To have a purpose and to be needed, that is especially important for disabled people,” says Ardlet, who is responsible for farming, fruit-growing and horticulture at the Stiftung. To give disabled people a home was already the goal of the founder of the Stiftung, the St.-Johann-Verein and Adolf Aich, chaplain in Tettnang. Aich bought the “Schlössle” (little castle) in Liebenau in 1870 to create a refuge for the disabled and terminally ill. “He could no longer watch how these people were treated at that time. Together with a couple of nuns, he renovated the Schlössle. First they lived there together with the other residents. It’s easy. With some cows, pigs, sheep and goats.” The Pfleg- und Bewahranstalt Liebenau (Liebenau hospital and custodial institution), as it was called at that time, soon established an excellent reputation both regionally and further afield. By the end of the 19th century, it was home to over 400 people. Today the Stiftung Liebenau comprises 29 companies and has some 6,400 employees. The pillars of the Stiftung Liebenau are assistance and support for the disabled and elderly as well as education and training for young people with special needs.
“That is Fritz, Fritz Hofer. He makes sure that all colleagues in administration are supplied with fresh apples every day,” explains Jürgen Ardelt and slaps him on the shoulder. Fritz beams. Here in the sorting hall at the Stiftung Liebenau on Lake Constance, he packs ten apples in each bag and brings them to the individual offices. That is his job and although he is already retired, he still feels it is his responsibility.
“Farming has always played an important role in the Stiftung,” explains Ardelt, a farmer. “Especially for supplying healthy and fresh food. This ensured the survival of the community during the war. And even today, the Stiftung places great value on farming.” The Stiftung now cultivates 590 hectares, some 240 ha fields and some 230 ha grassland. In addition, there are 81 ha for the production of apples and 7 ha for vegetables. “Modern technology is essential for cultivating areas of this size. Overall, we have twelve Fendt tractors in operation. Starting with the smallest, a GT 235, up to our biggest, a 924 Vario.” Answering the question of why the company relies on machinery from Fendt, Ardelt smiles and says: “On the one hand, because we are convinced by the technology, and on the other, because we must perform an immense volume of work with very little personnel, and that is only possible if the employees are satisfied and motivated. Günther Reitter, who is responsible for agricultural machinery for us, has already publicly announced this in Fendt TV: “The Vario transmission is simply a dream to drive.”
Some 300 cows from the Limousin breed graze on the farm’s grassland half of the year – some with a view of Lake Constance. “We have five herds right now, with a total of 150 mother cows,” explains Ardelt. “We actually came to mother cow husbandry in a round-about way. Originally our farm was planned as a dairy cow farm. At the beginning of the 1980’s, we built stables for 190 cows. At that time, as Brown Swiss breeders, we had the ambition of not buying cattle, but rather filling our stables with our own calves. And then came the quota limitation and that hit us really hard. At that time, the quota was based on the amount of milk that was currently being produced on the farm. For us that was milk from about 80 cows. At that time there was no quota trading and we therefore could not use our stable completely. At the end of the 1990’s, we decided to give up dairy farming,” recalls Ardelt, who has been with the Stiftung over 30 years. “I don’t know of anyone that has left farming, except for those that had to retire,” he answers laughing, if you ask about his long staff membership. The animal husbandry, especially the traditional stable work, offers good opportunities for handicapped people to work. In addition to mother cow husbandry, the green area of the Stiftung also has a horse farm. It accommodates boarded horses and some rescued horses. “There is a lot of work to do here, such as grooming the horses, which can be done without stress. These people cannot deal very well with too much pressure. We also care for the animals from the adjacent Ravensburger Spieleland amusement park.
“In general, we aim to include disabled people in all the work we do. A good place for this is our farm shop.” The name farm shop may be a bit understated, because it is a store with a sales area of 650 m2 and an adjacent café. “We sell most of our products there and offer a complete range of products, comprising meat, vegetables, flowers and fruit, but also books and small items for decoration.” The flowers and vegetables offered there also come directly from the Stiftung. More than 40 different types of vegetables are grown on 6 ha of open land and in the hothouses of the Liebenau Nursery. “Root and leafy vegetables, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs, even melons, thrive here next to cut flowers and potted, bedding and balcony plants. There is a lot of manual work required here and that is why many disabled people work in the nursery. When I started here, I knew about disabled people, but not how to treat them. But you get used to it quickly. Then it’s a lot of fun to work with these people, these special people. You get so much out of it. And it is very satisfying to see how they develop here with us.” A great example for this is Marc Bulach. Like Fritz Hofer, he works in the sorting hall. In the three years that he has been working at the Stiftung, he has moved up to become a fork lift driver and is now responsible for loading the modern sorting facility. The farm’s entire apple harvest is stored on the farm and prepared for marketing in the sorting facility. “The entire track, from the cultivation of the apples to their marketing, is in our hand. We take the last apple out of storage in June and, at the end of July, we already start harvesting the new apples. That means there is only a time period of about four weeks where we don’t have our own apples.”
Another source of income for the company, besides traditional farming and support for handicapped people, is providing training for young people with learning disabilities. “The young people can attend a three-year training programme after they finish the special needs school. They get a skilled worker degree from our business areas farming, fruit-growing and horticulture. The trainees live here and receive practical as well as theoretical training here on location. This is often a real challenge for our teachers, since the trainees have very different skills and talents. For example, one student may not be able to add one and one together while the student next to him is autistic and a genius with numbers. One thing all of our trainees have in common is their enthusiasm for Fendt tractors,” says Ardelt, smiling.
You will find more information about the Stiftung Liebenau online at www.stiftung-liebenau.de