Cherries, Politics and Refiguration of Spaces

19. August 2022

One likes to show guests something special, and depending on what they find interesting, the places usually selected range from museums, shopping malls, historic city centers, impressive nature reserves to the latest 5-star restaurant. In contrast, our visiting scientists from Chile are interested in how fruit production in Germany differs from that in their home country. For this reason, we, the CRC project A03 “Goods and Knowledge II” in cooperation with the DFG project “Apples and Flowers”[1], visited a fruit farm together with our guests Beatriz Bustos [2] , Patricia Retamal and Raúl Contreras. Beatriz Bustos has a doctoral degree in geography and is currently working as an associate professor at the University of Chile. Her colleague Patricia Retamal is currently doing research for her PhD thesis in feminist geography. Raúl Contreras works as a consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and is writing his PhD thesis in agricultural economics.

© Linda Hering/Lara Espeter

Orcharding: sometimes big, sometimes small

On the outskirts of Potsdam, we meet Gerhard Neumann on his farm. He leased the farm in 1992 to grow fruit when he had finally gathered enough money after the German reunification in 1989. The 83-year-old has much to tell – about starvation during and after the Second World War and the longing for vacations on his grandparents’ farm, where there was always enough to eat. The latter prompted him to complete a gardener’s training and two degrees, eventually leading him to work in the field of phytopathology (the study of plant diseases) in the GDR in an agricultural production cooperative (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft, LPG). The history of the LPG and the transition processes to today’s land use were in particular of great interest to the Chilean scientists.

When asked what has changed since then, he explains: “Whereas in the past, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) used to centrally control decisions on prices, varieties and cultivation quantities, among other things, in the course of the planned economy, today it is financial oligarchs who continue to do just that. For this reason, he tries to remain as independent as possible. His farm runs mainly because the entire family helps to cultivate the 38 hectares. They sell to private customers who harvest the fruits themselves or buy the freshly picked produce in the farm store. What they do not cultivate themselves in vegetables or other goods is purchased from wholesalers – for example, sausage specialities, honey or beverages.

This form of fruit cultivation, which is designed for self-picking by end consumers, is unusual to our Chilean guests. Chile is dominated by large-scale producers specialized in exporting grapes, apples, and blueberries to the EU, the U.S., and China in reefer containers via the sea.

© Linda Hering/Lara Espeter

External influences such as Corona or rising energy prices are putting the farm under increasing pressure. The cherries, for example, should actually be irrigated to achieve higher quality. However, this is cost- and labor-intensive. According to Neumann, there is state support, but it is too bureaucratic and has too many requirements, which is why he prefers to forego the additional paperwork.

During the conversation and the following tour around the orchard, the phone rings every minute. Gerhard Neumann answers questions about opening times, makes an appointment for an interview with RBB [3] or discusses how many euros a kilo of cherries should be sold for with his sales manager – he takes care of everything.

We visit the cherry tree plantation. Gerhard Neumann keeps inspecting individual fruits on the trees for maggot infestation. Chemical pesticides are used, but only as much as necessary to keep the maggots away. Customers do not want to see maggots crawling on the cherries, nor do they want to ingest pesticides. In his opinion, however, it is not the use of the latter per se that is a problem, but the enormous quantities used in large-scale production. In addition, the starlings have to be kept away from their prey by repelling them with banging sounds, which in turn annoys local residents. Quandaries everywhere.

© Linda Hering/Lara Espeter
© Linda Hering/Lara Espeter

Political context and the refiguration of agricultural land

The conversations with Gerhard Neumann and the tour over the fields also raises questions about the refiguration of spaces as a processual social reorganization resulting from socio-spatial conflicts. In the concrete example of the self-harvesting farm, changes in the agriculturally used area as well as the associated work processes become comprehensible, even tangible, in the light of historical development. In particular, the influence of the changes in the political system becomes clear. For example, after the Second World War, the site was home to an agricultural cooperative (LPG) that grew steadily as a result of mergers. Due to the reunification of Germany, this same land became a wasteland, which, until the issuance of new leases, was only cultivated unofficially. Subsequently, Gerhard Neumann expanded his farm again by leasing this land and adding adjacent land, though on a much smaller scale. Other continuous changes are related to the use of the cultivated area, for example, through the observance of crop rotations or testing of new varieties. For instance, raspberry bushes have been growing on the field we visit for a few years, but, due to diminishing yields, they will be replaced in the near future by new berry bushes or fruit trees. The selection is based, on the one hand, on what is qualitatively good, i.e. flavorful. On the other hand, long-term yield forecasts are always included, which means that the farm is constantly changing.

The relevance of political contexts for the refiguration of rural spaces, among other things, can be seen not only in Neumann‘s Erntegarten (Neumann’s harvest garden – the name of the farm). The influence of political conditions on property relations can, for instance, also be compared with Chile, as the Chilean scholars tell us. Following a severe earthquake in 1939, the economy was restructured in an export-oriented manner through the founding of the Association for the Promotion of Production (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción). Under Salvador Allende’s socialist government (1970 to 1973), privately owned enterprises, including those in agriculture, were nationalized. The dictatorship under Pinochet (1973 to 1988), who came to power in a military coup in 1973, privatized not only these new state enterprises, but also water use rights. The rights granted during this period continue to influence the country’s agriculture until today. As a result, smaller farms still have little or no access to water other than rainwater.

These examples illustrate how socio-spatial structures develop locally specific characteristics due to different contexts, which are associated, among other things, with different ownership structures, water rights or a different orientation of agricultural production. This goes hand in hand with the fact that expectations and legitimization processes are negotiated differently. Cherry cultivation, for example, is therefore not only specific in terms of the design of the agricultural land and the associated production relations, but also arouses very different associations on the part of production and for customers, as well as among researchers.

Author Information

Dr. Linda Hering ( is research associate in the subproject “Knowledge and Goods II: Communicative Action of Consumer and Intermediares” (A03) in the Collaborate Research Center “Re-Figuration of Spaces” (CRC 1265) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She is particularly interested in how the relationship between humans, the environment and technology is (re)shaping the agricultural and food system and how this relates to sustainability.

Lara M. Espeter ( is research associate in the project “Apples and Flowers. Effects of Pandemics on the (Re-)Organization of Commodity Chains for Fresh Agricultural Products” and associate member at the Collaborate Research Center “Re-Figuration of Spaces” (CRC 1265) at the Technische Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on the origins and effects of social inequality by looking at current and historical structures of the global world economy.

[1] The project looks at the impact of the Corona pandemic on value chains, comparing apples and cut flowers in two different growing regions.


[3] Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg is the state broadcasting corporation for the states of Berlin and Brandenburg