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People & Culture

Subsistence in 21st Century Europe

Interview with Mr Victor Buinceanu, a farmer in Miroslava, Romania.

Tell us about your farm.

I have five hectares of land – some others have less, as little as one hectare.  I grow maize and sunflowers. I don’t grow enough to sell; it’s nearly all for my animals. I have two horses, a male which is here and a mare, which has just had a foal and must stay with the foal for nine days. Also I have two cows and four calves, and about thirty chickens.

I produce meat, milk, eggs and cheese for myself and my family; also when I need other people to help me work the land, I must give them food and also drink – I make my own wine and tuica [plum brandy].  I sometimes go to the market with my milk, eggs and cheese, so I have some money to pay them. But I have to be careful: if I pay them too early, they won’t finish the work!

What machinery, fertilizers and pesticides do you use?

I don’t have a tractor; this here is my truck [Mr Buinceanu gestures to his horse and the wooden cart nearby].  I don’t have the money for fertilizers and pesticides.  Look at my hands – the skin is like shoe leather.  These are what I use.

Tell us about the work.

In the Autumn I prepare the ground.  In the spring it’s planting seeds, then following that it’s the weeding.  At harvest time, I use a sickle to cut the crops, and stack the plants on my cart.  I take the crops home, then I have to separate the cob from the green parts. After that the corn has to be taken off the cobs.  I take some of the corn to the mill to be ground into flour; I make the flour into polenta which is our staple diet in the Winter.  The green parts and rest of the maize is used to feed the animals.

I usually get up at 2.30 or 3.00 in the morning – from the Spring until Autumn, I often get just four hours sleep.  Generally the working day is about 12 hours in the fields, followed by work at home.  I try to have Sunday off, but this isn’t always possible; for instance, tomorrow I have to go to the market to sell milk.  As the saying goes, I will have enough time for repose when I’m dead!

Is there a retirement pension for you?

No.  But you can save for when you’re old.

Can you afford to save?

No, but when I get older I might sell some of my animals, continue farming but do less of the work.

Do you feel that you have had choices in your life?

My father worked this land; he is dead now and I am working the land.  I don’t have children but if I had a son I would wish him to do the same.  As for myself, I’m 53 years old, too old to do anything different now and in any case I don’t have the money to start anything new.

Do you work co-operatively with your neighbours?

No, each one has his own land and works his own land.

What other changes have there been since 1989?

On the good side, now I own my own land and animals. On the bad side, the work is much harder. But I am thankful – the land is very important to me.  The piece of land I have now is not the same as the one my family had [before collectivization]. That was over there on the other side of the road.  But the fields are the same size.

What is your horse called?

His name is Staleca [the name means Little Star]; he is eleven years old.  A horse can live to 40, depending how it is cared for.  Staleca is still fit and strong.

Translator: Gabriela Apostol