February 14, 2012

Our Farm

Last November, we moved to Görlitz, in the far eastern borders of Germany. By some standards Germany’s most beautiful city, the ‘old town’ of Görlitz boasts stunning architecture and cobbled streets, quirky craft ateliers and numerous antique shops, as well as a bridge that takes you straight over to Poland. The old town is encircled by a low-key city centre which gradually sprawls into a semi-deserted ghost town where every second building is empty - sometimes whole streets - residues of past splendour visible only in faded gabled terraces and semi-detached villas.

Tourism is the only real draw for the city and anything outside of the old town struggles to survive. The surrounding area is of mixed interest. North is one vast, flat plane dotted with lakes and pine forests, stretching up towards Berlin. Due south takes you to the mountains of the Czech border via one of the largest man-made lakes in Saxony. The Czech border runs north-westwards towards Dresden and holds some of the most interesting landscape in its’ environs.

We have come to this part of Germany in search of affordable land upon which to grow our own needs and eventually to establish a livelihood from trading our products and services. Certain levels of security were needed to enable us to take this great leap of faith and for us, Germany makes the most sense, with its supportive infrastructure and the fact that we both speak the language.

We left England with some sadness but also a great feeling of freedom and lightness. We had no idea where exactly we would end up, yet the freedom of making a decision that simply felt right, gave us the confidence to move on.

In the end, it all happened much more quickly than we expected!

We had set ourselves up for a long drawn-out process of hunting and networking and advertising and dithering and hoping and crashing and trying once again. We certainly did all of that for a while, but suddenly with very little warning - we hold the keys to our own farm (pending a few formalities)!

Three and half hectares of growing and grazing land with a spring and a stream, old fruit trees and a walnut tree, young fruit trees, a farm house and barns enclosing one corner of a courtyard, a crumbling pig shelter, wooden summer shack and fir trees to the south (protecting from strong winds) and the shell of a small, free-standing house shielding the front side of the yard from the road.

The farm lies in the middle of a village that is over 7km long, all built along the edges of a small, winding road. Directly behind the farm rises a small mountain (or large hill!) and just under 4kms down village is a train station with regular connections to Görlitz and Dresden. It is pretty much equidistant between the Polish border to the east and the mountains of the Czech border to the west and south.

The farm has been lived in half-heartedly for the last few years and some crucial adjustments have been made, but there still remains a lot to do before our family could survive another winter like this one – it was -20°C last week! Stepping outside feels like opening the door of a freezer and immediately the insides of your nostrils freeze together, cheeks burn red and fingers and toes rapidly lose all sense of individuality.

In the market only the regular meat stall is trading (and of course the hot food stalls) but no sign of fresh fruit and vegetables – these temperatures simply ruin them. So it was venison and wild boar goulash today, instead of steamed greens and parsnip chips (needless to say, no complaints)!

In these harsh conditions, the current life on the farm made its necessary exchanges: the cat – Funny – arrived shy yet affectionate to our second storey flat to have company and shelter from the cold, whilst the old ewe and her son made their last journey in the battered van. An hour later, two skins still steaming, bloodstained and raw, were draped over trestles in the yard to dry out. The meat will last a good year, yet the gesture for the owners was a final goodbye to the farm, with all its promises, memories and dreams.

Now it is time for us to spin the ideas we’ve been juggling for so long, without a context, into a real plan of action that can begin with the first signs of spring.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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