Green Village Rural Food Action
Ipeľ-Eko, Slovakia, 27th August – 1st September 2011 Introduction: At the very end of August 2011, Ipeľ-Eko hosted a 5 day-long training action focusing on the preparation of rural food in southern Slovakia. This area of the country has always had a mixed population, Slovaks and Hungarians have been living here together for long centuries, and thus the region has a very special mixed culture and traditions, and this is also tangible in the food that people used to prepare and eat here in the past, and that is getting a bit forgotten in the present, in the era of big supermarkets selling universal, semi-prepared food, which one can find anywhere around the world. Also cooking and baking used to be a community activity in rural areas, especially for special occasions, like weddings, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, baptising, funeral, etc., when the large family, relatives, friends came together and prepared food together. This unfortunately is not a custom anymore, especially not for the younger generation. The aim of the action was to bring the traditional rural tastes back into fashion, give a chance to the representatives of the various partner countries (Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus) to try a bit of the taste of the Ipeľ region, as well as to exchange ideas about preparing and preserving different types of food around Europe. Exchange of Skills and Knowledge (WP2): Setting up the scene for the action was started by a visit to a traditional harvest festival in Vinica, a famous wine-growing village in the Central Ipeľ river valley. This area of Slovakia is basically at the northern edge of the wine-producing area of the country, but their wine is very popular. After being offered a welcome drink by the mayor of the village and his wife, the participants of the action joined the local people in a harvest promenade, in traditional costumes, with traditional music and dance. This started on the main square of the village and finished at the football filed behind the cultural centre, where a stage was set up and traditional harvest type of food (goulash and sausages) was waiting for the participants. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to a rich folk programme, with traditional dancing and singing, and tasting of local food. Some of the participants were interested in the marketing of local honey products. They were taken to a local family-run company, Natur Products Németh Ltd., where the owner, Árpád Németh took them around his small honey filling factory, and explained their marketing strategy. Árpád started as a bee-keeper about 15 years ago, and gradually built up his business. He gave up bee-farming after a while, and currently functions a s whole sale buying honey from local producers and exporting them to other parts of the Slovakia as well as to other European countries.
On the second day the participants visited a wine-producer in the village of Strekov, who runs a small family company the Kasnyík Vineyards. The owner, Tomáš Kasnyík presented the company, their activities, their wines and other local food they provide to visitors as part of their small agro-tourism business. We had a chance to taste various types of white wine, rosé and red wine, as well as homemade bread and paté.
The Vineyards of the Kasnyík family
The third day was about traditional food making at the traditional skills centre of Salka, about 35 km south of Šahy. The centre is operated by an NGO and works mainly with older people, pensioners, who still have traditional skills and are happy to pass them on to the younger generation, and long-term unemployed, who are on a subsidy program of the unemployment office (funded by the European Social Fund), the aim of which is to provide work and extra income for long-term unemployed while doing something for public benefit, as well as to improve the practical skills of these people in all kinds of fields to make them able to find proper employment in the future. After the introduction to the activities of the centre which includes skills training, summer camps for kids, teacher training in the field of traditional crafts, keeping traditions alive by organising folk programmes, the participants of the training action took part in actual food making. They started with a traditional Slovak-Hungarian pizza type of food (“lepény”), with sour cream, onion and bacon, followed by the preparation of a special marble cake (“kuglóf”), which used to be a traditional cake for weddings. It is a couple of hours procedure to make it, so it had to be started right in the morning. Apart from traditional “village museum soup”, the participants also made potato pancakes filled with sour cream and chicken liver on onions as well as goulash, which was the last meal of the day, as we all had a chance to eat what we had made. All the food was cooked and bakes on open-fire or in one of the two clay ovens in the yard of the centre. During the day the trainees also tried some traditional handicrafts such as rope-making, carpet weaving on a traditional loom, making corn-dollies, and willow-weaving.
Outside workshop and oven
Portable clay oven
On the last activity day, we visited a local bee-farm, where the owner, Alexander Kiss and his wife Anna welcomed the group with their special, bronze medal winning honey-wine. Alexander gave the group an introduction to his farm, its history and recent success of honeywine competition. This was followed by a tour around the bee-farm, looking at bees, various bees products they make, including 4 different types of honey, flavoured rape honey, bees wax candles, royal jelly, propolis tincture, bee pollen, etc. as well as learning about the marketing strategy of the farm, which is mainly giving added value and selling their own products directly to customers or at fairs and festivals. During they day the participants were offered traditional goulash and sweet and savoury cakes coming right from the brick oven in the yard of the farm.
Alexander showing his bees
Engaging Communities (WP1):
Prize winnig honey vine
Bees wax candles
The action was focused on learning about the cultural heritage regarding food and drink preparation in the Ipeľ valley area as well as about the traditional methods and techniques used. Therefore the involvement of the locals was inevitable. During the whole action we worked closely together with the local communities. At the harvest festival the mayor of the village specially welcomed international participants and briefly presented the project to the local audience. At the traditional skills centre about 15 local people including children, adults, pensioners and unemployed were involved in giving training and exchanging knowledge and ideas with the participants of the project partners. Learning by Doing (WP3): The partner countries for this work package are Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus and they all sent participants for the action. They were Velislava Chilingirova, Radka Petrova, Detelin Krastev, Valentin Vasilev and Viktor Dzhonev from Bulgaria, Skevi Hadjikyriacou and Emilia Hadjikyriacou from Cyprus, and 3 participants from Romania: Corina Anton, Mihai Denes and Adrian Bledea. As the action was combined with a project called Celebrating Seasons which is supported by the EU Grundtvig Programme we had participants from other European countries such as Mark Graham and Ian Thomson from the UK, Ellen Männel, Christina Zimmermann and Martina Wormuth from Germany, Margrét Hallmundsdóttir and Andrés Halmundsson from Iceland, as well and 3 additional participants from Cyprus: Varnavas Michael, Andreas Steliou and Kypros Constantinou. The local community was represented by Tomáš Kasnyík the wine-producer, Alexander and Anna Kiss and Klára Káplán from the bee-farm, and Zsuzsanna Dikácz and her staff (altogether about 15 people) at the traditional skills centre in Salka. Eco-check (WP6): Since the locations of the wine-tasting (Strekov) and food making (Salka) actions were about 30 to 50 km away from the Kingfisher centre, where the participants were accommodated in these tow days we needed to travel bigger distances. We tried to eliminate this by using a minibus and full cars, to minimize the carbon-dioxide emission to the minimum. We also tried to eliminate this impact on the environment by choosing locations close to our base for the other 2 action days. Vinica, the location of the harvest festival is only two villages away, and the bee-farm is in walking distance, so we walked there and back. While making food, we tried to use local material wherever we could, and outside ovens, which besides being the traditional way of cooking and baking saves a lot of energy as well. The smoke that it produces and the harmful effect of that on the environment is minimal. Monitoring and Evaluation (WP5): The action on Rural Food production was a great success. All the participants had a chance to exchange ideas and experience with people from other countries, and they had a very good time in a big international group. The feedback we got from the participants was very positive. The local community was also involved successfully.