Traditional Farming in Transylvania

Imagine! You live in a cozy small home heated with wood. You have a compact barn with a hayloft in your backyard, and the rest of the space is yard and vegetable garden (it could be elsewhere in the village). In the barn, you have a couple of cows or water buffalo for milk. You also have a few sheep, rabbits and chickens for eggs. Calves go for beef. In winter, animals are snug in the barn. Likely, you make some dairy products and put some cheese away to age in the cellar. In summer, its all about hay production for the animals, and food production for you and your family, for the winter that will come around again.

inch by inchRight now, it is spring and the soil is just perfect to prepare for planting. Its inch by inch, and step by step with the horse drawn plow, preparing a field for potatoes. The plow only grabs a few inches at a time. And I thought that the 3-4 foot cutting width on my lawn tractor made for taking too much time to mow the lawn. (Note that I believe sheep should do this job but I don’t have any at this time.)

Using pine boughs to spread manure
Using pine boughs to spread manure

I am sitting on a cart, watching and taking it all in. In the distance, I hear a tractor, likely doing the same job, but so much faster. Beside me is the tingling of the bells of a couple of sheep. They have not left for summer pastures yet. Behind me, two horses pull a cart loaded full of manure. The farmer will unload that cart by the forkful, in piles on his field. Then it will be spread, by rake or by horse. It is also manure spreading season here.

I am staying with a young couple, Attila and Reka, who have decided on a lifestyle where they will make everything they can for themselves, including cheese, yogurt and storing preserved fruit and vegetables for their winters, winters that are very similar to our winters in Ontario. They have similar ideas to mine, and are trying to do many things, something I also did. But it is hard to stay on top of it all. They farm traditionally, just like his grandparents did. Reka is from the city and made the difficult decision of giving up a career as a landscape architect, to support this lifestyle and become instead an expert at the many skills of preserving and preparing food. Today, she starts a cheese making course sponsored by the pogony-havas association (see earlier post:, but she has learned most of her skills from family members. Attila plans on opening a school for the demonstration of traditional farming practices. Quote: “You need to feel it in your body what it takes to make food.” Exactly!

traditional farming

The brown face looks like a Tunis sheep, a rare breed in Canada that produces beautiful brown lambs
The brown face looks like a Tunis sheep, a rare breed in Canada that produces beautiful brown lambs

A plane flies overhead. For anyone who chooses this lifestyle, will they ever have the opportunity to see other parts of the world? As I watch the ploughing continue, I struggle with where the balance is between the simple life, hard work and how many of us are willing to work this hard, how much income is necessary for a good quality of life, access to wholesome food that nourishes the body, and producing food while maintaining a healthy environment.

I don’t like to work this hard, at least not on a daily basis. It was a great experience loading the hay by fork onto the wagon the other day (see precious post), but just that activity required moving it 3 times! – from the upper loft to the lower floor, from there to the raised area beside the wagon, and then up I climbed to pile the hay onto the wagon, which takes some time-tested techniques for keeping it there for the horse drawn trip back to the home barn. So how many times did that hay get moved from when it was cut?! More than 10 times.

Dairy cows brought in from Hungary
Dairy cows brought in from Hungary

I suspect many young people no longer find this kind of hard physical work desirable. I also question how efficient this work is. In my case, would it be the best use of my resources (skills, expertise)? I would not be writing this now, if I was producing all my own food and preserving it all. I would be making cheese today, with the milk from the last 24 hour milkings, then either spreading manure or preparing a field for planting and then baking bread for the next meal. That would be my morning.

Income earning here is only necessary to pay for communication services, clothing if not making your own, energy (electricity and cooking fuel) and car operating expenses, if you chose to own a car. Many don’t. Certainly, if we all farmed this way, there would be a lot of good work for everyone. Many are without jobs. But come hay season, its hard to find people who will help.

When the barn is full, hay is stored in piles
When the barn is full, hay is stored in piles

Hay meadows are a very special feature of this area. They have some of the best biodiversity in Europe, not only measured by the number of plant species, but also by the number of butterfly and amphibian species that thrive here, indicators of a healthy environment. Farmers who farm the lands traditionally, are also doing an important service of preserving this diversity for future generations.

Village in the main valley of Gyimes
Village in the main valley of Gyimes with hay meadows and pasture up the mountain slopes

hay meadowI won’t be here to see the beauty of these meadows in full bloom. Come hay season, its a full time job making hay, while the animals are gone to upper pastures, where in some regions they are tended to and milked by a shepherd and cheese maker. With those chores out of the way, meadows are hand mown on crazy steep slopes. Hay is cut, dried, and stored in upper barns (see to the right). When the snow comes, the hay is slid down the hill by sledge or tree bows.

Have you ever climbed the pitch of a roof?! Its like that. The larger picture above was taken high up on a hay meadow. I am not sure which was more difficult: the climb or walking back down!

My first experience working with a horse - nice and straight and ready for potato planting
My first experience working with a horse – nice and straight and ready for potato planting

I have been sitting here for about 1.5 hours. Now, Reka must go to make us lunch. And so, I step in. After the plouging, next comes the tilling with a homemade harrow. This is where my lack of experience in fieldwork is evident. (My friend Ross is helping me through this terminology!)  My expertise working with animals and draft animals (sled dogs) however, is immediately obvious. I led the horse around the field with the harrow and then we ploughed the furrows for potatoes.

I really connected with doing agriculture with this horse. And he gave me some insight into what is Ag 3.0.

Published by Kaytlyn Creutzberg, BSc, NSch, MA

#SayItLikeItIs: Kaytlyn writes not only about applying a spiritual care therapeutic model to farming, but also how collective cultural narratives impact the choices we make that result in a pervasive "don't care" attitudinal construct towards Earth and Her landscapes. (formerly Gayl)

One thought on “Traditional Farming in Transylvania

  1. I went to stay with Attila and Rega for their Hay Making Festival in 2012, we had a fabulous and enlightening time

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