My trip to this organic farm does not start quite how I expected. I get off the train and walk along a noisy main road that leads me away from the train station and into Seuzach. Once a small farmer's village, it now counts more than 7'000 inhabitants and is the biggest suburb of Winterthur. Between single-family houses and a gym, I finally spot it: Klaus Böhler's organic farm. He lopes towards me, a firm handshake, a friendly hello: Immediately I feel welcome.
Why am I standing here, early morning and all, exactly on this farm? Beans! For this organic farm is the only one in Switzerland where edamame is cultivated. Edamame, fancy food yet basically nothing else than soybeans, harvested when still green, cooked in their pods and nicely seasoned – that's fingerfood at its best. Originally from Japan, edamame has started to become more and more popular in Switzerland – not least because it is said to be extremely healthy. A Swiss organic farmer and an exotic bean from Far East: a promising combination. But edamame is only the beginning – the more I learn about Klaus and the creativity that rules in his kitchen, the more impressed I am.
Monika, Klaus' wife, is busy serving breakfast, and Michael, their elder son, is already chewing on a piece of toast with jam. I am invited to join them, and already the next surprise is waiting for me: A glass full of green juice – a drink made out of spelt grass, apple and banana. It's new, it's healthy and – it's amazing. I've never heard of grass pressed into juice, and I absolutely love it. Klaus and Monika have been cultivating and processing it for years, and – just like with the edamame – are the only farmers in Switzerland to do so. And on we go with things never tasted – a cup of steaming Moringa tea is put before me. The leaves are not from Klaus' farm though, but from Fredy's Plantation, all the way from the Ivory Coast. That was a quick jump: How did we get from spelt grass fields in Switzerland to a plantation in Africa? The project caught Klaus' attention, he thought it to be a promising one and shares the values of the founders. «Worthy of support», he thought and started selling this extremely tasty and – what else – healthy tea in his little farmer's shop. It's only one of many projects and cooperatives that Klaus juggles around with- I'll get to know them one by one during this eventful day.
Sowing soybeans is on the to-do-list for this morning. Klaus is fully engaged in his work, explaining all the details of the precision seed drill - too many to be keeping them all in my head that fills up quickly and starts spinning. He's very meticulous, working concentratedly and not leaving anything to chance. All the installations of the machine are checked thoroughly and adjusted if necessary. It's an older machine, but that's not a problem according to Klaus. It was a bargain he got at an auction, he tells me, and smiles somewhat whimsically. He's got a hand for recognizing good opportunities and has proven it over and over again. His latest brilliant coup: Biotta, a leading juice company in Switzerland, is processing his spelt grass into a Veggie Smoothie. Coop, a major supermarket chain, as well as smaller organic shops stock and sell them.
Off we go then, the tractor rattles along with the seed drill in tow. Slowly we drive through Seuzach, never exceeding 40kmh. At the edge of the small town lies the field, where the seeds will be brought out. There is garbage at the side of the road, and Klaus shakes his head. He's not upset, though. I can't really imagine anything that would make this calm person lose his temper. «There is,» he admits, «I can't stand red tape. Bureaucracy and unnecessary regulations get on my nerves.» He's got a distinct sense of cooperation and collegiality and firmly believes that nothing is worth being taken too seriously, not even yourself. A pity then that his fellow farmers are not very inclined to share ideas and projects and don't seem to see further than the end of their noses: «If everyone was a bit less focused on their ego and wasn't that much afraid of giving away something, we would benefit from each other, and together, we could achieve so much more.»
While we're chugging along, his phone rings. All the machines have to come to a halt: the customer comes first. Always. «Never mind if it is a big supermarket chain or a private customer interested in buying edamame. Your customers have to become your friends, that's how you succeed.» And Klaus has many friends: Top chefs like Tanja Grandits, Fabian Fuchs or Pascal Haag have all created recipes with his unusual products. Cooperation with partners is very important to him, as it helps to constantly develop his products and brings him new challenges. Resting is never an option, Klaus is always on the outlook for something new. «Whatever you do, do it at full speed and out of conviction. You'll never lose anything with this attitude.»
As we get back from the field, lunch is already waiting for us. Spelt pasta, prepared with cheese and cabbage, salad and a soup – a substantial meal, and a tasty one! Of course, a lunch at Klaus' farm wouldn't be a lunch without freshly cooked edamame. Monika and Klaus are a good team. It takes quite something to raise two small kids and take care of a farm. The two small boys are having lunch with us as well, the youngest, Simon, has just turned four. Klaus loves is family, you can see that he's a family person through and through the way he handles his kids. Although he is in a hurry, there is always time for a quick football game with his elder son Michael. Then, before you can turn round, Michael disappears through the door, on his way to kindergarten. Klaus runs to the door to call a warm «Bye Mike, see you in a bit» after him. Would he be happy if one of his sons took over his farm in a far future, I ask him. With a wave of the hand, he declines. «I don't care really. I want them to do what they want, just like I do.»
Shortly after, I find myself in a sea of green grass, for spelt grass is not the only type of grass Klaus cultivates. One stalk after the other finds its way to my mouth, exciting my taste buds. I do feel a bit strange, stopping every few metres to fetch another stalk or leave of this and that and chewing on it like a rabbit. But time after time I am surprised by the refreshing and pleasant taste of it. When we get to sorrel and dock leaf, I stop short. Isn't that supposed to be weed? That's right, dock leaves are a «powerful weed», as Klaus puts it with a smile. But instead of fighting it, he tries to benefit from it and uses it in special recipes. Where his fellow farmers see only weeds or pests, he sees an opportunity. Thomas Heggli, a friend of his and a farmer himself, once said: «He who can sell a weed is capable of anything.»
Then he gets to work: He's an experienced farmer and tuft after tuft of the lush green grass is cut. Tomorrow, this spelt grass will be processed into healthy smoothies at various branches of the restaurant chain tibits. It's a tough job, but Klaus doesn't rush. You can feel his strong bond with nature, something I personally have lost – and I'm probably not the only one of my generation. Klaus digs up a chunk of soil and holds it out to me. I must have a sceptical look on my face, as Klaus encourages me to activate my senses. It takes a moment, but then I become aware of all the small things: The smell of nature, the feeling of moist and cool soil between my fingers, an earthworm coiling out of the soil – I start to comprehend Klaus' message: «Nature intrigues me every day – again and again!»
Later on, Klaus shows me what is hiding behind his farm: his «think tank”. In a greenhouse, he grows everything imaginable. It's here where his love of experiments and plants can fully bloom. Chewing on a spruce sprout, I start to realise the potential of this little greenhouse. If anyone's able to sell pine cones, it must be Klaus. «You have to try things – if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. End of story. On to the next idea.» That's his attitude in an nutshell. It's the niche where he feels at home.
Isn't that a somewhat risky way of life? «Part of my job,» he says. Planning ahead does not form part of his life. He can't even begin to think how other farmers manage to set up ten-year plans. He's got no use for that. Openness to new things, independence, being his own boss and thus having all the freedom he wants – that's what he needs in life.
At the close of the day, I sit down with the whole family and we share some more edamame, freshly prepared. The kids know very well how to get the small beans out of their pods and they love it. And of course I can't leave without big bags of edamame, spelt grass and spelt grass juice.
Dusk is already falling as I find my way back to the big city, away from the fields and the scent of nature. I ask myself how many farmers like Klaus are still left. They've become rare, the farmers who grow their food in accordance with nature. Big farms, where a manager is needed rather than a farmer seem to have become normal.
I remember a book I had as a kid, a story about a boy becoming a farmer. I must have read it a thousand times. After a day of chugging along on a tractor, watching Klaus bringing out the seeds and harvesting, sitting with the whole family at the big table, I'm sure that Klaus is the farmer I've always had in mind since I was a little kid. And I do wish that he won't be the last of his generation, and that there will be many brave and unconventional farmers in the future.
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