Vivian Böllersen is a walnut pioneer from Germany. With optimism, humour and professional expertise she runs an agricultural business called "Walnussmeisterei" at Herzberg in the north-west of Brandenburg. Her company is specialized in the cultivation and sale of walnuts. The "Walnussmeisterei" is part of the community of interests "Interessengemeinschaft Nuss, (IG Nuss)", a Germany-wide network for cooperation between german walnut farmers, refining tree nurseries, processing companies and trade.
On 8th November 2019, Vivian Böllersen, Managing Director of the "Walnussmeisterei" and founder of "IG Nuss/Sektion Frucht" took part in the AlpBioEco Open Innovation Workshop at Innocamp Sigmaringen. In the workshop, new business models for eco-innovative walnut products for the Alpine region were developed together with about 20 experts. It was a special honour for us that Vivian Böllersen took the trip from Brandenburg to Baden-Württemberg. She greatly enriched the AlpBioEco workshop with her special expertise. Here is AlpBioEco's interview with Vivian Böllersen:
AlpBioEco: Vivian, would you like to briefly introduce yourself and your company in a few sentences?
Gladly! I grew up in Berlin-Neukölln and after finishing school I decided to study agriculture in Eberswalde. My master's thesis already dealt with walnut cultivation in Germany and its untapped potential. In 2015 I founded an agricultural business and planted 200 walnut trees on 4.5 ha in the north of Berlin. In the meantime, my company also includes a tree nursery and various consulting services.
AlpBioEco: Can you tell us more about the tasks of the "Walnussmeisterei"?
Until our own harvest arrives, we travel a lot in Brandenburg and the surrounding area to buy walnuts from private individuals and companies. We trade with the regional nuts, crack them and process some of them into various products. I also give lectures to trade visitors, advise prospective walnut growers on planning their facilities and provide the planting material.
AlpBioEco: Who supports you in your company?
My husband helps where he can, but he is actually employed full-time outside the company. A student assistant supports me with the administrative work in the office and in the main season before christmas we have 2-3 helping hands on the farm.
AlpBioEco: How did the "Walnussmeisterei" come about?
I thought that after planting the walnut trees, I would have to earn money elsewhere for a while until my farm would yield a profit. However, due to the high demand for regional walnuts, the thirst for knowledge of many interested farmers and my contacts to walnut-growing nurseries at home and abroad, it quickly became clear that a broad-based business around walnuts could be developed more quickly. Since September 2017, I have been working full-time as an independent walnut master and I am very happy about this development.
AlpBioEco: What do you like about the walnut?
I think it is time to gain practical cultivation experience for a product that every man and woman knows, that has been growing here for generations and is used in the kitchen. This simply makes sense and is an exciting task at the same time: walnuts are in high demand and are consumed in large quantities, but in the retail trade they come 100 percent from abroad. I see this economic discrepancy as a challenge and I would like to contribute to ensuring that more walnuts in supermarkets come from Germany in the future.
AlpBioEco: Why is the collaboration with AlpBioEco beneficial and important for you?
The economic and ecological benefits of domestic walnut cultivation are being recognised by more and more farmers and career changers, and the number of young walnut plantations for commercial purposes is increasing rapidly. If these trees then enter their yield phase in 5-10 years, the question will soon be on the table as to which further value-added processes could be realised in Germany: From cracking to roasting or oil pressing - which marketing and utilisation forms are possible for German walnuts should be clarified by then at the latest. My contact with AlpBioEco helps me here: to recognise what potential is already available and to understand what is possible in the future.
AlpBioEco: What is the "IG Nuss"?
After my research for my master's thesis, I found out that there are already a handful of walnut farmers in Germany who have faced the challenges of this special culture courageously and unassisted, but often on their own. I wanted to bring these people together and from the very beginning I met with a lot of approval for the idea. According to the motto "Exchange of experience is the cheapest investment" we first met in a small group of 8-10 nut enthusiasts; in the meantime we have joined forces with the South German IG Nuss, which has been involved in nut cultivation in the forest for over 25 years, and organize annual excursions with 60 participants at the last count. The interest in these meetings increases from year to year, which confirms us in our work.
AlpBioEco: What do you think: what are the reasons that there is no walnut producer community in Germany so far?
The walnut has always been a self-sufficient tree. Every second yard or garden had one and so the supply of the village community was completely covered. In addition, since the 50 years the agricultural structures and also the fruit growing in Germany have been intensified and industrialized in a way that did not give any importance to permanent crops. The aim was to achieve fast, high yields with low land consumption. The walnut simply does not fit into such a system. But, as I said, demand has only started to rise so clearly with the decreasing number of self-sufficient farmers and in the wake of modern nutritional trends. I think now is exactly the right time to (re)launch these old cultures: People want to shop regionally and healthily; trees in the field and in the landscape are being specifically promoted and awareness of old values and the advantages of using one's own garden is rising again. A golden nut decade has dawned!
AlpBioEco: What is the benefit promise of a walnut producer community?
If everyone makes experiences, mistakes and progress for themselves, many synergy effects fall by the wayside and a success that might not be forthcoming has an exclusively frustrating effect. In the community one can learn from the mistakes of others, can reflect on one's own work and give everyone the opportunity to become better. In an economically oriented producer group we would have the opportunity to bring the German walnut market together. I think that especially in a sector in which quite a number of career changers have decided in favour of a predominantly horticultural activity, there are perhaps a few places where there is a lack of commercial understanding and a self-confident appearance on the market. For such an exclusive product, for which the farmer has accepted a lot of learning and risk, no dumping prices should be paid which would destroy the value of his work. I think we can achieve more together.
AlpBioEco: How can organisations and private individuals become members of IG Nuss?
We send interested parties a template for the declaration of membership by e-mail on request. A membership costs 20€/year.
AlpBioEco: How can people in organisations connect with you via the internet? (e.g. website, social media, newsletter etc.)
Our website for the interest group is www.walnussbauern.de.
Here we try to keep at least the dates up to date and offer various contact possibilities to us and other nut-growing companies. Since the work of IG Nuss is completely done on a voluntary basis, the answer may take a few days. This is one of the reasons why we are always open to people who are enthusiastic about nut growing in Germany and who would like to get involved with us, for example in maintaining the website or organising events! You can follow the "Walnussmeisterei" on instagram here and subscribe to our newsletter.
AlpBioEco: Thank you very much for this interview, Vivian!
You are welcome!
Get in touch with Vivian Böllersen:
Im Eichholz 33
16835 Herzberg (Mark)
Telephone: 0049 33926 729993
IG Nuss: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: © Vivian Böllersen