The southern Palatinate region is known for its fine wine, warm hospitality and authentic local cuisine. Exciting organic food suppliers have set up shop here, with some of them working in inclusive teams.
Original Text: Cordula Schulze
Professional development with hotel guests
Stiftsgut Keysermühle is owned by the community foundation Bürgerstiftung Pfalz, which aims to “make lasting contributions to promote education opportunities, village development, integration of people with disabilities and alternative ways of doing business in the Palatinate region”. As not-for-profit subsidiaries of this foundation, the hotel and restaurant are not trying to make money. “We give what we make back to our employees,” says Christiane Steinmetz, a Member of the Foundation Board. Selina Vock is one of those employees on the service team. At the age of 19, she’s been involved with Stiftsgut Keysermühle for a number of years already. And that’s because her teacher suggested that she do her work experience here. She says that interacting with guests helped her stop being so shy. Now, she puts all her energy into making sure that everyone staying at the hotel tucks into a hearty breakfast. And she does so with a great big smile on her face. Her manager on the service team, Tony Klostermeier, is encouraging her to go on to study hospitality. Exciting plans for a young woman who was given a chance on this inclusive team.
Sustainable preserves using traditional techniques
Stiftsgut Keysermühle has a large garden that’s open to the public. It’s home to a play area, benches, big old trees and, if you know where to look, a herb garden, berry bushes and fruit trees. Any fruit that isn’t used straight away is cooked up by the staff to make chutneys, jams and syrups. Sustainability all the way! So where do you buy organic food in the southern Palatinate region? Lots of farmers have made the switch to organic and run their own farm shops. Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim is one organisation that’s a step ahead of the game, producing on its own Demeter farm and a vineyard, and then selling in a farm shop and two organic supermarkets of its own.
Preserving the cultural landscape with vine cultivation
One example of how Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim is leading the way as another organisation committed to inclusivity is its wine-growing initiative. A Lebenshilfe workshop group has been practising the noble art of cultivating vines to produce fine organic Palatinate wines here since the mid-1980s. What started off as a recultivation project for historical terraced vineyards at the bottom of the Wachtenburg to the south of Bad Dürkheim has evolved to become a wine-growing operation spanning 23.5 hectares. Riesling and sparkling are just some of the fine wines produced here – and they’re all organic and delicious. “By working to revive the terraced vineyards, we’ve been doing our bit to preserve the cultural landscape we know and love,” says Patrick Müller, the expert wine-grower heading up the efforts. The wine-growing team is made up of 35 workers and seven specialists. People with and without disabilities work side by side on this inclusive team. More than that, though, people with different skills are brought together and have to learn to pull together. “All the enquiries we receive from other institutions make it clear to us that we’ve managed to create something really special here,” says Patrick Müller with a smile.
“We don’t just use the finest cuts – we promote nose-to-tail eating,” explains Marie Estelle Dupré, Sous-Chef at Freiraum, the restaurant at the hotel Stiftsgut Keysermühle. Before she joined the kitchen team at this inclusive and sustainable restaurant, she was used to a more conventional way of working. “With the old model, the chef would come up with the recipes and then we’d buy in the ingredients, without anyone giving any thought as to what was in season. We do things differently around here. We buy the freshest local produce and build our recipes around that,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. They use every inch of each vegetable too. So, you might find that cauliflower appears on the small, modern menu in different forms: steamed in florets, puréed or even chopped up finely to resemble couscous. The kitchen team relishes the challenge of getting creative with veggies. With the restaurant’s eco-friendly vibe and commitment to sustainability, it’s no wonder that there are always vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.
Close collaboration with local partners
In line with its sustainability strategy, the restaurant aims to buy organic, seasonal produce where possible, ideally locally within a radius of 70 kilometres. If they can’t source what they need from within the region, they follow the same criteria and look further afield within Germany’s borders. And they only buy fair trade coffee, herbs and spices. One exception to the rules is goat’s cheese, which the restaurant team sources from nearby France. You won’t find it on the menu in winter, though, because the goats aren’t milked during the colder months of the year. Buying in all the ingredients takes a lot of precision planning, with the team relying on trusted local partners for fish, vegetables and a whole lot more. And there’s never a moment to rest! The kitchen team serves breakfast for hotel guests in the morning and cooks lunch for schools and nurseries after that. Then they have around 80 covers to prepare for the restaurant in the evening. Not to mention catering for conferences, weddings and other events on top of all that. Inside the restaurant, you get an immediate sense of the team’s dedication and professionalism. That doesn’t stop them providing service with a smile and having a brilliant sense of humour, though. But what makes the team at Stiftsgut Keysermühle really stand out is how inclusive it is. The workload is divided between employees with and without disabilities. And everyone is faced with the added challenges that come with running a sustainable restaurant and respecting resources.
Pioneering organic farming with Demeter certification
During July and August, the tanks, presses and fermenters are more or less abandoned, with just one colleague operating the label machine nearby. The rest of the workforce is out in the vineyard, tending to the vines. “Everything’s growing like crazy at the moment,” says Patrick Müller. And you can tell that he’s itching to get his hands on those Palatinate vines. His colleagues on the farm at Kleinsägmühlerhof all have a lot on their plate during the sunny summer months too. The farm is located in the Eckbach valley, around a 20-minute drive from Bad Dürkheim. Since the 1980s, eco-pioneers have been injecting their passion and working hard to transform what was once a conventional farm into an operation guided by a social and sustainable strategy. In fact, the Lebenshilfe farm now has the prestigious Demeter certification awarded to sustainable farms, support from private individuals and donations from well-known institutions.
Happy pigs with ideal living conditions
It’s unusual to find a farm with livestock around these parts. That’s why the 120 cows (including 40 for milking), 30 pigs and almost 1,000 chickens at Kleinsägmühlerhof get plenty of attention from visitors and locals alike in a region where the main focus is wine and vegetables. The pigs are so used to people stopping by that they don’t bother waking up from their slumber. They can snuggle up in the straw, always free to roam around outdoors as they please – just like all the animals kept here on the farm. Sustainability is at the heart of it all, with resources being used carefully and nothing going to waste. Shrivelled potatoes are fed to the pigs. Leftover eggs are used to make pasta for community catering. Grains that don’t make the cut for bread become chicken feed. “We throw next to nothing away – there’s a worthwhile use for everything,” says Maria Burgmaier-Danner.
Farmyard expansion with new building
38 people with disabilities work at Kleinsägmühlerhof. Married couple Maria Burgmaier-Danner and Richard Danner have been in charge since the very beginning. And they’re supported by half a dozen volunteers, the odd trainee and 17 employees too. There’s always plenty of work to do and duties are shared between the team – milking the cows, helping out in the barn, farm shop or bakery, perfecting the living conditions, processing milk, providing transportation, taking care of admin, supporting workers with disabilities... The list goes on! The cowshed was extended recently in line with the EU standards for organic farming. And now there’s another crane on site, as the farm prepares to move the bakery, milk processing facilities and farm shop to a new building for 2022. As it stands, the bakery team performs the miraculous feat of baking 300 loaves in just 58 square metres every day of the week (except Sunday). And the bread is nothing short of divine, with its delicious crust and soft, squishy centre. The new building will open up opportunities, making it possible to produce more pasteurised dairy products to sell and creating new jobs for people with disabilities. Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim opened up its own Leprima organic supermarket so it would have somewhere to sell the food it produces. To start with, the shelves were just stocked with the organisation’s own products like wine, baked goods, milk, eggs and meat, with many of the items for sale boasting Demeter certification. Over time, products were added to the range, sourced from other organic suppliers within the region and organic brands from further afield in Germany. For example, you can buy products here from community-supported agriculture in nearby Ungstein. Supermarket Manager Moritz Knipser is keen to point out how important it is that everyone can work together in a laid-back environment. This is important for the team and also the customers who love the personal interaction they get in store. According to Moritz Knipser, a second shop in the town centre has been well received too. Expect to see more premium organic produce grown locally!