Regional full provision, agriculture based on solidarity, organised as a cooperative: PlantAge takes a different path, but it is well received: In 2019, the company was awarded with the Next Organic Start-up Audience Award.
Since July 2019, PlantAge from Frankfurt (Oder) has been supplying households in Berlin and Brandenburg with seasonal vegan vegetables on a weekly basis. What is special about PlantAge is that it combines the principles of solidarity-based agriculture (Solawi) with the cooperative model.
This form of organization, which includes the production and consumption of personal needs, is also known as a prosumer community. The small-scale management of economic cycles is, according to Stefan Gothe in the critical Agricultural Report 2018 (Kritischer Agrarbericht 2018), a special aspect for the formation of regional value creation areas, because it actively involves consumers in this formation as prosumers and by means of capital investments.
Solidary and professional
“The members of PlantAge are therefore not only consumers, but also organise their own organic and fair vegetable supply,” says the PlantAge website. Frederik Henn, who founded the cooperative together with Judith Ruland, specifies the model: “Our investors are also our customers. As a cooperative, we are currently completely self-financed through deposits of around 150,000 Euros. With two crowdfundings, about 30,000 Euros could be collected additionally. According to Henn, the cooperative model has the great advantage of being able to find investors at the same time as customers. “This creates a long-term connection to the company, which provides enormous security during the start-up period.”
In addition, this structure helps to professionalise solidarity-based agriculture, adds Simon Scholl, who co-founded the similarly structured Kartoffelkombinat in Munich in 2012 and helped with the conception of PlantAge. According to Scholl, there are only 12 such prosumer communities to date, “all of them are pioneer initiatives that are already proving to be very successful.”
The cooperative requires Solawi-stakeholders to think economically, as a business plan is already required when the cooperative is founded. Professionalisation is important in order to leave the level of idealistic self-exploitation behind and to thus, step by step, create a path to the broad public.
PlantAge eG was able to benefit from the experience of the Kartoffelkombinat, with Scholl certifying that the Berliners are well positioned with their project in the “world capital of veganism”. PlantAge has found a niche with its focus on organic vegan vegetable cultivation and fills this niche very well with its own formats, identities and entrepreneurial drive. Furthermore, PlantAge has been “very strong in external communication” from the very beginning.
A franchise, but open and social
PlantAge also received support from WirGarten Lüneburg eG. Its board member Matti Pannenbäcker explains: “We support the foundation of citizen vegetable cooperatives with our Open Social Franchise System, whether with the brand “WirGarten” or without it as in the example of PlantAge”. The core of the system consists of eight modules. In addition to the basis of regenerative vegetable cultivation, solidarity-based agriculture and cooperatives, it also includes
- professional communication (target-group-specific, regular and on multiple channels);
- community building (establishment and promotion of an active WirGarten community);
- modular infrastructure (demand-oriented and low-capital infrastructure for dynamic operational developments);
- digital management (simple, digital, focused on the essentials and inexpensive);
- modern work organisation (promotion and development of self-organisation, holism and purpose within the company).
What all the above-mentioned projects have in common is that they set themselves apart professionally from market- and capital-driven forms of economy. These are countered by a community-based, value-oriented, i.e. completely different, entrepreneurial approach.