The German CSA GartenCoop was founded in 2009 and is seen as one of the most inspiring SoLaWi’s (abbreviation of the German term for CSA - solidarische Landwirtschaft) in Germany.
Currently over 300 prosumers are members of GartenCoop which is well known for its innovative logistic concept and a great variety of plants cultivated (100% from open pollinating seeds).
The diverse members of Gartencoop are at the heart of the initiative. Their contribution was crucial for the start of the Gartencoop and is still important for the development of the project. Members contribute not only monetarily (about €1000per year and a one-off mandatory private loan of €400 permember on joining) but also by participating in farming (a minimum of four times a year) and in the distribution of the food. In return, the members receive the shared total harvest every week and thus contribute to the implementation of the concept of food sovereignty. Furthermore, they are involved in all major decisions that are taken by consensus. The eight farmers that are employed by the CSA are assigned by the members to develop the crop plan and do the farming as well as carrying out some educational work.
When a group of prosumers and young farmers started up the initiative in 2009 after visiting the “Jardins des Cocagne” in Switzerland, they soon experienced difficulties in finding land. As the concept of CSA was not well known then, many landowners did not understand their ideas. There are also legal limitations in Germany for persons or institutions without agricultural status for buying or leasing agricultural land. This limitation aims to protect farmers from organisations interested in speculation. Nevertheless it poses a problem for initiatives like GartenCoop who do not want their land to be owned by an individual person as this would create dependence and hierarchies. The objective is the communal ownership of the land.
Furthermore, due to urban sprawl, land concentration and areas designated for nature protection as well as due to flooding, it was not easy to find land close to the city. Land in the region around Freiburg is largely used for growing corn, grains, asparagus and strawberries as well as for wine. Land prices have increased in the last 10 years (€17.500/ha on average in 2014) and often land is not sold on the open market: sales tend to be pre-arranged and the land is often bought by established farmers who want to expand.
All this meant that GartenCoop had to search for almost one year before finding 7-8 ha of land but it is land not within easy reach of the city. Infrastructure and inventory (e.g. machines) was partly in place and could be improved over time thanks to the capital provided by the members. To avoid legal issues, the lease was officially in the name of one of the young farmers who acted as a single entrepreneur. The lease is for 15 years and quite secure. GaartenCoop has now adopted the form of an Association with limited liabilities (GmbH), which holds a lease until 2029.
When the contract was signed, the initiative included 50 members. GartenCoop could easily feed 300 people with 7-8 ha. Nowadays GartenCoop has a little over 10 ha. The additional area was given by the municipality, who occasionally rents it out to local farmers.
It is challenging for a new CSA initiative to find enough people to invest, many prefer to join a project when it is up and running. GartenCoop eventually attracted many people and became well-known, inspiring people across Germany and Europe.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Over 10 hectares
CSA members and farm employees