Between apples and seeds
Lana and the entire region are full of diversity. And thanks to the favourable mix of Mediterranean and Alpine climates, it's not just apples that have found perfect conditions for growth here for several centuries and at all altitudes.
beetroot, strawberries and rather unusual plants such as oka or Egyptian onions – and there are many more items on her seed list. The 60-year-old doesn’t know the exact number of plants she grows, and could hardly find the time to count them, because growing your own seeds is a time-consuming endeavour. Yet Martha wouldn’t want it any other way. In 2002, she attended a course for seed growing and harvesting and has grown her own seeds ever since: “The reason I’m doing this is that I want to preserve
what we have today for tomorrow”, she says determinedly.
Martha and her husband Hermann run the small Bildheim farm built by her grandparents back in 1939 up here in Völlan/Foiana, at an altitude of 700 metres (2,300 ft) above sea level. The wooden house with its pointed gable almost looks straight out of a fairy tale with its wild vines climbing the walls and the dried seeds hanging out in the yard, waiting to be threshed. A large crate filled with Jonagold apples sits on the front step. “This is for us, so we don’t have to buy apples in winter”, Martha says. She is a member of Sorten Garten, a horticultural society dedicated to the preservation of local and heirloom plant varieties. On their one-hectare-big plot of land, they grow different apple varieties and also have several chestnut trees next to their house.
In autumn, when the spiky chestnut burrs split open and the
fruits fall off the trees, they serve traditional hot sweet chestnuts. This is the time of year when “the entire village goes crazy”: the “Keschtnriggl”, almost an entire month dedicated to a series of chestnut-themed events.
“We also have many different animals”, the farmer says proudly, pointing at the chickens, ducks, blue quails and the little chicks that hatched a few days ago. The farm is also home to blacknose sheep, spectacles sheep, blackneck goats and giant rabbits. The Bildheim farm is almost self-sufficient.
On a table in the farm’s warm parlour, Martha shows me dozens of transparent little tins full of seeds. She has saved a lot of seeds over the last ten years. “It really hurts to see that many people don’t care about seeds”, she complains. The farmer is a valuable asset for her community
and likes to pass on her knowledge to others, running chestnut tours or holding cheese-making classes for the guests of the nine “Creative Farmers’ in Lana, a group formed to make farm holidays even more appealing to the tourists.
Customs and traditions for guests
Ulrike Laimer from Lana’s Goldbichlhof farm is one of the
“Creative Farmers”. Her 17th-century farm with its two buildings and a barn is located at 450 metres (1,480 ft) above sea level. The barn is home to 15 sheep – the pastime of Ulrike’s father – and some chickens, which are busy chasing the flies sitting on the barn windows right as we get there. The total land amounts to 2.6 hectares and is used for orchards and vineyards, but also for some chestnut trees. Ulrike has planted more than five apple varieties, focusing mainly on Golden and Stark Delicious and Fuji. And she grows four different types of wine grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon, the aromatic Gewürztraminer and Schiava. Most of her grapes are shipped to a winery, and only some of the Schiava harvest is pressed at the farm for their own personal use. The berries and fruit grown out in her garden are used for making delicious jams. And Ulrike also makes her own apple juice and South Tyrolean speck, a bacon variety: She buys legs of pork from farmers personally known to her and prepares them in her own
smokery (a special room known as Selchküche, which all those farms used to have in the past) following old, traditional recipes.
For Ulrike, it’s all about diversity, and she would hate restricting herself to just one thing. And her guests love the opportunity to try her home-smoked bacon, eat some fresh eggs for breakfast and savour her home-pressed wine. The 45-year-old rents out two apartments for holidaymakers. To improve the farm Holiday experience, she and some other farmers founded the “Creative Farmers” cooperation group 14 years ago. The women in the group now organise guided moonlight walks with torches, wine tastings and invite their guests to cook traditional South Tyrolean specialties such as apple strudel or dumplings. Customs and traditions really matter a lot to Ulrike. When baking their own bread, the women of the group use old, traditional recipes. Some
evenings, the Goldbichl farmer simply enjoys spending the night outdoors with her guests, having a nice BBQ in summer or roasting chestnuts in autumn. “I feel very lucky that I get to live on a farm. I really enjoy the peace and quiet up here”, she says, and is happy whenever she has the time to do so.
Working the farm is time-consuming and physically challenging. “It’s especially di∞cult, because the terrain is very steep and I’m a woman running the farm on my own”, says the mother of a 25-year-old son and of two daughters aged 13 and 16. “But I love my work. I put my heart and soul into farming”. Her parents help out wherever they can, but her husband Joachim has a full-time job. One year ago, a former refugee from Africa helped her out with the hard work on the farm for a couple of months. Her grandparents from Ultental Valley bought the farm back in 1954.
Ulrike took over six years ago. She always knew she wanted to be a farmer. Of her four sisters, she was the one who loved helping her father with his farm work most. He taught her how to drive a tractor when she was only 13 years old, and now she rides in the cabin almost every day, up and down the steep and narrow paths around the farm. And she has put her long years of tractor practice to good use: In 2012, she won the European Tractor Drivers Championship. “You can’t a≠ord to make any mistakes while driving up here”, she says, laughing. She walks out into the orchards. A lot of work awaits her during the next few days. Ulrike needs to mow the grass around the vines and “pluck” apples – meaning she needs to remove the small redundant apples on the trees so as to allow for better growth of the remaining crop. But all the hard work is really worth it for Ulrike, and she loves the reward: a good harvest in autumn and getting to live up here, where she truly feels at home.