Ge(meinsam) la(ndwirtschaften) Ochsenherz “ means "farming together Oxheart" and is the name of a CSA farm in Gänserndorf close to Vienna. The oldest CSA in Austria, it has been running since 2010 and has about 300 members. The CSA was established to save a Demeter farm that produces vegetables, fruit and open-pollinating seeds.
"Invest in fertile land in the vicinity of cities" - just a few years ago this was the proposition an investment advisor gave at a gathering of wealthy people inquiring about safe investments in Austria. The geLa Ochsenherz project is built on land that matches these precise criteria - 8 hectares of leased land with most of the farming infrastructure (polytunnels etc) built on it.
Soon a new life-threatening problem for the farm emerged. Public authorities announced the project to build a highway near the farm. This is very attractive for people aiming to live in the countryside with a short car-ride away from work in Vienna. For farming this poses a problem. Acquisition of farmland for building the highway, changing the zoning designation of farmland to construction land, selling the land newly designated for construction to buy more farmland - all of this is driving up prices of arable land.
The change of designation of agricultural land has led to the cancellation of the lease of parts of the Ochsenherz farmland. This puts the whole CSA project in a critical situation: shifting the land and infrastructure required for farming is not easy and costs money. Eventually, new land (about 2.7 hectares) became available nearby, although at significantly higher prices. Moving and rebuilding the polytunnels and the core infrastructure - new containers for the office, sanitary and work spaces, access to the sewers and electricity - cost more than €150,000.
A budget and transition plan were presented, discussed and agreed at the annual gathering of the CSA. It was then implemented by the farm workers and volunteer work of the members of the CSA.
CSA members provided the funding needed for moving site. About 5% of the €150,.000 came from donations, another part was lent to the farm by the CSA members, while the biggest part came from advance CSA membership payments for future years. None of these payments included interest rates and apart from the donations, it will all be paid back over the next few years in the form of either cash or vegetables.
This successful effort to secure the farm’s operation also brought a new dynamic into discussing the foundation of the farm itself – the ownership. The farm, as well as everything that is being spent and built, is the result of the people working on the farm as well as CSA members providing the necessary means and funds. Yet from a legal perspective, all of it is the property of the farm’s owner. What happens if he were no longer able to work on the farm or died, and his heirs subsequently wanted to sell it for a profit?
As a result of these considerations, the group opted to secure the farm for solidarity-based farming. The infrastructure and the land on which it stands will be transferred into a foundation (which has yet to be created) devoted to securing assets for solidarity-based farming. In order to protect the assets of the foundation from privatization and speculation, the mission of the foundation cannot be changed. The larger part of the owned land is still the property of the farmer, who on the one hand needs some income from the land, but on the other also wants to ensure that it is secured for the purpose of solidarity farming. The Ochsenherz community is now working on this.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Farm workers and volunteers from around 300 CSA members.