In the southernmost tip of Salzburg – Austria’s “Siberia” – farmer and forester Sepp Holzer has undertaken a radical agricultural experiment on his mountainous land. Going against all the conventional rules – and despite annual average temperatures of 4.5 °C and an altitude of between 900m and 1400m – Holzer has created an edible paradise.
He’s caused quite a stir in the process. In forty years of observing nature, unrelentingly joyful experimentation and battles with government agencies, he has succeeded in winning over his opponents. Holzer’s way of farming involves working with the laws of nature rather than trying to overcome them. He uses no pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Instead, his golden rule for successful farming is the basic principle of permaculture: “Cooperate with nature instead of fighting it.” As Holzer himself says, “[We need] variety instead of uniformity, because all plants and animals have a meaningful function”.
In 1962, at the age of 19, Sepp took over his father’s farm. Since then, he and his wife have created a perfectly-functioning permaculture system – without ever having heard the term “permaculture“ before.
Laid out in terraces resembling rice fields in Asia, his 46-hectare farm provides a stark contrast to the pine monocultures that surround it. Previously, it was thought that many of the plants which flourish on Holzer’s land could not survive at an altitude of 1400m: cherries, apples, mushrooms, kiwis, lemons, pumpkins, potatoes and zucchinis. Now, nature is sprouting and thriving everywhere you look – along the paths, on the terraces, in the woods, on frighteningly steep slopes and even on stony ground. The farm’s mixed cultivation includes are around 45 water gardens, humid biotopes and ponds, and three mountain lakes. It’s here that the farmer breeds rare fish, toads, crustaceans and aquatic plants. His pigs plough and fertilize the earth, and plants supply each other with moisture, nitrogen and fertilizer. All of this means that Sepp Holzer has less work to do - and more time to share the success of his ideas with fascinated visitors from all over the world.