Rethinking the way we source our food: a tour through the first eco settlement hub in Poland
In the summer of 2017, there was a wind of new agrarian revolution coming from the direction of a small village near the city of Łódź in central Poland. Here, over 400 people from all over Poland are building a sustainable settlement hub called Osada Twórców. I spoke to Jędrzej Cyganik, one of its core members.
BY JUSTYNA ANNA KRAKOWIAK
For a long time industrialized agriculture, seemed to some the only solution to feed an ever increasing global population. After the World War II many farmers followed the path of Green Revolution and the governments created policies supporting use of fertilizers and monocropping with hope of creating more food stability and eradicating malnutrition. But industrialized agriculture hasn't eliminated hunger and starvation and some of the scientists and farmers associations now argue that the ecological damage arising from such farming practices has worsened food security in many parts of the world. A recent article by the UCSUSA, lists the various, often hidden, costs associated with industrialized farming, which end up being picked up by taxpayers, rural communities, farmers, other business sectors, and future generations.
From living and travelling in different parts of Europe, I’ve observed a surge in initiatives that focus on alternative farming methods such as permaculture, or promote the idea of foraging for herbs and mushrooms directly from the wilderness. For example, after visiting eco farms, eco villages and urban gardening projects in Scandinavia, Germany and France, I felt that the sustainable living movement is slowly transforming from something that was seen as a mere hippie ideology, to a topic that is steadily gaining public recognition and acceptance. While on my visits home to Poland and from discussions on social media, I got to know that eco farms have recently started mushrooming in various parts of the Polish countryside. Groups of people have started coming together, to grow their own food and to go back to a more sustainable village life. Most of these collectives are considerably small scale and usually run by a small group of friends.
In the summer of 2017, there was a wind of new agrarian revolution coming from the direction of a small village near the city of Łódź in central Poland. I spoke to Jędrzej Cyganik, one of the core members of this sustainable settlement hub Osada Twórców (The Creators Settlement). Osada Twórców is a model of eco village that is currently being built by over 400 people from all over Poland. Jędrzej is a member of the Cohabitat network that established the settlement and helps share ideas on sustainable living. He is also the founder of the food sovereignty forum Nyéléni Poland a national organization established on the principles of the International Declaration of Nyéléni from 2007.
I wanted to hear Jedrzej’s views on if and how, Polish people are changing their eating habits and what he sees as the future of organic farming in the country.
As a member of the 'Cohabitat' network, can you tell me a bit about the core ideas and activities of the network?
‘Cohabitat has been active for around eight years and its core concept is to find lifestyle models that allow humans to thrive without destroying the planet. We strive to find ways where people can fulfill their needs, while not only limiting the damage they cause to the environment, but also by becoming beneficial to the ecosystem and help it regenerate. The main topics we work with are natural building, food cultivation and sustainable energy. Cohabitat started by translating and publishing scientific books in Polish on these topics and getting together a network of passionate individuals, to propagate a more natural way of living.’
How was the concept of Osada Twórców (The Creators Settlement) born?
‘After seven years of promotional work, popularizing sustainable ways of living and running workshops, the team of Cohabitat decided that it was time to take these ideas to the next level. The aim of Cohabitat was always to work out the full life ecosystems such as sustainable housing, renewable energy sources, permaculture cultivation and community building, and since a year we are running a live trial of chosen models at Osada Twórców. The place came to life after seven years of preparation and learning, but also after building a sizeable community interested in the same ideas and lifestyle. Other than the trend of middle class families, who are buying houses in the countryside as a place to get out of the city and relax, members in the Cohabitat network were more interested in moving to the rural areas to grow their own food and rebuild the social structure of villages that is under threat due to urbanization and individualism. They see cooperation within the community and raising the future generation together as a key social activities within the village.’
How many people are involved in co-creating the settlement?
‘Our core management team consists of up to 10 people, but this number varies depending on the season. During this summer we had around 400 people visiting the settlement, to participate in the permaculture and natural building workshops and in the same time co-create our garden and new houses built by natural methods. Now all of them are members of the ‘Gromada Twórców’ (The Creators Troop) and financially support development of the project by monthly contribution. Every member of The Creators Troop can visit the settlement at any time to spend time closer to nature, experience this way of living and learn more about sustainable cultivation and construction. Many of them still live in the cities, but would like to grow their own food and live in a village community in the future. They treat the time spent in Osada Twórców as inspiration and motivation to take the next steps and sometimes to verify if this lifestyle is really what they want. After looking at the number of people who decided to participate in the first workshop season and co-create the settlement our team felt that it was the ideal moment for this project to start as it seemed that many people were just waiting to get involved in this kind of community.’
Is “Osada Twórców” the first project of its kind in Poland?
‘The eco village movement is spreading in Poland, but Osada Twórców is the first project that is structured and organized on this scale. It is also unique in the scale of social and financial support it receives from The Creators Troop.’
In the summer you could see the accumulation of the creative community energy in Osada Tworcow. And also last year Polish representation joined the International Food Sovereignty Forum associated with Nyéléni Declaration and established local Nyéléni group.
Is the fact that Nyéléni Poland came to life a sign that Polish people are searching for alternative solutions of producing and distributing food?
‘In the last decade we observed a lot of activity related to agroecology in Poland. Ecological farming became more popular since we entered the EU. The CSA (Community-supported agriculture) collectives are more and more visible in Polish cities since 2010. The establishment of Nyéléni Poland seems like a natural step where independent local initiatives with similar values come together to support each other and promote the rules of production and consumption that allows for balance in the environment.
Nyéléni Poland came to life after the Food Sovereignty Forum that was held in Romania in October of 2016, where around 20 representatives of Polish small scale farmers, CSAs and NGOs related to farming met during this international event and decided on setting up a national network that unites people from different places in Poland who work on specific avenues of food production. Currently we are in the phase where we have established our rules and mission for a new culture and lifestyle that is based on the long term visions of human coexistence with nature and have begun planning the deployment of such ideas. Nyéléni underscores the same vision as represented in Cohabitat’s slogan “We build culture for the next 1000 years” as we strive to find the way of living that will allow us and the ecosystem to survive the next millennium.’
What are CSA collectives?
‘Community-supported agriculture is a model of food distribution that is based on connecting a group of people (often living in cities), with local small-scale farmers. The collectives establish long term relationships with farmers and fund the overall food production cost. This way, the group supports the financial security of the farmer in the case of natural disasters or crops failure. When the crops are ready, they are delivered to all the collective members on a weekly basis.’
Is the network created by Nyéléni Poland opening new possibilities for farmers and CSA collectives?
‘The network is still in its infancy and in principle it’s a meta organization and a communication platform, but we do not want to just talk. We are organizing the first Food Sovereignty Forum in Poland at the end of January and the main activity will be group work where topics like Education, Public Policy, Agroecology and Village-City Cooperation will be discussed. We want people to establish close relations within their workgroup and come up with a concrete action plan for themselves and the organizations they are involved in. The forum is meant to be the meeting that initiates the work and then later in the year the group will work on deployment of their plan. There will be around 120 participants, so the ideas created within the workgroups will be also consulted in the wider audience.’
Do you observe any changes in food choices made by Pols who are not directly associated with eco movements?
‘Judging by the increasing choice in ecological products available in the market, and by how often the topic of organic produce appears in the Polish media, I believe that Poles seem to be more aware of what lands on their plates and how it got there. Under the remit of ecological living, food production is certainly one of the subjects that affects individuals the most in their daily life, because of the direct connection our diet has on our well being. Sickness or health concerns are the factors that gets most people interested to know more about food production. Starting from there, they might get inspired to make larger lifestyle adjustments. Personally, it was the desire to eat healthier that led me to a CSA collective meeting in Krakow many years ago.’
Cohabitat wants to build culture for the next 1000 years, but what is the vision for the upcoming 20 years?
‘In the current settlement, we would like to set up a garden that will allow us to be fully self-sufficient and to also start cultivating plants like hemp, that can be used for constructing natural buildings.
‘The general plan is that the Osada Twórców will not become a permanent living space, but an eco settlement model, mainly because it is co-created by hundreds of people and we would like it to be a place of meetings, workshops and experiments. We want it to function as central hub, where people have the possibility to try a different lifestyle and meet others who are potentially looking to start a new settlement. In about 3 years, we are planning to build another settlement, that will offer permanent living spaces for the first group of people from The Creators Troop, who would like to live together. I hope that in the next 20 years there will be at least one settlement of this kind in every province of Poland, as what we are building now is fully open source and hopefully, will serve as a model that can be replicated, scaled and modified based on local environment.’
JUSTYNA ANNA KRAKOWIAK generally talks a lot and this time tried to condense her thoughts and words into her first article for AWE. She was famous among her friends in Copenhagen for throwing midnight dinner parties, then travelled and lived in Asia to learn that even fermented shrimps can be eatable and now challenged herself to try every type of Dutch cheese.