we want to portray is far beyond the payment in return for veggie boxes. It is the land, the farming techniques, the decision to use or not use certain pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that makes a difference. We want our members to be involved in these developments and decisions actively, by visiting the farm and constantly stating their opinion, but also through various surveys we distribute to find out about our members preferences. A passive involvement would be to just follow our Instagram stories.
We like the fact that we are very transparent, and that the farm is in the long-term not dependant on specific people, but that the people only fill specific roles. This makes co-ops the best choice for super long term oriented projects.
As a co-op, it is much easier to raise the capital for starting a project, because everyone not just gives their money, but receives real ownership instead. That is, they don’t enrich a farming couple, family or business, but themselves – and the environment.
Visit PlantAge online at https://www.plantage.farm/
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk