Apples that rot on the tree or end up as fallen fruit in the meadow? That doesn’t have to be the case, thought a Hamburg businessman and founded Germany’s most social juice shop. It started with a handful of employees, but now the harvest workers, gardeners and juicers are on duty all year round. The juice shop only employs those who otherwise have a bad hand on the job market.
They harvest forgotten resources with forgotten people: Jan Schierhorn and Nancy Menk and their team pick unused apples and pears from the trees in the Hamburg area to make juices and spritzers. But their initiative “The money hangs on the trees” is more than just a harvesting project.
The people who work here are called Olaf, Samuel or Simon, and they hardly have a chance on the first job market – because of a disability or other impairment. Here, however, they have found a job subject to social security contributions. However, their work also bears fruit in other ways: in recent years, the products of the non-profit GmbH have found fans in the gastronomy, trade and private customers in the region.
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If you want to get to know Schierhorn’s romantic side, then you should ask him about the beginnings of his social initiative. The 53-year-old doesn’t talk about it often, but he likes it. Then he raves about his favorite place in Hamburg’s Groß Borstel district, where it all started. At that time he had moved into a house with a garden with his wife and children. In that garden there was a bench under an apple tree that bore an amazing amount of fruit. Too many to use all of the fruit yourself.
The man from Hamburg noticed that his neighbors had similar problems and asked around elsewhere in the city. That’s how he came up with the idea of combining the biological resource apple and the human resource man. In 2007, the marketing and communications specialist, who owns his own agency, started harvesting apples in private gardens. The helpers came from a local workshop for the disabled, and other companies supported his initiative.
“The money hangs on the trees” was initially financed from private funds and prize money of 10,000 euros from the Körber Foundation. At first there was only a seasonal need for work. “But we didn’t just want to work temporarily for the project, we wanted a full-fledged cycle with a permanent workplace,” explains Schierhorn, who works on a voluntary basis.
This is how “The money hangs on the trees” developed into a full-fledged company over time. The team now consists of around 20 people. “45 percent of the workforce have a recognized disability status,” explains Managing Director Nancy Menk. According to the 33-year-old, the others have deficits or underperforming. “These are people who are underchallenged in workshops or who don’t apply there at all.”
Menk would like to offer meaningful jobs for people who don’t have it so easy in life, namely on the first, i.e. the regular job market. “It’s about capitalizing on your salary yourself,” explains Menk. In addition to the proceeds from product sales, an important financing pillar of the GmbH is the donations – there is no sponsor or fixed investors. In addition to the city of Hamburg, companies, organizations and private individuals support the regional, social and sustainable project.
The flourishing company meanwhile offers enough tasks for the whole year. Even if the fruit is harvested in autumn and processed into juices and spritzers: In the other months, the employees tend the trees and handle orders and deliveries in direct sales. “In order to secure jobs in the long term, we are expanding the spectrum.”
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The product range and services therefore also include gardening and landscape maintenance, our own leased areas and meadow orchards, the management of third-party areas, our own bee colonies, nature conservation concepts and so-called social days as a bookable offer, in which groups plant trees or harvest apples together with the employees. “It’s about appreciating resources,” says Schierhorn.
Over the next few weeks, the team is preparing for the upcoming harvest season from September to November. They are also feeling the climatic changes in the north, which is why the harvest sometimes starts earlier than in previous years, sometimes it is August.
The harvest yield is 60 to 120 tons of fruit per year, which the team either harvests themselves or receives as donations. 1.3 kilos of apples are then turned into 0.7 liters of apple juice, to which either pear, black currant or rhubarb are added in mixed juices. A bottle of pure juice costs 2.20 euros and a bottle of mixed juice costs 3 euros – a little more than in the supermarket. “We work a lot with conviction. For us, it’s not primarily about the price and the proceeds, but about the jobs,” says Schierhorn. As a sales principle, the gGmbH relies purely on word-of-mouth propaganda. “We are very human in all areas.”
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Nevertheless, the project is a good example of the fact that it is financially worthwhile even without making a profit. “The money is hanging on the trees” has built up a broad customer base in the region and has entered the local retail trade. In addition, a local partner has been found in Call a Pizza in the price-competitive delivery industry, which lists the juice spritzers as a promotion.
“We work in a highly professional manner, which many do not expect,” says Schierhorn. The secret behind it: “We configure the work in such a way that it has to be done and so the motivation remains.” Schierhorn is convinced that everyone can learn from each other and everyone can do something. It’s about thinking outside the box and seeing the differences as an enrichment.
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Menk adds: “We don’t want to proselytize, we want to create a place where people like to be, because work is a big part of life.” A principle that other employers are increasingly recognizing. “Entrepreneurs are noticing that certain models no longer work as they used to,” she adds. There is a greater inclusive rethinking process than a few years ago.
Schierhorn also learned to rethink. At the beginning of his project, the founder was still running around with a pocket calculator and determining how many apples the employees should harvest per day. In doing so, he forgot that even if the work is done more slowly, sometimes it comes with a different reward. “That leaves time, for example, to watch the rainbow.” Schierhorn quickly dropped the idea of the pocket calculator. Despite all the composure, it is important to set limits and achieve certain things. “We’ve also failed when it comes to long-term addiction, for example,” he admits.
As a rule, however, he succeeds, the connection to society and the strengthening of self-esteem. Not least because of the bottle design: the juice spritzers adorn the faces of selected employees. “According to the motto: I used to be a bottle, today I have one myself,” says Schierhorn and laughs.
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The article “If you do it right, the money hangs on the apple trees” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.