“Everything is huge here”
What did Kenyan organic farmer Margaret Karanja discover when she visited a biodynamic farm in Switzerland? We accompanied Margaret on a tour of the organic operations run by the Fintan Foundation in Rheinau.
By Anna Steindl, Biovision
Warmly wrapped against the cold of a November morning, we turned up at Klosterplatz in Rheinau to meet Martin Graf. The former Zurich justice director and agronomist is now an independent adviser for the Fintan Foundation and works closely with Martin Ott, the joint founder of Fintan. Fluent in Swahili, Graf welcomes Margaret and the Biovision delegation in her mother tongue. In the 1980s, he spent four years in Tanzania and is still involved in a maize cultivation project in the country. Today, however, he is here to accompany Margaret and answer her questions.
Professional seed production
First off is Noémi Uehlinger, a seed production expert from Sativa who shows Margaret the open fields used for seed production. She also shows Margaret how the containers are filled with seeds as well as the packaging and cleaning units. Margaret wants to know everything and asks heaps of questions: “Why when it is so icy cold do you leave some cabbages in the ground? How do you ensure that the plants survive the winter and form seeds for next year? What happens to the seeds after the harvest”? The professional method of seed production used here is something quite new for Margaret.
First-hand encounter with bio-dynamic farming.
Our next stop is a field of winter wheat being grown at the bio-dynamic school in Rheinau where we join pupils and their teacher for a practical lesson.
Tour of Gut Rheinau GmbH
Markus Gödel guides us through the vineyard terraces of Gut Rheinau where Fintan offers sheltered employment for people with a disability. “The work has become easier since we created the terraces back in 2000,” explains Markus Gödel. Every year, the vineyard produces some 25,000 bottles of organic white and red wine. Margaret is fascinated and imagines herself completing a practical course in vine growing at Gut Rheinau next year. She wants to learn everything about viticulture.
Gut Rheinau is a diverse, bio-dynamic farm with a splendid location on a bend of the River Rhine. Margaret learns from one of its staff, Moritz Ehrismann that the farms cultivates 60 different vegetables outdoors, keeps cows and goats, grow cereals and produces fruit and honey. The cows spend the summer on upland pasture in Simmental where their milk is made into fine cheese and butter.
At the end of the tour, Margaret is full of enthusiasm. “I still have so much to learn. The day has given me an opportunity to learn many valuable things about organic farming and seed production,” says the Kenyan with a broad smile. As they say their goodbyes, Martin Graf assures her that the Sativa seed given as a present can be sown in her garden. We are looking forward to the photos and plant stories from Margaret Karanja‘s organic garden.