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Organic Pioneer Klaus Griesbach died

by Horst Fiedler (comments: 0)

Klaus Griesbach with Organic Farm Manager Chen Cong Hong
Photo from his time in China in 2007: Klaus Griesbach with Organic Farm Manager Chen Cong Hong. © Horst Fiedler

The founder of one of the first ever organic stores in Germany, Klaus Griesbach died at the age of 76. He was a visionary. His theses on organic specialist trade are still valid today.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his shop “Schwarzbrot Naturspeisewaren” in 1997, Klaus Griesbach was asked how he imagined the organic food specialist trade in 25 years. He hoped he would no longer have to question the quality of food products. He considered it a scandal that high quality food needs to be painstakingly searched for.[SK|bv1]  He hoped that “in 25 years’ time, I will live mainly from the produce of my garden, and thus participate less on the market than today”.

Neither one nor the other wish has come true. Although the organic share of food sales in Germany has risen from one to around six percent, the need for search still exists. Klaus Griesbach founded his shop in Hamburg together with his wife Marion McClenahan. A few years later, the couple had a son.

Market competition without reflection makes blind

“When asked about visions, orientation and guiding principles, I still remember Wilhelm Reich’s sentence: ‘Love, work and knowledge are the sources of our lives, they should remain so’”, said Klaus Griesbach in an interview with Achim Wagner. He got involved with the natural food market through his interest in philosophy and nature. “The progressive destruction of our livelihoods becomes all the more invisible to the participants in the natural food market the more they want to assert themselves in the market competition without theoretical reflection”,  he postulate. This could still be applied to the organic sector.

And even the following fundamental thesis has not yet been refuted: “Without a policy that radically counteracts the tendency towards destructive concentration inherent in free-market competition, that is repeatedly redistributing property, ‘natural food for all’ (like so many other things) will remain impossible”.

Downfall without partnership

The visionary also recognised the need for cooperation at an early stage: “Without a strong element of partnership, here meaning the renunciation of economic dominance, instead aiming for stability and possibility of joint flourishing development, the regional organic food trade will not be able to maintain its linkage to the philosophy of the natural food movement, and will collapse”.

The visionary is also still topical with this statement: “The organic food market can be understood as an ideological by-product of the modernisation of the system after the revolt of 1968. No single economic success within the organic food specialist market, however remarkable, can hide the fact that there can be no question of a policy that could make ‘organic food for all’ possible”.

Wage according to working hours and money for children

Instead, Klaus Griesbach has tried another form of economy in Hamburg. To him, it was important to avoid dependence on financiers, according to an article in Die Zeit written at the time. His motto was “those who commit themselves to us should not do so for percentages”. His staff was paid according to the number of working hours: same wage for same working time. Only women with children to look after got more money: 250 D-Mark for the first child, 150 D-Mark for the second.

At the end of the 1990s, “Schwarzbrot” had about 20 employees and was more than just an organic food store of today’s character. “Early on, Griesbach organised joint imports of rice and raisins, millets and oats from abroad with other shops in Hamburg”, reports Die Zeit. “First the imported goods were handled in Griesbach’s Schwarzbrot-Laden, then in the warehouse of the freight forwarder. Finally, Griesbach founded the Schwarzbrot Purchasing Association and rented his own warehouse in Hamburg Altona.” In 1999, the organic pioneer had to file for bankruptcy.

Development work in China

As a result, Klaus Griesbach started working for a Chinese importer before he went to China to advise companies such as Organic Farm, thus playing an active role in the development of its organic market. China’s organic reality was sometimes too much for Griesbach, writes the ARD in the advertisement for its movie “Grüne Tomaten für Moas Erben” (green tomatoes for Moa’s heirs): “He never dreamed that the alternative muesli culture would one day become an Asian luxury.

After his return from China in 2015, all became quite around Klaus Griesbach due to his illness. The industry is mourning the loss of a companion who has rendered outstanding services to the spread of organic food and the implementation of alternative economic forms.

May his cautions still be heard today and may at least his greatest wish “Organic for all” come true one day.

Also read the BNN’s book of condolences, in which many companions and friends have registered.


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