It’s time to get the organic delegation back on the road. In Munich we head out to the Ministry of Agriculture to meet government employees, farmers, certifiers and various trade associations focused on organic agriculture. I am about to get a taste of the culture of this ancient land and its deep correlation with food and “Agri-Culture”.
Bavaria is a large state nestled in southeastern Germany; it laps up against Liechtenstein, Austria and the Czech Republic. It is festively known for its Oktoberfest beer festival when the entire countryside celebrates the munificent harvest and of course bountiful beer. The country commands a mighty presence, if it were an independent state it would be one of the largest in the EU. Bavaria is the number one agricultural state in Germany, one out of seven jobs here is related to agriculture, and it is dominated by thousands of small farms. Sixty percent of the population lives a rural life steeped in centuries of agrarian tradition and culture.
Organic farming is an important part of the local “Agri-Culture” and many of Bavaria’s natives are acutely aware of the great potential it brings. With 7300 organic farms spread across its lush verdant landscape, they comprise one third of all organic production sprouting out of Germany. From dairy, pork, cereal, hops and beer, organic farming is clearly a focus for the region.
By using organic methods Bavaria strives to preserve the landscape and time honored traditions. This state has adopted a five pillared approach to foster the growth of organic through training, research and marketing. Young and seasoned farmers are taught organic farm methods and given copious consultation during transition. Bavaria is strongly invested in research for organic technologies, while promoting products to support a flourishing market.
Bavaria’s efforts sound much like what GroOrganic Check-Off is doing in the US. The German government subsidizes organic where the US must, as a community, fund these initiatives if we are ever going to grow beyond 1% of agriculture.
As the meeting ends we are invited to the Canteen where hundreds of government workers gather together for a hearty lunch. Simple Bavarian faire is served cafeteria style and the comradery is palpable. They even serve organic pasta and wine! Good food intermingles with work, friends and very fiber of society. Food isn’t just sustenance, but a sort of spiritual tradition that evokes ancestral flavors since time out of mind. These people want to maintain their delicious custom and nurture it through the ages. Organic has a part in this folkloric play.
With that sentiment we say our goodbyes and we are off to the third city in three days. It’s a whirlwind of dignitaries, farmers, ministers and ambassadors. I board a train in Munchen and head east towards Vienna. Next stop the US ambassador’s residence in the crown jewel of Austria.
The train gently sways and weaves as fertile fields slip by. I see no mono culture here only modest plots of corn and hops, timothy, alfalfa, and rye. Dairy farms, porcine production, cereals, and forestry all grow in seductive plots cultivated with the curvature of the streams, rivers and alluvial mounds. An ancient church steeple punctuates the sky. The Alps rise out of the mist, their rugged peaks obscured as they push through clouds. Life here is pastoral and prodigious.
We arrive in Vienna and I am utterly undone with the magnificent surrounding beauty. This is a place where artists and musicians have gone mad with creativity. From Mozart, Strauss, Klimt, Freud, the Venus de Willendorf, baroque fountains and colonnades bursting with mythological creatures, Vienna is a riot of art and human creativity. From the ancient prehistoric tribes that once flourished along the Danube River, art, food and agriculture intertwine to the present.
I have a formal invitation to speak at the residence of the Ambassador to the United States, Alexa Wesner. When I first arrive at her palatial home it creates an indescribable commotion in me. The stately habitation is filled with the spirit of past Presidents and Prime Ministers; I take a moment and sit on the very sofa where JFK and Khrushchev once deliberated conflict and concord.
I learn much about Austria’s food culture from my co-speaker Professor Dr. Rainer Haas. He explains in the 1980’s organic was hard to find Austria. Now organic represents 19% of food and shelves are bursting with organic products. Foods such as bread, milk, eggs, veggies, potatoes, yogurt, and fruit in that order represent the top organic products.
I was curious that bread was the leading item and soon learned that Austria has over 200 delicious options. In this land nestled against the Alps, alpine sweet butter is spread lavishly on sourdough rye, multigrain, imperial rolls, Kaiser Rolls, Gipfel, and brioche to name just a few. It’s a crusty fermented carnival rising to new peaks.
Professor Haas’ last statement produced a jeweled constellation of insight; the Austrians and Germans are defined by their food, it’s almost like a religion. They are obsessed with the different regions and culinary traditions are a very large part of their collective cultural heritage. They value food in a way that many in the US do not. They are willing to pay more for food that is delicious, pay farmers well, treat animals humanely and nurture the environment. Organic delivers in all those areas.
It’s no surprise that Rudolph Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture, was born and lived here in Austria. Of this man’s many works biodynamic farming was one of the first forms of organic Ag to contribute significantly to the development of modern organic farming.
I have come home to the birthplace of organic and now understand fully what “Agri-Culture” really means.