All Year: All year round
Area (ha): 3 to 4
Persons: 1 to 6
Category: Organic Farmstay
Host ID: 7546
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Last Updated: February 9, 2013
Rather than a single farm, I live and work in a collection of buildings and small parcels of land on the edge of a small, quiet village in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. My valley is away from any main roads and has no through traffic, yet I am only about 10 miles (16km) from the nearest town. Like almost all of my neighbours, I am involved in agriculture, pomiculture, animal husbandry and forestry. People here are cash poor but relatively wealthy in terms of good land and most are able to live almost entirely self sufficiently, much as they have done for centuries.
Apart from the main farmhouse, I have 3 cottages, each has a barn with stables and various other outbuildings, together with vegetable gardens, orchards, fields and pasture. I am currently negotiating to buy more houses and land on my side of the village and my long term plan is to create a sustainable community which combines organic agriculture with traditional handicrafts, apprenticeship schemes and sensitive rural tourism. Volunteers will have the chance to be part of this bigger picture from the start.
I have two young horses (mother and daughter, four years old and one and a half years old respectively), around 14 chickens (counting them can be quite a sport), 2 dogs and 3 cats (and not a lot of mice!) -I am not planning to buy any more for now (please ask the locals to stop offering us goats and donkeys). I also have an antique horse carriage, a buggy and a horse-cart -and a collection of Trabants (those funny little East German cars that U2 hung from the lighting rig on their "Zooropa" tour), of which one works occasionally and several are being restored at the moment. (Mechanics are very gratefully received!)
I produce fruits, nuts, vegetables, corn, beans, potatoes, alfalfa, hay, eggs, milk and cheese. My surplus is sold to friends and acquaintances in the local towns (Targu-Mures and Reghin). I am particularly well known for my brandies, liqueurs, jams, pickles, sauces, chutneys and other preserves, of which volunteers might have the chance to taste some of during their stay or to purchase to take with them when they go. I also rent out "Pear Tree Cottage" and "The Golden Orchard" as holiday accommodation for paying guests from across Romania and abroad.
Hay-making is one of the big jobs of the year. I currently have 24 animals which need hay throughout the winter (2 horses and 22 goats). I use the traditional Saxon reckoner for how much we will need: for sheep or goats, figure on a cartload per head; for cows, figure on a cartload per foot, so four cartloads per cow, and for horses, figure on two cartloads per foot, so eight cartloads per horse. Of course, the size of a cartload can vary -reckon on what your horse can pull, it will eat.
Using this method, I will need around forty cartloads of hay to see me through the winter, meaning from sometime in October or November, when the first snows come, until some time in April or even May, when the first grass grows. So it's definitely better to have too much hay, rather than too little!
Hay-cutting is still often done using a scythe. This is more labour-intensive but makes for better hay than if I used some sort of lawnmower, whether pushed by a man or pulled by a tractor. Many lawnmowers cut the grass up fine and it doesn't keep as well or feed the animals as well.
I don't expect volunteers to cut hay as this is skilled work that starts as early as 5am. However, if you wish to learn how or have previous experience of this work, you will get a chance to have a go, anytime from the end of May/beginning of June, up to September.
Volunteers are needed to help me with spreading the hay to dry, turning it with pitchforks, raking it into small haystacks ("porculeti", which means "piglets"!), tossing it into large haystacks with pitchforks, loading it onto horse and cart to bring down from the fields and then tossing it into barns and haylofts, again with pitchforks. Lots of hard, sweaty work in the sun (I literally "make hay while the sun shines"!) -followed by lots of rolling around in the hay with a bottle in one hand and your best girl (or boy) in the other!
Last year (2010), because I had so much rain in May, June and July, I was very busy with hay-making (and all the other agriculture) until the beginning of October, so any and all help, experienced or otherwise, was extremely gratefully received!
Fruit harvests are also lengthy, beginning with strawberries, raspberries, currants, cherries and sour cherries (June-July) and continuing with plums, apples and pears (August-October). Not only does every species and variety of fruit have its own season, but also so does every individual tree! Generally, I pick the fruit as it ripens and falls until the majority is ripe on any given tree, then shake and beat the tree to bring down the rest. A certain amount of apples and pears are carefully picked by hand to avoid bruising and put in the cellar, where they keep for up to a year of pies, crumbles, tarts, etc. The season ends with walnuts and grapes in October (grapes are always best left until after the first frosts).
Apart from hay-cutting and fruit-picking, there's lots else to do, including: Renovating and maintaining houses, outbuildings, vehicles and machinery; feeding, cleaning and looking after the animals; cutting and stacking wood; laying hedges and making or mending fences; digging or cleaning ditches; Gardening and working in the fields and orchards; leading animals to pasture and, of course, lots of digging, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting in the vegetable plots.
Construction and renovation jobs done with volunteers last year (2010) included: Painting doors and windows in "Pear Tree Cottage"; making compost frames at all properties out of willow, hazel and alder wands; making pathways out of broken up old tiles and bricks mixed with gravel; making greenhouses and cucumber frames out of hazel wands, recycled plastic sheeting and old window frames; making large wooden boxes out of old floorboards, for recycling plastics, metals, broken glass, etc.; sorting, transporting and stacking old tiles from demolition sites, for future roofing jobs; making a new ceiling for the goat shed / floor for the hayloft, using old floorboards, fencing and offcuts from construction; fencing round young trees (using old tomato stakes, beanpoles and chicken wire), to prevent the bark being stripped from them by rabbits or deer during the winter; painting fences with used sump oil (which would otherwise be thrown in ditches by neighbours), to extend their lifetime, and many jobs of general cleaning, tidying and maintenance of fences, hedges, ditches, gates, drains, outbuildings for animals and tools, and so on.
Jobs so far planned for next year (2011) include: Further renovation of barns, stables and toolsheds, using recycled bricks, tiles, oak beams, old doors and windows, together with new wattle and daub (a mixture of clay, sand, straw and horseshit, daubed over hazel wattle) and painted with lime; fencing for orchards, fields and gardens, using hazel, willow and alder wands and posts, pine board offcuts, used sump oil, recycled wire and nails and newly-laid hedges of fruiting thorn bushes; ditches and pathways, lined with river-dredged stones; outdoor toilets and solar showers, with willow wattle panels, sawdust composting and old oil drums; building bread ovens, a new haybarn, more goatsheds and stables and more greenhouses.
Best of all the jobs each summer and autumn (though often taking the longest), must be all the cooking and helping to make the jams, pickles, preserves, brandies and liqueurs, with the appropriate opportunities for tasting and enjoying good food and drink!
Whilst I welcome new volunteers, I obviously prefer those who have had some previous experience of gardening, animal husbandry, agriculture, construction, renovation or maintenance work, particularly if it was either in a professional capacity or through a volunteer programme like helpex or wwoof. Please remember, this is not "couchsurfing"! I am particularly keen to receive volunteers with experience of training horses, repairing cars or pruning trees.
As the accommodation is usually fairly luxurious (when holiday cottages are not let out to paying guests), the helpers have access to laundry and internet facilities and the food and drink from my own production is pretty plentiful, I prefer volunteers who don't mind working outdoors for at least five or six hours a day (and often longer). I play as hard as I work and, on days off, I will be happy for helpers to accompany me on trips to town or around the countryside, to festivals, fairs or markets or to exhibitions or concerts (please expect to contribute to the petrol or deisel costs if we are taking a car somewhere with you).
Whilst I am pleased to receive help from volunteers who come to stay for only a week or two, I would prefer volunteers who wish to stay for a few weeks or even several months. This has the advantage for me that people have time to learn where things are kept and how the regular chores should be done, as well as a chance to adapt to the rhythms of rural life. Volunteers staying for a longer period of time will have the chance to see more of the area and discover more of its culture and traditions. I am even willing to consider volunteers staying through the winter as there are still some jobs to be done, plus looking after the animals, house-sitting, etc. Ultimately, it always depends on the individual helpexer, their plans and goals, how much they like it here and how well they get on with me. Many volunteers have come planning to stay for only a week or two and have ended up staying for a month or more... Transylvania gets under your skin!
There are many opportunities for learning and practising traditional skills from spinning and weaving, to hedge-laying and walling with wattle and daub. Help is also appreciated with workshops, summer camps, festivals, fairs and markets. I have a lot of construction or renovation projects and helpers will have the opportunity to help create something that will form part of a sustainable future for us all.
I also run a local charitable association, "Marisiana", which is occasionally involved in community activities, educational programmes, cultural events and promoting environmental awareness, sustainable agriculture, sensitive tourism and local, traditional handicrafts.
I try to incorporate whatever skills workers might bring and might even be able to arrange particular work to suit your skills. The locals are very warm-hearted and welcoming and are particularly appreciative of any opportunity to share their traditions and cultures, learn about other cultures and practice foreign languages.
Accommodation & Meals:
When not occupied by paying guests, workers can stay in the 2 holiday cottages, which both have electricity, water, a full kitchen and a bathroom with indoor toilet. When these are not available, accommodation may be in my farmhouse, with neighbours, in my haylofts or in my tents, with outdoor compost toilets and water from wells or stand-pipes.
Meals are hearty, mainly vegetarian (vegans also catered for) and generally prepared and eaten communally (actually, I love cooking and do much of it myself). If you cannot face a meal without meat or fish, you will have to provide and prepare it yourself. Don't worry if you are not a great cook, you will still get to help with chopping vegetables, washing up or making fires -and a lot of people have learnt something of cooking and preserving whilst staying with me. I mainly cook and eat food from our own production (which is the tastiest, healthiest and cheapest way to live), so if you have a taste for such expensive imported luxuries as chocolate, fancy teas and herbal teas, tropical fruits, etc, you should bring them yourself. I provide tea, coffee, sugar and milk as I drink these ourselves. I have telephone, internet and wi-fi in the main house when necessary. If you are staying for longer than a week or so, I will do some laundry for you (please do not do what some people do and arrive with a rucksack full of filthy clothes and then ask me to wash all of them!)
What To Bring:
As almost all of the work is outdoors, helpers should come prepared: Warm clothes for when it's chilly (and, even in summer, the evenings might be quite cool); cool, comfortable clothes for when it's hot and dry and waterproof clothing for when it rains. I recommend you have both Wellington boots for wet days, mud, wet grass, shallow streams and waterlogged terrain and sturdy hiking boots or work boots for dry conditions. Please be fully equipped with your own toiletries, towels, toothpaste, suncream, insect repellant and, obviously, any medications you require -I live some distance from any chemists and it may be difficult to obtain locally what you require. I do not provide an unlimited supply of wellies, sunhats, shampoo, suncream, aspirins, dental floss or whatever else as I don't have these things on tap, they are either expensive or unavailable locally and I feel that travellers should be used to either travelling equipped or doing without!
Volunteers should also bring a sleeping bag. I have plenty of woollen blankets, some sheets, pillowcases, pillows and cushions but, if we go to a summer festival (and there are many from June until September), we might be staying there for anything from one to three nights. I have a number of small, two-man dome tents when required.
Most important things to bring are curiosity; a willingness to learn, to work hard and to play hard; a taste for lively debate and a very good sense of humour!
Please leave behind any ideologies, prejudices, pretensions, fears, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, attitude problems or personal problems -I have quite enough to worry about without being someone's parent or counsellor!
English, Romanian, a little Hungarian, bad French and a smattering of other languages (from Russian to Swahili!) Since I started hosting helpxers in April, I've had volunteers from the UK, USA, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Australia, Romania, Sweden and Finland. Therefore, this is quite an international destination, with English as the lingua franca and plenty of opportunities to practice your English and maybe learn a bit of some other languages (obviously including Romanian!) The locals are also very keen to practice their (minimal) English and teach you a little Romanian (or Hungarian). I would also welcome any help with translating this text and other texts into other languages, for online outreach.
Things To See & Do In My Area:
I live in the most ethnically diverse part of Romania with Dacians, Romanians, Magyars, Saxons, Swabians, Jews, Gypsies (Roma), Hungarian Settlers, Moldavians and Ukrainians (in order of arrival). This richness of culture and heritage is apparent in the diversity of costumes, songs, music, dances, embroidery, food and drink at the many local festivals throughout the year.
There are lots of local festivals, which always include a lot of traditional folk music and dancing, costumes, local food and drink, some rock and pop in the evenings, camp-fires and sometimes fireworks.
For example (a by no means complete listing):
May: Mayday Fair, Reghin -A parade from the saxon church through the town and up to the forest, then a day of folk dances, maypoles, saxon culture, food and drink.
May: Ascension Fair, Rusii Munti an annual market and afternoon of folk music and dancing.
May (Ascension):"Wetting Of the Wives", Hodac -a bizarre and ancient custom where men who married the year before demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the marriage by paying their neighbours not to throw their wives in the river!
June or July: Brides' Fair, Gurghiu. Local lasses demonstrate their suitability for marriage with displays of dancing, cooking, sewing and weaving. Dowries are displayed and bride prices arranged. The prospective bridegroom can also meet his future mother-in-law (very pragmatic) and take his chosen lady for a short (chaperoned) walk to check that she doesn't have a wooden leg! (In 2010: 27th June).
June or July: Reghin Days, Reghin -the whole town parties for several days, with parades, a fairground, markets, food, drink, dancing, folk music, classical music, jazz, rock and pop. (In 2010: 2nd-4th July).
June or July: Village Days, Alunis -which includes such sporting events as sack races, a tug-o'-war, truck pulls and climbing a 15m pole to retrieve a bottle of tuica (v.popular!) Also a hotly-contested ghoulash cook-off -this year with its first English entrant! (In 2010: 26th-27th June).
July (1st Weekend): Cherry Fair, Brincovenesti -all the usual food, drink and dancing, with, of course, cherries, cherry jam, cherry brandy, cherry soup, cherry sauce, etc. (In 2010: 3rd-4th July).
July: Mures Valley Festival -the largest folk festival in Romania. Several days of drinking, dancing and even international stars such as Gheorghe "Kill Bill" Zamfir and Boney M! (In 2010: 10th-11th July).
August (1st Sunday): Spa Festival, Ideciu de Jos, Open day at the local spa, with sulphurous black mud, salty water, folk music, classical music, waltzes, gypsy dances, food and drink. this year, we are helping to organise this historic event, which has been running for over 100 years. (In 2010: 1st August).
August: Crown Festival, Lunca Muresului -the neighbouring ethnic Hungarian village with tradional Hungarian music, dancing, costumes and cooking. Very lively! (In 2010: 8th August).
August: Village Days, Valenii de Mures -two days of mainly Hungarian folk music, pop music, eating, drinking and dancing, also sporting events, theatre, poetry and comedy (all in Hungarian). (In 2010: 20th-21st August).
August: Kings' Valley Festival, Ibanesti -another mammoth folk festival in a gorgeous rural location, particularly recommended are the local organic honeys. (In 2010: 20th-21st August).
September (1st Sunday): Onion Festival, Ideciu de Sus -Romanian, Saxon and Gypsy folk music, costumes, dancing, food and drink and, of course, onions! Songs, stories, poems and jokes about onions; onion competitions, onion recipes and dishes and just onions everywhere. Our neighbouring village is known throughout Romania for the sweetest red onions in the whole country -come and find out for yourself. this year, we are helping to organise this annual event. (In 2010: 5th September).
October: Harvest Festival, Reghin -a brass band parade, food, drink, dancing, competitions, local recipes, free wine and apples, etc. (In 2010: Saturday 9th October).
October: Apple Fair, Batos -a Saxon village in a valley full of orchards and vineyards. Apples, pears and plums, wines, brandies, sauces, jams, pickles, juices and vinegars. Also folk music, dancing, food and drink (as usual). (In 2010: Sunday 10th October).
November: Horse Parade, Idicel/Idicel Padure -horse riders, horses and carts, covered wagons, antique carriages, equestrian displays and parade, followed by stories, songs, poetry and jokes about horses followed by a camp-fire meal and a party. (In 2010: Monday 8th November).
December: Christmas Fair, Reghin -a traditional German Christmas fair with ginger bread, tree and table decorations, mulled wine, puppet shows, mummers, brass band, parades, etc.
December (Xmas Eve): "Dancing The Goat", Idicel Padure -a pagan fertility rite celebrated for thousands of years and little changed. Jesters, lords of misrule, dancing with goats, ploughshares, etc and lots of noise and chaos -all in the middle of the night.
December (Xmas weekend): Balls in Alunis, Brincovenesti, Valenii de Mures, Ideciu de Jos, Idicel and Deleni -from waltzes and folk dancing to gypsy dances, pop music and disco.
December (1st Sunday after Xmas): Festival of Winter Traditions, Idicel Padure -a whole day and evening of folk dancing, songs and music, carols, poetry, stories and jokes, "Dancing the Goat" and "The Little Plough" and other winter traditions, mainly more pagan than christian.
How To Get To My Farm:
Nearest airports: Targu-Mures (TGM) or Cluj-Napoca (CLJ).
Tg-Mures has flights from Budapest with Malev, currently with offer prices starting at 5 euros, one way, and from Bucharest with Tarom or Carpatair.
From Tg-Mures airport, get a bus to the centre of Tg-Mures (about 11 miles or 18km) and then a bus or train to Reghin (about 20 miles or 32km north of Tg-Mures). Both buses and trains are frequent and cheap and run every day.
Cluj-Napoca has a much larger selection of airlines and flights serving it, cheapest are usually those operated by WizzAir, which include a direct flight from London Luton (LTN) several times a week.
Do not be conned by the information desk at the airport or accept a taxi ride from any of the touts and drivers hanging around the airport, this will prove expensive, unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
If you wish to go into Cluj-Napoca to explore or stay there before coming on to me, there are regular, cheap buses (#8) which stop right outside the airport every 15-20 minutes. The correct taxi fare should be about 20-25 lei by meter, at not more than 2 lei / km.
Opposite the airport, a number of different companies have coaches which stop there several times a day and will take you straight to Reghin, about 2 hours by road (about 60 miles or 100km east). It is not always possible to make advance reservations and buses might be crowded but they are generally cheap, quick, clean and safe. If I know when you are coming, I can make a seat reservation for you. Tickets are bought on boarding the bus, for cash only.
Nearest Railway Stations: Reghin or Brincovenesti.
InterRail ticket-holders and international travellers can get trains from Vienna and Budapest which stop at Targu-Mures on their way east, where you can change and get a train north to Reghin.
Trains are mostly frequent, quick and cheap in Romania, although some services, particularly those from Bucharest that cross the mountains, are subject to regular delays because of maintenance and improvement works on the line. They are usually safe but you should always keep an eye on your bags. Tickets should be bought before boarding and advance reservations are possible for all services.
Reghin is a major railway junction for both passengers and freight and many trains stop there, including services from Bucharest, Brasov, Targu-Mures, Satu-Mare, Bistrita and Toplita. "InterCity" trains, which are generally quicker, cleaner and safer, stop there as well. Tickets should be bought before boarding the trains, advance reservations are possible through the railway company, CFR.
I am about 10 miles (16km) from Reghin, buses are few and traffic is sparse. If you want to get a taxi to Idicel from Reghin station, there are usually taxis outside the station and the correct fare should be about 30-35 lei (agree the fare in advance).
"Personal" trains are those which stop at every little station en route, they take the longest and tend to be old, dirty, crowded and possibly dangerous but they are by far the cheapest. Keep an eye on your bags and, if in doubt, sit near the guards. Buy tickets before boarding.
Only "personal" trains stop at Brincovenesti, which is two stops north of Reghin on the line which runs Tg-Mures - Reghin - Deda - Toplita. These trains run several times a day, every day, including weekends and public holidays.
From Brincovenesti station to my village is less than 3 miles (5km).
By Bus / Coach:
Several companies, including Eurolines, have international coaches which stop at Targu-Mures or Reghin. Advance reservations are possible and, indeed, recommended.
Many companies have relatively clean and modern buses and coaches running between towns and cities in Romania and buses are generally cheap, quick, frequent and run on time. Not all services have advance reservation options and some you pay on boarding (cash only). Buses might be crowded and you might have to stand for at least part of the journey. They are generally safe but you should always keep an eye on your bags and, if in doubt, sit near the driver.
Reghin is served by buses from Bistrita, Toplita, Suceava, Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Tarnaveni, Piatra Neamt, Iasi, Medias and many others.
Local buses run to Idicel twice a day from a bus station near the town centre, also stopping outside the railway station. The fare is 4 lei and you pay when you get off. The bus leaves Reghin at 6am or 2:30pm. There are no services on Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays (Christmas, New Year, Easter, 1st May, Ascension, 15th August and 1st December).
Reghin is on the DN15 national road (some more recent maps show this road as a European Highway but the work to widen it and improve it has barely begun), which runs from Targu-Mures north to Toplita. About 5 miles (8km) north of Reghin, just as you are about to exit Brincovenesti, there will be a small sign indicating a right turn and saying "Idicel Padure 8". Take this road across the Mures river and the railway line and up the Idicel valley. About 3 miles (5km) from Brincovenesti you will enter the first village, Idicel.
There are several bars and shops in the centre of the village and you can ask anyone you meet "where are the English?" ("unde Englezi?" pronounced "oon-day En-glaze?") and they will know and show you. They are getting quite used to visitors looking for me!
If you are hitch-hiking, there is very little traffic from Brincovenesti to Idicel so either walk or wait (which might take a long time). Once you enter my valley, you will probably have no mobile 'phone signal, so call me before you pass the crucifix which marks the parish boundary!
Hitch-hikers should remember that Romania is one of very few places in Europe where drivers who give lifts to hitch-hikers often expect to be offered money towards their petrol costs. This might mean that trains or buses are actually cheaper!
Always offer to pay -many will refuse to take your money but be prepared for those who will take it and have the right amount ready. From Reghin to Brincovenesti or Idicel, you should offer about 2 lei per person; from Tg-Mures to Reghin or Brincovenesti, you should offer about 5 lei per person, and from Cluj-Napoca to Reghin or Brincovenesti you should offer about 15-20 lei per person. Alternatively, the driver might stop at a cafe or bar and expect you to pay for coffee or lunch. If this is the case, never let them choose anywhere too expensive!
Picture Captions (Clockwise from top left):
Our stand at a local festival / "The Golden Orchard" holiday cottage / Graham ploughing with a horse / Masked dancers perform a pagan fertility rite in our valley on Xmas Eve each year / Making plum brandy takes time and skill / Our antique carriage