Our company, "Edelkäserei Kalteiche", is located in the middle of the Weißtal nature reserve, between Wilgersdorf and Rudersdorf on the edge of the Rothaar Mountains. Our village is located on the mountain "Kalteiche", which gave our farm its name. We keep East Frisian milk sheep here, as well as chickens in mobile chicken stalls. The farm's area is predominantly made up of extensive, biodiverse grassland. On the few areas of arable land, we grow grass-clover ley, maize, sunflowers and grain for the chickens. Despite the only ten-year-old building, numerous birds nest with us, such as house martins, barn swallows, nuthatches and wrens – this is something special, because these animals are becoming rarer and rarer to see and can often only be found in very old, inhabited barns, which are slowly disappearing.
There are many opportunities for going hiking from our farm. You can reach the Rothaarsteig directly, or hike in the Weißtal nature reserve along the Weiß river. Our lambs graze in the "Grube neue Hoffnung" nature reserve in summer and tend to the calcareous areas (nutrient-poor areas that are often low yield; agricultural cultivation is hardly worthwhile), where many orchids grow. The Siegerland is an agriculturally disadvantaged area and, with the exception of the last 3 years, is characterised by high annual rainfall and low temperatures. The competition for land here is comparatively low. It consists mostly of permanent grassland and suckler cow farms. We want to produce good regional food here and are one of only two cheese dairies in the entire district. We would also like to show that, even in such difficult areas, well-functioning and profitable agriculture is possible, and we want to encourage people!
At the moment, we are fully dedicated to our sheep and the cheese dairy: we have given our goat herd to the Mathildenhof farm. Here, our friend, gardener and farmer Bernd Uwe and his husband take care of the beautiful Anglo-Nubian goat herd and bring the milk to us twice a week for cheese making. The two of them also run the Mathildenhof as a Demeter farm.
Our farm was founded by me and my sister in 2007: we first started on a leased estate 30 km away and finally moved to our current farm in 2011. We bought the land at that time and started erecting buildings. Our farm was thus founded by us and does not have a long story to tell. We work in accordance with the Demeter and Biokreis guidelines (Biokreis is another private, German organic label) and farm in sustainable way, which means that we manage our extensive grassland in such a way that the natural flora is preserved. In some cases, we even have contractual agreements for nature conservation on our land. Out in the field, weed control is carried out exclusively by mechanical means, through combing and hoeing. Fortunately, it is not necessary to irrigate our land, and this would not be profitable either. We're keeping our fingers crossed that precipitation will not become even more irregular due to climate change! By planting fruit trees and hedges, and making use of the grassland late on, ground-nesting birds such as the meadow pipit are protected.
Energy is also always a big issue in the company. We have exclusively been using renewable energies for heating since the start of operations. The entire farm has a hot water network, which is fed by solar thermal energy, a heat pump and a log boiler. This also covers the pasteurisation of the milk and the cheese production. The wood comes from the farm, and we also plant around 120 poplars and other fast-growing wood for fuel every year. We also have a photovoltaic system with an electricity storage unit to cover our needs in terms of electrical energy. There are hardly any leftovers – they are composted or fed to the chickens. It is only for the whey where we are still looking for interesting solutions, because a lot of litres of it are amassed in the cheese dairy!
The farm is run by 5 people: my sister and her boyfriend, my wife and me, and Frederik. We also have 1–2 apprentices and interns, a worker from Wilgersdorf who helps out in the cheese dairy, and three salespeople, who work exclusively at the market in Bonn and Cologne and also live there. My wife, sister and I have been working together for 13 years, and Lars, Sarah's partner, has been with us for 4 years. Frederik has been strengthening our team for 1.5 years. He takes the load off me with the farming, so I can go to the markets. All trainees are paid according to collective wage agreements and also have the opportunity to live here on the farm and also to eat together with everyone in the community. We all have breakfast and lunch together. It is important to me to form a real community, and a "feeling of well-being for everyone" is a priority.