Four hundred brood-rams

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I don't even have to mention how surprised I was when I read this description beside my name in the Countryside – Adventure timetable. Sheep farm and four hundred brood-rams.....

Then I reminded myself that it was me who chose animal-breeding and farming at a “tanya” [typical Hungarian homestead and farm mostly at scarcely populated areas of the Great Hungarian Plain] as the ideal destination, because – as I explained it on the interview – I wanted to see the “hardcore part of it”. So at this point, I thought: “This is what I got.” It's not some kind of boring fruit plant breeding, carrot thinning or a sterile winehouse. Let me see the thick of it! Give me... the sheep too!

This way, I got to Gábor Kiss and his family in Szabadhídvég, in the Southern cape of Fejér county. It's a family farm with 800 mother sheep, 300 hectares of land, sheep, bambi, poultry. Tractor, fertilizer... breed-ram.

After my arrival, I had to shift to a new daily rhythm. Going out in the night and late bedtime has been replaced with evening bedtime and starting work in the early morning. At 6 AM we started in the poultryyard each morning (by the way, the milking started at 4:30 at the nearby cow farm), there were no “just ten more minutes sleep”, a quick coffee and the feeding could start. Water and feed for the poultry: ducks, chicken, then for the pigs, rabbits and the few exhibition sheep. The early morning sleepiness has been eliminated quickly by the animal noise: the quacks, tweets, cock-crows and grunts. The latter one always made me smile. We only had breakfast after feeding the poultry, checking the sheep farm, the workflow and starting the shepherds. First we feed the animals, then ourselves.

It's hard to even sum up how many things Gábor's family is doing, I hope I don't leave any of them: so there are the sheep, poultry, pigs, rabbits; mainly wheat, corn, sugar beet on the fields; grapes with wine cellar, white and red wines of many vintages; fruits: plum, peach, apricot, walnut, etc; forests – sometimes they go hunting; meadows and fields, with herbs growing freely. And a lot of elderberry, of course. It's a pleasure for the local people, but annoyance for the family. At the time I was there, it was a kind of elderberry-fever among the locals, who went by bicycle and car to harvest on the fields of the family and to pass it on for a price of 40, later 70 forints per kilogram. With good timing, they can earn many thousand Forints each day. It's a pity, that they collected it on someone else's field.,,,

During the week, we had to sit so-called “peasant-holidays” many times because of cold and rainy weather, but still had a chance to do many things. When teh weather finally turned sunny, we gathered the bales from the fields by the tractor mount. I only sat on the “guest seat” of course, next to the tractor guys: GergÅ‘ (brother of Gábor), and Attila (friend of the family). And yes, modern tractors are far beyond the ones that live in our imagination. These are high-tech machines, can be programmed with a computer, have a variety of settings to be optimized. These are really air-conditioned, have spring seats, and yes, a DVD-player. Once we watched a part of a movie during the long tractor-time – it was a Kusturica film, to be in style.

We may think, baling and sitting in a tractor all day could be boring, but beside the guys kept me talking all along, enjoying the beautiful view engrossed my attention. Some parts of the field were golden yellow of wheat, some were green of grass, the sky was all blue, and a red tractor on the fields made the view ideal for a postcard. At this point, I had an interesting conversation with Attila, whose family is the owner of the mentioned cow-farm. The farm's main profile is milk production; I could have seen the milking process itself (which is done by machines everywhere nowadays) the other afternoon. They sell about 500 litres of milk to the nearby dairy processing plant each day. I asked Attila how much they pay for a litre. “First, you tell me how much a litre of milk costs in the shops.” The plastic-packed milk costs 200 to 230 forints, but if I buy farmland milk, it can be 260 to 300 forints. Well, the family gets about 70 forints for a litre. They take the milk away each afternoon, remove the cream for further processing, dilute the pure milk with water and pack it.

While I didn't drive the big tractor, I rode the small stacker of the plant for a few laps.

While feeding the poultry the other morning, Gábor found out that it's time to remove the manure from the place of the three pigs, and I undertook the second half of the scoop. Well, yes: at that time, at that place I understood a lot: yes, shoveling manure, aiding a sheep to yean and harvesting over three days may be tiring and unpleasant, but have to be done. And even if the manure is stinky, you can make a mouth but it doesn't worth it. This is the logic of everyday life at the countryside. These kind of jobs have to be done too, and that's all.

Anyway, the stink wasn't that horrible on the spot, I rather focused on shoveling with the right technique. However it has soaked in my sweater deeply, like an expensive perfume, it accompanied me all day and ejected a cloud at every movement of my arms.
However, I can't miss to mention the least elevating part. Because sometimes (besides their slaughter) the sheep die after sickness, or their suffering needs to be aided by a throatcut. When I witnessed this latter one, or a corpse lying on the straw without its head (it's compulsory to send the head of every dead animal to the capital to examine it), I started to feel sick and resolved to become a vegetarian, etc. We just had eaten a nice mutton stew for dinner two days before, so then (as a meat consumer) I realised how hypocritical it was: to eat the meat of the animal which doesn't look like the living animal itself, then to get sick of an animal's  death.

It's natural that it makes a human being show emotions, feel sorry, but unless you're not a vegetarian, it's hypocritical to dramatize it.

I applied for the rural adventure – beside the adventure itself – mainly to form my view. My family and friends know that I'm a native, Budapest-born girl with many of the positive and negative characteristics of the big city lifestyle. Even my job is related to this, as an underguide I have to know all the small places and exciting stories of the city and to keep up with the latest city events. I often pulled the leg of my countryside friends who just moved to the city and looked down on anyone without asubway station nearby.

However, if I desire for quality recreation, real leisure and regeneration, I choose the countryside too.

Many things have to be admitted. One of them is that living in the city has been proven to be unsustainable in this form. Running such a big city has unbelievable expenses in the matter of finance and natural resources. The (over-)consumption, (over-)pollution gets complete with the lack of knowledge that we don't see where and how the materials (energy, food, consumer goods) reach us and where they end up as pollution; and we can only guess what they cause there. The other one is an interesting trend: many people from the countryside aim at the opportunities and the fizzle of the cities. The youth leaves the villages to get a job and better possibilities. Many of them says: “there's nothing in the village”, they miss the entertainment and cultural facilities, while – especially in Budapest – they can be the part of an exciting life. And while they leave the countryside, the classical, small family farming activity seems to disappear, and a layer in the city society is forming, which – seeing the limits of city life (the overdriven, too stressed lifestyle, the unhealthy environment, the food with unknown ingredients and origin and the lack of nature) – wishes to move to the countryside again. According to a French research, 20 to 30 percent of the twenty-agers imagine their future tlike they quit the city life at about the age of 40, move to the countryside and start to deal with agriculture. (At this point, rural farmers would quickly note, how ridiculous idea it is, that making such a sudden turn can only end up as a big failure. It may be true, but the desire is real.) However, you don't have to go to France, more and more people get to the decision also here that they wish for another environment, another life quality.

To sum it up, I was amazed by what I had seen on the family farm. It was their lifestyle and mentality that I appreciated. I had the chance to get acquainted with a well-running, well-organised, integrated farm which keeps expanding its area and increasing its quality despite every change and hardship. Returning the small profit into the business and working hard for the last 20 years brought the achievements. It may seem surprising that I emphasise how good it was to see an enterprise,which has been built up with righteous hard work, the participation of the whole family, and also to be advantageous for the village community and the countryside in general. As agri-environmentalist farmers, they paid attention for sustainable farming. Not because of some kind of green ideology, but simply driven by the common sense. Because it's the long-term interest of the farmers not to exploit the land by intensive monoculture farming and maximising production with artificial fertiliser, but to hold the natural balance with meadows, forests and diverse production. Because the goal is to keep the soil growing heavy crops even for the next generation, 20 years later. A real farmer is responsible for the soil, not just a single user of it.

I wouldn't have gained as much new experience even if I had been to a foreign country for a week. I could have witnessed everyday things which were often new for me.

This one week really changed my attitude to life.

I would like to thank AGRYA once more for organising the programme, and especially Gábor Kiss, uncle Gyula and the whole family for their hospitality, for the delicious meals (especially the mentioned mutton stew), for the dozens of stories and for how they shared their everyday life with me for this one week.

Orsolya Ujj