Stadt Land Food: Interview with Jochen Fritz

Jochen Fritz at Markthalle Neun

Are you excited for Stadt Land Food? As excited as we are? What are you most looking forward to? Malin Elmid presenting her book on the art of bread? Boris’ local and seasonal vegan and raw supper club? Cathrin Brandes’ fermentation workshop at Culinary Misfits? The craft beer tasting by the Berlin Beer Academy? Or the workshop by the super famous and very important Nordic Food Lab?
However, forming the background is the serious concern for contemporary agriculture that will be addressed in a congress meeting organized by “Meine Landwirtschaft” (My agriculture). I met the campaign leader Jochen Fritz to find out what we’ll learn…

So you were announced as the leader of the farmers…
Some call me that, I am actually the official head of the „Meine Landwirtschaft“ campaign. I’ve been a consultant for organic farming in Baden-Würtemberg for many years when someone told me about a huge demonstration against industrial agriculture in Berlin in the time of the Grüne Woche. They needed people to help so we went to Berlin and started with the first Wir haben es satt protest, where thousands of people gather to march against industrial food production. Each year, dozens of farmers get on their tractors and come to Berlin to protest.
And I actually don’t only represent the farmers in this organization, there’s a huge variety, from animal rights activists, environmentalists, vegans, dairy farmers and so on. It’s essential that we try to understand all their needs, otherwise it’d feel like herding cats. We need those motivated farmers who get on their tractor and come to Berlin in January.

Why are they coming to Berlin? What’s their goal?
Farmers today are under huge pressure, facing existential questions whether they can keep on doing what they’re doing, whether their often smaller, more rural concepts that are closer to the customer can be established. It’s always either grow or shut down. They don’t necessarily operate their farms according to their ideals, but because they’ve got to work with constraints.

What kind of constraints?
If you’ve invested in a dairy farm, you need to hold that business for at least 20 years to pay back your loans, so you’re actually tied to producing milk. It’s not a system you can leave tomorrow and it’s not like you can turn your farm into an organic one over night. The adjustment period takes about two years where you’ll have to deal with a lower income.

Now you’re organizing a congress for Stadt Land Food, what’s that about?
There’s a huge variety of what people expect from us, that’s why we decided to enable a discussion at the congress. We’ll start with a presentation of opinions, highlights so to say, in Markthalle Neun – four people will explain their point of view of the future of agriculture. Two from the agricultural industrial association and two representatives of rural farming: Georg Jansen and Rudolf Bühler of the rural farmers association. We wanna know where agriculture could go in the future. And on the second day we’ll hold 18 workshops, where everyone can join the discussion. The topics will be varied, from cheese and jam making to theoretical discussions about food sovereignty or the project 2000qm2.

What’s your goal?
The congress is supposed to connect the city and the countryside. We want to set an example that shows there’s an alternative to industrial food production, an alternativ that is succesfully growing and increasingly important. We want farmers and consumers to come in contact, to talk with each other: the farmers know that progress is only possible in collaboration with consumers, who also need to understand the existential problems farmers are facing.

Where lie the problems between city and country?
It’s obviously wanted that the consumer doesn’t learn much about the products the industry offers. Only few people know where their meat was butchered, where the animal was actually raised. The same goes for bakeries. The connection of product and source is oftentimes lost. This system is designed like this in order to produce and trade food gloablly, at the cost of its appreciation, its meaning. Luckily, there are a lot of people who work on re-establishing this appreciation.

In Berlin we’re seeing the growth of a new foodie-scene, where people spend considerably more money on food. However, this is in general a quite elitist movement for people with money. What are you doing to include those who deal with financial restrictions?
It’s definitely a question for us. We’ve got a very exciting partner, an initiative for the unemployed from Oldenburg, who understand that with supporting discounter-prices, they’re supporting a global industrial system that’s only creating more unemployment. And we’ll be talking about community supported agriculture, where you’re paying a yearly fee and receive a share of the harvest.

Do you also tackle the question of not only where the products come from, but what we eat, asking things like why do we consider bananas a staple food, or how much meat do we need?
Meat is an important topic, for sure. We will have a discussion about the question whether to be vegan or eat organic meat. It is important to educate people that we’re eating too much meat. We invited the development aid organisation “Brot für die Welt” to discuss how meat production destroys farms, forests, people, world wide, only so we can have meat that is so cheap, it doesn’t matter if it goes to the trash or is eaten.

Will there be events held in English?
We have many international guests who will present their thoughts in English, we invited farmers from China, Guatemala and Romania, who will tell us what farming means to them. “Meine Landwirtschaft” is part of a global movement, the international alliance is called Arc2020.

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