Romania’s hay meadows belong to the world’s hotspots of species richness (Wilson et al. 2012). Their flower densities, the amount of butterflies, crickets and grasshoppers are stunning when you visit these places. Most of these hay meadows are listed in Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive. Therefore, Romania has a duty under EU law to protect its 1.5 million hectares of semi-natural hay meadows (Paulini et al. 2013). However, many hay meadows these days are under threat from globalization by land use change, including the decline of dairy farming and land abandonment, because young people increasingly move away from rural areas (Knowles 2011). Therefore, trees and shrubs invade the meadows, and a loss of species richness is the long-term consequence (Baur et al. 2006).
I just joined an international hay making festival that the farmer Áttila Sarig and his family organized in the mountains of Ghimes, Romania. “Many people talk about nature conservation – we farmers practice it with our every-day activities.” The idea of this festival, supported by the Págony Havasc association and Barbara Knowles, was to promote local traditions and to support smallholder farmers in their sustainable way of living.
During this week, I learnt about the self-sustaining farming practices of farmers in the mountains. Attila Sarig and his family have 4 cows, for which they need hay in winter. These cows provide enough milk for the family, which produces its own cheese from the raw milk using its own rennet. Attila and his family use as little technology as possible, and therefore they produce most of their products by hand, and cut the hay by hand using scythes. During the festival, we also watched the production of traditional tools such as handles and rakes – completely without using electricity. Victor Baci, the local toolmaker said: “If I used electricity, I will have to pay the bill. Therefore, I will need to produce more rakes and sell them for higher prices. In the end, I will earn the same, so I’d rather do it the way I have done it for 60 years.” This, to me, sounds truly sustainable.
Willy Schuster, the “Michael Jackson of organic farmers in Romania”, is convinced that low intensity farming and manual work is the farming of the future – because resources are limited and because we head for sustainable lifestyles.
This festival and Willy Schuster’s organic farm in Mosna are very interesting elements of a movement of farmers in Romania that aims to preserve the high nature value farming practices that support high biodiversity. And it is a lot of work! After one day of helping out and several blisters on our hands, we had managed to cut 0.8 ha with the help of 15 people. This amount would be enough to feed half a cow through the winter. We took another half a day to gather the hay (with the handmade wooden rakes) and to produce four nice hay stacks, carefully arranged on a nest of branches. On these branches, the stacks could be transported to the barn with the help of a horse.
Áttila Sarig has a lot more ideas how to promote and support the self-sustaining lifestyle of farmers: He is planning an education center in his village, Aldomas, and is in exchange with farmers throughout Europe to learn and teach techniques for low-intensity farming and cheese-making. In my opinion, this movement is important to offer farmers a perspective to remain independent from large companies and allow their own ways of trading and accessing local products. If you want to read more about this, see this nice article in National geographic http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/transylvania-hay/nicolson-text, or visit http://mountainhaymeadows.eu/ and Barbara Knowles’ website: https://sites.google.com/site/barbaraknowlesproject/.
Baur B, et al. (2006) Effects of abandonment of subalpine hay meadows on plant and invertebrate diversity in Transylvania, Romania. Biol Conserv 132(2):261-273.
Knowles B (2011) Mountain Hay Meadows: the Romanian Context and the Effects of Policy on High Nature Value Farming in Mountain hay meadows – hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, ed Knowles B (Society of Biology, London, Boros Valley, Transylvania, Romania).
Paulini I, et al. (2013) The hay meadows in the SCI „Eastern Hills of Cluj”
(Romania): Data about mowing and abandonment. Abstract of oral presentation at conference “Mountain hay meadows – economic, social and environmental value”, available: http://mountainhaymeadows.eu/files/conference_2013/Day_1/abstract%2007%20Inge%20Paulini%20EN.pdf
Wilson JB, Peet RK, Dengler J, & Partel M (2012) Plant species richness: the world records. J Veg Sci 23(4):796-802.