Our farm has a long history. I run it in the fifth generation and that is only what I know for sure. But my ancestors probably ran the farm as a farm even beyond that. So I was born into a real farming family. For me it was already clear as a child: I want to continue our farm!
Our farm is idyllically situated in Rabenstein, a village of 30 souls, in the middle of nature. We are surrounded by meadows, fields and forests. Geographically, we are located on the edge of the Vogelsberg, a cultural landscape in eastern Hessen that has been shaped by agriculture for centuries. There are still some full-time farmers here, like us, as well as many part-time and hobby farmers. The climate is somewhat harsher here with us, which means that we have a shorter growing season and the yield is somewhat lower.
Since 2019 we have been farming our fields according to the strict Bioland guidelines, these go beyond the EU organic regulations. For me, organic certification was a matter of the heart. I was lucky enough to spend an apprenticeship year on a Bioland farm. The way of working and the perspective of organic farming fascinated me immediately. From then on, I knew that I would also like to run our farm according to Bioland guidelines one day. My parents supported me directly and together we were able to manage the conversion from conventional to organic farming. This means, for example, that we don’t use synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides. Instead, we remove weeds mechanically with a potato chipper. This travels alongside the potato plant and loosens the soil. In this way, weeds are buried and their growth inhibited. We also don’t use artificial irrigation; our potatoes have to make do with natural rainfall.
Organic farming also provides a habitat for a large number of beneficial insects. For example, we plant flowering strips and so-called lark windows. Lark windows are deliberately created missing areas on agricultural land. Here, nothing is planted on approx. 20m². The resulting open space in the middle of a field is colonized by wild herbs such as corn poppy or field larkspur. Lark windows provide breeding as well as foraging habitat for skylarks.
We also try to provide a habitat for endangered species on the farm itself. We have set up various insect hotels, a hedgehog refuge, a swift box, and a shelter for dwarf bats on our farm. We have also been recognized as a Swallow Friendly Farm by the German Nature Conservancy.
We are broadly positioned. We have a total of about 150 cattle on our farm, of which 65 are dairy cows. The rest are calves and young cattle. We also have two mobile chicken coops with a total of 500 chickens. In each barn live a flock of chickens with their rooster. The chickens have the possibility to go out to the meadow all year round. By regularly moving the coops, the chickens always have fresh grass between their beaks.
We grow the feed for our animals almost exclusively ourselves. The cows need high-quality protein-rich feed, and legumes, which include peas and beans, are particularly suitable for this. Unfortunately, we do not have enough land to cover all of our legume needs. However, we are fortunate to be able to purchase the remaining amount from other farmers within a 10 km radius.
An important aspect of our arable work is a coordinated crop rotation. This serves to maintain and improve soil fertility. Before we plant potatoes in a field, the soil must be prepared for the following crop in the previous year. For this reason, we planted peas in the previous year, for example. Peas naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen. The potatoes need this to grow and can feed off the nitrogen through the coordinated crop rotation.
Throughout the year, I share the work on the farm with my father Winfried, my mother Corina and my sister Teresa. Every helping hand is needed for the harvest, so we round up family and friends. Everyone is paid fairly and, if not permanently employed, is on a mini-job for the duration of the harvest. Harvesting potatoes means a lot of manual labor. The harvester takes the potatoes out of the ground mechanically, then they have to be sorted by hand and clods of soil and stones removed.
We give away sorted potatoes, which have bruises or have been damaged by the harvester, to friends and acquaintances. If there are any potatoes leftover, we feed them to our cows, which eagerly eat them. The dry potato haulm remains on the field and serves as fertilizer for the next crop in the following year.