We thought it would be nice to share publicly the exchange of emails below. Elisa was lucky it’s winter and I found the time to answer. The cat in the picture is Brida, my muse for this enormously long text :)
I am an Italian girl of 24 years old, I write to you to seek for a practical advice. […] I’ve been living and working in Hungary for three years, here I met my boyfriend […] We are long sick of the life in Budapest, working in offices and living in a grey and polluted city, and we often fantasize about moving to Romania to some small village to start living closer to nature, with different life rhythms, with our own land and some animals. I have just discovered WWOOF, and on their website I read about you as well. It seems like a good idea to start working for a WWOOF host as volunteer, since none of us has ever had any previous experience; we both grew up in cities. […] I think we should first work for others, so we can learn to work with animals and land without having to invest our money right away, also to verify personally if this is really the life we want.
So what I would like to ask from you, based on your personal experience, is: is this sort of life really possible? If after one year of „practice” at some host’s farm, we started our own family owned farm with for example vegetables, chickens, goats, maybe bees, would we be able to „survive”? If one of us had also a normal job on the side, at least a part-time, could we lead a normal life, or we would constantly struggle? Except the food that you grow to provide your families with, where do you get the money to buy a few things/get petrol/pay bills from?
I know that there are plenty of variables and I can’t expect a definite answer, but it would be really helpful for me to hear your point of view, since you are already there and having that kind of lifestyle…
Do you have any advice about how we should prepare for this, before physically moving to Romania?
I thank you very much for your time,
Have a great day,
I am myself born in a grey city and the local culture I grew in was teaching young people to „go to another city, less grey, and become an important person”. As I travelled i learned that cities are actually a problem and the most progressive people that i admired a lot were talking about moving out.
The key message, (especially as a Romanian that grew up with a certain image of villages) is „we move forward„ towards a more sustainable future of ourselves as persons and, i hope we contribute towards a more sustainable future of society as whole. We do not „move back to countryside” seen as hardship, poverty, conservative views.
I encourage you to follow the instinct of learning before taking radical decisions. Traveling for a whole year and learning the gentle way as volunteers will mean a lot for you, regardless the later decisions and outcomes.
One of the first things i realised after living in the countryside is the yearly cycle. In grey cities people are expected to work regular hours regardless the time of the year, with support of artificial light, caffeine, over heated spaces in winter and air conditioning in summer. In my farm each month is very different. This is why I advice to do it for a whole cycle.
Regarding the „survival” – it would be a waste of time from me to write too much about my own opinions. The quality of life is a unique blend for every person. Only by experiencing different ways of life you can decide what is the most important for you. You will find hosts those life barely differs from the city, working as freelancers and still shopping in supermarkets, but taking advantage of a cleaner environment (which they sometimes pollute with their cars) and, in the case of a community, a richer social life. I am being very honest with this description, it applies to me often when, because of worries „how to survive”, I take too much work in town :)
You will also find hosts that are very blunt and radical about their needs and cheerfully live well with very small amounts of actual money. You will find people that go as far as possible from cities. Others that stay close and engage in exchanges. Some love animals, grow them with care and also eat them. Others are radical vegan or vegetarians. There are lots of ways of living!
The quest of your journey will be to find from the many experiences your unique blend that would give your life a purpose and joy.
Once you found a pattern of hosts that are similar to your views, you will naturally learn the strategies to go beyond survival towards striving. With no effort, just by living with your hosts, you will learn how to structure your day, how to manage your food, how much interaction you need with others whether neighbours or outside visitors, the activities that give you joy and the ones you will want to avoid and how to turn things you like into money for things you cannot produce yourself.
As for ”where do you get the money to buy a few things/get petrol/pay bills from?”, there is no standard answer. Different people I know in a similar situation have developed various strategies, based, again, on an unique blend of interest and skills and local opportunities.
One important warning: life in the countryside is not ideal and the hosts do not „know it all”. Quite much you will learn from problems you have yourself adjusting to new experiences, another great deal will be from witnessing the problems the hosts experience themselves – like adjusting to parenthood of their children or an aging parent or their own aging. Life is a continuous change and transformation. Whatever will happen (and generally whatever happens in our lives) is for learning and personal growth.
After a full circle you will start a new one, adjusting your life to your new selves. There is no „move back to the city and start all over again”. Even if you decide that life in a farm is not for you, you will know a bit more about what makes your life happier, wherever you will be.
I hope this message answers a bit the essence of your questions.
For me, moving to Stanciova (after a few visits in the village, a 2 weeks vacation from work spent volunteering at the Teodora’s place) was not so much a leap into the unknown. Both me and my partener are Romanian and originally from nearby cities. I read a lot about permaculture and moving to the countryside was a natural step in doing what my heart was telling me to do, to be able to experiment. It wasn’t so much about self sufficiency, which we knew we won’t achieve and we still don’t believe in the concept, it was mostly about finding and taking part in a community. Financially, we still had some savings, parents helped with buying the house and some bigger expenses like buying a fridge or some construction work. We found that expenses are far smaller then we ever expected, even though we still buy most of the food. We pay electricity, the gas bottle ( or however it’s called), the taxes for the house, some maintainance works from time to time. A lot of the staples we buy in bulk online, placing a common order, it’s cheaper then buying from supermarket. In summer we all have gardens with something growing, some of us put more energy, some less ( last year I was too exhausted after giving birth and caring for a newborn so we didn’t cultivate much, but we still had planty of perrenial plants to harvest, given that our permaculture garden seems to be quite resilient). We also gather wild plants and mushrooms when in season.
The excess we preserve in various ways. Some of the extra preserves are available for the community visitors on our product shelf, in the association’s house. Right now we’re not organized about that but it’s something we sometimes talk about in order to make this practice more efficient. We often practice gift economy among us and encourage others about it, as well. Sharing surplus is, I think, something we have in common. Also we sometimes trade goods or services among us and other village people, thus avoiding the use of money.
We don’t have a car, and we’re very grateful to those who do and help us move around. So no big expenses here. Most of our money flies when we go to the city and sometimes dive in the consumer culture, buing some fast foods we crave, going to a bar, buying clothes from second hand stores ( but seriously those are si cheap I wouldn’t count :) ). And now, with a baby, we buy diapers, but most of the baby items were gifts from friends and family.
Personally, a source of money is my making soap and other care products. I have no clear idea how much money goes in and how much comes out, but I like doing it and feel satisfied enough to continue. I think finding a craft that makes you happy and can help other people in a practical way can be a source of income, even without having to leave home to do it. I send the soaps by mail or people buy them from here in Stanciova. Of course it takes time for people to get to know your products or services and for you to have the experience needed to do a good job, but if you like what you do, you just do it. Also I make some small graphic design work, most of it is being payed in honey, beeswax and gratitude, and I tell you it counts!
I don’t think we ( me and my partner) ever thought a lot about how we’re gonna survive. We were pretty sure we’re gonna thrive, or, if not, move away and do something else. I still think we’re thriving, even though sometimes we don’t see it.
A whole lot of trust that the universe provides is necessary, sometimes we need to be reminded in order not to worry. Also, a goos reminder is that being part of the universe, we can make things happen.
OK, this was my answer for now. Take care!
P.S.: we wouldn’t have made it without the internet. From growing your garden, making preserves, fixing a stove, caring for a baby or buying a couch, I couldn’t see myself doing what I do without it.
The questions that came with the next messages I just structured one under another: