National Geographic : 2013 Jul
that conformed to EU standards. Every farmer who brought his milk in pails and buckets to the collection point was paid—but only if his milk was clean and of good quality. Results were immediate. The milk from those Csíkborzsova farmers who had joined the new system was collected and sold separately from other milk. The price of the clean milk rose at first by 50 percent and by 2012 was three times as high as for milk from other villages. At the milk collection point in Csíkdelne, I met Jenő Kajtár one evening. Still in his blue farm over- alls, he had brought in the 50 liters (13 gallons) from the five cows he had milked. Things were going well. Previously he had four cows, now he had six, and in three years the price of milk had gone up fourfold, doubling when the new milk collection point had been installed, and again when the village cooperative had set up a direct sale point in Miercurea-Ciuc, the nearby town. Fresh, unpasteurized milk was now available at an automated milk machine, filled twice a day via a refrigerated delivery truck from the village. I asked Kajtár why he thought the city folk were buying his milk. “Because it is real whole milk,” he said, smiling under his mustache, “a piece of the past which their city life has left behind.” I never thought the sight of a milk-dispensing machine would move me. But here was a sym- bol of people trying to keep something valuable in a world whose forces were doing their best to erode and destroy it. The milk machine in Miercurea-Ciuc might, amazingly, guarantee the continued life of those flowery meadows high in the mountains above us. The economics remain fragile. The Swiss milk dispenser costs about $13,000, and it earns about $40,000 a year, but this kind of direct sale means that if one farmer puts bad milk into the sys- tem, those buying it fall ill, trust disappears, sales collapse, and the whole village suffers. The week I was in Csíkdelne, 4 out of 22 farmers had been banned for one week because they had submit- ted substandard milk. One or two had been banned permanently for chronic failure to meet the required standards. Yet in a generally diminishing market, with the higher prices, cow numbers in the milk col- lection villages are going up. With increasing cow numbers, the demand for hay is increasing too, and meadows that would otherwise have returned to forest are being mown again. And the people feel some deep pride in not abandoning the beauty they’ve inherited. “It is our land,” Anuţa Borca, a young mother from Breb, insisted to me about her family meadows. “We have to take care of it. We have to teach the children the traditions. And teach them some- thing that allows them to survive if they have no job.” She paused from the embroidery she was making on a linen shirt for her son. “It’s important because tradition is a treasure. If they learn it, they will be richer.” I found another lady in Breb one day, Ileana Pop, embroidering a linen shirt for her son-in- law. Where, I asked, did the patterns come from? “Oh,” she said casually, “they come from the be- ginning of the world. But we mix old patterns with our own ideas. We never leave the style. We just play with the style.” If only the economics could be sorted out, if only European agricultural subsidies were more attuned to local variation, if only the Romanian government were more alert to the astonishing landscape riches of Transylvania, then it might be possible to save this hay world. Transylvania is not yet a fossil. It is still alive—just—if in need of life support. But it represents one of the great questions for the future: Can the modern world sustain beauty it hasn’t created itself ? j The demand for hay is increasing, and meadows that would On our digital editions watch a video of daily life among the Transylvanian haystacks.