Purity and prayer
Purity and prayer
All afternoon there were six glasses and a pitcher full of perfectly pure and cold spring water standing on the sturdy wood table. When the pitcher was empty one of us would stand up and refill it at the fountain. A very simple scene? Well it made for the most inspiring and fulfilling al fresco afternoon I ever have experienced.
Cheese maker Willi Schmid had taken us to visit his friend and one of only two of his Jersey milk purveyors, Hansruedi Giger. The drive up from the dairy in Lichtensteig was curvy, steep and led us through forests for most of the ride. The moment we got out of this green awning we found ourselves on a soft looking high plateau. Bright grass, flowers, a tree here and there. And far up the narrow road two houses.
The one to the left of the road turned out to be the barn, the one on the other side Giger’s home. Since nobody answered Willi’s firm knock on the door we moved over to the barn. It was an extremely hot summer even on an altitude of 3000 feet so the cows spent the days in the shade of the barn and grazed on the meadow during the at least a little bit cooler nights.
While we were adoring the massive, calm animals Hansruedi had gotten back from a morning trip to a neighboring farm. He welcomed us in the barn, talked about and with the cows and walked us over to his house. We sat outside, around that above mentioned wooden table. Elisabeth, Giger’s wife and one of his two daughters, Cornelia, soon joined us. With them they brought a big pitcher filled with water and glasses for every one.
And so we debarked to a preciously interesting afternoon. Hansruedi told us about his past and the recent changes. He was a second generation farmer. He had continued what his parents had started: A traditionally operated small farm based mainly on the value of dairy cows. He had a few goats, out of passion and the wife tended to a small garden to feed the family.
The winters can be long and lonely where the Gigers live, high up above the village of Wattwil in the Toggenburg valley. Steep grassy hills usually lead into monstrous rocky mountains. Hansruedi did not dislike these winters. They gave him time and let him think. And so when another spring came around some ten years ago he started his work cycle in a brand new way.
He had decided to switch his operation from a traditional (and thus intoxicated) into an organic one. His and his whole family’s own lifestyle had been organic all this time. Not certified but in the most honest and truest way. He didn’t feel like just going with the flow and the easy, fast way anymore. He loved his land and his animals and was connected to his craft too much. And then he learned about this project by the University of Zurich. They wanted to find out what it took, changed and brought to switch from classic farming over to an organic one. Giger was on.
Not long after he started to let his pastures do whatever they wanted to do (or not) it became obvious that the cows enjoyed munching on the grasses more than ever before. No wonder: By early fall the field students counted more than sixty varieties of grasses, flowers and herbs that never had been around before. Giger started to work with natural enzymes in order to enrich the soil and get rid of certain unpleasant odors in and around the barn. This experiment cost him about 4000 Swiss Franks (at the time). The equivalent of about 5000 liters of milk. His roughly twenty cows generated about 300 liters a day....
Giger soon noticed the animals improved health. And that their milk looked and tasted richer. Here Schmid the cheese maker came into play: Ever since the switch to organic methods the milk from Hansruedi’s cows to him seemed like to the perfect one. Healthy, containing more character and nutrients. The cheeses he stated making of that milk proof both Hansruedi and Willi right. If one ever gets his or her hands and mouth onto a Tuma, Jersey Blue, Millstone or such one will exactly know what we or they mean.
There were joy and tears and hugs when it was time to leave the Giger’s place. And there was silence all the way back down through the forests. Down at the dairy Willi looked into the air and then at us. It’s this, he said. The purity. The people. The peace.
To me it was a prayer.