Building the Ark - small scale farming in Poland for a green future

| 20th June 2015
All about using herbs. Photo: ICPPC.
All about using herbs. Photo: ICPPC.
Poland is the front line for Europe's small scale family farming, writes Julian Rose, under assault from the EU regulations, corporate agribusiness, and a hostile government. A popular campaign is fighting back from its base deep in the Polish countryside, a small organic farm that's developing new green technologies to enhance the sustainability of small farms everywhere.
The centre now comprises organic vegetable production, orchard, herb garden, household clean water system, passive and photovoltaic solar energy production, clay / straw construction outbuildings and a recently established seed-saving project.

I had the great good fortune, when I was in my early thirties, of being confronted with the challenge of taking-on a family farm; and because of my sensibilities, this meant adopting an organic approach to its management.

It was a challenge that demanded absolute commitment - or certain failure. The learning curve was steep and the work hard, but in the long-run the pleasure greatly exceeded the pain!

Due to the relative paucity of fellow ecologically driven comrades, the farm soon took on the characteristics of an 'ark', attracting bees, birds, butterflies and much of the bounty of nature so missing on neighbouring monocultural enterprises.

The resulting farm foods increasingly reflected the quality of the pastures and soils upon which they were raised.

Onwards and eastwards

But maybe owing to the intensity of my commitment to this calling - life steered me onwards - and eastwards - towards new challenges. In the year 2000 I met Jadwiga Lopata, a Polish social entrepreneur and strong supporter of small family farms.

Its worth noting here that Poland is a country that retained its small farming sector through the twentieth century, defying the ravages of war and never falling subject to the 'collectivization' that wreaked such havoc in the Soviet Union.

The backbone of the country's agriculture is the small-scale farming family, self sufficient on their few acres, growing food much as their ancestors have for centuries relying on organic methods largely or entirely free of agrochemicals, and providing regular surpluses of high quality prduce for sale in local markets across the country.

But this is changing under the influence of the European Union and Poland's own government, desperate to 'modernise' agriculture - meaning to turn farming into a largely corporate endeavour, carried out intensively over huge areas, with heavy use of agrochemicals, marginalising and displacing the original inhabitants of the land.

It was to defend Poland's small farmers that Jadwiga founded the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC), and I was honoured when she invited me to become co-director of the organisation. I accepted this new challenge, passing my farm on to a fellow organic farmer and conservationist.

A reservoir of biodiversity in the Polish countryside

ICPPC has its headquarters in a small traditional Polish farmhouse near Krakow, in Malopolska Province, South Poland. It sits on the edge of the village of Stryszow and commands stunning views of the surrounding Beskid mountains.

It is here that I have spent much of the past ten years; and the nature of Jadwiga and my endeavours has, once again, been to build up a diverse and flourishing ark. Something capable of acting as a beacon and model of resistance to the corporate steamroller called agribusiness.

The centre now comprises organic vegetable production, orchard, herb garden, household clean water system, passive and photovoltaic solar energy production, clay / straw construction outbuildings and a recently established seed-saving project.

Since then it has been active, together with other civil society organisations, in combatting the corporate enclosure of farmland, draconian 'hygiene' regulations designed to push small food producers out of business, the advent of GMO crops which the right-wing government is desperate to introduce, and in the massive 'Green City' protests in Warsaw.

ICPPC's Eco Centre forms the core of this ark. It has grown-up over many years, starting in the mid 1990's when Jadwiga's son Chris launched a far sighted solar energy and clay / straw building initiative.

The centre now comprises a virtually self-sustaining combination of organic vegetable production, orchard, herb garden, household clean water system, passive and photovoltaic solar energy production, clay / straw construction outbuildings and a recently established seed-saving project. In addition, chickens, sheep and a small Alpaka herd provide eggs, wool and manure for the surrounding vegetable and arable production.

Owing to the comprehensive and interconnected nature of this enterprise, we have opened it up to the public, conducting small tours and offering hands-on experiences to those aspiring to break away from unsustainable urban life styles - and build a more long lasting solution on the land and in the village communities that proliferate in Poland's relatively unspoiled countryside.

Join us on the farm this summer!

ICPPC's Eco Centre is concentrated within a 1.5 ha small holding which now has the capacity to lodge guests as well as long term co-workers who wish to participate in the project's further development.

Periodically, we also hold special workshops for foreign (as well as Polish) participants, and one such workshop 'Building the Ark' is coming up this 10-12 July 2015.

Readers of The Ecologist will be very welcome to join us here in Stryszow for this three day event, in which participants will be able to gain special insight into the practical and visionary skills needed to become independent of the destructive powers of the main stream market place - and once again a free and creative spirit!

Talks and workshops take place in our clay straw barn and on the surrounding land. These are led by Jadwiga and myself (Julian Rose), both leading exponents of organic farming, anti GMO campaigning and front-line direct actions.

Chris Wietrzny, co-founder of the Eco Centre and a leading Polish exponent of solar renewable energies; and Joanna Bojczewska and Adam Paine who are creatively engaged in organic vegetable growing, local marketing as well as land worker's rights campaigning.

Here you have the chance of a life time to get the raw facts and fundamentals 'straight from the horse's mouth' - as it were. Come and join us - and take the first steps in learning how to build your very own ark!



Julian Rose will be speaking at the Resurgence summer camp, 30 July - 2 August, at Green and Away, near Worcester. See here for programme details and bookings.

More information: The next course is taking palce on 10-12 July at a promotional price of €150 per person. Longer stays by arrangement. Full details available here.

Just 45 kilometres from the magnificent city of Krakow and 60 kilometres from the awesome Tatra mountains, ICPPC Eco Centre is ideally placed for a longer stay. Surrounded by typical small-scale family farms, participants in ICPPC workshops get an authentic 'taste of Poland' compromising delicious locally grown farm foods which are served throughout the duration of the course.

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