June 1, 2010: A wild flower meadow blooms along the street in front of the historic house. It’s an apt greeting from a farm whose vision it is to produce healthy food in harmony with nature, not against it.
Gabi Uelinger rents the farm from her father Fritz, who still works with her. Together they produce the usual crops of wheat, canola, sugar beets and sun flowers. These are produced according to the IP (Integrated Production) Suisse subsidy program. Fertilizers and herbicides are allowed, but not insecticides and fungicides. Besides that they can choose between a variety of projects that give them biodiversity points – i.e. wider strips of wild meadows along the fields, piles of rocks or logs, or leaving part of the hay field uncut.
Rural Switzerland is the playground of urban Swiss. There’s hardly a spot in this country where you won’t see someone hiking or biking on a side road along some field or meadow. Most Swiss are happy to have some of their tax dollars go towards encouraging farmers to use ecologically sound farming practices.
Gabi’s real passion lies with the wild flower seed cultivation. Of the 20 hectares on the farm, up to two are used to grow various varieties of wild flowers for seed. It’s a finicky job – each flower has its own preferences as to microclimate, soil and care. Everything is done by hand – planting, weeding, harvesting. The latter is an especially time consuming job. Almost each plant matures at a different period.
Driving through the area, we’ve often seen large patches of wild flowers growing uncut and seemingly unkempt among the neat fields of wheat and corn. These are ‘buntbrache’ – wild fallow. Their purpose is to enable birds, insects, butterflies and other wildlife to resettle in the area again.
Gabi told me that the Skylark had almost totally disappeared out of Switzerland’s farmland. Through the ecological spaces created for them they are now a common bird in our area again. The skylark’s song rewards all those who worked hard to bring them back. Other birds and insects have become much more common again.
When we left Switzerland 15 years ago, it was rare to see red poppies blooming at the edges of canola fields. Now they nod cheerily across the way from wild flower strips and small hedges. When I think of the huge grain fields in Western Canada, I wonder if there will ever be an ecological revolution there. It would have to happen on a different scale, I think.