We’ve just said goodbye to someone who’s shared a very particular moment with us. In addition to being a huge help over the last months, our Hungarian intern Bori witnessed all our ups and downs during the pandemic and the early days of our community and business launch. Like all relationships built around important shared experiences, we are convinced our connection will last. While we repeatedly talked about sitting down for an actual interview, in the end we didn’t manage it beyond brief conversations right up to the final train ride back into Bologna. We were already gearing up for three weeks of summer camp at that point, so things have not slowed down.
Bori came to us from the same agricultural university program in Budapest as Monika, who some of our longtime followers may remember from our first season here in 2013. From the outset, she was quietly enthusiastic and open. Like Monika, after completing a program that was heavy on theoretical knowledge of large scale conventional agriculture, Bori wanted some practical experience, especially with organic farming in a smaller context.
After months of setup, she arrived in March just a week before the whole country went on coronavirus lockdown. While we were aware that things where getting serious as she prepared to travel to us, she insisted that she still wanted to go ahead and was prepared to basically stay on the farm rather than take weekend trips or jaunts into town like most interns. We checked with various authorities and all seemed OK. By mid March, however, we were essentially told than she could not return across the border, even if she’d wanted to. In the end though, she insisted that living on a farm in the countryside rather than downtown Budapest was the better option.
And so began several strange, often stressful, but very memorable months. I can’t help but feel like we benefited from some Stockholm syndrome empathy from Bori, even though I can tell she’s genuinely a flexible and committed person. She was equally willing to sit with the kids on the stoop as they chattered on as to pass days in the fields without any particular interaction as we ran around putting out fires.
One of the biggest changes to Bori’s internship was the amount of agriculture work she essentially took on alone. With our kids out of school, no groups to roll in or support planting as planned, and all kinds of new stressors for Federica and I, Bori frequently had to fend for herself with just a list of tasks in hand and whole days to prioritize by herself. She reports that this was one of her most important takeaways. She said that she’d never had the chance to really take on projects without a lot of supervision before. She considered the chance to try things out on her own to be one of the most important learning experiences of the internship. We believe in mutual trust and she stepped up to our expectation. We were really impressed.
This is something we usually try to cultivate with interns in a general way. For example, from the outset we’d recommended as a part of our standard practice that she design a particular project idea she could carry throughout the internship. She chose to design, build, and plant a rock garden on one of our hillsides to help with erosion control and add more growing space to our steep terrain. With her usual attention to detail and discipline, she chipped away at the project and nudged us to keep up on our end of the deal with plants or
suggestions all throughout these last months. She eventually created a garden that will last her as a witness to her contribution long after she’s gone.
Though her biggest contribution was helping us plant most of our annual seeds and starts this year, we’re convinced that her presence will still be felt in her garden, in the signs, and in other spaces she’s left behind beyond that. She also says that this time helped discern what she knew already: that she’s a country person and is already looking forward to her life after Budapest. Her family owns land in a village less than an hour outside the city, and as we shared a moment on the train on her way home she talked about her dreams for developing a village hospitality network there. Along with neighbors who farm beef, local producers growing specialities like watermelons and even a living museum reenactment of historical Hungarian rural life, she’d like to create a kind of agritourism experience for guests coming to visit. She says she’ll take inspirations from our time together into this long term plan and we’re convinced she has a lot of the skills to make it happen. If someone can watch us in these last months trying to adjust to the emerging future contours of tourism, education, and social connection and still be inspired, I hope it’s a testament to the fact we’re doing something useful.
And indeed as the lockdown eased, we have been flooded by requests, especially from Italians, to come and volunteer or stay with us. While we are inspired by the motivation this virus has created in so many to change their way of life, we are sticking to our approach of welcome folks in a good way with clear expectations. We hope over the long term this will help us sustain our rebound in the best way possible.