Farming Co-ops Take Root near Zurich

In Western Switzerland cooperative farming is almost a tradition. Farmers from Swiss Romande are known at home and abroad for their many years of offering the public a piece of the farm, either as shareholders, or as subscribers to receive fresh veggies every week. But the trend is catching on in the German-speaking parts of the country as well, as WRS’s Tony Ganzer reports.

Spreitenbach is right on the border between the cantons of Zurich and Aargau. Fields of corn play backdrop to a shopping center, and ever-present Ikea. This is where Lea Egloff and the farming cooperative OrtoLoco have laid roots.

EGLOFF: “We are just like all people from the city and don’t know much about agriculture, but we heard about a lot of projects in the French part of Switzerland.”

Egloff is one of four founding members of OrtoLoco, which has grown to some 180 members since the co-op was founded a year and a half ago. Many of the members are of college-age. In June, OrtoLoco pulled its first crops from its land–a plot rented to the group by a local farmer.

EGLOFF: “Actually the land is part of the farm here, and we pay them. The land is ours for the time that the farmer gives it to us.”

The idea behind this modern-day share-cropping is simple: members pay a lump fee to own a piece of the farm—about a thousand francs. On top of that a person pays 600 francs a year for a small basket of vegetables every so often, or 1200 for a large.

Co-op member Tina Ziegenthaler says projects like OrtoLoco may only now be catching on in the German-speaking regions because of politics.

ZIEGENTHALER: “The French-speaking persons I think are more used to being connected, and doing things together. And maybe it’s also a little bit a political question. If you see the political card in Switzerland, the French-speaking people are a little more liberal than the German-speaking people.”

Ziegenthaler and all members of the co-op are asked to work 4 half-days a year to help maintain the farm. That ad-hoc work force, and limited production, may be a reason co-ops are not acting as a silver bullet for food production.

Urs Schneider is the director of the Swiss Farming Association.

SCHNEIDER: (in German): “7-million Swiss will never all go onto the farm and buy their products directly. The farms can’t handle that, and there need to be other avenues for purchase like in Migros and Coop.”

Schneider says the German Swiss think more pragmatically than those in the Romandie, meaning the more commercial and business-minded ideas usually win out. He also thinks the growth of co-ops is a political move—just in a different way.

SCHNEIDER: “Now we have globalization and people are returning to traditional values and going back to our roots, and that is a counter-trend to globalization.”

Jonathon Perly and Jan Blumer are roommates in Zurich, at OrtoLoco for the first time. They read about the co-op in a left wing magazine, and wanted to see what it was about.

Guys Working: “We are still in the evaluation phase. But so far it has been quite great to get different foods every week, and cope with that. You have to use that stuff or it is rotting.”

Whether more people feel that way and will buy in to such co-ops remains to be seen.

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