The advantages of organic produce speak for themselves. Consumers can enjoy healthier and tastier meals, the farmers improve business and earnings, not to mention seed varieties and forgotten breeds of animals that are restored. Monocultures make room for a colourful and lively diversity.
Surrounding the magnificent baroque convent at Schlierbach, towering above the Krems Valley in Upper Austria, an integrated network of the most diverse organic activists has emerged. Upon approaching the town of Schlierbach, it feels as if a kind of Garden of Eden has been reached. Cows graze peacefully on luscious green pastures, happy chickens peck the ground between blossoming fruit trees, if you wander up the hill you will see free roaming turkeys and, of course, there are plump sheep and highland cattle that seem to stem from a much earlier time.
What may seem as if it had always existed is the product of a long process of a change in thinking. Organic food has been the purview of a few fundamentalists for a very long time, but it is now embraced in the upscale urban neighbourhoods of cities from New York to Vienna. “Bio” is now much more than a fad: it is a permanent fixture of the future. It is not surprising that the large supermarket chains are turning an ever growing profit with their “bio” selections, and Austria ranks at the top in Europe with its “bio” products.
In dreamlike Schlierbach “quality is supreme” is the guiding principle of the convent cheese production. The cheese dairy, operated by the monks, has been producing organic specialties since 1999. The organic convent cheese, a semi-hard cheese with naturally occurring fat content, the Bio-Paulus, a mild but savoury soft cheese, as well as the creamy Bio-Baccus with red rind (a crosta rossa) have long since become favourites among cheese gourmets. For those wishing to sample, it is possible to combine your convent visit with a tasting session.
Travelling west from Schlierbach, sign after sign invites you to take a break on one of the traditional farmstay holidays. In Vöcklamarkt there is a “Bio Noah Farm”, established to protect unusual races of domestic animals and plant cultures. The “Bio Noah” swine live in large free compounds and cattle breeds such as the rare Pustertal Sprinzes are among the kinds of animals that are bred and sustained. Returning east, another pioneer enterprise awaits at the edge of the fertile Eferding basin: the bio-farm of Ilse and Günter Achleitner. The alphabet of gourmet delights stretches from A for Apple to Z for Ziegenkäse (goat's cheese), and the bio restaurant serves delicious meals daily.
A few dozen kilometres farther north there is probably the best organic bread baked in Austria: the “Maurach Strutzen” which is made of rye and natural sour dough. Those looking for a delicious liquid accompaniment should head straight on to Austria's Wine Country. Here you will find plenty of organic producers that avoid using fertilizer and pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. The levels of sulphur content are also one-third below the legally determined limits, giving you even more reason to enjoy a glass or two.
Lesachtal is a beautiful, remote valley situated in the Carinthian Alps. The region, which mainly lives from agriculture and tourism, is well known for specialising in eco- and social-friendly tourism. By preventing mass tourism and the harm it brings to nature, the community of Lesachtal manages to preserve its environment, rural infrastructure and culture. Tourism initiatives focus on health- and family holidays in symbiosis with nature and its inhabitants. Guests have the chance to experience daily life on one of the various farms of the valley, plus enjoy a range of regional products and traditions such as breadmaking. Farmers are obliged to preserve rustic objects such as traditional Lesachtal farm houses, water mills and barns to maintain the authentic scenery. The region also offers plenty of activities in summer and winter for those who want to escape the masses and indulge in an individual holiday experience in the middle of an impressive mountain landscape.
A quiet rural corner of western Austria, Vorarlberg is traditionally known for dairy farming and a somewhat conservative local culture. Today, though, it lies in the vanguard of a revolution in sustainable living that is drawing attention from all over the world. The province is home to three of the seven villages that have achieved a five-star rating from the European Energy Award scheme and Langenegg, in the heart of Bregenzerwald, is one of them. "We have more than 100 energy efficiency initiatives in the village," says Josef Moosbrugger, mayor of Langenegg. One of the most important projects has been the construction of three über-efficient buildings - a primary school, a café and a supermarket. These so-called passive houses use ten percent of the energy it takes to heat the average European home.
Bregenzerwald is also home to the unique Cheese Trail, a concept aiming at the preservation and consolidation of small-scale agricultural structures in Vorarlberg's largest holiday region. The cooperation between the 200 members of the project and the various tourist businesses results in a wide array of offers that have one thing in common: cheese! These offers include visits to farmsteads, farmers' markets, innkeepers offering special cheese dishes and mountain or village dairy farms with appetising cheese shops.
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