My family has run the mountain farm in Gaschurn/Montafon, Austria, for three generations now. On our farm we live and work with 30 Brown Swiss animals, and about as many sheep and a few chickens. In summer the animals are on the alp - as has been the tradition for centuries. There I, Veronika, take care of the 30 milking cows of the Garnera communal alp. 14 of the cows on the alp come from our farm. I am supported by my husband, my two daughters and our team.
The region is considered to be one of the most beautiful ones in the Alps and is a popular destination for tourists all year round. Originally the Montafon was very agriculturally oriented. However, with tourism as a new way of earning a living, agriculture has declined sharply in the last 50 years. Today only a few farming families are active in Gaschurn.
According to an old tradition, our family still practices three-tiered agriculture. Our animals are kept in stables in the valley in winter (at about 1000 m above sea level), on the Maisäß in spring and autumn (1400m above sea level) and on the alp in summer (1700 – 2300 m above sea level). This way of farming is necessary in order to make the best use of the food available in the Alps.
Our animals’ health is of the upmost importance to us. We look after them with great dedication and ensure that they are fed well with a well-balanced nutrition. This is why our animals are strong and robust and cope well with the more severe alpine conditions they are exposed to, such as steep slopes, stony ground, lots of exercise, rapidly changing weather.
Through the use and grazing of the alpine pastures the typical landscape is preserved and biodiversity is supported. Without the animals grazing on the alp in summer and the work of the farmers who take great care of the pastures every spring, the alpine pastures would be covered in scrubs and bushes and the landscape would disappear.
The land use at our alp with grazing lifestock is perfectly adapted to the circumstances. The soils are not over-fertilized, which means that sustainable, extensive cultivation and farming is possible.
Due to our tradition of three-tiered agriculture, our stable in the valley remains empty in summer, as all animals are on the alp. During this time, from July to September, me and my husband and children spend the summer on the alp. Since it is a communal alp, we do not only look after our own livestock there, but also after six other farmers’ cows. All in all, milk from 30 cows is processed in our small alpine dairy on an altitude of about 1,600. We also produce the “Saladiner” there. It is named after a mountain meadow in the Garnera Valley. When the grass has been grazed on the alps in autumn and around the arrival of the year’s first snowfall, the alp is closed. After spending a few weeks at the “intermediate staging post” on the Maisäß, the animals are being led back to the valley where they will stay until the following spring. In the meantime cheese, butter, yoghurt etc. will be made from the milk of our 14 cows in our farm’s organic dairy. This means, that the "Maderer" and the "Rüablikees" are made exclusively from our own cows’ milk.
Our family farm has been organic since 2007. We have always practiced extensive and natural farming, so it was a small step to an organic certification. In 2017 we built a new free-range barn with a dairy and equipped it with a photovoltaic system. This way, valuable milk-based products can be made under the best conditions for the animals using up-to-date modern milk processing equipment.
The meadows in the valley are cut to feed the animals in winter. In addition, the animals receive small amounts of organic grain feed in winter, which we have to buy. The Montafon has an abundance of water, which is why there is always enough water on the Alp and in the valley. Some of it even comes from our own springs.
Running a mountain farm takes a lot of time and effort – oftentimes, machines cannot be used properly and a lot of manual labor is required to successfully complete the many chores. On top of that, the products used to be under-appreciated for many years and mountain farmers were branded as nothing but landscape conservationists.
Which is why we see the CrowdFarming project as an opportunity to further expand the direct marketing of our natural products.