We proudly document this great book by comrades from Germany, the first chapter on working on an organic cooperative commune-style farm can be read here. – AngryWorkers
We are furious farmworkers. This text is the second inquiry from our forthcoming book: Farmworker fury – Inquiries about organic agriculture. More chapters will follow soon.
In 2020, we read Class Power on Zero Hours by the AngryWorkers. It left us buzzing. After some time of not knowing what to do with our inspiration, we decided to write this book about our work experiences. Leftists often either romanticize (organic) agriculture, or they want it to be fully automated and industrialised. Beyond capitalism, we will have to learn to work the land in a truly sustainable way. Therefore, we think it’s important to have a workers-based analysis of (organic) agriculture. We are writing this book to contribute to such an analysis and we are hoping to receive feedback, comments and critiques from fellow workers and comrades.
We wanted to give organic orchards a chance for a change and learn more about the pruning of standard fruit trees. We found a little family business with an organic orchard, where we made a deal to stay for 2.5 months in winter. At the start, things seemed great, but we ended up being fed up with the narcissist boss and spontaneously left one month earlier. After being annoyed at ourselves for putting up with him so long, we now feel happy we spent time at this company. We got many insights into what it’s like to work in a family-owned business, and we learned more about standard fruit trees, fruit production and processing. Moreover, we are now hoping this text can be a contribution to a collective process towards a revolutionary workers’ takeover of agriculture (and all other sectors, of course). And we hope this text can help fellow workers and comrades analyse their working conditions and to understand better how a family-business owner defends capital every day.
About the company
The company, let’s call it “The family business”, is located in a German-speaking part of Europe  in a very wealthy region. A major city is only a 25 minute-drive away and the business itself is in a small town in a popular tourist destination with stunning landscapes. The business markets itself in an idyllic style: Family-owned and -operated with a beautiful little farm shop selling a wide range of mostly self-produced artisanal fruit products like juices, vinegars, ciders, liquors, dried fruit, as well as fresh apples and pears. On their website and in real life the owners are super proud of all the prizes they have won for running a sustainable future-proof organic enterprise, etc etc… Their core business is to cultivate apple trees in the old-fashioned way of the meadow orchard (Ger. Streuobstwiese). This used to be a widespread practiced cultivation in Central Europe, but has been declining since the 1950s.
About meadow orchards
Meadow orchards are meadows with scattered fruit trees or fruit trees that are planted in a field. Meadow orchards traditionally have standard fruit trees (“Hochstammbäume”) on them, which can become as tall as 8 metres and support a wild variety of wildlife and insects. This is a contrast to modern plantation orchards which mostly have dwarf fruit trees grown as spindle bushes.
As a mode of food production meadow orchards are very extensive. The grass is mowed two to three times per year only and the trees have to be pruned and harvested annually. Over the course of the year, maintenance work like fencing, putting up bird houses, insect hotels, maintaining ponds, the own tree nursery and grafting can keep several workers busy.
Unique selling points of this company are the cultivation of hundreds of different kinds of old apple and pear varieties which are not commonly found anymore. And on top of being certified organic, this company uses no pesticides, not even substances licensed for organic production.
This is worth mentioning, as commercial fruit production relies heavily on pesticides. Of all crops cultivated within Germany, apples and vine are the most pesticide intense. In conventional apple plantations pesticides are sprayed 20 to 30 times per season according to the Heinrich Boell Foundation . The low genetic diversity makes them vulnerable to diseases.
In organic agriculture, synthetical pesticides are forbidden, but substances of natural origin are not. Only one-tenth of the active-ingredients in pesticides available to conventional production is allowed in organic production . It is hard to find a fruit company which does not use any pesticides at all.
Nowadays, organic and conventional fruit production is usually done in highly intensified plantation systems using dwarf trees  with a lifespan of only 10 to 20 years. The advantage of these dwarf trees is that they already produce fruits 2 to 4 years after planting, and are relatively easy to prune. These highly intensified plantation systems rely heavily on intensive inputs (spraying, irrigation, fertiliser, nets or roofs to protect against hail).
The bigger fruit trees, called standard fruit trees, only produce relevant amounts of fruit about ten years after planting and are very tricky to prune as they get so big. It is a long-term investment with returns only beginning after ten years. The financial return of meadow orchards is a combination of different yields: Fruit, grass for cattle, leaves for the cowshed, and after 100 years some valuable wood for furniture building. In short, those trees do not fit capitalist development from diverse to specialised. As a result, meadow orchards have almost been completely abandoned for commercial production. They still have many ardent supporters and lovers among hobby growers and nature conservationists.
In recent years, in the small-scale organic scene, integrating the commercial use of fruit trees and high-quality timber into farming practices has become fashionable. On-farm experimenting and scientific research is being carried out on these practices which are summarised under the buzzword agroforestry.
A quirky business being apparently successful with a supposedly unprofitable mode of cultivation stirred our curiosity. What was their different approach and how did they make a living of it?
About The Family Business
In total the business cultivates 30 hectares of meadow orchards with 100 trees per hectare. The biggest share of those are apples. Beside that there are also pears, nuts, cherries, hazelnuts, and more. Some of it highly professionalised, some at an experimental stage.
The business itself has only existed for about twelve years. The owner, we’ll call him Bigboss, used to be a businessman. He made his money with several companies, all of which he sold when they were very successful. At some point, Bigboss decided he wanted to do something entirely different, which he is really passionate about, from his 50th birthday until retirement. And he got all fired up for standard fruit trees and meadow orchards.
We have sympathies for a person investing their money in planting trees. If Bigboss had been solely about maximum profit he would have put it in shares from the arms industry or other disgusting stuff and enjoyed his leisure time. Nevertheless, we had our troubles with the work conditions and the social dynamics which we write about further down.
Many of their meadow orchards were planted in recent years only. This means many of their orchards are not in yield yet. It takes ten years for standard fruit trees to produce a relevant yield. But once planted they can be in use for many decades.
The second part of the business is lead by Bigboss’ son. We’ll call him Littleboss. For tax reasons, the farm is legally split into two independent companies: Bigboss running the production and Littleboss operating the processing and marketing of the produce. This legal division is very common for farms. It is about saving taxes and receiving agricultural subsidies. Littleboss runs the farm shop and a processing kitchen/distillery for jams, liquors, vinegars. In the harvesting season in autumn he oversees the pressing of the apples into juice.
We got curious about this fruit business despite our distrust in happy-family-runs-an-organic-artisanal-business advertising, as we are personally interested in skillsets that evolve around agroforestry and meadow orchards. After capitalism, we will have to organise truly sustainable means of food production. We will have to adapt to the climate collapse, grow food with much less fossil fuels, and at the same time produce a good yield while stewarding biodiverse habitats. We wanted to see first-hand what is going on right now and which transformative potentials we can map out for a workers’ takeover of fruit production.
Our plan was to be able to take work a bit easier in order to have a chance to learn more on the job, as we are not trained fruit growers with fast pruning skills. So we agreed with Bigboss to get a lower pay plus free housing in a small apartment on-site. We received €1000 gross per month and were, on paper, employed part-time; really, we were working full-time. Legally speaking this was not 100% correct but we wanted to get a foot in the door. After our experience at this company we strongly discourage such deals, no matter how tempting it seems to gain skills that way.
In the farm shop we got a 30% discount and we got a whole lot of stuff for free, like when a label was not put on a jar properly or when something was close to a due-by-date.
In the end, we worked an average of 38 hours per week for seven weeks. In total we earned €1530 net each and put aside €250 each for savings after all our spendings on groceries, leisure and our car.
What we did there
Some days, we helped out Littleboss doing odd jobs in the processing side of the business, like tidying up storage rooms, putting labels on bottles, filling jam in jars, or vinegar into bottles. We spent most days working on different meadow orchards with Bigboss and one to three fellow colleagues.
The first two weeks were great. Bigboss gave us a lot of guidance and instructions on how to prune trees and we were able to try out a lot at our own pace. Often it was freezing cold, as it was the start of the year, but we were dressed in our winter work gear and rain clothes and equipped with hot drinks and huge lunchboxes. So we enjoyed being outdoors from dawn to dusk.
The pruning is done with scissors/loppers, handsaws and sometimes a battery chainsaw, standing on high ladders. The ladders  were up to six meters high. What we also often did in those first weeks is covering wounds on trees with clay paste, and collecting all the cut off branches and putting them onto large piles, which we picked up later and shredded to chips with a mobile petrol-powered wood chipper.
There was only one colleague who had been formally trained as a fruit grower. He was paid tariff, which at the time was €12,80 gross per hour (means roughly €1.780 gross or €1.300 net per month). He told us it took some negotiation to actually be paid industry-tariff instead of the legal minimum wage at the time. As a young, healthy person without children, living in a shared flat, this deal seemed ok to him.
Another colleague works there for two days a week. She still has another office job and prefers not to have all eggs in one basket. She is a Jack-of-all-trades-kind of person who grew up on a farm.
Another colleague is a retiree. All of his life he had done sideline-agriculture. He comes around occasionally, doing tractor work, fencing and other tasks.
Additionally, two other people help out more haphazardly. They have very well-paid jobs (to working class standards). Their love for fruit trees brought them in. They are friendly people and it paced out Bigboss’ verbal stress-making, as for them the work serves solely recreational purposes. Although they get paid they are not dependent on the job at all.
Then Bigboss’ wife plays an important role in the company. She is constantly involved, doing admin and office work and basically being a personal assistant to her husband. On top of that, she does all the reproductive work, including looking after their grandchildren. She does a lot of background work, while her husband is in the limelight. She maintains tools, fills up petrol and diesel in vehicles, cleans up behind and around him and is his personal secretary, catering service and whatever else needed.
In the harvest season, there are two seasonal workers from Romania. They come around every year for three months in autumn. We did not meet them in person. They made a lasting impression on the colleagues and especially on Bigboss. He is really fond of them. Both seasonal workers are men in their mid-twenties. They get paid “seasonal-minimum-wage” – which is a law to organise the exploitation of seasonal workers. It rules that employers can avoid paying any non-wage labour costs “Lohnnebenkosten” (like paid holiday leave, public pension funds or health insurance) as the state pretends those workers are secured by the welfare systems in their countries of origin . This is a legal construction the state comes up with to justify and facilitate precarious labour. The reality is different: Many of those workers seem to change jobs and countries constantly, which implies they are not insured back home. (We are curious to get in touch with seasonal colleagues who have 1st-hand-experiences with this).
Bigboss was always full of praise for his seasonal workers as they are supposedly super fast, racing up and down the ladders like squirrels with heavy baskets full of harvest on their backs, picking up to 100 kilos per hour on good days and good trees. To us, harvesting 70 kilos per hour (of fruit meant for juice) with a skilled team seems more realistic and safe.
Bigboss said that in the beginning, they were constantly smoking cigarettes, no matter what they were doing. So to discourage them from smoking while handling apples, he introduced a work pattern with an early start, a short breakfast-coffee-croissant-break, a longer lunch break around noon and an afternoon coffee break, so the two guys had regular chances to smoke.
Bigboss communicated with them with a few words of English and German, and with the help of Google Translate. He claims that he actually made friends with them and that they are not just workers to him. As a matter of fact, they are the only employees around the family business about whom Bigboss never said a single negative word. Nobody else was safe from his dismissive comments. Interestingly, he was more polite and considerate towards female than male workers.
Of course there was the usual employer talk, like: “Abroad in Romania people still know how to work and are willing to work hard. You cannot find such a decent work attitude anymore among Locals with their sense of entitlement and their lust for leisure and consumption, that is why this country is going down… blabla.” We guess that for the Romanian colleagues the mental load of the job was very different with the language barrier.
Assuming the minimum wage of €12/hr in (autumn 2022) at 55 hours per week for 13 weeks, this makes €8.580 gross. In 2018, with the then minimum wage of €8,84/hr, this summed up to €6.320. In 2021 the minimum wage was at €9,60/hr so it summed up to €6.864.
Bigboss and his wife told us that, for several years, they had tried to work with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Of course we heard the usual conservative racist slurs: “Those people are just not willing to work or not capable and it is their culture or mentality… blabla.”
Colleagues in processing and marketing
Littleboss was the owner of the processing and marketing part of the business. He told us that if he counts together all his working hours, he is probably below the legal minimum wage. However, he did not complain about that, contrasting Bigboss in this regard. He seemed to think long-term and had the idea of slowly expanding the business. He hoped that after several years on a shoestring budget the patience would pay out in bigger profits. So he did a lot of office work and planned next steps in evolving the business. He seemed to be in close communication with his wife and his father about the business. Also, he often worked shifts in the farm shop, processing kitchen or on the weekly market stall in town.
Littleboss’ wife was the one we saw most often working in the farm shop. Beside her, there were four people employed around the farm shop duties. Those four colleagues worked 20 to 30 hours per week. They did shifts in the farm shop and at the market stall, and also did food processing and sometimes supplied other shops selling their products. We did not find out what their wages were, it must have been about one Euro an hour above minimum wage. We did not get in touch much with the shop team, even though they were very friendly and welcoming to us.
Once we overheard that one person in the team seemed to be unvaccinated against the corona-virus. That seemed to cause some tension sometimes, as this worker was also not so motivated to enforce the legally required wearing of face masks in the shop at the time. For Littleboss it was important to have no fuss about the official corona rules and to simply obey whatever the law required, to not make his shop the secret meeting spot for face-mask refusers and anti-vaxxers.
Remarkably, Bigboss and Littleboss and their wives agreed that they would love to hire committed full-time employees who really want to dive into the job and realise their own ideas and projects… but they cannot find anyone willing to do that. They kept claiming that nobody wants to work full-time anymore… where is that going to end?! In our eyes they just do not understand the difference in motivation of the self-employed versus wage workers. Of course, workers do not want to be available to work all the time but have other things to do with their lives, which the bosses’ families cannot grasp.
Beside the two Romanian seasonal workers there are two bosses, two wives and another nine employees. Altogether this roughly comes down to the equivalent of ten full time positions. Except the Romanians all the other workers were Locals. It seemed like some conservative 1950s happy facade family business dream. We did not notice any class consciousness or fighting spirit with our colleagues. The different work arrangements (part-time, casual work and leisure-work) already make it difficult to get to know everybody in the first place.
Bigboss is roughly 60 years old. He founded the business about ten years ago. He grew up and lived in the area all his life. After school he did an apprenticeship and when he was about 30 years he started his own company. This became successful, expanded to more than 100 employees and operated internationally. But at some point, Bigboss got fed up with running a business and reconsidered his quality of life and purpose in life. He developed a hobby interest in fruit trees, which turned into a passion, and developed the orchard farm into a professional enterprise. He presents himself as a proud, self-made man.
Bigboss considers himself as strong as the workforce of two full-time people, and claims to work 80 hours a week. Work is his religion and purpose in life. He told us he even works on Christmas day, at least until the family dinner stops him. Clearly, he counted it as work to read books about apples or agricultural magazines. However, he did not consider it “work” if employees did exactly the same reading after work.
Good Boss – Self-made Man
Bigboss’ idealism about planting trees, nature conservation, biodiversity and organic production seems genuine and got us curious to work for him. One part of Bigboss’ personality seemed to be genuinely concerned about us having a good time in the area. He showed us around the area and had some recommendations for sightseeing and hiking.
We play-acted “young couple considering starting their own fruit business” which seemed to strike a nerve with Bigboss. He constantly gave us unsolicited business advice, often packed in very random, entertaining anecdotes. Those were good fun listening to, if we had the mental capacity for it. The ongoing conversation about “setting up a fruit business” culminated in us getting together with Bigboss three nights in a row after work to sketch out a business plan. In this process he actually showed us his own business numbers and financial plans. So we got first-hand insights into the finances and economics of those small- to middle-sized businesses, plus insights into the business owner’s mind. Beside being a (petty) bourgeois man it was interesting to realise that his idealism about organic food production and his curiosity in our own well-being seemed genuine. We did not ask for the business planning advice nor did we give anything in return.
Along with Bigboss’ endless talking we had an endless supply of delicious artisanal food. Bigboss’ wife always prepared hot tea and coffee with delicious organic croissants and homemade cake to take out into the meadow orchards. A few times we were invited for pizza or brunch and to taste all the different products they make themselves.
Bad boss – Self-made victim
The first weeks of our stay were great fun. But the working conditions and atmosphere deteriorated quickly after about the second week. We cannot pin this change to a particular event or incident. We guess that Bigboss did his calculations and realised that we were not working as fast as he was hoping for. His assumed profit was higher than what our actual work performance allowed for. His mood changed to grumpy-passive-agressive. He did not let us prune trees anymore but made us do odd jobs only, like picking up the pruned cuttings from the ground or feeding the wood chipper. This change was never talked about openly, we only figured it out looking back.
Sometimes Bigboss told anecdotes of how he was harassed or bullied throughout his own apprenticeship 45 years ago. Those anecdotes always involved older workers bullying younger apprentices and it was nothing new to us. The usual shit that happens when mostly men (have to) work together with all the rubbish about masculinity, hierarchies, alcohol, dangerous work & safety settings, etc. Bigboss seemed to pass on exactly the same oppression which he received as a teenager to his employees and wife.
Bigboss is a complete narcissist. He never listens to anyone and is constantly talking – sometimes he asked questions but just continued talking and did not notice that he did not get an answer. Beside some funny stories, most of his talking was about himself telling everybody how he knows it all, how clever he is, and what his opinion is. Often his monologues contained valid criticism. But the key message of all stories was that everybody else is completely incompetent and stupid, indifferent or ignorant and Bigboss himself is the brightest shining candle on the whole wide cake.
Bigboss is a guy with sudden unpredictable mood swings. One second he is very convivial and the next second he is shouting through the orchard that the team must work faster. After all, paying tariff means that with all the non-wage labour costs (Lohnnebenkosten) included, one minute of labour costs him 40 cents.
His instructions were very imprecise, like “Put that ladder over there”. At some point we decided to constantly challenge such orders by asking back: “Which ladder where?” to force him to be clear. It worked only partially. At the same time he had a recurring theme that “Nowadays it is sooooo difficult to find skilled, committed employees that are able and willing to think along”. We found out that when he said ‘thinking along’, he did not mean ‘thinking along with work processes to create a good work flow’ but ‘telepathy’. So we caught ourselves trying to read his mind instead of actually figuring out how to do a good job and to learn about fruit trees.
Another recurring theme of Bigboss’ monologues was the infinite complaints of any employer: How many taxes and fees he is paying, how lazy everybody is, how much he is working, how stupid everybody is… Every single day like broken record player. Self-made-man had a second identity as self-made-victim. After all, nobody forced him to work six-day-weeks without holiday, and nobody forced him to invest his money into a never-ending orchard business all by himself. And last but not least nobody forced him to leave his psychological problems untreated.
Some conclusions on working for an arbitrary authoritarian boss
We took the experience as a strong advice: Taking care of your own mental health is very important. Bigboss is a living example: Not doing so makes you an obnoxious person, without the capacity to realise that the actual problem is oneself.
Usually we are fine with physically exhausting work that we regard as useful, like producing food in a sustainable way. We are used to working long days outdoors. The most exhausting part of this job was the sheer presence of Bigboss. We did not have clarity about whether and how to fight back. When his talking was boundary-crossing or verbally abusive we did not manage to fight back; and we were not capable of talking openly to our colleagues about those topics. This left us feeling isolated, stupid, depressed and angry.
If you are the boss you are the boss: You can let it out on anyone. We found that David Graeber in his book Bullshit jobs was right:
“Underlings have to constantly monitor what the boss is thinking; the boss doesn’t have to care. That, in turn, is one reason, I believe, why psychological studies regularly find that people of working-class background are more accurate at reading other people’s feelings, and more empathetic and caring, than those of middle-class, let alone wealthy, backgrounds.
To some degree, the skill at reading others’ emotions is just an effect of what working-class work actually consists of: rich people don’t have to learn how to do interpretive labor nearly as well because they can hire other people to do it for them.” 
Bigboss makes a huge fuss about efficiency. He is continuously monitoring the economic and efficiency side of his business and openly shares his findings with his employees. However, the verbally abusive rhetorics caused a lot of stress. The stress combined with his imprecise orders led to misunderstandings and mistakes in work processes. You do not have to be an anti-capitalist dreaming of a workers’ takeover to understand that this arbitrary-dictatorship style of leadership is inefficient in the sense that it shrinks the profit of the company. It is sooo obvious that precise and good-willed communication will cause a much better atmosphere – where people actually enjoy working. This will increase the surplus generated by the business without any new investments in tools or training.
We hope this text can help fellow comrade workers to fight back such bosses. One thing we can definitely recommend is to trust your gut feeling, and to have clarity about your boundaries. We learnt the hard way how important it is to set clear boundaries. We often felt clumsily run over by Bigboss’ sudden outbursts and did not react sharply. Looking back, we also notice that his communication was imprecise right from the start. From now on we take that as a hint to be on alert and establish clear boundaries that cater for our own needs of clarity and good communication. If Bigboss or anyone else is unhappy with that we do not care. We’d rather get kicked out and find another job. Demand for labour is high everywhere in Central Europe (Comrades from wildcat magazine researched that alone in Germany there are 800.000 job vacancies in autumn 2022 ), so we can pick what and where to work.
Family-business-dynamics & gender roles
On their website, in public and towards customers, they always played the show of the happy family: Idealistically operating an artisanal-business, all employees are kind of adopted…
Bigboss’ wife seemed to have actively accepted her role of being the wife/secretary/assistant of whatever crazy project her husband came up with. To us, born in the 1990s, their family and gender dynamics appeared like scenes from our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ lives in Western-Europe. So it was a bit of a shock to find out that, in some milieus, our parents’ generation (and partially our own generation) seems to be like that until today.
Littleboss, son of Bigboss, was a much nicer guy with much better behaviour, some social competences and a genuine respectful curiosity in people. Even though he had a well-paid job as an employee, he chose to join his father in the orchard company.
Bigboss and wife lived in an apartment on site. Littleboss lived in another apartment on site with his wife and children. Interestingly, we never saw all of them together at once. It seemed like everyone was politely avoiding getting in Bigboss’ way.
Littleboss’ wife was usually the one running the farm shop. She also raised their children and pitched in wherever necessary. She used to have a public servant job in municipal administration but decided to join her husband in Bigboss’ orchard business. It was startling to learn that some women give up their economic independence and somewhat safe working conditions (public service salary, 35 hours a week, six weeks of paid holiday leave) for the idea of a family-operated artisanal company.
We do not grasp the ideological motifs why anyone would prefer being the wife of the boss rather than having an own career. This quote from an AngryWorkers article about Senza Tregua showed us why these people cling so much to their family busines dreams without getting much of a material advantage:
“Revolution is primarily described as a long civil war, during which the working class has to impose itself and its concrete material needs on all fronts against a class enemy that is not reducible to some high command, but exists as a ‘social block’ in the wider society: from local administration, landlords, the petty bourgeoisie in the form of shop-owners or small businesses, the mafia, the medical hierarchy, the police force, scientific management to the ‘workers’ right’. Senza Tregua explicitly demands that we cannot limit ourselves to ‘workers inquiry’ into the composition of the working class, but have to engage in equally detailed inquiries into the composition of the ‘block of the enemy’.” 
No matter the different styles and approaches between Bigboss and Littleboss, when workers’ struggles boil up they will know for sure which is their wider social block. Littleboss once mentioned that he disagrees with the leftist slogan “Alles für Alle” (Everything for everyone). After all, he is working so hard to set up his business, so he wants to enjoy the profits without insurgent disturbances.
(Mental) Health & safety
We learnt throughout the year that health and safety is always a hot topic. Of course, minimum requirements exist by law. Someone might have heard of some authority fairy in a far away bureaucracy forest who enforces those standards with a magic wand, but in reality it is us workers enforcing safe(r) work conditions, or nothing happens at all.
For the tree pruning we used ladders to climb up high into the trees. The ladders were up to six meters high. Those ladders were a Japanese make. They stood very firm due to their tripod design, and had spiky feet for a safe, stable grip. We were not always willing to move as fast as the boss regarded appropriate on those high ladders, as we were scared of falling. A worker falling off a tree getting injured for many weeks with, say, a broken arm causes a much bigger delay than someone working at their own pace. But of course, Bigboss did not grasp such obvious things, so we politely ignored his complaints about us being slow.
Bigboss had a weird habit of not using gloves, and was constantly whinging that workers wearing gloves supposedly cannot hold the scissors so well. Most days were just above 0°C, so we wore our own gloves – next time we will insist on getting gloves paid for by the company.
When working with the wood chipper, we had to demand ear muffs at least twice until we got them. Bigboss said he had „forgotten“ them.
When we picked up cuttings from the floor all day long, it caused back pain at the end of each work day. If this task is split equally among several skilled orchard workers it should be fine to do pruning for two or three hours and then for a change to pick up the cuttings from the ground for a while – simply giving the body the comfort of different moves. This was not an option for Bigboss. He was all about enforcing the assembly line styled division of labour onto the orchard. Although there are worse health and safety conditions in many workplaces around the world, we were not happy to have recurring issues about appropriate safety gear, on top of Bigboss being a drain on our mental wellbeing. We solved it like this:
After another abusive outburst we told Bigboss spontaneously that we were fed up with him and made a quick getaway. To one of us it felt incredibly liberating to break free, and the stupid face Bigboss pulled in the moment was worth it. One of us felt stressed about the sudden change and would have preferred to at least communicate once that we were not happy with the work conditions. Of course, simply walking out of the job is not a viable option for workers in precarious settings. All the better we did it to set a boundary. However, it would have been much trickier if we had had social ties in the local area, or an urgent need of the money.
The benefits of meadow orchards – before & after capitalism
Luckily neither Bigboss nor the exploitative social relations of capitalism in general managed to kill our love and care for sustainable food production systems. For many reasons, meadow orchard horticulture and the attached processing and distribution remain exciting topics to us.
If approached with professional horticultural skill and efficiently organised workflows, there seems to be a small profit margin in this kind of agriculture in the current settings of capitalism in Germany. As the profit margin in agriculture is very low, compared to other sectors, particular business models delicately depend on a particular legal frame work of tax exemptions, subsidies and holding up their market space. In organic horticulture, the biggest single factor on costs is the wages. So the chance to generate big exchange value (“Tauschwert”) with small scale meadow orchard production is low. However, the business generates a respectable amount of use value (Gebrauchswert), to use old Karl (Marx)’s terms. We think that our judgment of what is useful or not should neither be guided by romanticising pictures of happy peasants nor by what is economically profitable under current capitalist conditions. We want to inform our judgment by those extra thoughts:
Whether a company is profitable in the capitalist sense of the word does not tell us if the use value produced is worth preserving for a post-capitalist future. Liberals use the word eco system services to grasp the fact that corporations neither get paid for leaving the environment unpolluted nor for contributing to cultivating truly sustainable eco systems (as with the cultural heritage of the meadow orchard). Many of the positive impacts of meadow orchards, (like birds nesting in trees) are use values that are worthless to capital. Inspired by the neoliberal idiocy of externalised costs we see in meadow orchards externalised use value.
-Socially, meadow orchards are a way of producing healthy food locally with low (fossil) energy inputs. Tree maintenance requires an interesting skill set of farm workers. This has a potential for attractive, useful jobs stewarding agroecological systems.
-Ecologically, meadow orchards (or even single lines of trees dividing huge monoculture fields into several (still huge) fields) are a way to enrich biodiversity. Orchards offer a habitat for many different species, from the tiniest, still vastly unresearched, microorganisms and fungi in the soil, to insects, weeds, shrubs, birds, occasional lizards or mammals like hedgehogs, and many more. This does not mean “going back to medieval toiling on the field”. With all the skill and research available today, meadow orchards can be tended state of the art. Usually, foolproof, straightforward adjustments unburden the work a lot (and make it potentially more profitable and satisfiying). For example, using the tripod ladders we got to know at the family business, or symmetrical planting patterns. When the trees are planted in precise lines across a meadow, you can drive through with a mower swiftly in straight lines between those trees. However, the same number of trees planted randomly scattered into the meadow can complicate using the ride-on mower for decades to come.
– Trees shade their surroundings, therefore immediately causing a more temperate microclimate. This adds up, the more trees are planted (a walk in the forest on a blazing hot summer day gives the idea). This is relevant on a hot planet. Trees have a direct impact on the local and supraregional weather by catching dew that evaporates into clouds and rains down again; and by accessing deeper waters with roots. This water becomes partially available to other plants too. And of course, to mention the obvious, trees are carbon binders. In short, standard fruit trees are a prime example of a habitable earth : an expression we learnt from environmentally-concerned socialists. This type of food production creates a good harvest while leaving habitat for non-human beings.
Of course, trees are not the sole or ultimate answer to a truly sustainable, ecologically bearable food production. However, meadow orchards should be a piece in the bigger puzzle of sane (in the ecological and social sense) food production and adaptation to climate catastrophe.
No matter if living in rural or urban areas, the surroundings are much more pleasant with some trees around. So why not fruit trees? In a sane world, even the most liberal-reformist council would be willing to hire fruit growers to plant and maintain trees in public parks, and all around town, along roadsides and so on, creating affordable recreational areas for all. (Ohh come on it is not just romanticising, it is simply beautiful… Hmm maybe it is a little bit romanticising but we like trees anyways.)
-Beside keeping quirky, retired men busy at pomology  conventions, the eco-cultural heritage of countless old varieties of apples and pears (more than a thousand alone in Switzerland and Germany) is a biological value in itself. Somehow it is a living museum of human-tree interactions which have evolved over thousands of years.
– Healthwise, those old fruit varieties are precious as their dietary value is much better than boring sugary supermarket apples. They contain vitamins and other nutrienty that got lost when fruit was made to fit capitalist modes of production. Capital abandoned these varieties as unprofitable, for example because their stalks are short, meaning a worker needs two hands to harvest one apple and is therefore slower. Capitalist food production is a lot about shiny aesthetics and a long “shelf life” of products so it can be stored and transported for ages. (Like apples from New Zealand to Europe). Do not get us wrong, this is not some bourgeois bohemian hipster dream about the new fashionable super food. This is about healthy tasty staple food for everybody. Also, some of these old varieties now going extinct are much better at dealing with the weather extremes we are expecting due to the climate crisis than the few varieties still available in the supermarket. Preserving them might therefore be part of a successful climate adaptation strategy.
Some conclusions on a workers’ takeover in fruit production
As described above, the experience of working for Bigboss was bad. Still we learnt some bits about fruit production, processing and fruit trees. We gained insights into a small-scale business, its social and family dynamics and its economic challenges. Also, what remains to us as a great experience is writing down our experiences and publishing them.
If we aim for a revolutionary workers’ takeover as mapped out by Angry Workers in the texts The necessity of a revolutionary working class program in times of coup and civil war scenarios  and Insurrection and Production  and the ClassPower On Zero Hours book  we’d rather quickly learn how to grow food with little external fossil inputs (like fuel for huge machinery or fossil fuel based pesticides and fertilisers). Likely scenarios about a workers’ takeover have higher chances of succeeding when being less dependent on industrial-capitalist-supply lines (of fossil fuels, food and other things). A revolutionary uprising needs to swiftly shift from the recent state of food production to a post-revolutionary, sustainable one. This step is huge. Standard fruit trees are grafted and tended to in a tree nursery for up to three years before planting. Upon planting it takes about 10 years to gain a relevant yield for the first time. This is getting even more difficult in the face of climate crisis. All the growers and pomologists we have met observe the consequences of the climate crisis on a daily basis, like droughts, mild winters with late heavy frosts, or pests and fungi reaching new growing regions.
The Left often ignored or, at best, looked down pityingly on food production and its particular skill sets. This text is our humble attempt at starting to fill that gap (at least a tiny bit).
After a few days of rioting and looting the supermarkets, where does the food actually come from? How is production of food handled in the long run, when workers have taken over the big food processing plants? Surely we need some decent hinterland support to not run out of food when the supermarket loot of convenience food is eaten up. This means we need organised militant workers in agriculture.
So let us look into some statistics for rough estimates:
German agriculture produces 6.4 million tons of fruit, which generate a turnover of €869 million. The consumption lies at ca 72kg per capita. The country produces about 20% of the fruit it consumes. 80% is imported. Of all the fruit Germany produces, apples make up 75%, followed by strawberries. All other fruits are basically rarities. Neither the homegrown nor the imported fruit and neither the conventional nor the organic fruit are by any means produced in a resilient or truly sustainable mode of production. If we shift towards more sustainable, plant-based diets, the demand for fruits (and fruit trees) will increase a lot.
This family business has ten people working there (including family members) and cultivates 3000 trees on 30 hectares of land. If all the trees would be in yield, this means they can harvest up to 360 tons of apples annually. Half is first quality fruit (“Tafelobst”) and half is processed further, for example into 108.000 liters of juice. At this stage, the company’s yield is only a fraction of this number, as most trees are too young to bear fruit. It will be more work with the trees going in yield.
This means that this company can currently cover the annual consumption of 2500 people eating 72kg of apples per year, which comes down to eating an apple a day. Additionally, they can get about 820ml of juice or cider per week (roughly one and a half imperial pints). Taking into account that a healthy diet would require fruit consumption above the current average per capita levels, the produced amounts would suffice for much less people. I wonder what other people eat, as I eat already two or more apples a day(?!). And we do not just want to survive, there should be more than one pint a week after the revolution 😉
Conclusions on the potential of a workers’ takeover at the family business
Thinking along the lines of the scenario portrayed in the film The Loud Spring , industrial work places with big numbers of workers are the most strategic choice to plot anti-capitalist action. Supplementary to the film’s urban industrial emphasis we see that many people work for companies similar to The Family Business, with one or two bosses and only a few employees. As we experienced at this company, it makes a huge difference from one day to the next if the small business owner has social skills or not. At least it did to our mental wellbeing as employees, so that is not to be underrated as the daily reality of many workers.
Trying to initiate workers’ struggles or even workers’ autonomy appears next to impossible in this particular small enterprise. Especially as Bigboss, Littleboss, their wives and relatives are all from the area and the wider family is very well-integrated into the “local community”, being active members in local sports clubs or volunteering in council politics. They also maintain friendships with local entrepreneurs and politicians of several parties. So they have a wide informal network that allows them to give indignant workers a hard time. Meanwhile, they seemed to be very concerned about their happy-family-business reputation, especially towards customers. So if a conflict between Bigboss and the workers sparks up this is important. Perhaps it is handy to have fellow comrades that do not work there to increase public pressure on the company by spreading bad publicity about the work conditions; be it with leaflets, or a rally at the local farmers’ market where they have a stall, or via Social Media. At this stage the workforce in the family business seemed to be highly divided and separated from each other, with most employees working 20 to 30 hours weekly or only casually, while the family members work full time or more. Also, there was next to no interaction between orchard workers and processing/shop workers.
Nevertheless, for comrades who want to get rooted in that area and have infinite patience and strong nerves, the family business might be interesting: Bigboss is constantly talking about everything and anything and loves bragging. Often he shared information from his petty bourgeois friends with us in a highly unprofessional manner. Once, when invited to a local prestigious restaurant, he told us how much the restaurant spends on its wages annually, or which local business guy was not able to push through his private agenda in the municipality, and so forth… Organised comrades who are committed to staying in the area may tap this endless source of information.
Another possibility we see is working in companies like these to acquire skillsets useful for post-capitalist food production. However, once acquired, we have to think about how to apply those skills on a much bigger scale. Rather than trying to fight to take over Bigboss’ small business, we could pass on the orchard skills to land workers in industrial farms, while organising workers’ struggles and a take-over of the industrial farms. Those extensive orchard skills can offer inspiration for using the industrial farming infrastructure and fields in a healthier, more ecological way.
This is the second published chapter from our forthcoming book. To be continued soon.
We are keen to hear your criticisms and to get to know fellow comrades in land- and farmwork and a willing publisher: firstname.lastname@example.org
So this might be in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Northern Italy, Eastern Belgium, Luxemburg, Elsass, Lothringia or Nordslesvig / https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Sprache
 For an overview: https://www.quarks.de/umwelt/landwirtschaft/darum-nutzen-auch-biobauern-pestizide/
 Like this ladder https://www.inderst.it/assets/images/Articles/31268.jpg?h=420 or this one:https://inc.matisere.com/images/leiter/image/schemas_principaux/Obstbaumleiter.jpg
 This rule applies to employees from EU countries who stay up to 180 days, earn less than 15 €/hour and work only as seasonal helping hands in agriculture.
 David Graeber in Bullshit jobs p.175
 Wildcat No.110 p. 47 “Lying flat” http://www.wildcat-www.de/wildcat/110/w110_inhalt.html
 https://www.angryworkers.org/2022/10/13/senza-tregua-working-class-political-committees-communist-programs- and-collective-violence-in-italy-1973-to-1976-lessons-for-today/
 Pomology refers to the science of fruit-growing
 https://www.angryworkers.org/2020/10/10/the-necessity-of-a-revolutionary-working-class-program-in-times-of- coup-and-civil-war-scenarios/
 Class Power On Zero Hours chapter 14 and 15 from pg. 353 onwards