By the end of May the wildflowers of the Saxon Villages are beginning to look their best. So it was appropriate that ADEPT should host its Flower Festival as May slipped into June. The venue was 125 Viscri, two adjacent village farmhouses that Mihai and Raluca Grigore have sensitively converted into a well-appointed modern guesthouse, spilling across the road into a large grassy courtyard. Flower Festivals, originally instigated by Turizem Bohinj in Slovenia, and supported by Salisbury-based Plantlife International, take place each year in several European countries. ADEPT held one in Saschiz in 2013. Plantlife has linked a number of these countries with the Patchwork Meadow project. They celebrate “Wild Flower Europe”, the natural history, culture and vital importance of wildflowers to human society, and are designed to be fun and attract children and younger people. In Viscri well over 100 people attended, a happy mix of locals, visitors from other parts of Romania and even some British tourists, with many children taking an active part.
The day dawned inauspiciously, cold with persistent rain. We began at midday with a buffet of local produce – bread, ham, sausages and other pork products, cheeses, salads and pickles – followed by photography and traditional music workshops for the children. Ben Mehedin of ADEPT was the articulate and amiable Master of Ceremonies, and Dietmar Gross, a native Saxon from Viscri, talked about Romania’s remarkable old-growth forests. I followed with a slide show based on the lecture I had presented a fortnight earlier at the Transylvania Festival in London, covering history and geography, but emphasizing links between biodiversity, non-intensive mixed farming and production of healthy food, the wildflowers being integral to and indicative of a healthy, productive ecosystem. I was deighted when several notable Viscri residents whom I’ve known a long time, including Saxon community leader Caroline Fernolend, thanked me, adding that they had wondered all these years why I kept coming – but now they could quite understand my obsession with their wildflowers!
Then came a superb supper. ADEPT’s Laura Chirilă, principal organizer of the Flower Festival, hails from Zalău, north of Cluj and once on the Roman limes, the Empire’s 2nd century AD defensive frontier. She had invited Mircea Groza, a noted chef of that region, who cooked up a Romano-Dacian rustic feast, a fragrant soup of kid meat and offal, maize meal (this perhaps a bit post-Roman!), wild mushrooms and wild and garden herbs, notably sour sorrel and unripe gooseberries, followed by a nourishing lamb and tomato stew, with home-baked bread. He even dressed up as an off-duty Dacian warrior! There was also a selection of fiery palinca or plum brandy from Zalău. Early music ensemble Trei Parale, folk-rock band Ţapinarii and experimental jazz singer Mara and her band provided live entertainment before and after the meal.
On the Sunday morning I led a group of some 30 hardier souls prepared to brave showers and wet grass to visit flower-rich steppic slopes between Viscri and Buneşti. We soon found a range of interesting and colourful wildflowers: Feather-grass in fruit, late blooms of Burning Bush, first flowers of Field Scabious, massed Nodding Sage at its best, a host of clovers and vetches including the curious Grass Vetchling, great sheets of Yellow Rattle and elegant patches of Forking Larkspur and orange Pheasant’s-eye. But the Festival was not yet over, and we returned to another spread of local produce, followed by sewing and shadow puppet workshops for the children. The festivities ended on a high note in early evening with a display of vigorous folk music and dancing from Ansamblul Românașul. By dinnertime we were all tired but exhilarated after a wet but wonderful weekend.
The Flower Festival had yielded an ideal opportunity to present the message about how traditionally managed grassland can still be managed to provide essential ecological ‘goods and services’, and how and why we in western Europe have lost our once beautiful carpets of wildflowers. Several journalists who were present at the event were impressed by this aspect of their country that too many Romanians have perhaps ignored. We thus received local and national TV coverage, an ideal chance to show the Romanian public and even politicians – already probably aware of grassland conservation through the timely visit by HRH The Prince of Wales in the previous two days – that conservation indeed has an economic role in farming communities and for the whole nation.
Many people approached the ADEPT team to thank them for a joyful, informative weekend: “Can we have one next year?” was the common response, and more than one satisfied customer asked whether we might organize an excursion every two weeks to see the whole range of wildflowers!
The Flower Festival perfectly rounded off the celebration of Fundatia ADEPT’s first ten years, begun at the Romanian Cultural Institute in mid-May. Fundaţia Agapis also attended, a conservation project centred on production of honey and other country foods from Valea Barcăului near Zalău. This sort of conservation project, based around farming communities rather than concentrating on the conservation biology of individual species and habitat types, is truly ‘sustainable’ and particularly appropriate for the Carpathian and sub-Carpathian region.
Few can have gone home on that Sunday evening without a feeling that wildflowers can, must and will be at the heart of Europe’s farmed landscapes. Even those (and there were some) who were only there for the beer!
Photo credits: Sebi Olaru
Photo credits: Ben Mehedin
In May 2014, ADEPT won top prize for the socio-economic benefits category of the newly-launched Natura 2000 prize from DG Environment. This follows EU top prizes in 2012 and 2013 from DG Agriculture for best communcation with farmers. This shows how ADEPT is crossing policy boundaries, delivering top-quality integrated programmes for the benefit of small-scale farmers in Romania. ADEPT hopes to replicate this successful, innovative model more widely in Europe. ...read more
9 December 2013, Brussels. For the second year in succession, Fundația ADEPT won a top EU prize for innovative communication with small-scale farmers, with its SMS Family Farms project. The project was developed with communication specialists KAMA System Ltd, and supported by Fundatia Orange and by the Swiss Romanian Cooperation Fund.