GB No. 2(17)/95
Poland is a country with a cultural heritage that stretches back for over a thousand years, with beautiful landscapes and a rich diversity of wildlife. Whether you enjoy walking in vast forests or mountains, canoeing on one of the many lakes, or visiting medieval towns, you can do it all in Poland. The south of Poland is best known for its mountains, and the north for walks along the many white beaches. The north-east, with thousands of lakes, is a paradise for people who love water and water sports.
Moreover, there are towns with rich, medieval architecture that are well worth visiting. In many areas of Poland, farmers still use horses to cultivate the soil, and you can find villages where it feels like time has stood still.
Poland occupies a special place in Europe in terms of natural features. Situated in the centre of Europe, the country is under the influence of both oceanic and continental climates. This causes many natural features which are specific to Poland.
There are over 1,000 nature reserves, 17 national parks, and 68 landscape parks and protected landscape areas, totalling 17% of the country's area. By the year 2000, the protected areas will be expanded to 30% of the land. Legal protection has been extended to 212 plant species and 471 animal species, including brown bears, lynx and golden eagles.
Only a few of the farms in Poland were collectivised by the communist government. There are thus many small, mixed-crop farms, averaging in size from two to four hectares. The small scale of the farms is reflected in the landscape, made up of many small fields partitioned by hedges. Many farmers don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, while those that do use only a small amount. The tapestry of fields, pools, meandering rivers, forests, and marshes guarantees a rich and diverse flora and fauna. Here you can still find species that are sensitive to alteration of the environment, such as the lynx, beaver, otter, black stork, and different kinds of amphibians, reptiles and birds of prey. Outside of these regions, there are areas that have to contend with huge environmental problems, especially near the big cities in the south like Katowice.
In Poland there are over 2.5 milion private farms most of them small - up to 10 ha, mixed (livestock and crops) and they rely only to a limited extent on external input. There are good environmental conditions in our country, traditional farmers, plants, which are cultivated still in Poland (f.ex. rye, bucwheat) and which are good for soil and play important role in healthy nourishment. In Poland, apart from a few regions with a high concentration of industry, most parts of the country are not tainted by industrial pollution and have traditional agriculture and an intact, biodiverse landscape.
Thus - in comparision with Western countries - Poland is still a country with very good possibilities for developing ecological tourism.
In 1989, Poland was the first country of the former Eastern Bloc to launch into a programme of conversion to a new political and economic system. Agriculture is one of the key sectors in the reconstruction of the Polish economy. Most of over 2.5 million Polish private farms are very small and only self-sustaining. There is a shortage of equipment and general infrastructure such as flour mills and slaughter-houses.
It is a challenge to develop agriculture in such a way that the social and ecological richness of the countryside remains preserved. If Polish agriculture were to develop in the manner of Western Europe, the number of farmers would be drastically reduced, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides would rise. This kind of development would have negative consequences forthe natural environment. Most farmers see this intensification as a huge threat and would prefer to continue working in the traditional way. But this will not solve the problem in the long run. The solution lies in a third way. Environmentally-friendly modernization could avoid the disadvantages of Western agriculture and still create sufficient employment. More and more farmers are making a start on this path, and they set a good example for Polish agriculture.
Many of these farmers are members of Ekoland, the Polish society for organic farmers. Ekoland, which has 300 members, manages seven support centres providing information and training in organic farming. Inspectors are trained to control and certify farms. Seminars, lectures and trips to Western European organic farms are also being organized. Many members of Ekoland have opened their farms for tourists, through which finances are found for setting up a modern farm that is not harmful to the environment.
ECEAT-Poland seeks and selects this specific kind of farm and farmers who tend to live by the pulse of nature, at a somewhat slower pace. The rat-race of civilisation has not yet spoiled the natural order of things and poisoned the heart.
This is a lifestyle typical for rural areas, which dominate the southern (mountainous) and eastern (lakes, bogs, forests) parts of Poland. Farmers are famous for their hospitality and have always kept their doors open to closer and more distant relatives and acquaintances eager to sample the slow beat of life in the countryside.
ECEAT organic farms are spread all over the country at intervals of approximately 30 to 80 km.
Tourists can travel from farm to farm by car, public transportation, bicycle or on foot. They are of course welcome to stay on one particular farm for a longer period of time if they wish.
At the same time tourists support environmental-friendly agriculture in the most attractive regions. We have to be aware that organic agriculture in Poland is still less profitable than the conventional type. And in the biologically and culturally valuable areas (especially attractive to tourists), tourists, especially the eco-tourists, bring significant economical and moral support to the farmers. Tourists coming to ECEAT farms need not fear that they will be received by unprepared hosts and forced to accept sub-standard accomodation. The fact that you are not staying in posh hotel, will be more than offset by the hospitality of the hosts and the opportunity to get the feel and taste of local folklore and traditions, not to speak of healthly, regional cuisine. Farms accepting tourists are situated in scenic places: most of them in the moutnains, some close to lakes and rivers, among forests and in the vicinity of nature reserves. Tourists can spend their time hiking, walking, cycling, swiming or horseback riding or they are welcome to help on the farm.
Christmas and Easter holidays spent with Polish families who cultivate their traditions, will be an unforgetable experience even for those hardest to please.
For two years now ECEAT has promoted and developed this kind of holiday, which reduces the danger of huge holiday centres springing up and damaging the best that Poland has to offer. ECEAT-Poland is the first in the country to give this kind of eco-tourism an organized and legal form by creating the association of organic farmers who rent rooms and camping areas, sell food (meals) and apply to the Polish government for protection regulations to support ecological tourism on organic farms.
ECEAT-Poland cooperates with other ECEAT centres in Eastern Europe. The whole network is internationally coordinated in Amsterdam.
The pilot project of ECEAT-Poland started in July 1993, for two months only, with 16 farms and was mainly promoted in the Netherlands. In this country, as in many others, one can see a tendency of people wanting more natural and healthy products and activities, including how to spend their holidays. Some 400 people visited Polish organic farms in this short first season. Both visitors and farmers were very enthusiastic about the programme.
This year over 90 farms throughtout Poland have been selected for this program. Most of the participating farms are either certified(*) organic farms or traditionally organic farms, which means that the "civilized" methods of fertilizing or crop protection with chemicals never even reached them. There are a few in the process of transition towards ecological farming.
This year the programme has also been promoted in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Poland. The interest from both sides - organic farmers and the tourists (mainly from outside Poland) is constantly growing.
The feedback we get from our farmers is worth mentioning. For them this kind of tourism means of course an additional source of income, not only from the visitors, but also by opening up new markets for their farm products. These are very important benef, but there is something else at least as important. THAT IS THE CONTACT WITH PEOPLE. It is hard to express what great things are happening in this field. For the organic farmers who are often perceived in their communities as rather peculiar, who don't travel very much themselves, who work hard and don't get much for it - having visitors who come to stay on their farms is tremendously appreciated and satisfying. As soon as the first shyness goes away - a real open heart-to-heart contact begins. With the help of their eyes and body language as well as their voice everything can be expressed - the story of the family and the land, their hopes, fears and loves. And you shouldn't think that this happens to the farmers only! Warm feelings of friendship grow in the visiters as well.
Farmers learn how the beauty of their farms and natural surrounding and their fresh healthy food is appreciated by the tourists. It encourages farmers to become more active and creative on their own farms and in their communities. It stimulates an information exchange and cooperation among eco-farmers, to raise their social and economic awareness. In this way the organic farms' social and economic status is being changed - what was rather strange and unappreciated becomes attractive. The idea spreads to the neighbours, the village, the region.
All the farms have been listed in the tourist guide " Holiday on an organic farm '94 - Poland ", available in English, Polish, German and Dutch. Tourists can find there the descriptions of the regions, surroundings, farms and families, accomodation possibilities, special attractions, recreation possibilities and the route description. Tourists can travel direct to the farm or make reservations through ECEAT-Poland. There are three regional information and reservation centres operating during the summer season. All participants of this program are asked their opinions (questionnaires, evaluation sheets, letters with complaints or appraisals, etc.) in order to improve the whole service and solve any possible problems. Besides, farmers are in constant contact with the three regional coordinators who can provide any help or information.
So much has been achieved since the program began in 1993. All this was possible thanks to the tremendous enthusiasm of many Polish and Dutch ecologists as well as financial support from:
ECEAT-Poland is going to extend it's activities. Steps have been taken towards the creation of a National Education and Information Center for ECEAT-Poland. Several site offers are currently being studied for the summer season 1995.
ECEAT is a non-profit organisation and not a tour operator or commercial travel agency. However, ECEAT does cooperate with travel agencies and tour operators who are willing to incorporate ECEAT accomodations into their programs.
ECEAT-Poland is constantly looking for sponsors to support it's activities.
M.Sc. Jadwiga Wietrzna-Lopata, President
EUROPEAN CENTRE for ECOLOGICAL
AGRICULTURE and TOURISM-POLAND
tel. (48-75) 53346
fax (48-75) 53346
(*) certified by EKOLAND -the first and only Polish organization appyling international standards of organic agriculture in the certification of farms and their products. Member of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.