Interview with Joanna Bojczewska
This interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on August 28, 2016. The interview took place at the home of Joanna Bojczewska in Stryszów, in southern Poland.
In Motion Magazine: Are you from this area? (Can you please say where we are?)
It’s not where I grew up. I come from and have been raised in a city of Poland, a provincial capital in south central Poland. I have made my way to this beautiful place here in the mountains after ten years of not living in Poland. So, I have had my hands full to figure out if the city was quite the right context for me, or no.
Connection to nature / Alienation from nature
In Motion Magazine: How did you come to be a farmer?
Joanna Bojczewska: Around ten years ago, I had very significant experiences walking in the Western Ghats (editor: a 990-mile long north-south mountain range known for its biodiversity) of India where I lived for two years, which brought me close to having quite mystical experiences with nature. This was very foundational for realizing what (role) I was playing in nature: how I wanted to live, moving my body, what it meant to live healthy, and, also, realizing how alienated we have been.
Then, as I finished high school, I realized that I just wanted to move out of society totally and become self-sufficient. I read Thoreau and I read Rousseau. I read a few other romantics that highlighted the root of how we are treating (nature) -- as an evolving economy and evolving society. Nature will recover, (but) we are disturbed, in a way, by the alienation from nature. I had this idea that I wanted to go study (to be) self-sufficient and my ideal of it would have been to have a farm where I’m growing my own food and I’m living in a beautiful place and I don’t have any people to disturb me.
Well, as it turned out, (laughs) I wanted to be part of society too badly. The escape route wasn’t quite a route to connect to the land. I was, rather, slowly realizing how I could do it. I could connect myself, connect to people. But the practical step I made is to be farming right now. And this has taken place in the last five years.
As I finished my anthropology degree and started a Ph.D. in anthropology, I realized I was totally flushed down of any creative energy. I was disassociated from myself, upset about having to work on a computer, and I took a year off. During that year, I did an apprenticeship at a workers’ cooperative in London, who are growing food for East London. They are called OrganicLea. And my role really wasn’t so much about production as a volunteer and outreach role. I was working closely with people in the context of cultivating the land and growing crops that were distributed in a weekly veg box. That was my foundational experience.
I did, also, some WOOFing (Working On Organic Farms) in Poland. And, when I was in Vermont, living for a year, I was really curious about the farming context. It’s one of the places in the U.S., from what I know, where there are still a lot of organic farms. (But) I did come back to my Ph.D. and I did realize again that I did not want to do it and that working in a chair in front of my computer just wasn’t the way for my life.
A tiny field
We had some contacts here with the Ekocentrum ICPPC (see Interview with Jadwiga Lopata) which is a demonstration farm using renewable energy technologies on a traditional Polish farm with animals, with a vegetable garden, with lots of crafts. And, with their help, we established a micro-project which we called Ekopoletko. Ekopoletko means a tiny field. (Also see here.)
Last year was a pioneering year for us both, in terms of planning, implementing what we’ve planned, developing relationships with people who wanted to buy food from us, buy our vegetables, experimenting, travelling around and meeting Polish farmers. We were taking part in farmers’ protests in Poland.
In a way, last year was a big return to Poland after ten years and a realization of a long-held dream which was really hard to take steps toward. It was scary and I was very lucky I was doing it with one of my best friends. So, although we have parted our ways and Adam is now farming back in the UK, in England, in Dorset, and I have stayed here, it seems like living with the land and growing is something I really want to combine in my life with a few other threads which run quite deep. One of them is working with people.
So, the question was how did I get to be farming here. Here I am sitting on my porch in a hundred-year-old house and I can’t even believe that most of the food I ate this year is coming out of my own labor, and time, my breathing and my blood, my thinking and my sitting in meditation that brought me clarity that encouraged me to risk everything. I really risked this year. I had no penny in the winter; in fact, I was barely surviving. I was working in the kitchen and I said, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to stay here and give all myself because the biggest risk I can take is to fail completely and even that could be the most wonderful learning.”
The land and the weather this year have been generous and kind in terms of supporting my early steps in growing. I am very lucky that the people that buy my vegetables are for the most part very conscious and aware people and they understand the effort that goes into natural farming and they are willing to pay the price. And, I am also willing (to sell to a person) if I feel that someone would like to buy but cannot afford.
Collaborating with local farmers
In Motion Magazine: Can you talk about the specific type of farming that you do? I’ve picked up that it’s a small farm, that it’s organic farming, and that you also make preserves. How does that all fit together?
Joanna Bojczewska: The scale of my farm means that I am able to oversee most of the aspects, literally, from the seed to my customer: from sowing, through transplanting, through designing the field layout, implementing a watering schedule, checking for pests and weeding. And most of the work I am able to do myself manually. And, when there are some labor gaps or high moments, in terms of crops being ready for harvest or preservation, I have a few people who help me ad hoc.
The scale means that whilst I have created a livelihood as a bit of a single-person enterprise, I am also inevitably collaborating with local farmers here. This is something I emphasize and I want to highlight how essential for creating a livelihood on my own in a way which supports me financially has been the cooperation with people who are much more knowledgeable who have been farmers here for their entire lives. And this is a range of people: from neighbors who are incredibly supportive and welcoming and unconditional in their readiness to serve with their knowledge, or advise me, or lend their tools; through to farmers further afield in other regions of Poland who have been my informal mentors and who would call me weekly and check in, especially at the beginning of the season this year -- “How I am doing?” --and supported me spiritually; through other neighbors further afield who maybe have tractors, or particular parts for the tractors, or who can weld me things, tools that I need, help me with putting up the foil on the tunnels.
Ekopoletko is signed with my name but I keep on saying the essence of it is cooperation in the countryside. The only way of farming without cooperation is doing it solo with the machines and this is a very lonely and very sad future for us if we are thinking of how our food system is going to develop. This is part of the character of my farm and how I am doing it.
Energy efficiency and barter relationships
I am farming following the ethical principles of permaculture (but) however much I am keeping to my straight lines, I have some curves. I keep on saying I am a permaculture skeptic, but only to resist the seduction of treating permaculture as something in a very purist way because the productivity of how we are doing things and the end effect of being able to feed more people is also very important for me. I look into the ethical principles of the design and incorporating various elements of creating habitats for more biodiversity in the garden, but I also look at the economy and work towards the best balance I can achieve. I have (already) special old straw socks hanging together creating nesting places for insects. I keep some weeds. There is water space around. It is already biodiverse.
(Additionally,) this year, I have been experimenting with some biodynamic methods. Where it has most shown is in the design of my field and how I use companion planting. I haven’t used so much the different preparations that can be made, but it is something I would like to learn for the future.
Definitely I am more and more sinking back into the Polish peasant culture of farming, which is about finding the most energy efficient ways that do not compromise so much the beauty or integrity of the space but look at what is to-hand already -- “What are our resources?” -- of coming from the idea, from the knowledge of where we get these things from. Sometimes we have an idea of a tool we need and we would look it up online to buy it, but instead, here, it is, “What do we have available to create what we need?”
I loved when one of my neighbors actually shouted it at me, “Why didn’t you ask if we have it? We could have made it. I have all this old stuff lying around.” It is a culture of not wasting. It is a culture that really sees long-term, incalculable barter relationships as something so much more natural and comfortable than exact monetary exchanges, which are actually very abstract if you think about them.
And this barter relationship also works the other way -- from the countryside context here into the city where I have the people who are buying my vegetables and who are collaborating with me because I am producing and they are buying from me. We are collaborating in this way.
I see it as a collaboration because we have (also) had various ways of knowledge exchange where people from the cooperative come to my farm for day events where by helping me out in the field I also spend more time explaining how I do basic stuff. I’ve organized seed-sowing workshops, also seed-saving workshops, and one-on-one introduction to gardening for the city dwellers.
Part of my project is looking at (how) the relationship with people living in the city is very integral with what I am doing. The relationships with people are what gives me motivation to do what I am doing. And what they want to eat, as well, is what I should be focusing even more on than growing, in some ways.
Natural low-input preservation
Preserves. Last year, and over the last few years, one of my explorations has been around preserves and what is the role of natural low-input preservation into the economic viability of a farm.
In a Polish context, where the seasons are very distinct and sharp and the winter is really a dead season, and nothing is growing unless you are heating up in a polytunnel -- and even that most people don’t do in December and January, they restart from February -- well, in that context, preserving the fruits of the summer, and the vegetables of the summer, the crops in the farm that can be consumed in the farm, that retains most of the nutritional value for the winter. It is one of the most natural things.
No wonder why Poland is so big in its fermentation traditions like sauerkraut, and pickled cucumbers, pickled beetroots, etc., etc. Dried fruits are a big tradition especially here locally in the mountain regions where orchards have been more suited often to the landscape than maybe large agricultural operations, like mono-crop cultivation. A small drying of plums, apples, pears is one of the techniques to preserve them without infringing on their nutritional value.
So, I found for such a small project like this that doing all kinds of preserves from grown crops and from foraged wild fruit has supplemented me with a produce with which I can extend the season in which I offer my products, and also (that this has) allowed me some extra income towards what is called the dead months. I do a variety of things, from fermenting cucumbers, sauerkraut, beetroots, through preservation in vinegars. I make vinegars. I make jams and comfitures. I make chutneys. I make syrups from wild fruit like rosehip, elderberry, chokeberry.
Preservation has been important, also, for doing something with the excess crop that cannot be sold in the market or that returns from the market so that it doesn’t go to waste.
A diverse pool of recipients of the food
Another important aspect of a start-up farm like mine has been to have a diverse pool of recipients of the food I am growing. I would say I have four different categories of buyers. One is that I sell at the local organic farmers’ market in Krakow. Another one is I sell to a food cooperative, which is a cooperative of consumers. They self-organize to receive bulk amounts of produce and they pack it themselves based on their members’ orders. A third category is restaurants. I have been supplying to one restaurant for the second year now, continuously, and two restaurants locally here, just ten kilometers away, this season. And the fourth customer, is individual customers who want to receive weekly updates on what is available and sometimes they come and pick it up themselves.
In Motion Magazine: I guess another aspect of your process is storage?
Joanna Bojczewska: Yes, storage of the produce. This is a relatively small concern for me because I try to capture the selling season within the period of the growing season so when I have the last vegetable crop out, it’s more or less when I’m out. I don’t store things over the winter, like potatoes, or carrots, or beetroot. I leave it to the bigger farmers and I do the fresher, more immediate. My specialization has become salad mixes and I just harvest what I estimate will sell either on the market or exactly the orders I get from my cooperative and restaurant customers.
But I do have at the moment, luckily, good storage -- an old traditional stone cellar underneath the barn which remains cool at the moment in the summer at around 10 degrees, and in the winter, it doesn’t freeze because it’s isolated from the cold temperatures outside. It stays at zero or one degree. I have been able to store very well there.
But the preservation (the cooking of preserves) is one of the ways to store the excess product with the value added of extra magic and flavor that goes with the spells of cooking.
Where the boundary between work and creativity isn’t so sharp
In Motion Magazine: The business aspect is part of farming, would you say? Or just in your case?
Joanna Bojczewska: Sometimes I feel like a shameless businesswoman, honestly. I don’t think it’s only my case. I think it’s a skill and an area of knowledge -- how to sell in the economy as we have it now.
A lot of farmers hugely lack to secure well their livelihoods based on what they are already doing so brilliantly. Just before coming to Poland I had good enterprise and work experience because I was managing a social enterprise, an artisan bakery with a focus on mental health, working with people with mental health situations. So, I kind of had an overview of how I can do this well by just transplanting models both of presenting my product and marketing my product. I think I can be a little bit self-conscious or shy in terms of marketing vegetables and food products (compared to) an older generation of farmers. Nowadays, we buy stories, we buy photos, we buy names, then the fourth thing that we buy is actually the product. This is the economic culture that has shaped our ways of making decisions on what we buy, and consequently what we eat.
I’m not trying to do that with my vegetables, I just sell my vegetables. I do it a bit more with my preserves because people need to know the stories of those spells that go into it and I present them in a way which gives people an opportunity to give these things as a gift to someone because actually they are a little bit more expensive than what you will find in the shop.
So, yes, business skills have mattered for me a great deal. I have documented and recorded all my income and all my expenses and I have a good overview of the last year, even in a basic Excel sheet, that has given me an insight into where to focus this year so that I could make it economically viable.
Maybe this is where I come from. I come from quite a working-class family. Whilst I have all this cultural capital having studied in some of the best universities with intellectual traditions, at the end of the day how do I create a right livelihood that has integrity with me and that embodies or manifests my view into what is possible? What is the direction into which these kinds of small enterprises, food and friends, could mushroom all over Poland? People could live in the beautiful countryside where the boundary between work and pleasure, or leisure, or creativity, or your time or work time, isn’t so sharp.
(Also,) I have had constructive feedback from the cooperative when there were times when I put the prices a bit too high. I have a buddy, a cooperative buddy, a person who is responsible for me as a producer and communicates with me. And, when the prices were too high they would tell me they were too high. Not because they didn’t want to pay the right amount for it, but because they felt it was too high.
Giving price to my products is an interesting aspect of it all. Even though I am not organic certified, and I think I might not get organic certified -- I’m going to build a reputation as a solid farmer who grows naturally -- (when) looking at the price I mostly look at the price of organic food, organic products that other farmers sell at. And I just lower it a little to give credit for the fact that I am not certified.
In Motion Magazine: Somewhat related to that is the nature of your farm. Do you own or do you rent? Are your fields contiguous or not?
Joanna Bojczewska: So, I loved realizing last year that what I am doing is archipelago farming. I call it archipelago Ekopoletko. I like it more than patchwork. It expresses how I flow in between places.
At the moment, I have my farm in three different places. One is around my house, where I have a propagation tunnel with seedlings that I raise from seed and a processing room where I bring the produce back from harvesting and prepare it -- bunching, washing, packing. Then, there’s a field that is not officially rented. It is “given for use”. It is a different category of land lease without money. And it has been made accessible for us by Jadwiga’s son. This is not an unheard of possibility to access land like this. I have it one more year and I am moving my operation to a field that I am renting next to my house. And then there’s a third place which is on a neighbor’s farm where he had an old polytunnel (polyethylene), structure. It was a metal frame and we have refurbished this polytunnel into working condition again. He doesn’t charge us anything for it.
So, really, none of the land is owned by me. I rent it in entirety. I pay for some of it but it’s a low cost, I would say, and if I were to look for land somewhere else it wouldn’t be hard to find one for lease. -- It’s harder to buy because of the current laws in Poland make it difficult for non-residents. -- But it hasn’t been that difficult.
The nature of doing the archipelago farming is that I rely on the help of many people and also that through that I have developed many relationships here. When I was preparing the field here, I had four people giving me different perspectives on how I should prepare it. What steps I should take. People just sharing. And then I called someone and immediately this person was ready the next day to come and help. This is the nature of working and growing here in Poland, in Stryszów.
Small family-scale farms and mega-farms
In Motion Magazine: How does this fit in with the rest of farming in Poland, if you could describe that?
Joanna Bojczewska: Sometimes it seems that what I’m doing is a bit tropical, in a sense exotic. Partly because there is much more of a pattern of a) out-migration from the countryside and b) of people moving away from farming.
Literally, both my parents -- coming independently to see how I’m living cried, because being educated, which they contributed to for so many years, to a university degree, it has been for them a real shame that I have dirt under my fingernails and I put my hands into soil, committing myself to such hard work.
And the history of my family in general is one of associating progressive development with moving out of the countryside, out of those diminishing conditions of the post-Second World War countryside where to get hardly anything was being able to have this social mobility, economic mobility. To work in the city and (have) a flat in the city was a height of a dream. And, during communist, to have a flat of your own was also quite a great achievement.
In Poland, at the moment, we have a mix of operating farmers who continue doing farming on a small family scale, a small scale, from a few hectares to twenty, sixty hectares, but relying mostly on family labor and maybe some seasonal laborers. We have (also) increasing mega-farms. Larger farmers pooling over the years from before the EU (European Union) but also after the accession to EU, large areas of land, buying it out from neighbors and focusing on single crops, operating with single crops.
Then, we have this new wave of people returning to the land, to some extent. It’s not really a wave yet, it’s a ripple, I would say. But there’s definitely more interest, more talk. Even though I don’t watch TV, I hear of programs which are about these startup farms. I have found there have been some farmers who are more newcomers to farming. They have not inherited land or farms, they have come into farming.
Potential for Poland
The context in Poland is it can go either way. From my perspective, having lived in England and having seen both to what extent industrial farming has degraded the countryside in many areas, and also having a sense of how few family farms there are, there’s still a possibility here for a tweak in the adjustments necessary for those existing family farms to be economically viable selling more direct. First of all, (by) having more processing of food, which retains much of the original nutritional value and flavor. And (secondly) having more emphasis on the organic as we have such amazing nature in Poland. It’s still largely un-spoiled. (Well,) it’s largely spoiled, but much more un-spoiled than in Germany, or in France, or in the UK, in terms of soil life, soil quality.
There’s real potential for Poland to take a much more progressive stand on how we support the development of sustainable -- not even organic, necessarily, with a need to be certified -- but ecologically-sound farming.
(Also) there needs to be more awareness around issues of GMO, as well as the seed situation (in general). It’s quite dramatic. People are totally unaware of the fact that we are left with few, quite minor seed companies in Poland. What is going to happen with all those heritage seeds, heritage varieties? I don’t know.
And pesticides and herbicide use. Even literally a few days ago, I was in a shop and a man before me was buying Roundup. And I said, “Do you know this has real carcinogenic effects on the body of whoever sprays it and whoever eats the crops, animals, the consumers.” He was shocked that I would engage with him. I was really kind, I wasn’t trying to enforce my opinion. I said, “You can check it or read up on it but it has been proven to be damaging for people’s health, this Roundup thing. It’s from America.” (Laughs). “You should really check. If not for your own health then for your wife and your children.” He was a bit baffled, I think.
In Motion Magazine: Did he buy it?
Joanna Bojczewska: He did buy it. He did buy it, but as I was walking out he was reading the label on the back.
Examples of collaboration
In Motion Magazine: Is there a network of farms similar to yours that you know about that you participate in?
Joanna Bojczewska: Well, yes and no. No, in the sense of non-organic but organically grown. I would imagine organizations coming about for newcomers into farming, or young farmers, something like that. I already know of a good handful of people who are doing this -- to be in contact with each other just to exchange information, to react to things, to use that collective voice. Yes.
But there are networks of organic farmers. The major one in Poland is called EKOLAND and there’s maybe two or three smaller ones, regional ones. You need to be certified to participate in those networks, to be a member. Some of them are quite large. The one I know in northeast Poland, they have initiated a farmer’s market. They have good examples of collaboration that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
There is, of course, a nationwide network of individual farmers and farming organizations under the Solidarity banner and they also do important work in terms of keeping Poles knowing what is going on in Polish politics, regarding farmers. My farming project is minute or tiny whereas those bigger farmers who have twenty, thirty hundred hectares these are the ones who produce the kind of crops, the wheat, the rye, the oats, the corn, the beetroot, the cabbages on a scale that then feeds the cities. To have an organization which actually looks at how the politics, especially economy-related bills, effect these enterprises is important.
The countryside becoming more furnished / or enclosed
In Motion Magazine: You mention the ripple of young people setting up farms. Do you think a sizeable amount of people would come to the countryside? What would the people in the countryside feel about more people coming to live in the countryside?
Joanna Bojczewska: I have quite a positive feeling about the countryside becoming more furnished, if you wish, with everything it needs in terms of access to health, post, administration of civic matters, etcetera, so that people can become self-sufficient, so that these rural economies are more self-sufficient and healthy in an economic sense.
How would people here greet more newcomers? On the whole, I think people have quite positive attitudes. There are areas in Poland where it infringes -- like the urban dwellers’ purchases of land (borders) almost on land grabs, for me, like in Bieszczady region, in the furthest most southeastern corner of Poland. There are areas that have been bought out by Warsawians, Warsaw people, and they are fenced off so even when a national trail cuts across them you have to continue walking around the fence in order to then rejoin the trail. That is what I heard from some people hiking there.
So, this kind of move from urban centers to the countryside (involving enclosing land) is something quite negative in my view. In Poland, we can walk on the country lanes, or even on footpaths in between the fields, not worrying who the fields belong to. As long as we are not destroying the crops, they are not going to shoo us away with a gun or a dog. (But) I don’t want to romanticize either, of course, (because) if you look around there is a sense that every home is enclosed. But (also) there is a sense that the paths and much of the land are public and this is small, the sense of enclosure. I don’t see it happening that violently as maybe it has happened in England or as you hear stories of in the U.S.
In Motion Magazine: The idea that you mentioned of the “furnishing” are you seeing that people are starting to make rural areas more viable?
Joanna Bojczewska: Speaking from a limited experience, of not having lived here for very long but having a memory from ten years ago, I have a sense that there has been a considerable investment in the rural areas that has flown together with some EU subsidies for infrastructure and for developing public resources in a more distributed way than just the city focus. There is a felt sense of it, but statistically it is a little bit hard to say. Statistically I think people in the countryside would be still much worse off in terms of access to basic public services that should be provided by the government.
In Motion Magazine: How important do you think markets are, in general?
Joanna Bojczewska: These markets are an interesting story in Poland. I wouldn’t like to breach the truth by going too far into history, but as far as when I was growing up there has always been markets in local, small towns. Even Stryszów, here, this village used to have a market right down the street where we made our way to the bakery. People would bring ducks and pigs and sold the goods of houseware and such. These kinds of markets still exist in Poland so this culture is quite alive. People go to markets. Markets happen regularly on a particular day in the week or Saturday.
There are two markets I am most familiar with now, currently. (There is, first) the one in Krakow where I sell and that market has been created with the sole purpose of capturing, bringing together the organic and traditional farmers who grow naturally -- making a special place. (And), actually, it has picked up a lot of the kind of existing culture of people going to market and buying from markets. There’s a real thirst for buying directly. You can really experience this. People are tired of the quality of food from the supermarket, and the experience of going to the supermarket as well. It is so much more pleasant in some ways to go to the market. People are coming as a social occasion when they come to our market in Krakow.
(And secondly,) there’s another market in Wadowice nearby, which is an example of a small town, weekly market. The same sellers operate in a couple of different towns. On Tuesday, they are in Sucha Beskidzka, thirty kilometers away from here. On Wednesday, here in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and on Thursday they go to Wadowice. And the Wadowice market, which is where the Pope John Paul II was born, it’s a very sacred town. It’s great. You have a variety of sellers who bring wholesale stuff, also imported fruits and vegetables. You have those who grow their own. They are local farmers. They have like just these hundred eggs to sell for the market. You have local craftsmen, crafts being sold: woodworkers, (basket-weavers), old agricultural tools. (You have) a big animal market, chickens, ducks, rabbits, sometimes pigs, sometimes cows, mostly calfs. And this market, people travel from this village to that market. It is really an alive place. It is a weekly occasion. And, when I travel, I pick up two of my neighbors and we go together and give ourselves time. Everyone is really up for going. It is still very alive.
The only thing which is maybe hijacking the quality of those markets, nowadays, maybe not so much here because here you still have so much good quality stuff, is the made-in-China crap, like cheap stuff that after you buy it it breaks. There are markets where you just get that in some other places I’ve seen elsewhere in Poland.
Not inevitable -- but very common
In Motion Magazine: What’s the role of women in farming traditionally and also now with the new social aspects to farming that you are embarking on? What is the role and what are the implications of the role?
Joanna Bojczewska: Farming work in Poland is very gendered, traditionally. It is not inevitable that a woman would need to stick solely to their roles but it is very common. You can see, and I have seen examples, where a woman does the same tasks as men. But it is gendered in some ways: for example, if there is still a horse it is the men who will work with the horse. If there are cows, it is the women who will milk the cows. Preserves and cooking are in the domain of women, and management of households, of what is needed, houseware, dusting, and cleaning -- apparently it is a women’s task traditionally. The vegetable garden for the house is something that the woman would look after, more traditionally.
It has changed, of course, because most houses that ten years ago here in this area would have had vegetable, kitchen gardens in front of their houses, often have now urban-style gardens with ornamental trees and evergreens. But a lot of women still do these kind of preserves, though they buy the vegetables from the village shop.
A lot of women that I know that would have looked after their house also have been working for money, enterprising in some way, or employed. Like my neighbor, (she) was a postwoman. Another neighbor was working at a kiosk and selling things. Another neighbor is sewing shoes and running her kitchen garden, and looking after her kids, and looking after the house. So, the variety of tasks that lay on women it’s a big amount, in my view. I wasn’t brought up having to adhere to these traditionalist roles.
At the same time, what I really need to say is the phenomenon of Mother Poland. The phenomenon of Mother Poland, it’s specific to Poland but not only. I’ve heard it in Israel which has been brought back to Israel by the Jewish people who probably migrated from Poland, and they call it Ima Polonia, which is Mother Poland, so obviously this is a phenomenon of great global potential and scale (chuckles). Mother Poland is this powerful woman who can stand to anything and can witness anything from the greatest suffering to the greatest joy. She will host anyone in her heart, and in her house. She will feed you, even if you resist. She is this strong woman who holds everyone together; her heart embraces the entire Poland and everyone in it with the greatest care and passion.
It is really a beautiful ... . Poland, Polska, is a feminine gender in Polish. We call it the fatherland, ojczyzna, but also, why, because it percolates, this woman Poland as a symbolic feature of Polish culture. ... It percolates into, I think, how women hold everything in their households here. It extends to the task of having to earn extra income if they need to; to stay sober when the husbands are not, which is a feature of the countryside as well, often.
Woman in agriculture, in farming, you know it is often the women who traditionally would do the more manual work in the field and the men would do the tractor bit; or working with the horse; and then weeding or harvesting it would have been woman in the main. It is just not as gendered any more. In most families, nowadays, all people involved are usually strategizing to support, to bring the income into the family in the countryside.
I have a real peasant-farming family in central Poland. They are very close to my heart. I spent there many summers when I was young. They have a dairy farm. My aunts would work as hard as their husbands and could do all the same things more or less, apart from, let’s say, working with the machinery. But it is gendered.
Work beyond genders to recognize what is needed now
In Motion Magazine: Have you noticed a presence or particular role of women in the newer forms of farming?
Joanna Bojczewska: I have noticed a focus on herbs. That is something that has come from quite a variety of people, women involved with growing food. Preserves using the product to create food, then to cook beautiful things with.
One thing that comes to me, very personally, the experience of last fall when I had stayed doing farming on my own closing the field, preparing the field for the winter, clearing the field, doing the preserves on my own, no longer with my partner -- was that I actually really wanted help and that help could have been another woman, another friend; but I wanted a man to help me. I experienced, physically -- I wanted someone who was stronger than me. I’m already strong, but I wanted a man -- he didn’t need to be my partner -- a man to work with me because some of the things were just too heavy for me. It wasn’t even a matter of two people doing it.
And people here in their folk wisdom, I would say, a kind of practical wisdom, they have many more insights about what women’s body should and shouldn’t do and what men’s body should and shouldn’t do and what they are designed for. I think this is quite a real thing. A woman’s body is actually designed to carry a child, after all. And this is already such hard work, and in certain times of life it might be actually not advisable to do this particular hard work with lifting, carrying, holding, pulling, etc.
But here they have many more stories about it. And it’s partly because the culture is already so gendered, but partly I sometimes wonder to what extent it’s true, that actually the real collaboration, post-post-modern collaboration, will be when we re-recognize that a man is a man, a woman is a woman, and we will work beyond genders to recognize what is needed now. What do you need? What do I need? What can we afford? What is help beyond those categories, without thinking about those categories?
We are persons in our own right but we have our bodies also. Each is different, you are a woman, you are man, we have a variety of sensitivities and affordances and engagements with the environment through these bodies. This needs to be re-recognized, for me. Post-modernity is like, “Oh, we are all equal and we shouldn’t be talking about biological difference in our body.” Actually, you are not going to push a woman who is pregnant into a field because actually she can’t lift such a heavy thing. She cannot bend for so long, etc. This is more obvious than I’m saying, because we don’t push women like this but ...
And also, the same for men -- the emphasis on men having to be strong. It is not needed that much. We just have to be gentler, all of us. Do things with more deliberation, slower, more creative solutions for looking after our bodies because (the) part of men having to be strong, in the context of the countryside, (well,) then they also wear their bodies out more, compensating (for) this expenditure of energy with things that aren’t that healthy for them either, like drinking. I don’t know -- just an observation on my part. We can all be gentler in how we do things, look after these sacred bodies that we have because they are the only one for our whole life.
Surrendering to interdependence
In Motion Magazine: I’m trying to see if or where culture is changing. There are the cultures that were and then there are the cultures that are marketed upon us by those who wish us to consume all day, with a lot more competition than cooperation. You talked a little bit about it while you were in the garden. Is there any summing up that you see, or experience, or you think about while you are planting? I know from planting that I’ve done over the years you spend a lot of time thinking about what you are doing. Has that sort of thought crossed your mind?
Joanna Bojczewska: I think surrendering to interdependence that is longer in time in a real physical sense. We live in the same place. We look after this place. We are committed to this place. We are committed to each other because each other is part of this place, other people. And through collaboration a lot more can happen than when we operate as single cells, or even single families. We can hear each other’s callouts for help and solve things (with) more strength, (in) less energy-expensive ways.
And maybe I didn’t talk about it at all, (but) probably the spiritual aspect of what we are doing and why we are doing it is becoming more profound for me in terms of, “Ok, so once you’ve created the livelihood, so what? What’s next?” I want to share it. I want to share life and I don’t want life to be just about creating livelihood. Creating livelihood in the context of the current economy, for sale, products for sale. This is just not going to work in the long-term. It needs to be, first, products to feed ourselves. It needs to be to create something locally.
For me, we need to create at least local habitats for ourselves. Local relationships. Local communities based on realness about the fact that we get ill, and we need to have access to health. We need some things that we can’t produce, we need to buy them. We need money for that and we are committed to live in welfare. There needs to be intention to live in welfare collectively. I think we live in a century and culture where there is a concern to create welfare individually and this is my biggest challenge. I have been raised like this and I have followed my nose for so long that, like, how do I get off the hoop, you know, to be well on my own? How do I get off this grid, this grid of that thinking? You know?
To define what our communities are
Oh, I will be always fine because if this doesn’t work out I will get employed. But to surrender to a community is I think the biggest challenge of this century, to actually re-define what our communities are. How do we care for them? What do they mean to us?
We don’t ask ourselves these questions any more. Previously, in the Polish context, a church served the function of bringing the entire community. This happens still here, (but) people don’t take it so seriously any more. It would be feeding values to people according to which they would hold each other accountable and rely on each other and live into some higher values ethical values, moral values, spiritual values. We have nothing of that any more in our culture.
We have temples of capitalism which are the big shopping malls which have great values and great prices (laughs). A lot of people meet up there and have fun. But what are the spaces in which we really look at ourselves, when we are seen as ourselves, collectively, and we commit to something and are held accountable because what we do has impact not only on ourselves but also on others. We just don’t take the responsibility in that way. I don’t take enough responsibility in that way. It is very hard for me to take responsibility in that way because the inner voice of fear kicks in … , “OK, how do I survive here economically in this world without compromising on my integrity in terms of how I relate to others? How don’t I work for some corporation that strips the land of its most valuable resources?” or something like that.
I can’t stay farming on my own. I know this because I am not using my full potential of creating a transformation on a larger, collective scale. That’s my view into it. Working with the plants gives me pleasure, gives me a livelihood in integrity with myself, but I have been educated to a point where I can take responsibility for a bigger view, something bigger. My challenge is how do I hold myself accountable to a community? How do I let some community raise me so that I learn how to do it well? All kinds of questions. Where do I discuss it, even? Probably I am discussing it too much in my head but the question of community is becoming the biggest for me for the future, for here, for Poland. How do we collaborate? How do we recognize the interdependence with each other so that my welfare, my good welfare isn’t separate from your bad welfare when we are neighbors?
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