30 years of Slow Living in Isera Mountains

This year’s lockdown was not new for many. If you live in the mountains, like Agata and Leszek Rozanski, you are isolated by choice. They live in Kopaniec village (~300 res.) in Isera Mountains, Lower Silesia region, south-west Poland. Living here is harder than living in towns or lowlands: rough climate makes gardening tough, wild animals eat your crops (competing with them is not the point), water vanishes the same as the sun, and you have a surplus of damp and cold.

Some might wonder, who could be that crazy to change a comfortable city town for this isolation? But Agata and Leszek Rozanski have no regrets. The indulge in the pleasures of clean air, a close relation to wild nature, blurred boundaries between home and the outside world, stunning landscapes, freedom of personal creativity, deeper and quieter life, local food, historic and artistic passion, a community of good friends, two great daughters, and… beautiful old Umgebindehaus, which they renovated 30 years ago moving in with a dog, a cat, and the first daughter.

Agata and Leszek in 1987 after they had moved in and started the renovation of their house; photo credit: Archive of Agata & Leszek Rozanski

Such couples may show how you can change town into a village, lowland into mountains, open space into half-forest, shopping into food exchange, industrial produce into manufacture, consumerism into positive social dependence. Agata and Leszek see mainly profits of this change. When they moved to Isera Mountains, there were many abandoned houses. Previous inhabitants were moved to Germany after WWII, then new inhabitants moved in, but many houses were, and are, still empty. They moved in and started learning a new life.

Their house before the WWII when previous German residents lived here; photo credit: Archive of Agata & Leszek Rozanski

I was happy to encourage them to collect figurative pepperbread molds for making ceramic replicas. Their mountain village food economy has a positive impact on the environment and community, always ready to support and active within local associations. They don’t sell food – agriculture was never priority here, limited to hay produce, cows or goats. Being vegetarians, they tried some gardening, but it turned too tough, so they turned into food exchange, a lost tradition historically important in Poland, and buy fair food at local markets.

They host tourists and friends during weekends or vacations; photo credit: Anna M. Ruminska

They are happy to live here in a mountain village, although it is a challenge, with thin soil and rocks beneath, little water and sun (north slope) is a huge challenge. They organized this semi-self-sufficient life in their gmina (administrative community) very well. Just 200 years ago these mountains were described as wild, but they run now a small agrotourism farm making some of their food, hosting tourists and students, organizing pottery classes (Agata is a ceramic artist), teaching history in the local school (Leszek is a humanist). They created an amazing private museum of local history and craft, along with an impressive library.

The garden is full of herbs and fruit shrubs, also a treat for roe deers and birds; photo credit. Anna M. Ruminska

Cow and goat dairy products are the strongest traditions of Isera Mountains. They make their twaróg using raw milk from local cows (soon an Ark of Taste product). They buy goat cheese from a local herder and cheese-maker. Fruits, veggies, eggs, honey – some locals share or sell it too; squashes are their only successful homegrown vegetable. A large harvest becomes an exchanged gift in the network of friends. They sometimes grow pearl oyster mushrooms, and the forest gives them wild edibles. Fish is also available from ponds nearby. They have a few beehives, and they also buy honey from a friend. Agata bakes sourdough bread, makes kiszonki (lacto-ferments), and liquors of foraged herbs like the Giant Mountains Dzięglówka, an Ark of Taste product.

Their house is renovated and colored in a historical way typical for this type of architecture Umgebindehaus; photo credit. Anna M. Ruminska

Handmade wine of local grapevines from their balcony (old, unknown variety) turned to be great, and beer brewed with friends too. Their meadow is full of edible goutweed. Their “Goat Neck Gallery” farm is located on the Goat Neck mountain (PL: Kozia Szyja), so I was happy to encourage them to eat their own goutweed. We made forage and weed-cooking classes together.Conversations on the importance of mountain food products cannot vanish from public discourse. Home manufacture and food exchange are the bases of social food network in the mountains. Who needs mountain food, if a factory can produce a cheese that pretends to be a mountain cheese? We all need it. This rich biological and microbial diversity, which is possible to achieve mostly in clean mountain areas, is very important for the whole ecosystem, our food system and public health. Couples like Agata and Leszek, know it the best.

Sometimes they wear vintage folk attire to welcome guests; photo credit. Anna M. Ruminska
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