Staying in a rural agricultural area like this one in the Black Forest, it’s easy to see and enjoy the natural world. After all, we’re surrounded by trees, forest, vineyards, orchards, gardens. Much of the time the only sounds to be heard are the birdsong, the bees, the crickets.
But look again, because of course this landscape is anything but natural. It is the result of centuries of hard work, continuing today.
The forest has been managed and worked as long as people have lived here. It has been, and remains, the main source of housing and work and money for many people. The house we’re staying in was built (literally, with their own hands) by the couple who own it and their children, including cutting the timber from the forest and hauling it back here. The orchards were planted, and must be tended and cropped. The vineyards, with their precise lines and angles, require a huge amount of work both to create them and to maintain them.
Every weekday when we stay there, we hear the small tractors working their way through the vineyards from very early in the morning (often before 6am if the weather is hot) until late in the evening (often until 9pm or later). They are spraying, or weeding, or pruning. As we walk the vineyard paths, we see people carefully clipping and tying in the new growth. At different times of the year there will be other tasks to be taken care of.
The local grapes are made into wine here in the village. Most of the wine is sold locally. It certainly isn’t exported – why would they do that when they can only make a limited amount and they can sell it all locally?
Similarly the fruit – some of it is processed locally (many of the farms here have their own small distillery for making fruit schnapps, which they sell from home). Some of it is sold locally on roadside tables with honesty jars. It’s sold in the many local markets. Some of it finds its way into the cakes the area is famous for (cherry tarts and rhubarb tarts are the current seasonal offers; later it will be plums, then apples and pears). Some goes for other processing – apfelschorle is a favourite drink here: a refreshing, half-and-half mix of apple juice and fizzy local spa water.
People here take great pride in the quality of their produce, they celebrate it, and are pleased when we show our appreciation.
But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking this is ‘natural‘. This is what can only be achieved when people work hard with and on their environment.