It has happened! The second meeting of food communities from Central East Europe is behind us. For two days we talked about our roots, what we have in common and what we are different about. And above all, we were with each other: intense, close, with a lot of commitment.
We were hosted in Nowina, a village located in the forested hills of Strzelin, a few kilometres from Henryków (known from the book of Henryków, where the first sentence in the Polish language was written). The village is home to around 50 people, but many people from the region come here for the horses, the Metamorphic Stables Theatre (Stajnia Metamorficzna) or for workshops in improvisation, body work (yoga) or art (e.g. ceramics workshops) and concerts in a Barn. A remarkable place with incredible energy – beautiful even (or perhaps especially?) on a November day.
The leitmotif of the meeting was a return to the roots. Where do we get our energy, inspiration and experience from? Where are our roots when we talk about food communities, connecting through food? We agreed that our communities are an endeavour that does not come down to food production and distribution. A community is first and foremost about people.
For people from Hungary, returning to their roots is linked to culture and tradition. In Hungary, the old relationship between town and country has been broken. Knowledge of agriculture, once passed down from generation to generation, is now more difficult to access. The challenge is education, which often means explaining the simplest relationships.
For us Polish people, on the other hand, roots are above all a memory of people close to us, the family home, grandparents and grandmothers, who always had something good for us from their own garden. We also shared a sense of far-reaching individualisation – each of us knows best how good sourdough, pierogi or vegetables should taste. Everyone has their own ways of buying good quality, ‘tried and tested’ produce. We don’t trust others and keep our own contacts to ourselves. Recreating a sense of community in such conditions is definitely more difficult.
The Czechs recalled how, in the 1950s, the then regime sought to remove the ‘roots’ of traditional agriculture. Local food-producing communities were replaced by top-down managed large-scale agri-food combines. This grim legacy of forced collectivisation casts a shadow over any initiatives aimed at communal farming: in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups, co-operatives or co-operative markets set up by local male and female farmers, whether in the Czech Republic, Poland or Hungary.
By mapping our roots, we have tried to understand our current situation and look for ‘leverage’ to overcome difficulties and challenges. Common to all of us is the need to foster openness and mutual trust. This is easier to achieve with small groups. The problem starts when we try to create larger communities. RWSs or co-operatives of dozens or even hundreds of people are difficult to maintain and develop further. We still have a lot to learn, above all in the area of communicating difficulties and accepting that crisis and difficult moments in the life of any community are quite natural.
How do we deal with this?
The first way is to build relationships, the heart of our meetings. Just being in a friendly place – in conditions that allow us to walk, talk, reflect – is a powerful tool! This is also where the idea of celebrating together and establishing relationships with the local community in Nowina came from. During the concert in the barn at the end of the first day, musicians from Nowina and the surrounding area created a great environment for us to find common ground and nurture connections. The event was also attended by people living nearby with whom, under other circumstances, our paths would never have crossed. The village barn, turned into a concert hall, became a place where we could share our understanding of community and the idea of food sovereignty.
Another opportunity to strengthen bonds was the walking sessions planned each day. The formula for the walks was that we paired up in pairs or larger groups with people who knew the area. These allowed us to visit different corners of the village, learn about ideal places to relax, see the surrounding crops (there are vineyards in Nowina!) or go wild on a swing among the trees. This was a very important point of the programme also in terms of taking care of our energy resources.
On the last day, we focused on the communities in which we are active. Together we looked at how to talk about what we do in a way that would encourage others. How do we get more people ready to grow food for their local communities? How do we tell the story of who we are in a way that is understandable and inclusive to outsiders?
Some of the ideas revolved around organising gatherings that are simply fun: where you can laugh, dance and, of course, eat well. There was also an emphasis on the need for sincerity and authenticity in community activities. In doing so, it is important that they are open to people of different socio-economic status, i.e. that they put into practice the principle of open access to good quality food as a basic human right. In view of inflation and the economic crisis, this is a particularly important task.
There is certainly no one right or good solution for everyone. Therefore, we will continue to meet in different configurations and on different occasions to continue to cultivate our common garden.
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The marvelous meals were prepared for us by Nutka Food and the evening concert was fired up by the band Keskisspasse: Laurent Pardon (guitar/vocals), Marcin Misiek (bass guitar), Maciek Blejzing (trombone) and Darek Mikłasz (percussion). Participants included groups from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, including Farmářská škola, Urgenci, Community Supported Agriculture around the world, Jurajska Kooperatywa and Tudatos Vásárlók Egyesülete, as well as Marta Sylla, a member of Community Supported Agriculture group at Wrocław University of Life Sciences, and people living in Nowina: Jurek, Ola (Fundacja Sztukupuku), Darek, Staszek (Fundacja W Kierunku) and Olga Gawlik (odnowina).
We organised the meeting as the Foundation for Sustainable Development together with TVE from Hungary and the Utopia Association from Slovakia. It was held thanks to the support of the International Visegrad Fund for the project ‘Food Circle – building local partnerships based on solidarity around food in the V4 (Visegrad countries) region. Visegrad Food Circle: building local Solidarity based Partnership around the food in V4 region’.