I Come From the Earth

Katharina Serafimova sits opposite me wearing a red coat with rose petals on the sleeves and a crimson scarf with red threads at the ends. I have made it my task here to catch a glimpse of the red thread or the web of the many red threads of her life.

Growing up in Portugal, Katharina has lived in Brazil, Germany, and Switzerland and is involved in numerous ecological projects. Nevertheless, she says about herself: «I come from the Earth.» Fittingly, she currently lives on Lake Constance in Thurgau, Switzerland, with her daughter and partner, with direct access to the lake. Her first home, however, was the earth of southern Portugal, where she lived with the tides by the sea: «There, I was allowed to talk to the elementals.» Later in Brazil, her commitment to ecological issues became more apparent. As a teenager, Katharina completed an exchange year there and was robbed on a bus to Curitiba on her way to a cello festival. Except for the cello, everything was taken away. After being stranded at the festival, a friendly family of urban planners took her in. Their thoughts about urban development, the environment, and land made such a deep impression on her that she knew inside that she also wanted to do something in this direction, only transformed even more into the human-living, i.e., to where the creativity of human formation meets landscape and ecology. At the time, she saw access to these topics through a degree in natural sciences, for which she moved to Switzerland for the first time. Her search for the causes of unsustainable world conditions finally led her to the topic of money. «I didn’t understand money. How does the money flow, and who is behind it?» she wondered, which led to a job in the sustainability sector of a Swiss private bank and was deepened through work for the WWF. It was about reaching ever more powerful people who could use society’s levers for positive change. «Over time, however, I have noticed that this field has more influence on me than I do on the field,» she sums up this time today. She decided to stop her lobbying in the green financial sector on a flight across the Atlantic: «I flew across my beloved Atlantic to talk to a bank in the US about decarbonizing its portfolio, although they probably wouldn’t do that anyway.» It became clear to her that real change could not happen by talking about it, but rather it had to be taken into one’s own hands.

Serving the Earth

So she became an entrepreneur and founded the organization Terra Sintrópica with two Portuguese women, which is about promoting a regenerative type of agriculture – again, the earth as a topic, this time as an entry into the entrepreneurial world. Since then, she has been forging «unusual alliances to bring business and agriculture back together.» A redesign of the monetary system is an important milestone on the way because money is actually «the spiritual element of the economy» for Katharina. «If we all drink directly from sources and eat what we collect from the forest, we may not need money, but the moment the human creator is added, the need for something like money arises.» The problem is that over the centuries, we have created a monetary system based on guilt, which leads us to extract more and more resources from ourselves and the earth. Katharina would like to counter this with another decentralized and lively monetary system, «which connects us again.» The money issue also plays a vital role for the earth and organic farming «because even if a few producers do business regionally and organically, large food chains may include the products in their assortment, and small shops and businesses no longer have a chance.» In addition to the Terra Sintrópica project for organic agriculture in local, semi-arid areas of Portugal, Regenerate and Shareitt are probably the most important areas of activity through which Katharina’s commitment gets fertile ground. Shareitt is a human-to-human marketplace, an app where 76,000 users worldwide can work together without money – «a good karma app,» as Katharina puts it. Regenerate is committed to regenerative farmers. It is about «redeveloping the flow of resources and good relationships,» in Katharina’s case, with a special focus on the Lake Constance region.

Image: Katharina Serafimova

Impact Unfolds through Reality

Powerful visions of a different life for the regions in which she works guide her path: her goal is to find consistently healthy organic food in school cafeterias, hospitals, and retirement homes in the Lake Constance region in five years. Where do the impulses come from to get involved in such a variety of ways? «New impulses come into my life when I am asked. It’s about not rushing forward from myself, but perceiving where the real question, where the need, the invitation is.» The invitation to work comes not only from people but also from the earth in the broadest sense. This interplay between the earth on site and the administration of the public, cosmopolitan world runs like a mobile of red threads through Katharina’s life. «I live here in Thurgau on the periphery, in my cave, so to speak, and yet it always catapults me into working and acting with people who have their finger on the pulse.» Katharina’s way of life could be depicted as a hermit who works in public. In feeling for what is about to happen, Katharina sensitively finds her fields of activity, always with a move to action: «It takes a lot of Michaelic powers. And Michael doesn’t ask so much: What do you find beautiful, or what is your intention? But he asks: What are you doing? What is really created by your works? Which people are actually better off?»

Before her current place of work on Lake Constance, Katharina lived happily in Portugal and thought she would stay there forever, but then came Covid. «During my time in lockdown, a lot has become clear to me. My daughter’s school situation in Portugal was no longer ideal. My leadership at Terra Sintrópica prevented real empowerment of the local actors, and as if by chance, Lake Constance emerged as a new place to live and work.» In Thurgau, she lives by the lake, cooks for her daughter and sometimes for the village’s children, and connects with the people of local agriculture. «If I live here, I can’t simply do nothing for Lake Constance. What I’m actually doing here is serving Lake Constance. Because what we do here, in turn, influences drinking water throughout Europe.» Like the cycle between water and earth, of Lake Constance and the earth around the lake, Katharina’s life seems like an inhalation and exhalation movement between pause, internalization, and systemic effect on the outside. How these threads of action come together remains a living task, the fruits of which can perhaps be tasted while eating organic food in a school cafeteria in the Lake Constance region or swapping on the Shareitt platform. – Translation: Monika Werner

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