Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One month in Hungary - Part 1: organic farming in Albertirsa

By Suzanne Maas & Christian Debono

It all started when we wanted to do a different kind of holiday. An active holiday that would put us on the move. Both of us coming from a background of green activism we looked at the options we had. We had heard of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) through friends that had worked in organic farms themselves in Spain and Italy. WWOOF is a world wide network of organisations that links volunteers to farmers and helps support organic farmers and also helps to spread the idea and experiences of organic farming.

We looked at the countries in Europe where we could go and the Hungarian WWOOF national group provided a free membership. Having been to Hungary before we also wanted to see more of the place than just Budapest or the Sziget festival. We contacted several farms and at one point it looked like we were heading to the North of Hungary. After some searching we were accepted by a newly joined farm in the Hungarian WWOOFing network, in Albertirsa. On the 21st of July we left Utrecht on a Eurolines bus to Budapest, and from there took a train to the town of Albertirsa.

After being picked up from the train station by the mom and daughter of the Korponay family, we arrived to their house and were introduced to the other family members (including the dogs) and the other volunteers. Meet Csaba, Zsuzsanna, Juli, György, Mihaly Korponay, their dogs Bugris and Kócos and the volunteers Laura and Mette from Denmark, Joyeta from Hong Kong and Elan from Canada. This busy household rapidly welcomed us in their midst and soon we were cutting apple slices with the other volunteers for the first test run of the beercan-solar-fruitdrier that Csaba had built by a local carpenter (seen below).

This day marked the beginning of 11 days of experiencing organic farm life, lots of cooking and baking with home-grown produce and an insight in life on the Hungarian countryside.

We usually woke up at 7:30, had breakfast and left for the farm in the outskirts of Albertirsa by car or by bike. There we did several tasks from hoeing, to picking up fruit, to painting the farm (when it was raining), planting strawberry plants, putting manure on the plants, removing invasive trees (hardest job ever).

Suz and Chris with Mette, Joyeta and Laura after hoeing a stretch of field

We also peeled fruits and vegetables to make jams and pastes, such as 'Paradise jam', which is “paradise in a jar” according to Csaba. This certainly awakened our curiosity, but turned out to be simple homemade tomato sauce, albeit very good. The culprit of this confusion was a translation error, as tomato is paradicsom in Hungarian. Besides practical work in the field, we also discussed organic farming, environmental issues and global sustainability with the family, to exchange views, knowledge and ideas. They turned out to be quite progressive and are aiming to become as self-sufficient as possible. Juli and Zsuzsanna also provided us with information on organic farming and permaculture principles, such as which plants are good to grow together (as they grow in symbiosis or to keep insects away). In the back-garden of the house, where they grow veggies and herbs, they have a rotating compost heap and a compost toilet that they move around every once in a while, so as to fertilize the entire garden in the end. The food that Juli and Zsuzsanna cooked was amazing; we tried so many vegetarian Hungarian dishes. A lot of us volunteers also got the opportunity to cook some dishes on the occasion of the father's birthday, with mixed results, but at least a fun and busy day in the big kitchen.

A glorious plate of food from the Korponay family

Friends have asked us if the work was hard and the answer is 'sometimes' but we were prepared for it because keeping a farm in good condition is not an easy job. We were working around 4 hours every day and we had the afternoon and evenings to relax. During our free time we played basketball, went reading near a fishing lake, played boardgames, went to the thermal baths (another Hungarian speciality which is great when you have muscle aches), we cooked, went horse riding, cycling and much more. Once per week we had a free day and in one of the free days we travelled by train and then climbed up to the fort of Visegrad.

Running at the lower part of Visegrad

To conclude, our first wwoofing experience was very rewarding. We felt really satisfied at the end of our stay: we learned so much and made good friends in such a short period of time. We now know that having a farm entails more than the romantic image of working outside and producing your own food, it can be very hard work. Nevertheless, it has made us eager to have a garden and start growing our own crops, it is so rewarding to be able to prepare and eat the produce you have grown yourself. We thank again the Korponay family for how well they treated us and for making us feel a part of their family. We miss them, their house, dogs, food and farm already, but we know that next year we will be going back.

Saying goodbye to Zsuzsanna, Juli (left) and Mihaly (right)