One of the best things about traveling to Amsterdam was the opportunity to work with two very bright, energetic women from Sustainable Amsterdam: Cornelia Dinca and Anna Hajdu. Both are from Romania, and they have discovered a home in the Netherlands and an outlet for their passions: http://sustainableamsterdam.com/
Anna works as a Research Assistant, and shared with me some of the research that she is currently conducting back in her home country. While I’ll avoid going into the details of Anna’s research–since the work is, after all, hers to tell–she did offer an interesting perspective on farming in Romania when we sat down to dinner at Cornelia’s home Sunday evening.
Like small farmers in the Midwest, where I lived the first 17 years of my life and my dad continues to live on the land as a fourth generation farmer, farm families in Romania are steadily losing their ground to corporations. Commercial stakeholders interested in acquiring land and turning over a quick investment–by working the soil aggressively until it can no longer produce anything of value–are strategically tricking older farmers into selling their property cheaply while corporate profits remain high.
Anna told me that corporations set up shop in an area and post signs indicating that farmers should show up on a certain day and time to find out what their land is worth. To a generation raised on Communist dictates, these notifications, Anna said, appear mandatory. Farmers come to the meetings, and before you know it, their property has been sold to a corporate representative for far less than the land is worth.
In addition to the backdrop of Communism influencing how Romanian farmers perceive their right to refuse to sell, or at the very least, to negotiate a fair price for their land, Anna noted that most of these farmers lack a sense of pride in what they have accomplished as caretakers of the soil.
“In Romania,” Anna said, “the young people are leaving to get an education and to find other kinds of work. Once they leave the farm. they are no longer interested in it.”
There is a sense that what these younger generations are leaving for is a step up to a better life.
While my cousins and I have all gone to college and entered careers away from the farm, I wouldn’t say that any of us think of these choices as necessarily “better.” In some ways, leaving the farming life is a necessity, as land prices and equipment costs continue to soar making the continuation of another generation of family farmers increasingly difficult.
But we all maintain a sense of pride in what our parents have accomplished on the land and intend to remain involved in the workings of our family farms wherever our lives may lead us–Chicago, Kansas City, Birmingham.
It made me sad to think of an older generation of Romanian farmers being forced from their land, at the same time they doubt the worth of their labor.