A Weekend in the Countryside
A Weekend in the Countryside
Paraszt-Wellness in Gömörszőlős, Hungary, gives volunteers insights into sustainable farming and ecological lifestyles.
A Thursday afternoon in February. Young city dwellers, most of them from Budapest, are on their way to a small, tucked-away village in northern Hungary, travelling by train or in jam-packed cars. After a week of work or study, they are about to spend a long weekend in the countryside. Yet they are not here to sleep in or to relax. They have chosen a more active form of recreation.
Doing Business in Harmony with Nature
Gergely Hankó, a young Budapest-based agricultural ecologist, organizes the Paraszt-Wellness—“Farmer Wellness”—weekends on his own time. About 15 volunteers have come to Gömörszőlős near the Slovakian-Hungarian border this weekend to help out at an organic farm. Their work is paid in room and board. They repair roofs, take down adobes, saving the clay bricks for reuse, take care of vegetable gardens, or build a greenhouse that is heated with compost.
The Ecological Institute for Sustainable Development in Miskolc founded the organic farm in 1993, with the comprehensive mission of applying the notion of sustainable development in practice. Over the past 15 years, foundation president Iván Gyulai developed and refined what is called the deep-mulch procedure, which preserves soil humidity and quality, secures nutrient supply and eliminates the need to treat the soil mechanically. The procedure is used at the farm in Gömörszőlős.
“The basic question,” says Gyulai, “is how methods of sustainability can improve people’s lives, in our case, in a tiny village. Communities on the periphery are often in almost precarious situations. The residents do not generate much powerful demand as buyers, nor are they able to produce a supply of appealing goods. Our project is therefore also an attempt to revive the local market here. Our visitors bring strong, quality demand, and we are able to meet more and more of it with local products and services, which in turn provides a source of revenue for the inhabitants and stimulates local demand.”
A Lesson in Sustainability
Iván Gyulai reports that each year 2,000–3,000 visitors travel to Gömörszőlős from all parts of Hungary to learn about the sustainable, eco-friendly technologies and methods that are showcased here. Many come to participate in the “Farmer Wellness” program; others are students on field trips. They learn about mass and rocket heaters and compost-heated greenhouses. They see a composting outhouse; a treatment and storage system for only lightly used “gray” water, such as bath water, which can be reused as service water; a fruit-drying facility; sun collectors made from used beer bottles; solar panels; clay as a building material; a straw-bale house; the windmill; and the wasp garage—which houses wasps, as the name suggests.
In Touch with the Locals
Judit É. Kovács is the mayor of Gömörszőlős. She says that the community is home to 73 predominantly elderly inhabitants, between the ages of 60 and 70. There are some additional part-time residents who own weekend homes in the village. Recently the foundation has greatly helped attract young residents to the village—they volunteered at the organic farm, they liked it there, and then they decided to stay.
Organic farming works very well, but some of the villagers are not following the example on their own farms. They are set in their ways—old habits die hard. And yet they have come to accept the foundation and the many visitors to their village. What is more, as age-old, self-sufficient production methods survive to this day, the foundation, the new residents, and the old villagers have begun to build prosperous partnerships. The latter cook pasta and make jam and schnapps for visitors to the institute as well as the volunteers. A service environment is evolving, which in turn helps build the local market. A villager who lives across from the organic farm puts it bluntly: “If it weren’t for the institute, Gömörszőlős would no longer be here.”
It wasn’t the mission of the initiative to turn Gömörszőlős into an eco-village. The organic farm was meant to be an educational institution. And it is a success: People are flocking to the village from all around the country to learn about sustainable farming methods. The foundation is also advertising its courses in the village. The class on mushrooms, for instance, is particularly popular with the locals.
Several thousand people have learned important things here in Gömörszőlős. Some of the visitors do it for recreational purposes—making yourself useful at an organic farm for a weekend is a welcome getaway from the daily grind.