Not just anyone can acquire a Demeter certificate. There are stringent requirements to fulfil, and you have to be a dedicated organic farmer to have your produce further processed exclusively by Demeter-certified companies. One of these rare Demeter farms is situated in the village of Buch.
The three-generation farm was reorganised by the current owners’ parents back in 1989, changing over to organic-natural production methods. Daniela and Anton Kohler took over the running of the farm in 2006 and had it certified in line with the Demeter requirements. However, it is of considerably greater importance to hone your own awareness for a natural cycle and to farm in harmony with the plants, emphasises the head of 11 hectares of grassland and 15 hectares of forest. “Diversity is important to me, including when it comes to my own needs,” she says, since the main revenue at Kohler organic farm isn’t made in the farm shop or come from the takings at the farmers’ market in Bregenz – instead, it is in its widely-practised self-subsistence farming methods. “We eat the highest-quality food, which we grow ourselves. I am not prepared to make any compromises in that respect.”
Autonomous – from the vegetables through to the furniture
At most, they have to buy in cereal, butter and oils. The five mother cows are allowed to suckle their calves until they have grown up naturally in accordance with the natural life cycle of cows. Even the furniture is made from their own wood by farmer and qualified carpenter Anton. The five chickens enjoy a good life on this farm, as do the ducks – whose honourable task it is to carry out the natural reduction of the snail population. Now, however, the family has reached a point where they have to decide whether they really need the Demeter certificate, since the closest Demeter butcher is some distance away, and a juice factory for processing the juice from the farm’s 60 fruit trees, including standard trees, which complies with the conditions is also hard to find. The problem is that the regional juice factories also press conventional fruit from other farms, and this fact alone would be enough to deny the Kohler family the Demeter seal for this product. “Plus, our customers have known us for years, and know that our farming practices follow strict organic criteria,” says Daniela Kohler.
Wwoofer guests and other eccentrics
Of course, this holistic way of thinking doesn’t come to a halt at the garden fence – and so it is hardly surprising that the family was already part of the Vorarlberg exchange group in 1996, i.e. right at its launch. Back then, it was a group of like-minded people who, in the form of bartering, operated a kind of alternative economic system. From these rude beginnings, a successful company has grown, with numerous alternative economic models which give the region a boost. It is Daniela Kohler’s wish to intensify this way of thinking in her village too – there are many jobs which can be done easier and cheaper if done together. “It is time to pull together,” says the dedicated mother of three. “One simple list of all the products from Buch alone would serve networking purposes, since I am not familiar with all the products I could buy from farm shops in Buch. And not everyone is familiar with our products.” The next generation has also long since been fully integrated in farming. The youngest, Angelina, mainly takes care of the herb harvest and the Wwoofer guests (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who regularly work here in exchange for bed and board. As a Wwoofer manager, she is used to dealing with all types of mentality, and she gets the chance to practice her language skills. More than anything, however, she knows precisely which jobs to allocate when, and which of the new guest farmhand will be able to cope with them. The two sons Wolfgang and Thomas are currently concentrating on their apprenticeships but still help out wherever necessary. “We used to hold herb tours and talks, but now we are cutting back on things like that. We don’t need that much, and more than anything else I sometimes just need peace and quiet, and time to keep an eye on the ball.” These are the words of someone who has learned from Mother Nature to communicate with the plants and to give thanks to the spirits of nature for the harvest.
Vorarlberg talents and the alternative economy
You reap what you sow. That’s how nature works – as does the idea of Vorarlberg talents which developed as part of the earlier exchange group. They are accepted as payment at the market stall as well as at the Kohlers’ farm shop. Their experience with this currency clearly demonstrates the long battle faced by the establishment of an alternative monetised economy before it reaches the critical majority – and then it really takes off. Anyone who regularly earns talents yet cannot spend them has a problem. Any self-employed worker with fixed costs payable in Euro won’t survive long on talents alone. However, the talents are asserting themselves; slowly but surely their circulation is increasing, with a growing number of companies starting to accept them, and at some point the network will become so interwoven that it will be possible to spend them everywhere. Once the cycle is up and running, people soon pick up on their advantages, one of which is the interest-free talent loan. Anyone offering their “talents” on the market also earns them – by selling goods or services which, irrespective of the nature of such goods or services, are remunerated at the rate of 100 talents per hour.
The basic idea is that an hour’s cleaning is just as valuable as an hour’s work put in by a lawyer. The talents have attained impressive turnover figures in Vorarlberg, with around €3 million per year changing hands. It is one of Europe’s most successful alternative cash flows, and has many followers well beyond the state borders. The “Langenegger” village currency has successfully established itself, for instance. You can only spend it in the village of the same name – Langenegg – which keeps the purchasing power in the village, strengthening the local economy. This results in increased quality of life since it enables the small, local providers to earn a living, which in turn means that older villagers can go shopping on their own and maintain their independence for longer, which is a proven important factor behind a love of life.
Keeping an eye on the ball
At Kohler organic farm, they are convinced of the necessity of such systems, since they strengthen the regional structures. The main topic for 2015 at Vorarlberg talents was the provision of a time model, the likes of which represent an important basis for the care of the elderly in Japan, for instance. Anyone who invests in the care of family members or neighbours in younger years has the hours credited to a time account. In their old age, the holders of the credit accounts can cash in their hours for services rendered by the next generation. Daniela Kohler spent many years as the contact point for the region of Bregenz, since she is familiar with the advantages and obstacles of such a project. However, there are other areas requiring attention in a society which is increasingly moving away from a state of peace and quiet and keeping its eye on the ball. Since she keeps her eye on the ball, Mrs Kohler attaches great importance to the preservation of old types of vegetable and breeds of animal. They are often more robust and less susceptible to disease, yet they are threatened with extinction. It is lovely that the Kohler family prefers to harvest its own natural honey and work its own wood, whilst others fly to the other end of the world to recover from work-related stress.