Archives for the month of: November, 2020

I love food. One of the perks of my current lifestyle is that I am close to the source. Morning harvest on your lunch plate, morning milk becomes tomorrow’s yoghurt. During lunch we all eat together, in the big kitchen the food is prepared by several dedicated cooks. On the weekend I cook my own meals, and that is a pleasure with all this fresh produce.

 I first came to this farm to milk and herd goats, and eventually ended up in cheesemaking. Unfortunately, the goats are no longer here, only the cows. Although cows are sweet animals, I don’t feel particularly close to them. Goats on the other hand are smart, mischievous, resilient and have a perpetual smile on their faces. They are best when they roam free. I also prefer goat cheese over cow’s cheese. Maybe it is their character that gets into their milk. A little bit wild. 

But I ended up making cheese of cow’s milk, raw milk however, not too tame. The farm is more serious business now, gone are the days of making small batches of goat cheese, milked in the field in the morning in our little buckets. This of course, also has to do with the ever stricter rules in food production, food that people have produced for thousands of years in less sanitary circumstances without much problems, now have to follow strict hazard prevention rules. Slowly industrialization creeps in.  The milk gets cleaner, the microbial community less diverse.
For me, making cheese is like cooking, in big vats! There are only a few variables, temperature, time, type and amount of starter culture and rennet, but you can vary to get very different tasting things. In the old days, the culture to sour the milk came from the milk itself, its lactic acid bacteria, in fact this is what good milk does, it turns sour and thickens. The rennet is another part of your animals, an enzyme that lives in the young animal’s stomach, it helps to separate the whey from the curd.
what goes into to milk is important

Raw milk, still contains this potency, but the rules sanitary operations have impoverished our raw materials and we become more and more dependent on bacterial mixes that have been cultivated in a petridish. Isolation of these ‘flavor profiles’ have helped standardization, but also generated blandness. Our milk still has variability, summer milk very different from winter milk, but probably not as bacterially rich as it once was. Cooking becomes more and more like science experiments. 

I love science, like I like food. But maybe I should nuance that. The science that drives the food industry is rather mechanistic, I would rather approach it ecologically. The cheese is a body of bacteria. Leib as it is called in German. It ripens over time, it becomes better before it finally is bitter old bod. I would love to learn to make cheese the ecological way, complex, for sure, but luckily bacteria don’t have the bad rep they once had and their role in great tasting cheese now gets recognized

Ecological cooking, sounds good to me. Food for thought.

Junge Leiben


Difficult times, times of uncertainty, fatigue, and lethargy. We crave something to hold on to, a firm foundation that can carry us through this predicament. Soil I would say. 

Soil, like the skin of our planet, or maybe a better to think about it as the gut, without which we could not exist, no plants could grow,. The basic natural resource, typically it is composed of 45%minerals, 25%water, 25%air and 5%organic matter. Nearly all food, fuel, and fibers used by humans are produced on soil.  Nevertheless, we treat soil like there is no tomorrow, over exploited in many parts of the world, we fail to recognize that once we depleted the soils, it will take more than a human life time to build it up again. 

Soil, an essential element in our lives, but unlike air and water, there is for instance no EU legislation (yet) directed toward protection of soil.

We need to start

About a third of the world’s land is degraded. The biggest factor in this process of degradation is the expansion of industrial farming. The use of heavy machinery and agrochemicals have increased yields, in other words, resulted in more produce per hectare, but at the expense of long-term sustainability. 

We need to worry

Soils are a non-renewable resource, meaning its loss and degradation is not renewable within a human life span

We need to take action

December 5, is world soil day, with this year’s theme,  Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity. One day a year is really not enough to think about it, it should be on our minds every day.

Eat organic when you can

Direct marketing is a great thing. The produce and products grown and made at the community supported biodynamic farm where I work go directly to our customers. The beauty of this system is that production can be narrowly tailored to need, thereby minimizing waste. The focus of this and similar farms is on healthy soils, which is the foundation of keeping ourselves and our planet healthy as well. 

One would think, and hope, that such enterprises are well-supported through agricultural policy programs at the EU level. Not so. Most of the funds of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is and continues to be awarded to big landowners. Even though the goals of CAP are expressed to be “biodiversity and strong rural communities”, the fact that there is no example of support for CSA initiatives through CAP speaks otherwise.This absence is attributed in general to a lack of political will to support their own goals. The fact that CSA initiatives are successful anyway, is testimony to the sustainability of this economic strategy. 

The farm, where I turn milk into cheese, is a great example. Recently the farm turned 25, and since its early days it has experienced enormous growth, not always smooth, but many foundational principles are still in place: Primarily, to maintain a closed-loop system, in which all nutrients and organic matter are recycled back to the soil.

Community Supported in Agriculture generally means that operation is financially driven by members (non-farmers) who in return receive a proportional share of the crop. This farm is supported by the community in other ways as well. Most of the land that is cultivated is not owned by the farm, but on loan, so to speak. Many small landowners, who for different reasons, no longer work their land, can benefit from having their land become rich organic soil, a win-win situation and community building strategy. 

But is the farm victim of its own success? The number of members has increased rapidly over the past year, and although it may be relatively easy to plant more vegetables on added fields, expanding yields in other areas is not so easy. Growing the cow herd not only needs more fields, but also bigger barns for milking and winter housing. Hence the stress I mentioned last week, a cheese shortage.  Complicating our situation is that we are edging toward winter, milk yield is decreasing naturally, while member numbers are still increasing, way over 500, primarily hailing from the urban and sub-urban Hamburg region. We hear voices of complaint, of members being dissatisfied with the amount and types of products they receive. But these voices are channeled through employees who work in farm’s Hamburg stores, through which the produce and product are distributed. The direct connection with its member base is separated through another layer. It raises an important question, at least in my curious mind. 

Can a direct marketing, closed-loop system grow TOO BIG, thereby overshooting its objectives? In other words is there a – context specific –  optimal size range to balance all components in the system, the number of animals, the soil, but also direct communication with its member base?

And if this is so, is there room for a number of CSA’s to service a specific region. Possibly so Could we make that happen, is the next question. Distributing healthy food, while tending our soils. 

For the time being the tactic here may shift toward delivering more vegetables to make up for ‘lost’ milk. Not so bad actually. Colorful abundance, kale, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, leek, radicchio. In fact, a plant-rich diet is the way to go forward, in order to meet our carbon emission targets for keeping global warming in check.

Still, it would be better, milk or not,  if the EU and beyond, would recognize the urgency to support CSA to grow the soils in which we can thrive.  Moreover, I believe direct marketing of CSA is a wonderful tool to educate and engage the member base about what is going on in the land. It is time to take LAND-BASED knowledge seriously.

My plan was to write about milk, about the increasing  number of people seeking better, organic produce and products and the problem we are now facing: we cannot deliver, vegetables yes, but not that much cheese. 

A structural problem → stress.

Then I went for my weekend morning run and changed my mind. Pleasure meets my eyes when I enter the little “Wald” Leaves are turning, from green to yellow, red, and brown, leaves are falling, covering the forest floor with a carpet of mixed colors, like pixelated images, but then better → organic. It is incredible how soothing it is for the eyes, like a warm bath, but then fresher → invigorating, like music for the eyes. 

Of course, we can explain the process scientifically, which is no less poetic. Leaves turning color, or leaf senescence, the process of deterioration with age, is considered an ‘altruistic death’ , one that recycles important nutrients for the plant to continue to grow, perpetual life. Chlorophyll degrades, and lets the carotenoids shine, in all their golden brilliance. 

Immersed in this sparkling world I halt, it is raining a bit, but the leaf cover still provides enough cover, some drops can be heard. Therapy for the eyes and ears, I inhale deeply. It is addictive, restoring the senses →natural(ly) The smell of the forest floor, I’ve known it since my youth, its familiar, comforting, but not always the same, sometimes herby, sometimes mushroomy. I wonder why we never gave those experiences specific names. When I think about it, I don’t have a word to describe the current visual spectacle. Senescence, despite its somewhat negative connotation as aging process, does have a nice ring to it. The world senescencesinging all around me.

Tomorrow I deal with the whiteness of milk again, next week I will write about production stress,  but for now, golden colors take the stage, what more do you need? Well, I am glad there are enough colorful fresh vegetables to feed the stomach as well as the eyes.