A taste of Szépvíz* on a foreigner’s tongue

by Tamara Schaal

This article was written for a local newspaper of the commune of Szépvíz in Eastern Transylvania, Romania, back in October last year. For my PhD, I have been exploring the ‘on-the-ground’ trade-offs related to farming in the Pogány-havas microregion during one month of fieldwork there (if you speak Hungarian, you can find the translation of the article here: http://www.szepviz.eu/kepek/file_19b806cb7e06.pdf) as part of the project ‘Rescaling governance for sustainable agriculture’ at Leuphana University.

In June this year, on a visit to Central Transylvania I came to the Csík valley and Gyimes region for the first time. Despite the veil of rain that lay in the air that day clouding the view of the area and after a very short introduction to the region by Váli Csongor, I knew that I had come to a very special place. A place, surrounded by mountain ranges and snowy peaks, where the forest meets the smaller and bigger land parcels in the plains.

I am very lucky that I had the opportunity to return to this marvelous area for four weeks of fieldwork now. Currently I am interviewing farmers from the region in order to get a glance at how they view farming, what lies behind their motivation and the challenges that they are facing. Despite having only spent less than two weeks here, what amazes me is the determination with which people here continue working their land, their intricate connection to the land, and their attitude of doing what needs to be done – despite the hardships of a harsh climate, uncertainties and the financial insecurity they are facing.

Fig. 1

Cabbage harvest and sale during the cabbage festivities

Of course, to gain a better understanding of farming in the region requires one to use all the senses. Speaking and hearing about agriculture and seeing the landscape only provides part of the picture. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the cabbage festivities in the commune of Szépvíz (Káposztavágás-vásar Szépvízen) and taste the fruit of all the hard work that these people put into farming. That day was a perfect mix of smelling the different flavors put together during cooking, tasting various delicious cabbage dishes, and seeing and listening to the traditional singing and dancing, not to mention that everything was framed by a blue sky and bright sunshine. I think this was a perfect way to glimpse into the culture and traditions tied to village life in this area.

Fig. 2

The farming landscape around the town of Szépvíz

I am grateful for how kindly people here are treating me and particularly to anyone setting aside time from their work to talk to me – a stranger who only speaks a couple of words of Hungarian. This stay has offered me a new vantage point on small-scale farming and I hope that by doing this work I can contribute to understanding how EU policies can better address the challenges that farmers are facing in this region.

For a personal reflection on fieldwork in this area, I also highly recommend my PhD colleague Ioana’s article https://leveragepoints.org/2017/12/07/the-story-of-my-fieldwork-experience-or-whats-almost-always-left-out-from-scientific-papers/.

 

* Note: Since Hungarian ethnics form the majority in this microregion, the names of locations are in Hungarian in this article.

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