by Robyn Veraart
“Iti place aici?” This was, basically, one of the few questions that our new neighbours asked us in the first two years that we (Robyn, born in the US, and Lars, born in Holland) came and lived in a small village of 100 inhabitants in Transylvania. They seemed confused as to why we were there and, later, we even learned that some people in the village wondered if we were running from the law! Otherwise, it seemed unfathomable that a veterinarian and a psychotherapist who could make “good money” in their own countries would come to such a place, and for what reasons? When we answered that we valued the clean water running from the mountains that we could drink and the clean air and the fertile soil, this seemed to spark a glimmer of understanding: “Da, Da, aer este curat aici, si apa e buna, da…”. This they could understand, yet surely we had another house in Holland and would come here for vacations. And, indeed, for the first years, we did leave in the winters so that Lars could work and we could have some money to come back with. But we never owned another house anywhere else together. We chose to make our home in Romania.
Robin and Lars Veraart
Gradually our neighbours got used to us being around. They saw us making a garden and pruning our fruit trees. They saw us gathering fruit or painting our house with lime. We helped them with their harvests and began trading food items and favours. We got other comments like “Harnic.” And, perhaps a bit more often, “Nu e bun!” when they saw us doing something unusual, like making piles of compost. But mostly, over time, we just learned to live side by side. Eventually, because we had no land outside the village (“teren extravilan”) in the beginning, some of our new friends, Vlad and Oana, a pair of twins who were raised by their grandparents in the village, offered us the possibility to use one of their fields to grow more food. They seemed alarmed by the fact that we were not growing our own potatoes and so, for some years, before they got too busy with university and jobs, we shared their field and became more self-sustaining as far as our food production was concerned. We also began sharing a pig with them and this is a “family” tradition that continues now almost 10 years later…
It has taken us some time to realize how the village functions. Being from the West, where the system of neighbourly interdependence has, generally, been severely disrupted, we needed some time to really feel how deep the village systems of communication, favours and kinship go. The village seems to me now as a long and many-tentacled octopus, like one organism, one family (that is sometimes more and sometimes less functional!) Some parts of the organism choose to speak less with others, but generally, we are too small to ignore one another completely. The village is comprised of Hungarians and Romanians and a smattering of internationals in between. We need each other, so we have to get along. This is what everyone says. We attend funerals together, we eat together, we attend church services together and we celebrate together, especially out on the streets on a warm summer evening to wait for the few cows that are left to come home.
We have grown to love this place, and what began, for us, as a “3-5 year experiment” in which we wanted to live a lifestyle as close as we could to the previous owners of our house (who only bought lamp oil, salt and sugar) and learn all that we could from people in the village who still knew how to be food self-sufficient, has continued long past its original intended due date…. What we found is a lifestyle that offers us some solace in this world. We found a community that is still quite intact and alive. And we found a way to feel like we are making a contribution not only to the quality of our own lives but also to the world by living a relatively low-impact lifestyle and we take responsibility for producing our own food. This means that we use less of the Earth’s precious, limited and threatened resources. This helps us to feel like we are doing something for the multiple predicaments our human society is creating, however humble.
One of the main inspirations for our decision to do this was a growing understanding of the serious threats that small farmers and peasants are under. All over the world, people are being channeled off of their family lands where they could do “bread labor” (all work that leads directly to the production of one’s own food, clothing and shelter) and into cities where the only possibility is working for money to buy the necessities of life. We decided, consciously, to go against this ever growing stream. We believe that there are many who, like us, would make this same decision if they had more of a chance, financially, to make it work. This is why we are lending our efforts to setting up a new NGO in Romania called ALPA: Access la Pamant Pentru AgroEcologie. The purpose of ALPA is to generate funds to help young people to come back to the villages and to farm with small and sustainable, agroecological, techniques. This is happening through the help of the European Access to Land Network and many other people and organizations including EcoRuralis in Cluj.
Romania is in a special position to help to save the beauty of the countryside which is maintained by the agricultural practices of its peasants/small farmers that still exist. Amazingly, Romania is home to 50% of Europe’s still-existing peasants. Peasants who know the land and how to work it in ways that make it more beautiful. Unfortunately, much land has been and is still being “lost” to large agri-businesses which, because of their enormity, tend to produce goods that are of lower quality, less taste and are more chemically dependent. The dependence on chemical “inputs” in agribusiness is not really good for anybody, not the land and its creatures, not the consumer and not even the producer (they are expensive and you continue to need more and more of them over time). I wonder why we are still doing agriculture this way and who, if anybody, believes that they are profiting from it.
We at Provision are hopeful for Romania because everybody here knows what good food tastes like. I know that in America, there has been no tasty food produced in the last 30 years (unless it comes from someone’s garden or from a small cooperative farm). We know from our travels that, even in Western Europe, the food is getting worse and worse tasting. I am a chef and I like to eat! When I go to Holland, I can not make a good tomato sauce to save my life because the tomatoes there have no flavor. They are beautiful to look at, so lovely, small and perfectly round on their little hydroponically-grown vines, but they don’t taste like tomatoes. They don’t taste like anything. Unbelievably, they don’t have any taste at all!
Romania has a chance to reverse some of the damage done to its food production and to save a good part of what is left of peasant culture and the wonderful flavours and biodiversity that it maintains. Who does not want that? Ironically, the people in our village who thought that we were refugees were right; we came from lands where the food has no flavour left in it, to where it still tastes deeply, radically wonderful. And not just from the basic ingredients grown in real soil, but from the company it is taken in: a living community with tradition and ritual still in existence. This is where the real nourishment comes from, as it turns out. This is the deeper inspiration for Provision: the possibility to both Save and Savour life both as it was and how it is. This is what keeps us here.
Inspired by the skills of their neighbours, Robyn and Lars founded “Provision: The Transylvania School of Self-Sufficient Living.” Provision is designed to attract people who are interested to learn self-sufficiency skills in a traditional setting. They consider the village as a living school where everyone can keep learning about living systems and lifestyle choices. The villagers are their teachers and they are conduits of their wisdom. Lars’ training as a vet helps him every day with his work with horses and a herd of goats. Robyn’s training as a therapist helps her facilitate group process and her expertise with all things culinary also contributes to the happiness and well-being of family, friends and their many other guests. www.provisiontransylvania.com