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Posted by Richard Perkins almost 11 years ago
We have always been excited to get out to the Krematahoff. Everyone interested in Permaculture has seen this 40ha farm on the old series of videos from years ago. Well a lot has changed!Josef, Sepp's son, has owned and run the farm for the last 3 years now, and employs a few others to help too. With his own consultancy career he is a very busy man too, and we were blessed to have two full days. Josef was a gracious host and invited friends all the way from Vienna to assist with translation.
Josef was very clear that as the new owner and manager of the Krematahoff he is taking it in new directions. Its obvious he has big shoes to fill, but Josef is clearly a highly knowledgeable and skilled Permaculture farmer in his own right. This is evidenced immediately with a look at the direct polymarketing he has been developing with a chef friend turning "weeds" into highly valuable niche products. One example is the highly bitter Gentian,Gentiana lutea, usually reserved for strong liquor, which Josef has utilised in a range of Krematahoff "pocket jellies" that makes much more income than selling quite a lot of vegetables! Its the sort of creative and engaged response that makes a farm resilient- poly income streams from niche products to support the more common meat/ dairy/ plant based incomes.
For those that have seen the old videos- a lot has changed on the land! The systems here are very well established and so complex that the untrained eye would probably be overwhelmed. There is deeply functional stability, rapid self- replication and a true vibrant sense of abundance here.
What one needs to bear in mind is that the photos above are taken between 1400- 1500m above sea level, in an alpine regine of Austria. Much of the farm is above the clouds a lot of the time! Annually, the Lungau receives 1.7 days above 30c, 25 days above 25c and 160 days of frost! Deep snow in the winter is actually vital for these systems. It insulates the ground and slowly releases the melt water. If it was not blanketed with snow it would be too icy to support what is thriving up here.
When you drive through Austria all you will see at this altitude is dense monoculture pine plantation. There are things going on up here on the Krematahoff that, through conventional goggles, should not be possible.
Animals like pigs, cattle and horses living outside all year round. Plant species you would not imagine thriving up here, cherries for example. Its so well established that the maintenance regards cutting things down rather than planting. Josef points out that they never need plant trees any more. The animals work the steep slopes between the levelled planting terraces and early succession pioneer species are rapidly regenerated. The work is to decide whether to select this or that tree to grow on, and cut this or that tree for timber, firewood or milling.
The thin terraces yield biannual grains such as old Russian rye varieties that Sepp has grown here for more than 40 years now. There is linseed and poppy mixes, potato, salads and vegetables. Some years a terrace is cultivated. Some years it becomes an access route whilst another terrace rests. There are lupins everywhere, self seeding and illuminating the landscape all the way up the mountainside at this time of year.
I get the impression production is lower than it could be, anticipating Josef is simply too busy to maximize production on the farm. My suspicion is correct. He has no need currently. He is very busy, makes enough of niche products and has far more food than he and his family could ever need. Yet I can see amidst the dense, diverse and thriving ground-covers that you can simply open up a terrace here, cut back a tree to ramp up fruit production over there. Its this complex stability, resilience and overproduction that gives the farmer back the creative job of land stewardship. This is Permaculture design functioning very effectively! Everything functionally interconnected and working for the farmer.
We look over the aquaculture systems, and discuss the importance of understanding the land characteristics that can be applied in all situations for land healing and local autonomy in terms of food and wellbeing. Its funny how these sorts of systems are exactly what I envisioned on the Finca that attracted our attention in Spain. Water is key and the basis of all life. Once water is under control and optimized in the landscape, so much falls into place naturally. And thats how it looks here, natural, even if a little unusual. And thats a good sign of a healthy system in my eyes, it looks natural and beautiful.
We sat for a long conversation discussing design consultancy, strategies to uphold the integrity of Permaculture in the future, how to leverage work with farms and farmers. Josef is very clear in his thinking and direction, and it was refreshing to share perspectives and approaches. My impression of Permaculture in Europe has led me to feel some concerns with the varying degree of quality, content and presentation. This last year has caused me to reflect a lot on strategy in my own work, and I think Josef has got a very good perspective on it all.
It feels like a very fitting last stop for us before heading back to the UK. Humbug needs an MOT and we have extended over our available budget now. Good news is we should have enough footage for 2 more full episodes plus a special Krematahoff feature bringing people up to date with the farm today. Stay posted in the following weeks....Yeeehaaaww!
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