Something exciting has happened a few weeks ago; I’ve become a member of my local, Zurich based vegetable cooperative called Meh Als Gmües (‘more than vegetables’). The ‘more’ in more than vegetables has two meanings – on the one hand they’re planning to expand their range to other produce such as fruit, and possibly even honey and eggs. But the ‘more’ also means that the cooperative not only produces food, but also nurtures friendships amongst the members. The new vegetable year started this April and I’ll be writing about what’s happening in the cooperative regularly. First off: how it all works.
The cooperative was founded a year ago. They started off with 150 members and increased membership to 240 people for this year. Every person pays a yearly fee (roughly CHF 12 per week) and is requested to put in 20 hours of work per year. Which isn’t a lot of hours and apparently many do a lot more hours because it’s fun! There are various jobs to choose from, from planting, watering and harvesting the produce out in the fields, to transporting the vegetabels to the local depot by bike and admin jobs like maintaining the website or managing the finances. All jobs are listed in the co-op’s online tool and members can sign up for jobs online. There are 1-2 full time, paid gardeners who do the planning for the year, work in the fields and provide the needed professional knowledge for instructing the co-op members at work. What’s more, there are currently 18 working groups – groups of volunteering members who regularly work on specific topics like harvest planning, compost, how to grow mushrooms, preserves and pickles, IT, events and more. The work in the fields is happening all throughout the week and on the Saturdays. On Saturdays they often cook lunch for everyone who’s working, the kids can have a go out in the fields with kids gardening tools and toy tractors and often the working days end with beer and pizza from the outdoor pizza oven. No wonder most people put in more hours than requested!
The cooperative was founded when a local nursery closed down a year ago. They took over its greenhouses and are continually adding more fields nearby. The cooperative grows an impressive range of vegetables and is keen to increase the biodiversity through adding forgotten, local vegetables that can’t be found in the supermarkets. From spring to autumn, the members receive a great selection of vegetables each week, in winter the weekly batches consist of a still good selection of winter vegetables and vegetables that can be stored over winter. All vegetables are organicly grown and zero food miles or packaging is involved.
The weekly delivery
The vegetables are being harvested on Friday morning (or taken out of the storage in case of stored winter vegetables) and delivered to the two local depots by bike. The members have 24 hours to go and collect their share of vegetables before the depots are opened to the public as a zero waste policy. In the depot, the members weigh and pack their own vegetables according to a weekly list that states how many grams of which vegetables they get. Apparently other veg cooperatives provide their vegetables pre-packed in bags but ours prefers the members to do the packing themselves so the members’ working hours can be spent in the fields rather than packing produce for 240 people each week.
In season right now…
It’s April and we’re only just approaching the end of the cold, long winter months. Right now the weekly vegetable batches consist of winter and storage produce such as beetroot, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, onions, celeriac, kohlrabi, spinach, leaf lettuce, chard and so on. Still, there’s vegetables from all colours of the rainbow and our much needed vitamins are provided even by the available winter produce – there’s no need for vegetables brought in from far away.