Words and photos by Hannah Stein
I met Friederike Gaedke (Frieda), gastronome, local food advocate and executive director of Die Gemeinschaft, at her charming flat in Berlin, where we talked over a warm cup of coffee about her life, work, and of course, her passion for good food. She dove into the story of her career thus far, including her work with Die Gemeinschaft; the collective she leads, which aims to innovate and improve the food systems of its community, specifically, that of the local Berlin-Brandenburg region.
In her own words, Die Gemeinschaft is“an association that connects artisanal food producers and gastronomes from all across the value chain; from fine dining chefs, to public canteen chefs; to beekeepers, to cheesemakers; to farmers and people that work in between… in other words, everyone you can imagine involved in producing and serving food”. Since its establishment, Die Gemeinschaft has achieved a tangible shift in the mindset and practices of Berlin’s culinary community, focusing the attention of both industry professionals and consumers alike towards values of sustainability and the support of local food systems. They provide a platform for communication, collaboration and education between producers, chefs, restaurateurs, craftsmen, other industry professionals and consumers. This encourages the establishment of genuine, long-lasting relationships, leading to better understanding between members of the food industry and the increasing ability to cooperate when it comes to addressing issues of locally sourcing ingredients, regenerative agriculture, ethical labour, social accessibility and quality.
“I always had a passion for hospitality. I loved working in restaurants, but as a long-term career, I always wanted something else, something more than serving guests. This is the perfect place to be, being the glue between everyone”. Die Gemeinschaft organizes farm visits in which industry professionals are connected directly with producers by visiting their workplaces and learning first-hand about their lifestyle, working practices and what makes their products unique.
The inspiration for this model came from Friederike’s experience as a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo, Italy, where some of her fondest memories were of the visits she and her peers made to artisans and producers in and outside of Italy. “It was a moment for me to connect all the dots and realize how much stands behind our ingredients. It’s not just a single person; there’s culture, history, agriculture, climate, and terroir. It was something that made me passionate and realizes the interconnectedness of things”.
During the last year, though public gatherings were no longer possible, the farm visits are something Frieda continued to do on her own. She regularly visits producers, to hear their stories and understand their work. Through social media, other digital platforms, and word of mouth, she communicates what exactly makes these producers unique and their product valuable. She also aims to advocate for these producers from within the industry, by making their product more accessible to the local market.
Throughout her time in Italy, Friederike was inspired by how engaged communities were in the preservation of food culture, traditions, and the support of local producers, but she saw more possibilities for innovation and the freedom to explore new ideas here, in Berlin. That’s exactly what Friederike aims for with Das Symposium, an annual event hosted by Die Gemeinschaft, during which gastronomes and industry professionals gather to “bring new food culture to life”. Das Symposium offers the opportunity for individuals across the industry, from young and burgeoning professionals and students of gastronomy, to seasoned professionals, to meet, inquire, discuss, and hopefully build lasting and fruitful relationships. The goal of the event is to gather inspiration, exchange knowledge, and establish new concepts and initiatives, from diverse perspectives, both local and global.
Die Gemeinschaft is definitively a local initiative, but its influence is noticeably gaining traction in the surroundings of Berlin and beyond. Reaching out to producers outside of the city and bridging the Brandenburg-Berlin connection from farm to table, is one of their main goals. Friederike would like to see this concept flourish in other cities, though she admits that it’s not simply a one-size-fits-all situation. Each city, town or region has its own specific problems, as well as its own strengths and advantages, but each place is equally capable of creating an event that brings together its unique community.
Communities already exist naturally, it’s just a matter of expanding their reach and building connections between them to form a bigger and more resilient group of people who are willing to support each other. In the end, strengthening communities benefits everyone; Chefs and kitchens can have access to better quality ingredients, and producers can experience security. Ultimately, the better people can connect and understand each other, the less likely they are to act inhumanely or without conscientiousness towards one another.
She explains that one of the advantages in Berlin is that the city already has a very strong sense of community, which is not the case in many other major cities. However, on the other hand, Berlin is yet to have the infrastructure to work easily with its local producers. Another hurdle to improving food systems in Berlin is the fact that consumers are still not willing to pay the price of locally grown or produced goods. Friederike recognizes that the movement towards more sustainable and ethical food systems is often perceived as being elitist and believes this is a matter of both logistics and perception; “We need to include all social structures and not just people who can afford a good food system. I don’t yet have the singular answer to these questions, but it’s a process”.
Before parting, I ask Friederike what she believes are the best ways that people can support their communities, their local food industry and promote sustainable food systems? “Know where your food comes from. That doesn’t mean you have to know where every grain of rice is coming from, but just look around, see who is already in your community and talk to people. You’ll never find out unless you take that first step and ask. There are so many local organizations already in place which are advocating for change in specific areas and doing really meaningful work, so reach out and join them! It’s not about working alone but about finding and building your community. We are so much stronger together than alone, and we can do a lot on a local level. Find your passion, find the people who share it, and go from there”.
If you’re interested in learning more about Die Gemeinschaft, visit their website: https://die-gemeinschaft.net/en/ . To become a member of Die Gemeinschaft, you can apply here: https://die-gemeinschaft.net/en/join-us/