Chickens, juice and vegetables- Saturday was a fascinating day as I toured the farms and local businesses where my local CSA grows and acquires their produce and products.
The tour started at 9:00 at the farm where the vegetable boxes are packed, Biolandgärtnerei Hüsgen. When I first chose to receive a weekly vegetable box delivery, I picked this company for a few main reasons:
- Their dedication to growing organic produce
- Their support of other local organic farmers
- Their commitment to be as environmentally friendly as possible
- The ease of participating due to their online shop
- That this business is allowing a young family to do what they love while being available to their children
In addition to their vegetable box delivery scheme, they also own and operate a small organic grocery store for the community.
The store had a wonderful local feel to it. It was at this shop that I saw my first bulk bins in Germany. They had a little bit of all things necessary without being crowded.
Outside the shop, they had so many vegetable plants and flowers for sale. I would love to go back to buy some plants for the balcony.
The shop was really busy with locals from the village picking up their plants and weekly shopping.
Throughout the first half hour, we were free to walk around the shop and farm before setting off in a tour bus at 9:30.
Our first stop was Hof Alpermühle, the farm where my eggs come from.
The eggs from Hof Alpermühle are free range and certified organic. We were taken on a tour of the chicken coops as well as the room where the eggs are sorted, stamped and packaged.
To be certified as an organic, free range chicken farm, the family farm must meet certain regulations (I hope I get everything right, my German is alright but not fluent.)
- Chickens are all-natural, unmodified by breed or body
- Access to organic food and water at all times
- Access to the outside (the barn is closed up over night to protect the chickens from foxes)
- Access to shelter at all times
- Free choice in nesting
- A dry, naturally ventilated, sanitary shelter
- No more than 4 hens per square meter (at this farm, they only have 2 hens per square meter)
One thing I found a bit ironic was the chicken feed. The ingredient list on the hens’ feed is healthier and more natural than probably 85% of food items that we’d find on grocery store shelves.
All feed ingredients were certified organic and recognizable as grains that we’d even eat.
The farm has 2,500 chickens, split into 4 family groups, which each lay one egg per day in the morning hours, usually between 6-10 am.
Although the barn is kept closed over night, the doors are opened bright and early to allow the chickens access to open pastures once they’re awake and active.
We were shown one of the hens up-close. Here, the owner, Mr.Klose, is describing how the beaks of chickens are cut off in caged farms. Every hen on his farm looked like the image of a healthy and happy hen.
This is the nesting room. The hens have free choice to lay eggs wherever they want but they like the dark of this part of the barn. Once the hens lay their eggs, they head outside.
The nests slightly slope back, allowing the eggs to roll and be collected. The size of the eggs depends on the age of the hens. Older hens lay larger eggs than young hens.
I was really impressed with how clean the barn was. The hay on the ground was dry and fresh, keeping the hens’ feet healthy. Since the barn was so sanitary and the hens were so healthy, the eggs came out immaculate.
Once the pallets of eggs are collected, they are taken to be sorted.
The sorting is done by a conveyor belt system which is carefully observed by the employees of the farm.
Some stages are more carefully observed than others, such as the candling stop where the eggs are checked for shell damage and deformities.
I remember candling eggs in kindergarten throughout the process of hatching chickens in a classroom incubator.
Here Mrs. Klose was explaining the difference between egg sizes and colors. She also told us that her dogs, although not trained to do so, protect the hens from hawks and foxes.
Every member of the Klose family, human and hound clearly love the hens they care for.
After the tour, we were treated to coffee, brownies and fresh fruit.
The brownies came from a local bakery that only uses eggs from Hof Alpermühle.
One thing that was really funny was when Mr. Klose opened the barn door. As soon as the hens heard his voice, they came running from all directions to greet him like a pack of loving dogs.
I am so glad to know where my eggs come from. To see the way the hens are cared for makes me completely comfortable consuming a product from this farm.
It was also wonderful to meet the family and get to know their passion for organic farming.
After the chicken farm, the next stop was the local juice press.
I once received a mystery-free bottle of Weber apple juice in my vegetable box. It was the best apple juice I have ever drank, 100% pure fruit juice, pressed in a family press not far from my home.
The tour of Weber Fruchtsaftkelterei started in the apple orchards.
Mr. Weber took us around his apple orchard while explaining the varieties, pollination of the trees and recent weather conditions.
The orchards host bees, local grazing animals like cows and sheep, birds and even small children.
The blossoms have just fallen off of the apple trees.
Weber buys apples, pears, rhubarb, cherries and an assortment of other fruit from local farmers, but 10% of the apples used in their products were grown in the Weber family’s own orchards.
They also import some exotic fruit such as mangoes and bananas for a few of their juice varieties.
Although some fruit which can not be grown in this area is imported, they are committed to using local fruit for all else.
Seeing that it’s spring, the presses were not running but we were invited to return in the fall when the apples are harvested and to see the press in action.
I have no idea what Mr. Weber was talking about in the large room full of huge metal vats. The technical language mixed with the loud echoing kids’ voices= I didn’t catch a single thing.
The room was pretty impressive none the less.
After the big jugs room, we saw the assembly line where the bottles are cleaned, filled, sealed and labeled.
Weber reuses its bottles like most other beverage companies in Germany. I love the pfand system here. When you buy most drinks, you pay a pfand for the bottles. Pfands are usually between 8-20 cents, depending on the size and material of the bottle. When you’re done with the contents, you bring the bottle back to the store and get your money back. This economic incentive results in bottles being reused rather than going to garbage dumps or incinerators.
The whole process, from apple branch to bottling takes place on the family-owned property.
After the tour, we were invited to a juice tasting.
Apple mango, pear, apple, apple cherry, apple black currant, and apple elderberry juice were served.
Mr. and Mrs. Weber even brought out their apple sparkling wine for us to taste.
My favorite juices were the plain apple and apple mango. I bought a bottle of both from their little shop.
I also bought a bottle of rhubarb nectar which I brought to a going-away BBQ Saturday evening. We mixed the rhubarb nectar with champagne– so so so delicious!
After our visit at Weber, we went back to Biolandgärtnerei Hüsgen for a yummy fresh lunch before continuing the tour of the gardens and box-packing facilities.
Lunch was white asparagus soup and a salad. Both asparagus and the red lettuce were in my box this week.
The local organic bakery where the delivery scheme buys its bread was also at the farm for us to taste and buy some of their new products. Although almost all of their products are vegan, when eggs are used, DLS whole-grain mill bakery only uses eggs from Hof Alpermühle.
Here is the DLS Bakery promise, copied and translated from their website.
Our products contain
NO cling materials
NO acidity regulators
NO anti-mold agent
No industrial bakery
NO Animal products (with the exception of two bread recipes.)
All grains are grown under the highest organic standards in and around Hennef. The grains are slowly ground daily on natural stone.
I bought two wild garlic baguettes to bring to the Saturday night BBQ and a wild garlic and tomato quiche which I ate for breakfast on Sunday.
After lunch, we were shown the box-packing facilities.
All 1,100 weekly organic produce boxes are packed by hand.
We were shown how the produce is weighed, wrapped and organized for each and every individual box. One thing is for sure, every employee really seems to love and believe in the value of their job.
Next up, the tractor wagon was uncovered and those of us who were interested in touring the Hüsgen family farm hopped on to the hay bale seats and went on a ride to the greenhouses.
Several of the organic farms in the area operate through a partnership. Each farm grows the vegetables that they grow best, then they share the harvest.
Although the Hüsgen farm grows more than what we saw in these greenhouses, what we saw here was the main part of their partnership crop.
While looking at the rhubarb patch, one little girl cried out, “Mommy, we had that in our box this week!”
To which the mother replied, “Yes, and here is where it came from.”
How cool is that?
Salads, dark leafy greens and herbs.
Mr. Hüsgen honestly discussed farming methods, costs, and difficulties in operating an organic farm. He expressed his dislike for the plastic-covered greenhouses but explained that they work well, are durable and more affordable than glass greenhouses. I respect him for his honesty and willingness to share his triumphs and struggles with us.
I am so happy that I am able to support this farm and all the other local businesses associated through them.
I truly trust in the health and wholesomeness of the products I consume from all farmers I saw on Saturday and all those who I didn’t see but know are trusted by the Hüsgen family.
If you live anywhere else in Germany and are interested in finding a Community Supported Agriculture scheme near you, please visit oekokiste.de.
For only 13 Euros per week, I am spending less money on food than ever before while eating healthy, local, organic produce and supporting businesses that I believe in.
Choosing to receive a weekly fruit and vegetable box is one of the best changes I’ve made in my life here. Seeing exactly where that food comes from has made my choice even more satisfying.
A big, warmhearted thank you goes out to everyone who participated in the Spring Tour this past Saturday (not that any of the farmers even know about this blog.)
I especially thank Biolandgärtnerei Hüsgen for allowing me to see, for free I might add, exactly who I’m supporting with my measly 13 Euros.
Thank YOU for reading along about this awesome day in my life!