IN CONVERSATION: Tristan Toé / unity and diversity

All over the world, people are searching for ways to create nutrient-dense foods for sustenance and health. But in order to grow healthy crops, we are dependent on intact and fertile soil. So that future generations can also use this resource for themselves, gardeners and farmers are faced with the challenge of cultivating healthy food and at the same time preserving and improving the soil on which they grow.

“In order to guarantee the quality and variety of the vegetables, we use seedfast varieties. Our selection criteria for the vegetables and the various varieties are their suitability for the location, their vitality and their taste. The own seed production and selection of the plants increase the plant health – yes, and healthy plants bring healthy food – and medicines”, Tristan explains.

Tristan Toé grows eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and even ginger on the Wachtberg. What is special about it: Despite difficult conditions – on shallow soil and hard stone – the vegetables sprout from the ground, no deeper than in a flower pot. They never had any contact with chemicals and all the varieties he grows are “old”. Tristan works hand-in-hand with the natural cycles of our planet to bring balance and diversity to his fields. The observation and understanding of recurring natural patterns plays an important role. Tristan’s fields approach sustainability by functioning as a closed system. This means that no outside resources are introduced into the fields and the land and ecosystem are self-sustaining. “We want to find ways to work with nature – not against it. This means that we want to produce organically and, above all, sustainably. In addition to not using artificial fertilizers and pesticides, we use the most gentle tillage possible, e.g. loosening and aerating the soil instead of ploughing. Sustainability does not mean exploiting the soil as a resource, but maintaining it.” As he talks, Tristan moves along fixed paths between his fields. “Bed stays bed and path stays path”, he explains. “My goal is to produce vegetables while improving the soil. That’s why I mulch everything here – beds and paths. This protects the soil from the sun and heavy rain – I don’t have any erosion and the fungi and worms have a cozy bed under the straw.”

In Mali, hybrid seed has long since replaced the “old” varieties that were grown on African soil. The seed is mostly imported from southern France and is not suitable for the climatic conditions of the Sahel zone. With chemical support, crop yields are still respectable. “But hardly anyone thinks about what that means for people who can’t read the warning labels on the containers and are using the chemicals completely wrong,” says Tristan. He came to the Waldviertel with the aim of doing organic farming, cultivating a wide variety of plants, and cultivating seeds. Returning a bit to the original in order to pass on the knowledge he would acquire to his people in Mali.

The people of the Waldviertel, who observed his activities for a long time, are finally on his side. “It is important to the people here that you do something. If you work hard and achieve something, they respect you.” Although his work is very different from theirs. “For me driving a tractor, spraying pesticides and artificial fertilizers is not farming. This is industry. For me, a farmer who is more related to machines, computers and chemistry than to nature is not a farmer but an engineer. For me, farming is between man, nature and the land that is worked with your own hands.”

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