The hills ARE alive!

Much of Austria is covered in pastoral mountainside fields – beautifully scenic but largely unsuited for agriculture.

But in the mountainous northern regions of the Austrian province of Styria, some entrepreneurial farmers are not only making a living by farming on the alpine pastures, they’re also revitalizing rural communities and keeping ancient traditions alive.

Farmer Ernst Hofer raises his Simmenthal herd of 18 cow calf pairs on mountain pastures from May to October. He was the first mountain farmer in the region – the steep mountain slopes don’t produce enough high quality grass for dairy cows, but it is ideal for his organic beef animals.

Hofer markets meat from his female animals under the “Styria Beef” brand directly to the public. Demand is growing steadily as consumers love the tender flavour of the meat – the animals are sent to slaughter shortly after they are weaned at 10-12 months of age, which means they are fed little to no grain during their lives. Male calves are castrated and sold to nearby farmers for finishing and marketing under another, non-organic regional beef brand.

To supplement his farming income, Hofer joined together with 11 other mountain farmers in the area to build a small restaurant on the mountainside, specializing in locally made foods. As well, the Teichalm region has been designated as a nature park area by the government, making it an attraction for tourists and hikers.

Locals also frequent the restaurant or “Huette” – it has become a gathering place for them and Hofer organizes weekly cultural evenings where people from the surrounding area get together to sing traditional songs of the region.

“If you keep the culture alive, you keep the heart and soul of the community alive,” he told us while standing on the pasture amongst his cows.

The group has also published a songbook to help younger generations get in touch with their heritage.

Lilian’s participation in the 2008 IFAJ Congress is funded in part by the IFAJ 2011 Development Initiative, supported by Pioneer Hi-bred and Syngenta.

IFAJ 2008 Congress photo album

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