Idealists out in the field

The vegetable cooperative "Pura Verdura" runs one hectare of land on the outskirts of Zurich with the model of Solidarity Farming (Solawi). We visited Rahel Fuchs, gardener in the cooperative, to ask her how well the model works.

 

Visiting Rahel Fuchs, gardener at the “Pura Verdura” vegetable cooperative in Zurich.

By Florian Blumer, editor

There was a feeling of great euphoria. The initiators of the “Pura Verdura” vegetable cooperative had been in negotiations with the city of Zurich for two years. Then finally, at the end of 2019, they signed a contract for a plot of land. At the beginning of 2020, they started to labour a one-hectare field on the outskirts of the city.

“Finding land in urban areas is difficult”, explains Rahel Fuchs, 34, who is employed as a gardener at Pura Verdura four days a week. “And good land is much harder to come by!” she adds. It’s true: she had a nasty surprise early on, and it looked as if the project launched with such enthusiasm was about to fail even before it had really begun – but more about that later.

Much commitment required

Rahel Fuchs is a trained vegetable gardener, ethnologist and social worker. In her spare time she plays the accordion in a folk punk band. Her educational background gives her the ideal foundation for working on a solidarity-based agriculture project (see box), which is based on cooperation between the members of the cooperative.
She receives a salary that is barely enough to live on in Zurich – and yet she earns more than average compared to her colleagues.

The members of the cooperative also need to be extremely idealistic, as emphasised by the vegetable gardener: “They pay about the same amount here as they  would  to buy vegetables from the health food store, but they can’t choose the contents of their weekly delivery and have to work eight half days a year for it.”

Solidarity put to the test

She sees it as a privilege to stand out in the field with the people who buy the vegetables. She sometimes gets into “mild” debates – with vegans, for example, when she argues in favour of the use of fertilisers of animal origin. Or when she takes the stance that using organic plant protection products would make sense in exceptional cases.  But Rahel Fuchs feels certain that “These discussions are worthwhile. And raising awareness about what it means to produce food is working: people come along with lots of questions, and often seem impressed by the time they leave the field.
Soon after taking over the field, however, Rahel Fuchs had to announce a piece of bad news to the other cooperative members.

It turned out that about half the field was full of root weeds. She very nearly gave up. But the members of the cooperative offered her their support. Together they picked themselves up again and went to talk to the leaseholder. And with success: soon afterwards they were awarded a contract for a new piece of land. And the euphoria returned.