Young. Regional. Organic. – The new entrepreneurs in ARBERLAND

The Bavarian Forest. Wasn't that somewhere on the edge of Germany near the Czech border, where the cheap oversized schnitzel hung over the edge of the plate and bed & breakfasts had signs advertising “Fremdenzimmer” (guest rooms)? Many a contemporary may still picture in their mind's eye this scene of a faded postcard from the 70s – but the rest of the world has long since arrived in what used to be a backwoods area. And while globalization is bringing in new inputs, one senses a renaissance of all things regional. In ABERLAND, this movement is driven by idealistic young entrepreneurs who have taken up the cause of sustainable, organic-quality consumption. The organic farm, “Biohof Häng“ in Frauenau, the “Butter Boyz” of Regen and the “7 Sentidos“ organic hotel in Bischofsmais are three of them.

The organic farm, Biohof Häng

Martin Straub (26) and Birte Carstensen (30) first met in Witzenhausen in the state of Hesse. “That is where the only university in Germany with a purely ecological programme in agricultural science is located. The atmosphere there is great,” raves the native of the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Initially, she viewed the subject of agriculture as something “interesting and of minor importance”: “After my undergraduate degree in biochemistry, all I wanted to do was get away from my desk – no lab, no computer – and then take my time figuring out where I was going to get my PhD. After six months on various farms, I had discovered by passion. I wished for a place like the Tangsehl farm in the Lüneburger Heide region, which had collective farming with like-minded people known as Solidarische Landwirtschaft (SoLaWi). Martin had long dreamed of a self-sufficient farm at his home in Frauenau, where his parents own land. Having both changed careers and completed our studies in organic agriculture, we then combined these two visions of the future.“

Straub and Carstensen have been growing classic vegetables, such as carrots, lettuce, squash, beans, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, on the “Häng” since 2018. But there are also rarities, such as sunroot, goatsbeard and sugar loaf, or rare varieties, for example, “Azur Star”, a purple kohlrabi variety. Whatever doesn’t end up in the farmers’ own cooking pots is put into vegetable crates while still fresh, to which the farmers often add fruit and seasonal herbs. The crates are then distributed to private households in the region once a week. The recipients already include a few businesses as well: “Rote Res“ in Bodenmais, “Haus zur Wildnis“ in Ludwigsthal, “7 Sentidos“ in Bischofsmais and “Butter Boyz“ on the town square (Stadtplatz) of Regen. “We provide the Boyz with the key ingredient of their delicious beetroot butter,“ Carstensen says with a smile. The farmers try to work in harmony with nature, so that only compost and horse manure are used to fertilize the fields on the organic farm. “Our crop protection consists of crop protection nets, effective microorganisms, nettle manure, rock meal, loose and living soil and, of course, regular crop rotation,“ the young lady explains. “Species-appropriate husbandry is important to us when it comes to chickens. Our chickens have a mobile pen that is always placed in spots with fresh green plant growth where they are also able to scratch, peck and bathe in the sand. We produce very low emissions, as we do not plough or otherwise use machinery for the vegetable beds. We only go through the soil once with an excavator to remove rocks, which is all that’s needed.“ The two direct marketers work according to the “Market Garden System“.

As there is so much to explain about this concept, and even more to show, they offer guided tours for amateur gardeners and school classes. “Unfortunately, only very few of our 32 vegetable crate box subscribers have visited us in Oberlüftenegg. We would be happy to see more personal contacts develop here over time.” Just recently, an opportunity to cooperate with a colleague from Frauenau has come up, something they welcome. “Small farms are rarely economical as such. Our farm is just under a hectare in size, and we don't receive any subsidies. Thus, you need to be very idealistic, love your work and, perhaps, have different sources of income, as well as an environment that supports you. We have found exactly these prerequisites for our dream in ARBERLAND. Apart from that, Martin would certainly have found it difficult to permanently live outside the Bavarian Forest. He loves his home – and, of course, you can see the Arber mountain from our field.“

Butter Boyz

Moritz Oswald (30) is a chef, pâtissier, wine and beverage manager and holds a Master of Science in International Hospitality. He and Fabio Cestari de Mesquita (31) of the “Butter Boyz” have been bringing organic butter that is “handmade in Regen” to the tables of the “Waidler” (dialect for inhabitants of the Bavarian Forest) for about a year now. However, it all started with Oswald's love of France: After graduating from secondary school with an “Abitur” diploma in 2009 and working as a waiter in Paris, he studied at the “Institut Paul Bocuse“ in Lyon, one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the world, from 2011 to 2013. It was here that Oswald and Cestari de Mesquita's paths crossed, only to drift apart as a result of continuing education, new jobs and a Brazilian cooking show. However, they ended up crossing again in Vienna. They came up with the idea for their own butter during their weekend commute to Regen. “How does someone like Jean-Yves Bordier from Saint-Malo in Brittany manage to even make people in Hong Kong crave his butter?”

Apart from the raw product – fully aromatic organic sour cream barrel butter, – the secret of the melt-in-your-mouth quality can be found in the consistency and processing of the butter. A Malaxeur à Beurre in French, butter kneading machine in English, had to be found. Bordier found and bought a model that met his needs for 150 euros in France and picked it up personally. As it had served as a decorative object, he had the Regen-based Kramhöller carpentry prepare it for use in production by providing it with dense, tasteless, odourless wood. When he told the story to the family at an evening barbecue, they seemed shocked for a moment. Oswald and Cestari de Mesquita intended to allow themselves four months to explore the market niche they had identified. Armed with “butter sample packets“, they paid visits to Bavaria’s star-rated restaurants. They received both positive and negative feedback. But then the enthusiastic feedback from a double Michelin-starred chef encouraged the Boyz to keep at it. An initial business idea of importing culinary specialties from France for the local hotel and restaurant businesses was shelved in favour of butter production, but then found its way into the company's own salesroom: At Regener Stadtplatz, the town square of Regen, Oswald and Cestari de Mesquita welcome potential business partners to their butter tasting events, as well as private customers looking for high-quality olive oil, chutneys, mustards, spices, juices and, needless to say, French wines.

The young entrepreneurs explain, “Here we cooperate with small manufacturing businesses and other producers who work like we do, creatively, with a lot of passion and enthusiasm for taste, but without using additives. In this way, we are able to offer more and more products for a balmy summer evening or a pleasant weekend together, all of which, of course, are also available in our online store.“ There are six flavours in our standard butter assortment. The chefs of Germany, Austria and Portugal can even choose from up to 21 varieties. “But then these are definitely special,“ the Boyz note. Numerous trials and joint brainstorming sessions go into the perfect chive-lemon peel-wasabi or baked apple butter. “We prepare four samples and hope that one of them will correspond to our idea of the ideal product.” They try to catch their private customers’ taste with regional ingredients, such as porcini mushrooms and honey mustard butter. “The issue of herb butter was a real bone of contention,“ Oswald recalls. “At discount stores, it mostly just contains parsley and garlic and is spread in big chunks on French baguette bread and pork steak. We wanted to create an herb butter that contained at least six different herbs and tasted fresh and lemony. It is now one of our most popular creations.“ Anyone who would also like to enjoy some culinary variety, can order a surprise package. “Apart from the fact that Regen is my home and I therefore have a strong connection to the town,“ says Oswald, “Arberland fits wonderfully with our image – natural, rural and unaffected, with the forest and mountains as a backdrop... That also impresses our customers.“ Numerous small, fortunate coincidences led to the Boyz ending up in the Bavarian Forest.

Cestari de Mesquita has also settled in wonderfully. “He loves Bavarian cuisine, is a big fan of our folk festivals and already speaks the local dialect,“ Oswald laughs. The family, natural outdoors and honest, human togetherness round off the positive mix. “We originally considered settling in Deggendorf as a young, up-and-coming company because of the highway access there,“ Oswald recounts. “But then we quickly realized that we didn’t even need the highway access to get the customers to us and our products to them, fresh and intact.“ There is no five-year plan for the Boyz. Their ambitious goal is to be the German equivalent of Bordier by producing the best butter in the Federal Republic and supplying it to renowned three-star restaurants. Although the Corona pandemic has put a dent in their plans, they still expect to reach their goal before the end of the year.

7 Sentidos

Nature lovers, LOHAS, organic lovers, people with vegan/ vegetarian lifestyles and adults seeking rest are their target audience. Together, Melanie and Simon Halliant, the founders of the “7 Sentidos” organic hotel, can look back on almost 50 years of experience in the hotel and tourism industry, having worked in Germany, Austria, Spain and Portugal. “But we also have a medical, sports and spiritual professional background,“ Melanie Halliant reveals. This, you can see and feel as soon as you enter the premises. “We owe this place to our parents and grandparents,“ they tell us. “Back then, they built vacation cottages on a plot of 1,500 square metres in the middle of the Lower Bavarian prairie.

We gutted, renovated and redesigned them in the Moorish style with great attention to detail many years ago.” Why did all this happen in Arberland and not in sunny Spain? “Are you serious?“ they counter. “Is there a more beautiful spot than here? Why search far and wide if beauty is just around the corner! The most sustainable vacation is at home – and besides, meteorologically speaking, we have many hours of sunshine here in Bischofsmais. We love our job, we enjoy being outdoors surrounded by nature and the Bavarian Forest, or repairing and upgrading our cottages.“ Had Melanie and Simon perhaps had an inkling that their concept, which was quite unusual for the region, would be a success? “We didn't care about that at first,“ they say firmly: “We just followed our hearts! We already had an idea of the direction we wanted to take before we started, and we wanted to do something meaningful.“ They don’t view “organic” as a trend.

For them, it’s the origin of what they do. “We can all contribute to a more natural, resource-conserving and mindful way of life. So, for us, the decision to obtain certification as an organic hotel was simply logical.“ They experience common values and share ideas in a group of fellow organic business owners: “We belong to the largest and most sustainable association of hotels in Europe. Our focus is on our carbon footprint.“ This spans everything from cosmetics to construction biology – and not just the 100 percent controlled organic cuisine, which would certainly merit being mentioned as an insider tip per se: “We cook a fresh, delicious meal every day. Everything is served in the guests’ own ‘casita’, where they can then savour the food wherever they please, be it in the hammock, on the box spring bed or in a cosy corner. Besides the sauna and massage programme, there are also retreats and special events at certain times. We want to offer our guests rest and relaxation and help them experience themselves with all their senses.“

We asked Melanie and Simon whether they were also experiencing the pandemic with a “zen-like” meditative and calm attitude? “Yes, we are,“ they replied. “Especially as there were – and still are – building projects of all kinds to take care of – for example, our garden got a little more attention than usual. The situation has provided room for creativity again, and if you can make use of this time, new things emerge or you can rethink old things. However, we have had to address some challenges in terms of staff. We have also had to deal with significant uncertainty and financial loss. Currently, though, we are practising being in the here and now and wondering what life and 7 Sentidos have in store for us. But we're already dreaming a little bit about self-sufficiency, permaculture and root-to-table.“