I am now a fourth-generation farmer in my family. Taking over the farming has always been my dream. Even back when I was a child, every day brought a new experience. The variety that comes with working on the farm fascinates me to this day.
My family has been farming since my great-great-grandfather's generation. In 1939, my great-grandfather bought an old stone mill. Grain was already being ground there, and there was a farm on the land. We began farming on our current farmland from that time on, which is when the name Steinmühlhof (stone mill farm) came into being.
The farmstead is located in the middle of the old town of Münnerstadt, a rural community in Lower Franconia on the edge of the Rhön Mountains. The surrounding area and our land are rather small in terms of structure, intersected here and there by small valleys and slopes. Dry and neglected grasslands have become features of this land.
These conditions, the rather low-yield, shell limestone soils, and the low rainfall do not always make farming easy. This often only allows for extensive farming. However, that is probably also what makes the everyday work so appealing. There isn't a drive for constant growth, which is only about chasing after ever-increasing profit. That was one of the reasons why we converted our farm to an organic farming operation 30 years ago. A type of cultivation that is more sustainable for us, along with the associated nature and species protection this involves, were also decisive reasons for us to take that route. That is how we intend to continue into the future.
For us, that means that we do without synthetic fertilisers and chemical crop protection. Bothersome weeds are removed mechanically instead, for example. We also don't have to irrigate, because the rhubarb gets by with rainwater.
On our fields, we only produce food and animal feed for other organic farms. For example, we grow grain for various mills or legumes such as peas, field beans and clover for animal feed. Crop rotation is crucial in this regard – for soil fertility and nutrient management. That is how we make targeted use of legumes to supply our soils with nitrogen, which is then available for subsequent crops. In between, the cultivation of catch crops ensures healthy soil life and establishes the presence of nutrients. It also forms a valuable habitat for beneficial insects.
My father and I share the work during the year. We are able to take turns doing all the current year's work, and we help each other. Many friends and acquaintances from the area come by to harvest our rhubarb. They help us to efficiently get everything done. I attach great importance to the fact that my team does not perform this service as a favour. They are employed and paid on a short-term basis.
The biggest job when it comes to rhubarb is harvesting it. The ripe and intact stalks are pulled out, the leaves are cut off, and then they are transported away in a box. The remaining stalks go to the juice-making facility, or we process them. The large rhubarb leaves are left in the field. They rot on the spot and are thus returned to the soil. The rhubarb then goes directly from the field into the harvest boxes. This work is managed by me and my girlfriend Linda, who helps me with design and packaging.