Sustainable Living Offers Hope for Future for Hungarian Families

Laszlo Kemencei and Krisztian Kisjuhasz load pork onto a car at Kemencei’s farm.

LADANYBENE, Hungary (Reuters) — Laszlo Kemencei lives as sustainably as possible on his small farm in eastern Hungary. He believes the land is effectively borrowed from his young daughter, so he must do all he can to preserve it for the future.

Kemencei, 28, wife Cintia and Boroka, almost two, moved to the farm outside Ladanybene three years ago. They keep horses, pigs and chickens on an area of 4.5 hectares, which they partly lease for grazing.

They do not use pesticides, keep their animals free range, and dig the land as little as possible to preserve the structure and moisture of the rich soil. They grow their own vegetables and slaughter or barter the meat they need, while trading the rest with families who choose a similar lifestyle.

Kemencei said while becoming fully self-sufficient seems an unrealistic goal, they rely minimally on external resources.

“This land, we have not inherited from our fathers, but we have it on a lease from our children … so we try to live and farm the land in a sustainable way,” he said, sitting in their cozy kitchen where a chunk of pork sizzles in the oven.

While there are no statistics on how many families are following a similar lifestyle in Hungary — part of their choice is not necessarily to engage with central institutions — anecdotal evidence suggests it is a growing trend.

Some want to rein in the costs of living, while for others it is to escape a consumer-driven society or live a more environmentally friendly life.

Kemencei estimates there are around 1,000 families trying to embrace some form of sustainability, either alone or as part of informal barter arrangements, or as part of more structured eco-villages.

He said a loose grouping called Sustainable Regression had around 600 to 800 members — although not all have committed to all aspects of sustainable living.

Reuters spoke to six other families, many of whom had left jobs in the formal economy, who were now growing much of their own food. Some had their own energy and water supplies.

Akos Varga and wife Gabi, both in their late 50s, sold their IT and solar panel business four years ago to live a freer life on a farm in Nagybereny, in western Hungary.

Varga believes small, self-sustaining communities where mutual trust matters will spread.

“We thought we had achieved what we wanted and asked ourselves if this is really happiness. And we could not say yes to that,” Varga said. “We were seeking being close to nature.”

Barter trade

For Kemencei, the trusted networks matter too. A small pot-bellied pig traded with a friend is eaten from nose to tail. A rooster is swapped with another friend who is a beekeeper.

“We sometimes slaughter chickens for barter trade … but only from a place where we know the farming is similar to ours,” Kemencei said.

“We don’t want to change the world here … or become some kind of superheroes, there are plenty of those out there, we would like to produce most of what we need.”

Currently, they do not live off-grid. They have the internet, and buy electricity and gas for heating. But their water comes from a well and they hope to install solar panels and a wind turbine when they can afford it, Kemencei said.

They can get by on about 250,000 forints ($680) per month, outside of emergencies. They buy milk, sugar and other basics that they cannot grow themselves.

The family have a walipini greenhouse for plants — a hole in the ground covered with polyethylene glazing. The name means “place of warmth” in the language in Bolivia where the practice comes from.

“We should reduce our wants just a little, as now we live in a world where we sit on a galloping horse and when the horse dies, we just jump on another one,” he said.

“This is scary, but I think everyone should do their best within their limits.”

Laszlo Kemencei, 28, with his wife Cintia Mnyere, 31, their daughter Baroka, and their friends Krisztian Kisjuhasz, 41, and his partner Zsanett Homoki, 34, have lunch at Kemencei’s farm near Ladanybene, Hungary, on March 7.