Walser Permakulturist Andi Haller | ©  Vorarlberg Travel

29 Aug. 2017 · Summer Activities | Recuperation
Britta Maier

Where hope and inspiration grow

Four years ago, Andi Haller (36) was building kickers in the snow park. 

Four years ago, Andi Haller (36) was building kickers in the snow park. These days, it’s more likely to be raised beds. He plants mixed crops, develops permaculture gardens and challenges the common preconceptions about what independent sustainable living looks like. He has wholeheartedly embraced the self-sufficiency experiment, creating a permaculture forest garden in Mittelberg. For him and girlfriend Alex, being self-sufficient doesn’t mean distancing themselves from society, rather finding alternative ways of being self-sufficient that are feasible for everyone. The philosophy of permaculture al
lows him to feel optimistic about the future. His passion is contagious and as a result it’s not just in Kleinwalsertal that new gardeners are popping up.

Detail im Garten | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Britta Maier

What is a a permaculture forest?

At the moment, it covers about 2,000 square metres which I have planted with vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs and medicinal plants. The forest serves as a model - both in how it grows, as it is completely self-regulated, but also in its appearance. It might not exactly match people’s ideas of what a garden should look like - everything is left to grow a little wilder, the grass is allowed to grow, there are piles of stones and old wood. Nature is an expert in everything she does; permaculture seeks to understand natural processes and habitats, and to copy them. 

Der Garten im Überblick | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Britta Maier

Why do you have here the garden?

I did toy with the idea of running away to Southern Europe. But Walsertal is my home.
If I were gardening in Spain, I would be speaking Spanish to you now ... My ancestors were technologically far worse equipped and they managed, so I can do it too. It’s true, however, that most people in the valley think that it can’t work here, what with the altitude and the short growing period. But I prefer to see it as a challenge. I’m deliberately sticking my neck out and experimenting to find out what’s possible. I am convinced that you can create the ideal conditions for all, or at least most plants. In permaculture or really in any garden, it is
important to establish micro-climates. This means that I try to create structures with hills, corners, curves and edges, so that there are little nooks and crannies which meet the requirements of each plant. 

Mystischer Abend im Tipi | © Narandi Permakultur | Fotograf: Andreas Haller

How did the idea for the garden come about?

In 2011 I was in hospital with a fractured vertebra. That left me with a lot of time to question myself and my life. Then Fukushima happened, which made me equally angry and sad. I realised that I myself was contributing to these things happening in the world. I started researching how I could take personal responsibility and break out of cycles like this. I was quickly drawn to self-sufficiency and permaculture, because I wanted to start at the base, with our existential basic need: food

Andi Haller in seinem Garten | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Britta Maier

What do you find so fascinating about permaculture?

It makes me more independent and lets me lead a self-determined life. Ultimately, it isn’t just about producing my own food, but reducing my carbon footprint. If we continue with business as usual, we are leaving future generations with a disastrous situation. I simply cannot and will not accept this. For me, permaculture is a way that we can do a huge amount of good. In addition, it is the most natural form of cultural landscape conservation. While the industrialisation of agriculture reached ever greater excesses in the 70s, this idea was given a name. The principle of permaculture does not remove responsibility from farmers, but instead applies it to all areas of life.

Das Beet  | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Britta Maier

Why did you choose self-sufficiency, and to what extent are you self-sufficient today?

Before I fractured my vertebra, I spent five summers in the Alps. You learn very quickly what you really need to be happy. If you experience the greatest inner satisfaction through things that don’t cost any money, for me this poses the question, how do I use my time? Of course, I am not entirely free from obligations, but that’s very self-reflective. To me, it’s not so much about providing for myself 99 percent of the year, but more that my efforts don’t cause any great disturbance, and that I put less time into a job that my heart isn’t really in. In summer, Alex and I provide 70 to 80 percent of our own food from the garden, and we try to preserve as much as possible. But we also enjoy giving things to friends, family and people who appreciate it. Ideally, we are not only giving them pleasure, but also motivation and encouraging reflection.

Das eigene Gemüse | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Britta Maier

What has the garden taught you?

These days, everything is very short-lived. When you’re working in the garden, however, you can’t think in terms of a few hours or days, but in seasons or even several years (fruit trees). This is great for learning to be patient and living in rhythm with nature. Especially for us, where we have four seasons, there is definitely a connection with our own efforts. It never fails to fascinate me how intense the flavours are, and how much more energy you put into things. If we make a soup completely with produce from the garden, then a plateful really fills you up, and not just for two hours. 

Dandelion in the evening light | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Oliver Farys

What do we need to learn as consumers?

Many people have no idea at all how their food is produced. Each new food scandal reminds us of that. Anyone who really gets involved with it becomes aware that we are only a tiny cog in a huge machine. Every day, we make countless decisions that can make a difference. With every purchase, we have a choice: we can trust our nutrition, the cornerstone of our existence, to large corporations which are motivated by profit and their need for continued growth, meaning that in the long term, quality is getting steadily worse. Or we can take responsibility for ourselves, turn to organic products, support our local organic farmers or start to produce our own food. 

Stable in thunderstorm mood | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Oliver Farys

What are your wishes for the future?

I hope that perspective of the cultural landscape changes. That people begin to see not just their own little kingdom, but our habitat as a whole. Maintenance of the countryside is down to everyone, not just farmers. I hope that everyone thinks about the contribution they can make, in order to secure the livelihood of the generations after us. 

Sonnenuntergang - Ifen | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Antje Pabst

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