A post-capitalist farming experiment – Potentials, problems and perspectives
Since one and a half years around 70 people are involved in a post-capitalist farming experiment. Situated in the middle of Germany a collective of 5 growers is feeding around 65 supporters, year-round with a full supply of vegetables. The production is organised along the needs and abilities of the community.
Internally the growers collective evaluates the needs of each “worker”. Both in financial terms (“wage”) and concrete needs (e.g. a place to live). Those needs have to be met in order to enable the individuals to sustainably organise within the project. This happens independently from the evaluation of the amount of time that each grower is willing to commit to the project (“working hours”). If both of this results in a feeling of enough resources to start growing, a budget is calculated summing up all production costs (including “wages”) and running investments of a one-year production.
This budget is then presented at a general assembly to the supporters who want to be fed by the collective. Each of them anonymously fills out a contract in which voluntary contributions are noted. These include regular financial contributions, skills (e.g. working on the land, massages for the growers) and resources (e.g. machinery and land) that people can offer. The commitment for delivery (both of veggies and contributions) in one-year long. Ideally, after this first bid, all of the growers collective’s needs and their budget are met. If not, another round of bids has to be made. In this process we aim at fulfilling needs non-monetarily wherever possible but monetarily wherever necessary.
In a second step the vegetable needs of the supporters are evaluated in order to enable a needs-oriented planning and production. The signed contract also includes other agreements around collective decision-making, criteria for the failure of the project, collective risks and responsibilities and so on.
To stress: Except for a commitment to the project through signing the contract, no more contribution is required be entitled the vegetables.
The harvest throughout the year is then shared in depots, twice a week, around the region. The distribution is organised by the supporters. It doesn’t consist of normed boxes but of pools of vegetables from which every supported can take according to their needs. Several tools in the depots are used to create transparency about the stocks of that day. Furthermore the community as a whole is encouraged to form working groups to organise beyond the basic production, such as in theoretical reflection, processing of left-overs, storage of produce; among others. If the working groups need any form of support (money, skills ressources) to function well, this can be discussed and solved in the generally assembly.
Through this experiment we aim for transforming certain capitalist social relations and principles:
- Voluntary contribution instead of exchange, value and commodities. Everybody can, nobody has to contribute as long as everybody’s needs are met. Production is organised along concrete demands. Products do not have an abstract exchange value any more, so we have to find ways of appreciation beyond money.
- Useful doing instead of abstract work in competition: The growers collective produces for a need, not to achieve value and profit on the market. This erases useless “norms” for agricultural good (“the straight cucumber”). The needs of the growers are met in advance, meaning they can self-determine the processes and methods of growing and self-organise along self-chosen principles. This allows us to unlearn the internalised capitalism, which doesn’t wither away with the disappearance of outside pressure.
- Food autonomy. That people are being fed beyond the capitalist social relations is a political potential in itself. For it to be realised, the the supply has to be solid which raises questions about commitment and structure within the project.
- Empowerment of supporters. Our project encourages the process of de-alienation from agricultural production through various means. May that be simply because people can participate in the basic decision-making, by being a free farm hand or because they themselves become committed in the production process by means of responsible working groups that fulfil certain tasks (e.g. logistics, theory work, process etc.).
Problems and Perspectives
- Political overload. Some supporters might just want organic veggies they can connect to and not necessarily the anti-capitalist revolution. That’s fair enough and the revolution is already embedded in their support.
- Transparency of the contributions. We had debates around whether instead of anonymous bids, we should make all contributions transparent. However the question remained who becomes visible in such an approach. Surely those with little means, since those with lots of resources who could contribute more remain intangible.
- Internalised capitalism. While the outer pressure crumbles from our project, we are left with internalised behaviour. We call for weird concepts of justice (“all should do and get the same”), we start to norm working hours, we exploit ourselves for the project. So we need space to consciously reflect this.
- Gender relations. Similarly we reproduce patriarchal gender norms. What are the dynamics in our collective? Who is doing the reproductive work for us who work the fields? Who does what kind of work on the fields anyway? And can we create space for gender-specific empowerment in the daily grind?
- Principle of desire vs. responsibility. We have committed and taken responsibility to feed people. This could mean harvesting kale at -20 degrees instead of a cup of tea or irrigating crops at +35 degrees while others jump into the lake. But we have limits which demand respect. However to know your desires and boundaries and put them into balance with the need for food autonomy is a big challenge.
- Claiming means of production. How do we claim farm, land and tools? Squats are too precarious for such a long-term project. And poor D.I.Y. infrastructure can create frustration. So we need to use our networks to refurbish the means we have and eventually mobilise capital of our supporters to improve working conditions through investments; which in turn, get deprivatised legally to secure them for non-commercial usage.
- Limits to demonetisation. On the long run we can try to produce autonomously (own processing, own fuels, own seeds etc.). But as long as we are dependent on financial inputs from supporters, we remain dependent on their abstract, capitalist labour and also on exploitative relations to those who produce the goods we have to buy in.
- Lack of self-organisation. Most supporters contribute to us on a voluntary basis. This competes with their wage labour and free time, which can be a reason for the lack of self-organisation. We have to tackle this issue and collective enable people to make contribution possible by asking them what they need for it.
- Access to non-capitalist goods. The amount of our goods is limited by the combination of land available and our cultivation practices. Hence: who gains access to these? Obviously we should start up new projects if the demand expands our capacities. But where this isn’t possible we need a transparent and horizontal negotiation process about privilege and access.
- Internal structure and communication. To establish a functioning production we need resilient and transparent structures. May that be a set growers collective with supporters or a network of working groups that organise the production non-hierarchically. Whatever form, it needs clear responsibilities and allocation of tasks. Besides we need regular, direct, and best, face-to-face communication and coordination.
- Means and/or ends. Situations can arise in which the end (food autonomy) is achieved by questionable means (self-exploitation). And vice versa an endless process can cripple the project. People have different priorities in this matter and it’s necessary to make these transparent: What do people want? How do we measure success? What do we see as revolutionary potential? How do we ensure that our responsibility for the land is met? How much fluctuation can we sustain? How can we pass on experience? Who has an overview of the whole rotation? How do “professionals” feel in a crowd of motivated dilettantes that all want to have a say? And how do these committed supporters feel in a process dominated by the growers collective?
- Subcultural isolation. Formally our projects have no or little barriers. But often our projects don’t stretch beyond folks with white middle-class backgrounds. How do we break this domination? How and where do we spread the infos of the projects? How open and inviting are our spaces really? How can we make our project relevant to people “who have to bother about the basics”? How can we organise together with self-organised refugees, migrants and other socially excluded groups?
I feel that our practice has touched upon a few of the questions that were raised in Shift recently about lifestyle issues and the debate around institutions between Hardt and Holloway. Hoping that maybe I have delivered some illuminating insights I remain open to feedback:
„Preguntando caminamos – Questioning we walk on.“ – Zapatistas, Mexico