About cabbage and beets
In October we had the pleasure to visit Simon Vetter. Together with his family and employees, Simon Vetter runs the Vetterhof in Lustenau, which is considered a pioneer in organic farming in western Austria. In an interview, Simon talks about the regional form of farming, future challenges and his passion for his profession. With his open but down-to-earth nature and enthusiasm for new things, he convinces not only his closest environment, but also many households in Vorarlberg. We, the Rote Wand, are also enthusiastic about his philosophy and his product quality, which gourmet fans can experience at the exclusive Rote Wand Chef’s Table in Zug.
“There’s not a single week where we don’t harvest”
(Simon Vetter, Owner & Farmer of Vetterhof)
photo by Magdalena Walch
V: Can you tell us something about the size of your farm?
S: The belonging area is approximately 400,000 square metres, of which ¾ are grassland for our cattle and about 100,000 square metres are arable land. That’s where we grow our vegetables.
V: How many people are hired on the farm and where are they from?
S: Our farm hires 15 employees from very different countries. We are happy to have Kaat, an architect from Belgium, Clemens is a trained goldsmith, Ben is a trained carpenter, Victor comes from France and is a trained sociologist. So we are pretty diversified. That’s why we communicate in English for the most part of the day. When we eat together, it is important to us that we make sure that there is always something delicious that suits all tastes. From vegan to kosher to halal.
V: What kind of animals live here on your farm? Do any of them play a key role in your business?
S: At the moment we have a bunch of cattle. Then we have another 20 sows. Oh yes, and then there’s our dog and some cats. We can’t really use the grassland for farming. However these fields, where we can only grow grass, suit perfectly for our cattle. We use the fertilizer for our vegetables and sell the meat. So the cattle play a central role, because they maintain the economic cycle in our business.
V: You are also well known for your fresh vegetables. What sorts of vegetables do you grow and at what time of the year?
S: There is no single week where we don’t reap. For us, it is important to offer different crops of vegetables. That makes it more exciting, not only for our partners but also for us. With the celery itself, we do not attract anybody anymore. That’s why we’ve introduced many new crops such as spinach, kale, sprouts, radishes, sugar loaf as well as leek in the last few years. We now have a wide range of products, even during wintertime. This is also related to climate change, which we obviously do feel here in Vorarlberg. 10 years ago this diverse cultivation would not have been thinkable for us.
V: With whom do you work with as a vegetable supplier?
S: We supply about 700 households per week with vegetable boxes. These are mainly private households. The cooperation with the gastronomy accounts for a third of it. One of our partners is the Rote Wand. It’s not the big chunk, however, the gastronomy is an important sector for us, especially as we can benefit from the exchange with the chefs.
V: What do you think about discount chains?
S: We market and deliver everything we produce ourselves. We do not work together with cheap chains, but sell the products directly to our end consumers. The reason for this is clear – you are always the looser. The cooperation with them is not fun at all. In addition, cheap should always be seen in relative terms, because this often goes along with high prices. Even if the product price is cheap, someone along the production chain has to pay for it.
V: I can imagine that you need numerous of vehicles to be able to work on the farm. How many do you have?
S: Vehicles? I don’t know (he laughs). As far as machines are concerned, we are relatively moderately equipped. About 70% of the field work is done by other farmers from the surrounding area. This is cheaper and the cooperation with our partners works smoothly.
V: As a farmer from Vorarlberg, you have already experienced a lot (Laughter). Can you briefly tell us something about your career path?
S: I grew up here on my parents’ farm and then attended the agricultural school in Hohenems. After graduating I went to Vienna and studied at the BOKU (University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences). Then I moved to West Africa for a longer time period, where I learned a lot about agriculture. For example about the sweet potato – we process the leaves into spinach. We are the only ones who work with these leaves. Back in Vorarlberg I first worked in an office in Bregenz, where I quickly realised that I actually belonged to the countryside. Now I have been running my parents’ farm for about 3 years and I am very happy with it.
V: What are your strengths?
S: I think what really distinguishes us from others is that we are extremely curious and always want to try out new things. We are almost obsessed with curiosity and want to know how it works.
V: What kind of challenges will you have to face in the future?
S: One serious problem will be that the people who process our products will break away. The butcher for example – do you know a young butcher? Nobody is willing to learn this profession nowadays. There has never been a society that has eaten as much meat as ours. However, there have never been so few people who have dealt with this subject. This will become a massive problem in the coming years as it has actually become a trash product.
V: So you’re talking about craftsmanship?
S: Yes exactly. When I look at what’s happening right now, it’s pretty scary. We lose bakers and butchers. That’s actually a real tragedy. We need people to process our products, we are seriously dependent on them.
V: How does your day-to-day work look like?
S: My daily job routine varies a lot. Which means that I don’t really have a routine. I have to deal with graphic designers, with agricultural machinery mechanics, with soil chemists, with butchers as well as with chefs and social workers. So there are many different areas. So most of the working activities take place outside and I have a lot to do with a lot of different kind of things. (Laughter)
V: Your two-year-old son grows up here on the farm. Do you think he will follow in your footsteps one day?
S: Phuu! Right now, I just want him to have fun and enjoy life. My parents never forced me to take over the farm. It was my own decision. I never got to hear “you have to”. I am absolutely grateful for that because I know a lot of people who didn’t have the opportunity to choose. And that doesn’t work in the long-term, you can see that.
V: Can you tell us your favourite dish?
S: Randigrisotto (beetroot risotto) is one of the best dishes!
V: Thank you Simon, for your time!
photo by Magdalena Walch