Just arrived in Germany, back to making cheese, a year after I left this farm to go herding in the Norwegian mountains. This is an established biodynamic farm, started during the 1990’s by two families. It has grown enormously since its early days into a community supported agriculture business serving the Hamburg region. It has also changed dramatically in leadership; the two families are ‘divorced’ but still feuding, while other families have joined the remaining original partner. Besides the different families, a fair number of employees, interns, and volunteers are working here in changing composition, which makes the dynamics interesting. I am returning to a place that is different, but in many ways the same and that is challenging.  

What I learned over my years of rural residence is how much the human factor matters, is however mostly overlooked in economics.  Frustration and inefficiency result when people have ever so slightly diverging interests, let alone when short and long-term goals are diametrically opposed, which is what happened on this farm. Even though these are all experienced farmers, one wants to grow bigger, the other wished to stay small. Bigger it is, but not without roadblocks. Balancing the books of course, of producing sufficiently to serve all its members, is an economic challenge, but then there is the question of how to retain and keep you workers happy, or at least satisfied during this process. A solution that was found was to organize the decision making processes according to a  specific form of democracy, called sociocracy.  Within this form of management, all members have a say, it is not a democracy per se because it is not governed by majority vote, rather it operates by consent, where in principle no decision can be reached if one of its members brings up justified objections. 

I have only just arrived, and due to the current health crisis, I am still isolated, but I have already heard a number of critical voices from different directions. It is going to be an interesting second ride.

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