Daniel has been a motivated participant in Sowing Diversity, a 5-day seed freaks gathering in Amsterdam, coordinated by ASEED, that brought together youths from 5 countries. He came along with the Arche Noah delegation from Austria, and shared with the whole group his project to start a community garden somewhere around Vienna.[:]
Even though he presents himself as a starter with not much experience in the seed field, I sensed that his enthusiasm for the topic could easily be contagious, and should be shared! Unlike what one could have imagined, Daniel grew up in an apartment in town, and therefore never really had any privileged contact with nature or plants before a couple of years ago.
“I have always had a vague interest in environmental topics, even though I lacked real knowledge.”
At 20, he started studying environment and biological resource management at the University of natural resources and life sciences in Vienna. Only 3 semesters later, Daniel switched to agricultural studies.
“I had no idea about how food got onto my plate and it somehow fascinated me.”
It is never too late to stick one’s hand in the cookie jar! The process of learning a lot about food production seems to have originated from a fair deal of curiosity. And when Daniel realized that theory was not enough, he embarked on a summer internship in a small vegetable organic farm for a first hands-on experience. There, the farmer was mainly using open-pollinated seeds and was part of the Arche Noah network. She multiplied black cherry tomato seeds for them, among other varieties.
“For the first time, I sat down for lunch with a plate of veggies I had harvested. What a great feeling ! At this point I got really interested in gardening myself.”
How addictive can gardens be ? For Daniel, definitely more than sitting in a schoolroom. In the last spring, he decided to go for an internship at Arche Noah to get involved with practical tasks in the garden where some seeds and seedlings are produced, even though he was supposed to be studying at this period. This is where the idea of a community garden popped up in his mind. Together with a friend, they decided to search for a small piece of land where they could grow food. A third person joined in to set up a core group.Where there is a will (and a good network!), there is a way, right?
Daniel heard about an organic farmer living at about an hour away from Vienna. Together with his wife, they are willing to let them use a piece of their land and some of their tools for the garden project. Therefore the gardeners can learn from their elders and in return, help them when needed. Indeed, there is quite a lot happening there: another person is also starting a beekeeping project and two extra people will join the farm to work there for a year, and also provide seeds and seedlings to the Arche Noah network.
In their mid-fifties, the farmers enjoy having active young people around. It sounds like a dynamics that benefits all, and which should be seriously explored where small-scale farmers need help and young people are looking for land.
Still, it is not sure that seeds saved from previous crops and fellow gardeners could be used in the community garden. Because the farm is certified organic, seeds have to be as well, and come with a receipt to prove it in case of inspection.
Daniels shares his general feeling about seeds, and not only regarding organic labelling:
“Seeds should be free to grow, distribute, and share. I don’t see any sense in a legislation that complicates use and distribution, except that companies keep making huge profits. Seeds are being treated like pharmaceutical products, law-makers and companies say declare that they want “to protect consumers health”, and they talk about “security”. The only point is there should be some kind of monitoring system for farmers who depend on high quality, reliable seeds.”
At a personal level, growing food has had quite some impact on Daniel’s life.
“Many people live a life they think they should be living, and they feel estranged, disconnected from a sense of purpose. All of us do that a various degrees. Growing food, working with soil, plants and animals is hard work. It’s complicated. However I never question myself after a long day, I feel a sense of purpose. Your work feels important, even if you don’t get (much) money from it.”
Besides changing his daily life, what is the impact of such new interests on other people? Daniel’s immediate circles of relatives and friends are surely getting aware of the importance of growing healthy, organic food.
“I did a group project on Community Supported Agriculture at the end of my studies, thus I became a member and some friends did as well. I talk about these things A LOT, and people can see that I grow veggies on my balcony for example.”
What about conscious action to facilitate such projects and make them spread ?
“It is important that people are activists. Maybe I’m not that kind of person, even though I had times in my life when I followed the news and went to demonstrations. The last past 6 months I did not read the news at all, and it made me a happier and calmer person, but I’m conscious we cannot be all ignorant !”
Yet, the European commission’s proposal rejection for a seed legislation earlier this year was an opportunity to get involved, as Daniel was part of the organization who advocated the most in favour of better seed laws. He helped gathering signatures for the petition against the proposed seed legislation and talked about it around him.
“Of course you need to know about problems to find solutions. I just have to find a way to stay informed about important topics that I can have influence on and to be active politically. There is no need to be overwhelmed by negative and worrisome news.”
The next step will be of course to start the garden, to ask more people to join, and why not, to organize events on the spot. Then, they will have to find a way to explain why and how they are doing that, and what is happening there.
Just as protesting against what we refuse, making great projects happen and set them as an example for others is a form of activism. Let’s hope that the good news will be spread!
Photo credit : Ruper Pessl / www.rupertpessl.com
To contact Daniel Bayer please send an email at : nitz08[at]gmx.net If you wish to participate in this series of portraits as an interviewee or if you would like to suggest a name, please let me know at sonia[at]aseed.net. Thank you !