We’re not there yet… March is a limbo month: the winter snows have gone but the new grass and the colours of Spring are still waiting below ground, waiting waiting for the sun to warm the earth and give the signal to begin the growing season. But soon, soon!
There has been a long collective sigh of relief at the two weeks of rain we’ve had this month, and as far as I’m concerned I’d be happy for the rain to continue all summer. Two years of drought, long hot summers that run till October and the first shock of snow, have been tough on a dairy culture that relies on plenty of rain and vigorous growth of knee-high wildflowers in the meadows.
I love sun, and the long summers have been wonderful, but the water running out in October is no fun especially when the snow comes in December along with plummeting temperatures and frozen pipes. Worse is the drastic drop in the hay crop which means that sheep and calves face autumn slaughter rather than winter starvation.
But this June, the wildflowers are knee-high, the fruit is swelling on the trees and veg springing up in the village gardens. It’s fabulously green, and long may the rain continue, especially if we get bursts of sun between showers. Watch out for loonies leaping between thunderbolts and ssinging in the downpours.
In a mountain village, 1,000 metres up, the animals are truly free-range, allowed to wander through hectares of wildflower meadows, kept inside only in the worst of the harsh winter. Most of the sheep and cattle are taken up to the high-altitude pastures for the summer, so the wildflower meadows in the villages can grow and blossom before being scythed for hay to keep the animals through the winter. The barns are mucked out through the winter, and the manure spread on the meadows in spring – a simple, sustainable way of farming that maintains diversity and natural health in soil, plant, animal and human.
Yesterday my neighbours slaughtered their heifer, partly because the calf hasn’t thrived and grown as well as she should have because of this summer’s drought; the lack of rainfall has also meant that there has been no second hay-making in September – the wildflower meadows never regrew after the midsummer cut and the winter hay is about half its normal volume. Lots of smallholders are having to slaughter animals because there isn’t the hay to keep them through the winter.
So Martica (born on a Tuesday) went on a Saturday, but swiftly, without fuss, in the pasture where she had spent her life. The slaughter and butchering was done by the family without intervention of transporters, processors, stress or fear.
The sad fact is that the EU is trying its best to destroy this healthy, sustainable, low-impact farming system, and now that Romania is a member, this will happen very quickly unless the EU is persuaded otherwise. Slow Food, if you’re listening, maybe you have some ideas…