A trip to Alunisu - the living agroecology school

A horse and cart in Alunisu, Romania


It was a welcome break from the Expo Transilvania site to spend Friday in the sunshine with around 70 other delegates visiting the small village of Alunisu, about 62 km outside of Cluj.

The small population turned out to welcome us at the village centre, with three horse-drawn wagons and cakes straight from the oven.  The tour was led by Lars and Robyn Veraart, who moved the area from the US and the Netherlands around 6 years ago to learn how to live a simpler life in harmony with nature.

“We wanted to experiment with food sovereignty and learn the traditional ways of being self sufficient.  It was meant to be a 3 – 5 year experiment but we kept going with it.  We had intended to drink deeply and then take that knowledge back home. But it turned out this was home” says Robyn.

Food made at Alunisu

Robyn and Lars have now settled in the area where they work alongside the local peasants, and run a living agroecological school which passes on the agricultural skills and knowledge of the area to visiting students. 

“We wanted to catch the last real fire of traditional peasantry in Europe and pass it onto the next generation” adds Lars.

While they started out growing vegetables and herbs they were soon able to branch out to some of the larger crops like potatoes, corn and sunflowers when the village offered them a field. They now have a large variety of livestock too, which is grazed on the common grounds above the village by the 24 year-old shepherd, Adi, who has just returned to the village to live.

The delegation also had the pleasure of meeting a few of local women, Mariaoara and her friend whose energy and ability to drink pálinka put many of us to shame! They showed us around their houses and land, fed us vast supplies of sugary donuts and told us stories of the life in the village, lamenting the lack of eligible men.

Local women toasting with pálinka

Robyn then took us to meet the local priest, Szilard, who six mornings a week, buys the milk the villagers collect from their cows and turns it into cheese, which he sells locally and to visitors.  

We finished the visit by walking up into the hills behind the village, just as the sun was setting. In the distance we could hear the cow bells and the sounds of a flute, which we discovered was Adi’s father, playing tunes he learned as a boy. This beautiful common land, where the sheep, cows and goats graze, is now under threat from large business interests who want to buy it to raise their own livestock to export.

It was a timely reminder of the political nature of our visit and the reasons we have all gathered here this week in Romania.  In order to achieve food sovereignty and allow such vital traditions as shepherding to continue, common land must be protected. 

Traditional local flute music

Lars and Robyn and are working with the locals to set up a Romanian Land Trust, which will protect the common lands, protect biodiversity in the region and rent out local areas to young people who want to return to the area.

We wish them luck and suspect they might see a few of the young people from this trip knocking on the door soon!