Our Bioland family-owned business is located in northern Germany, on Lüneburg Heath, between Hamburg and Hanover. The new part of our farm is located on a small elevation on the outskirts of Rieste, a small district of Bienenbüttel and offers a wide view over our fields. We still live on my grandfather’s old farm, a few kilometres away, in the middle of the village – a beautiful place, but our warehouses, machines and fields are now in Rieste. Here, we have a quiet and relaxing place to work, where we also like to enjoy our lunch breaks outside, sitting on our benches. And when we're not working on the farm, we like to set off for a walk through the surrounding heathland. Our local recreation area with small streams and a lot of space.
The Strampe family has been living on Lüneburg Heath since 1755. We are already in the 5th generation of a farming family. My grandparents used to grow grain here and, typically for our region, sugar beet and potatoes. There also used to be a herd of dairy cows on the farm. After subsequently relinquishing our grandparents’ business, the opportunity arose in 2002 to acquire a farm in Rieste and to continue the tradition. As a trained farmer, my father took great pleasure in bringing agriculture back into the family and, after his long-term office job, working with nature and in the fresh air again. We started growing grain and various crops again. After I finished my agricultural studies, I came back home and, together with my parents, converted the entire business to ecological farming in 2017. Since then, I have been running the business. My goal is forward-thinking, sustainable management and growing and harvesting special organic products.
In addition to sweet potatoes, our organic cultivation now also includes pumpkin, hemp, peas, field beans, grass clover and various types of grain. Because of the various cultivations, we have a balanced rotation of humus-increasing and humus-consuming crops. The grass clover is used to fully regenerate the area and always comes at the end of the crop rotation. As a legume, the clover stores atmospheric nitrogen with its small white nodules in the soil and in the plant, thereby storing many nutrients when growing. At the same time, we can harvest the grass clover growth several times a year and spread it on our other fields as green waste compost for fertilisation. In this way we produce our own fertiliser and maintain the fertility of our fields.
In order to get weeds under control, we drive between the sown rows with a harrow and hoe to dislodge the small weeds or separate larger weeds from the ground. If a few weeds make it to harvest, then that's the way it is and they can be left next to the main crop.
We love the diversity in our fields. That is why we also try to sow two crops in one field at the same time, let them grow and then later harvest them together. The best example of this is our winter pea and winter barley mix: In autumn the grains are mixed together and sown. There is no cultivation of the fields when the crops are growing. This way, we create a retreat for small game such as hares, pheasants and deer. So rabbits and hedgehogs literally say “good night” to each other! Peas and barley grow together so quickly and widely that they naturally shade all other plants, thereby keeping them small. The soil is then finely rooted and offers ideal conditions for the next crop, often our sweet potatoes.
The sweet potato, also called batata, belongs to the bindweed family and is more of a tropical plant. Even if its name may remind you of it, it is not at all related to the potato. Fortunately, the sweet potato is happy with just a little water. Most of the time, we water the young plants straight after they have been planted with our own 60 m-deep well water, and again later when the plants begin to store nutrients in their roots. Even during the droughts of 2018 and 2019, we never used more than 80 l/m² of additional water. With an average annual precipitation of 690 l/year, this is remarkably little. The sweet potato plants cope very well with the new conditions caused by climate change and enable us to continue harvesting vegetables that are atypical for our region.
Still, growing sweet potatoes is a challenge. Sweet potatoes are extremely sensitive at harvest time. The skin is very sensitive when harvested and, unfortunately, quickly peels away. Every open area on a sweet potato is a possible entry point for diseases and water can escape from the tuber faster. As far as possible, our aim is to harvest the tubers with no damage. Therefore, a lot of skill and manual work is required. Although we have a harvesting machine that we devised ourselves, it only travels 1 km/h while the tubers are sorted by hand.
We also check our sweet potatoes carefully when packing them for the CrowdFarming parcels. Every sweet potato passes through our hands. For you, we only select tubers with corked wounds or, if possible, those with no damage. This leaves us with a small amount of rejected goods, which, however, are far from being thrown away. We don't just throw things in the bin because of a few unsightly spots, or tubers that have not grown the right way. We then try to peel this product thoroughly and use it in other products – for example in our delicious sweet potato soup.
Two permanent employees work on our farm and are responsible for all the work in the fields. I am the Operations Manager and take on the planning and organisation. As a counterbalance to office work, I like to be out and about in our fields, I love driving tractors and supporting my employees with their work in the fields. My wife Anna is responsible for marketing of the sweet potatoes.
At the end of the harvest, we often arrange a day trip or go out for a meal, so that we can sit at a table together again in peace after a stressful harvest time. In addition, we are always delighted to prepare the first freshly-harvested sweet potatoes together and enjoy them with the family.