The narrow switchback road winding up the steep Swiss mountainside doesn’t leave much room for error, especially in the winter. How can people safely navigate these roads, let alone farm on these slopes? But they do. My cousin Susanne and her husband Dominik Roth live and ‘ranch’ far up the side of this mountain, in Furna.
I recorded our first visit with them in my blog from June 11/10. We’re back to pick up my 16 year old niece Sarah Lehmann, who’s spent the last six months with the Roth family. Daily she rode the bus on this road, to school in Schiers in the valley below. Sarah comes from the family dairy farm in Cecil Lake, northern B.C. We’ll be taking her to the airport to return home to Canada.
It’s been a full and adventurous six months for her. At home she helps milk 100 cows in a 16 cow herringbone milk parlour. During the summer she’s often on the tractor raking hay on a flat quarter section (64 hectares). When she arrived in Furna in mid August, the alpine farmers were still haying. Instead of a tractor, she was given a long hand rake. I’m sure it took her a few days to get her mountain legs – she said that sometimes the hay fields were so steep she found it hard to get a grip to stand!
Not every field is raked down by hand, but there are many corners or steep slopes that keep the family busy together.
It seemed strange to hear Sarah speaking Bünder German (one of the Swiss dialects). It’s quite different from the dialect I grew up with, or married into. Switzerland is tiny, but we can all tell which area (sometimes even village!) of Switzerland someone comes from by their speech. Sarah didn’t speak any German at all when she arrived, so had quite an adjustment period, especially in school.
The best thing about the six months in Switzerland, Sarah says, was getting to know the people and the language. She found everyone very friendly and helpful, whether in school or in the community and feels very at home now.
Her host family has 30 Limousin cow/calf pairs; producing Natura Beef (see one of my last blogs on that). They market their beef privately, having it butchered at an accredited slaughter house. We took home some of the regional specialties they produce – salsiz (an air dried sausage, similar to salami), landjäger, and hauswurst. They also produce and sell the famous Bündner specialty Mostbröckli – meat from the hip, smoked and air dried, which is then sliced very thin before serving.
No cow bells ring in the crisp winter air now. They’re hanging under the eaves of the centuries old house. The cattle are in the barn with access to the outdoors, just like at Markus Stamm’s. But Dominik’s animals spend the summer on the alpine meadows, on community pastures, and are fed alpine hay. Just the thought should make the meat taste better!