Avatud Talude Päev (Open Farm Day): a Case Study of a Small Goat Farm in Rural Estonia

Theme: Rural Cultural Food Tourism

by Ms. Nichole Michelle Weimer
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Hawaii, USA and lives in Tallinn, Estonia
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. candidate in Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies Program, Tartu University

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Abstract:

An article focuses on the theme of Rural Cultural Food Tourism presented in a case study at a small goat farm located in the center of Estonia. The case study is contextualized with Open Farm Day which provides urbanites an opportunity to partake in a rural experiences as well as a rural culinary journey. Through the case study, I also analyze how a small farmer perceives the government organized event in relation to themselves as well as posing the question of the larger issue that small farms and farmers face in a globalizing world.

Introduction:

Estonia, a small but proud country, is located in the Northern Europe. It hosts a nationwide event that spans over the course of two days to promote, facilitate and attempt to create recognition and economic stimulation to support small farmers. It is an event that showcases local products and produce in the wake of industrialization and the troubling decline of country inhabitants that are leaving the countryside. This event is one example of how the Estonian government tries to counteract this decline.

This year, 2019, marks the 5th year of the event Avatud Talude Päev (Open Farm Day) which is an opportunity for Estonian farmers to welcome the public and demonstrate what it is they do on their farms: the life and work, the animals, machinery and for many, an occasion to present and sell the products that they’ve crafted. Over half of the participating farms opened their gates on the first day, July 20th and spanned to include the following day, July 21st, as well. In total, over 300 different types of farms participated all over Estonia (Avatud Talude Päev, 2019). Though the event encompassed a wide variety of rural community participants such as those offering rural retreats, floral gardens, and farms specializing in growing medicinal herbs, a vast majority of the showcased farms produce consumable goods such as dairy, beef, and pork products, eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains.

Avatud Talude Päev touches upon multiple facets and themes under the concept of rural heritage and preservation, however, this article specifically focuses on the rural cultural food aspect through a comprehensive case study conducted at seven Kitsetalle, a small goat farm located near the town Võhma, in the center of Estonia.

Fig.01: Goats enjoying the early morning sunshine at 7 Kitsetalle. Source: ©author.

The event is organized and conducted by the Ministry of Rural Affairs [Maaeluministeerium], the Rural Networking Department of the Agricultural Research Center [Põllumajandusuuringute Keskuse maaelu võrgustikutöö osakond], Central Union of Estonian Farmers [Eestimaa Talupidajate Keskliit] and the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce [Eesti Põllumajandus-Kaubanduskoda] along with the local LEADER action groups within Estonia as well as the Estonian Village movement group Kodukant (Avatud Talude Päev, 2019).

LEADER is a European based program that consists of 26 countries. The name is an acronym for Liason Entre Actions de Développement de l’Économie Rurale [links between the rural economy and development actions]. The program’s intention is to incorporate rural community members to be active participants in the development of their rural spaces and communities (European LEADER Association for Rural Development, n.d). This is sought through the formulation of LAG, Local Action Groups (European Network for Rural Development, 2019) which focuses on the formulation and implementation of locally designed policies and solutions (Põllumajandusuuringute Keskus). Estonia is one of the 26 countries involved but also has its own program Kodukant, the Estonian Village Movement. It is a non-governmental organization that came to be shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and therefore, the collapse of society as a whole, particularly in the rural areas of Estonia (Kodukant The Estonian Village Movement, 2018). This initiative operates on three different levels moving upwards from the local villages to the county and finally, nationally. The aims of Kodukant reflect very similarly to that of LEADER; to highlight and exemplify the importance of reestablishing and maintaining connections to the rural communities as a way of preservation of rural heritage, traditions and culture, the local economy, networking and communications as well as the growth and development of rural areas (Kodukant, the Estonian Village Movement, 2018).

One of the most vital aspects of the preservation and promotion of rural heritage are the foods that are produced or cultivated. Food is intrinsic to basic human nature and survival but also to the construction of cultural and national identity. Through the utilization of food within the rural tourist industry, the food products act as consumable symbols of intangible cultural heritage in which both locals and visitors can interact and interpret (Renko, Renko & Polonijo, 2010). In such a way, tourists are able to experience a more genuine connection with that of the local culture through the cuisine (Renko, Renko & Polonijo, 2010) thereby adding “value to the image of a destination” (Renko, Renko & Polonijo, 2010). Avatud Talude Päev thus acts as a facilitator for urban Estonians to engage with the rural Estonians who carry on their traditions and practices.

Avatud Talude Päev touches upon multiple facets and themes under the concept of rural heritage and preservation, however, this article specifically focuses on the rural cultural food aspect through a comprehensive case study conducted at 7 Kitsetalle, a small goat farm located near the town Võhma, in the center of Estonia. To contextualize the theoretical framework as well as the event itself, I had the opportunity to observe and assist seven Kitsetalle while they showcased their products, mainly goat milk, fresh cheese and butter.

Fig. 02: Ann’s sister talking to guests about the goats life at Seven Kitsetalle. Source: ©author.

Seven Kitsetalle is situated in the very heart of Estonia in a small village that lies North of Viljandi, a larger town. Ann[1], the goat farmer, lives there with her husband and young child along with their goats, turkeys, chickens, dogs and cats. Her milk herd stands at a humble yet a large number around 23 goats. Goats are small enough to know each and every goat and their personalities, but also are large enough to produce enough dairy products to continuously stock her small store. Every morning and evening, she milks her goats reaching upwards to about 30 litres per month. From there, she makes a small selection of delicious fresh cheese: natural flavor, chili, rosemary, thyme and cumin seed. Each flavor is delicious in its own right and the cheese maintains a sweet and subtle flavor of good grass, tender flowers and sunshine. Ann stated that she wants to diversitize away from making goat cheese as “anybody can make goat cheese” (N. Weimer, personal communication, July 20 2019) and would like to focus and specialize in making goat butter. Silky gold in color with a slight transparency, the butter tastes different than those made commercially, as well as from cow’s milk. It holds earthy flavors but not so much to be off putting, but rather to complexify and capture the nuances of rural flavors. Two days a week, Ann focuses on making her cheese, flavoring it, molding it and then packaging it. She has spent the last few weeks in preparation for the Avatud Talude Päev.

On Saturday, the day before Ann’s farm would be open to the public, a lot of time was spent finalizing the products that she planned to sell, as well as cleaning and reorganizing the farm to accommodate the anticipated influx of crowds. She moved swiftly, jumping from one task to another: proofing the white and black bread dough, chopping vegetables, pitting cherries from a nearby orchard, whisking dozens of golden egg yolks from her chickens, combining dry ingredients for the flaky pastry dough, moving furniture and tables out to the yard, and bottling and labeling the different types of cheese. It’s a day that is spent in a frenzy, but luckily Ann had conscripted her sister, two neighbors, two friends and their children, as well as myself, to divide and conquer the long list of to-do’s. It was not until sunset, when the sky became a dusky rose, soft blue and deep purple hue, that we finally finished the last task and headed off to bed. The next morning we would arise early in order to start laying out the products, making signs and busying ourselves for the big day.

Avatud Talude Päev, Ann feels, is a good opportunity for her to sell her goods to a wider public because she has not yet obtained the national standard certification to sell to larger supermarkets and restaurants within the country. She cares deeply for the products she produces for they capture her ideology of what food should be: natural. This is one of the reasons why she left the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn, to settle in the countryside: in the pursuit of creating healthy foods that nutritious the body, mind and soul. She shared her desired outcomes from the event while pulling the fresh bread loaves from the oven, to be “more than just selling out of everything, I hope to create new relationships with future clientele” (N. Weimer, personal communication, July 20 2019). For her, this was an opportunity for urbanites to come to the countryside and experience life at a slower pace, to taste what nature has to offer both tangible and intangible and to taste true foods that were not manufactured by an industrial giant. As stated in Skuras et. al.article, open farm day supports and showcases the regional products made by small time farmers and through this, “enhance aspects of territorial identity and cultural distinctiveness, raising [the] overall attractiveness and appeal to consumers” (Skuras, Dimara & Petrou, 2007).Figure 3: A small guest petting Princess, one of Ann’s favorite goats. Source: ©author.

Fig.03: A small guest petting Princess, one of Ann’s favorite goats. Source: ©author.

The actual day of the event had steady waves of families coming to the farm. Ann spent the entire day talking to people, showing them around, introducing some clientele to her favorite goats and intermittently helping those that were selling the goat dairy products and selection of foods. Many people flocked to the part of the long dining table that held clear blue bowls filled with samples of tiny white cubes of goat cheeses. Customers nodded and smiled as the cheese enveloped their senses, enticing them for another taste. Many walked away with a small green bag filled with different types of cheese and some chose to buy goat’s milk. Ann elaborates on its health benefits and how it was a more suitable dairy beverage over cow’s milk since the human body can more easily digest it.

Ann and her team of helpers also made cherry cakes using the local orchard cherries and her chicken eggs, harvested potatoes from her garden went into the potato salad paired with a lovely tangy vinaigrette, sausage rolls that were made with the pastry dough from the previous day and a fruit smoothie made with goat’s milk were also offered to the hungry customers. While many came to see the animals, pet rabbits and meet the goats, more stayed for the food.

This was an event where city folk could come to the countryside and taste food made naturally and locally by small time farmers. It was a journey and experience for rural cuisine. A handful of people shied away from the samples of goat cheese as well as goat’s milk claiming that “goat products have a musky goat flavor to it.” The food vendors, Ann’s friend and two little girls, proclaimed that that notion was one to be tested and offered a small sample paired with a little speech of how good, healthy and natural it is. These people were typically convinced by the second bite and eagerly dismissed their old beliefs about goat products. By the end of the long day, all the fresh cheeses were sold out, only a few bottles of half liters remained and most of the platters that once held food stood empty save a few crumbs.

Fig.04: A group of visitors crowd in to view the products being sold while Princess goes digging through the trash box. Source: ©author.

Upon reflection, Ann shares that overall she feels accomplished and hopeful that she made headway in establishing future clientele both from those that tasted and bought products from her as well as those she had extensive conversations with about how the farm is run and the values she holds true for herself and the products she creates.

Open farm day is a wonderful opportunity for small farmers to invite others to experience a rural culinary journey. In comparison to the mission of the Estonian ministries, Kodukant and LEADER, the goals reflect the success that Ann, a small goat farmer and producer, feels. The event facilitated the creation of new client, communication and recognition with those outside of the local municipality that Ann lives and operates in. Not only do the food products, in its tangible form, feed and nourish the people that consume it but it also nourishes the intangible notion of community, belonging, heritage and cultural identity, particularly those that chose to remain and reside in the countryside, albeit the economic and physical hardships faced. The gastronomic aspect is essential to tourism as it is a way for the tourist to experience a deeper level of cultural understanding as well as a way to contextualize the idiosyncratic characteristics of a place (Renko, Renko & Polonijo, 2010).

This model, Avatud Talude Päev, created and implemented by multiple organizations proves to be successful for Ann. However, while Ann feels success from the event, there may be other small farms that do not feel the same or did not reap as many benefits from it. What remains to be seen for Ann is if the success from that day prove to be long term with the return of new client as well as old.

[1] Name has been changed from original.

Reference List

  • Avatud Talude Päev. (2019). Avatud Talude Päev (Open Farm Day). Retrieved from www.avatudtalud.ee
  • Skuras, D. , Dimara, E. & Petrou, A. (2006).Rural Tourism and Visitors Expenditures for Local Food Products, Regional Studies, 40:7, 769-779.
  • European LEADER Association for Rural Development. (n.d.). About LEADER and CLLD. Retrieved from www.elard.eu/leader-clld/about
  • European Network for Rural Development. (2019). LEADER/CLLD. Retrieved from https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/leader-clld_en
  • Kodukant, The Estonian Village Movement. (2o18). About Kodukant, The Estonian Village Movement. Retrieved from https://kodukant.ee/en/
  • Põllumajandusuuringute Keskus. (2008). LEADER in Estonia. Retrieved from www.maainfo.ee/index.php?page=659
  • Renko, S., Renko, N. & Polonijo, T. (2010). Understanding the Role of Food in Rural Tourism Development in a Recovering Economy, Journal of Food Products Marketing, 16:3, 309-324.

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