I am here, I am not here. My body is in northern Germany, may mind wanders from here to other places, primarily back to New Mexico where currently colonial heroes are taken down from their pedestal. I am trying to grasp whether these symbolic acts can lead to meaningful changes in our societies, history rewritten, again. Especially, what has anything I am doing right now to do with my long-term interest in indigenous rights and traditional knowledge. 

It is a constant zooming in and out and focusing on the task at hand. I know, I am involved in making cheese, a relatively straightforward process, that has been done by humans for over 7000 years. What is its relationship to the land within which I reside. 

Going back in time long enough it is clear that pastoralism has been here since the Early Neolithic, with some evidence and prediction of milk processing in northern Europe staring between 6000 and 4000 years ago. Analysis of prehistoric ceramic sieves and changes in animal teeth from that time has led to that conclusion, although the exact starting date is still debated. 

Sure enough, dairy cattle has roamed this region for millennia. 

Northern Germany, bordering Denmark, located between the North and Baltic Sea, between the rivers Elbe and Elder, this region is characterized by shifting borders between Denmark and Germany: welcome to Schleswig-Holstein. From a landscape perspective it is roughly divided into three vertical strips: the Geest, sandy plains, in the middle, bordered on the east by Marshland and on the west by Hügelland. The Geest is where I am,  is where the dominant part of the landscape is traditionally made up of moors, heaths and other land for grazing.

The tradition of dairy farm in northern Europe is thus a long one, but in early modern Schleswig-Holstein a new form of dairy farming developed, called Koppelwirtschaft. It is at the same time innovative in technical modernization while being ‘stuck’ in feudal work organization. Apparently, dramatic contrasts in the social organization of rural society developed with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. 

Wheat is wheat, or so it goes, and considered a simple form of production. Dairy farming and production on the other hand, the hallmark of Schleswig-Holstein, is considered a sophisticated form, a transition that is often  associated with a change from serfdom to paid labor. Gutsherrschaft, is the word for feudal work organization in German, which is distinct from other forms, such as Rentengrundherrschaft, in which peasants were basically free-holders but paid a rent to the lord of the manor, even though in practice seem to have been fluid and labor service was common, during the late 1700’s about half of the farmland in de geest was practically run as Gutherrschaft.

knick1

Knick

Traditionally more grain producers, during the late 1700’s these manors became specialized in dairy products and grain, and scaled up. Dutch immigrants had brought with them the skills and new technologies of producing cheese, these new forms of dairy production and marketing were therefore also known as Holländerei and Koppelwirtschaft. Compared to small peasant farms these large dairy farms, even bigger than in the Netherlands,  had both advantages and disadvantages, and in that respect we are still dealing with the same old issues centuries later. Modern technologies to keep milk fresh longer, but increasing distance to your market for instance, sound familiar.

Holländerei explained, but what is Koppelwirtschaft? It all has to do with grazing and grain. You see, grain production was not abandoned but expanded and the old ways of just letting your fields fallow, were enhanced as a more intensive practice, known as Koppeln. Fields or Koppel were individually fenced with hedges, increasing yield was achieved through inclusion of more land, different rotation system and using the abundance of manure produced by the many cows to compost the land.

knick2

Knick

I’m beginning to understand the land I have landed in a bit better, my relationship with it and its people and practices. The hedges that line the field, cut almost to the ground regularly, are known as knicks, the fields interspersed with forested areas serve as wildlife habitats and is where I spent many hours, running or walking, when I am not involved in dairy production.

I am here on this biodynamic farm that has long been run as Community Supported Agriculture or in German, Solidarische Landwirtschaft, in essence its principles are close to those I have witnessed in New Mexico, as Native American relationships to the land. It all seem close yet so different, different  historical trajectories. Where farms in Schleswig-Holstein such as my current residence are firmly rooted in rent, ownership and varying degrees of labor service of this region, indigenous practices in present day New Mexico were communally tended for centuries before being brutally uprooted through enforced Colonial practices of landownership and labor service. 

I am in it, trying to understand all these different forms of labor organization, of producing food, of hard work, the hierarchies on the -ever expanding- farm that are not easy to grasp from a worker perspective, of principles and practice, of businesses and communal responsibility for the land we depend upon. History is being rewritten, statues are coming down. I am here, I am not here. Histories that we take for granted, trying to understand what would be the best way forward for taking care of our lands and lives. 

reference: Rasmussen https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e124/cd11eec211d88b6694e529a88728a3006e9b.pdf?_ga=2.14166583.1208104747.1592748295-2060587577.1592589502