Farmers' Eyes on a Trip
Farmers’ Eyes on a Road Trip -Recent trip to Austria and Slovakia (for family reunion).
Just can’t stop seeing with my farmer’s eyes, nor with my environmentalist’s eyes. I’m also a husband, a father, and an appreciator of things beautiful and I see with those eyes. What a richness all these lenses give one.
We all want the best of life and for our offspring. We all have hopes and dreams, values and visions.
I spent a year in Vienna and Austria many decades ago and though there was the disorientation of my age, it was also exhilarating to see the positive changes which have happened in the country over the years. It was clearly recognizable that Austrians still appreciate the unique beauty of their landscape, the musical and artistic heritage they have been blessed with, and their delicious foods and drinks we all know them for. They have done a remarkable job to preserve these aspects of their land and culture. You’ll see no billboards in Austria, nor utility lines in their mountain villages. City parks are full of roses, and houses are bedecked with window boxes draping all manner of flowers. A free man, the Austrian “wandersman” is alive and well in his lederhosen happily waving his hat to you from mountain trail (or, I’m sure, demonstrating daring-do on the slopes in winter).
This farmer found it impossible not to constantly snap pictures of the incredibly steep slopes being cut for hay. I noted the small plantings of a wide variety of small grain crops—likely all for local consumption. Flour for breads and pastries, feed for meat or dairy animals, or transformation into brew. These certainly weren’t endless tracts of grain destined for export. Changes I noted in Vienna were subways rivaling New York’s; pedestrian inner city streets; parking garages but not visible—they were all underground bedecked with parks. There were cyclists of all ages (as there always were), but now bike lanes. To the east of Vienna there were windturbiness as far as the eye could see.
The economy matched land, the times, and the cultural tradition of the people. Austrians had planned for their collective future well.
Slovakia reminded me of Vienna I knew as a student—cobblestone inner city streets, houses in need of a little paint. But it was teeming with enthusiastic youthfulness. Though clearly less well off than their Austrian neighbors and nervous about monetary resources, Slovakians seemed to be confident in their abilities and the opportunities which were presenting themselves. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, they’ve reverted back to prior forms of stewardship. Young people we spoke with have embraced an environmental mentality but it is tempered with the realization it must work economically. They are thrilled to show you the diversity of plant species in the cattle pasture; bees hard at work foraging the wild blooms of mountains still roamed by wolves. They’re proud of a horse breeding program in a national park aimed at supplying trained animals to more carefully log the forests which abound and are a very important industry in the country. Like most Europeans, they like to experience nature in a pedestrian way, and also to provide opportunities for others to do so. Quality of life is exemplified by the many cultural traditions Eastern Europeans are noted for—sincere slow paced family-style interactions punctuated by hearty foods, strong drink, folk music, and dance.
What we took away from our trip was how our own farm follows very much in the tradition of green truck garden belts around cities all over the world. Farming is always some variation of mankind cooperating with nature to derive healthy sustenance and loving relationship with the gifts of creation. Like all the thoughtful people we met (and didn’t meet), we try to conserve these gifts so they can be enjoyed endlessly. Together with all for whom we supply food, we hope we are creating the culture most fulfilling to our place and time.