Stripped of its land, Kishantos remains defiant and determined

May 26, 2015

Kishanto

“We trust in the power of having truth on our side, in our many supporters and we will continue to do what we can. They cannot take 22 years of experience and knowledge away.” – Mrs. Sándor Ács, director, Kishantos biological farm

The ecological farm of Kishantos tries to sustain itself on one-fiftieth of its former territory after losing all arable land it leased from the state last year. The ten square meters of parcels serve as a reminder of the lands taken away, yet the plants are already growing in the “Wonder-garden”, a new butterfly-garden has been established and the parcels are full with vegetables as well as with saplings. The following is a report on the situation in Kishantos one year after the full deprivation of its farmland.

Ten tiny seed beds. The parcels known by their size from simple weekend hobby gardens are sown with phacelia, flax, vetch, alfalfa, mustard, oil radish, red and crimson clover. This symbolic ten square meters of land is all that is left of the former, 452 hectares owned by the Biofarm and People’s School of Kishantos. The seed beds are symbolic as well.  The leader of the farm, Mrs. Sándor Ács, has sown exactly the kind of plants here that used to be grown by the organic farm in a diverse selection, including species plowed under by the new lessees.

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Kishantos Nonprofit was founded in 1998 as a self-sufficient, ecological model farm. According to the original plans, they were meant to set up a biotopic network around the country with the help of German and Hungarian experts. Large 200-hectare parcels were divided into 30- to 50-hectare parcels, with newly planted hedges and miniature forests and pastures serving as natural windbreaks, providing enough place for wildlife to flourish beside the plants being grown and the domestic animals being bred. The whole territory was handled as an organic ecological system.  Unfortunately, the model organic farm was stripped of most of its state lands before the plan could be fully realized, and now it is questionable whether it will ever succeed.

The rape of Kishantos

In what appears to be an act of political retribution, in 2012 state lands Kishantos had been cultivating for 14 years were awarded to eight other parties, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s childhood friend, Lőrinc Mészáros, whose rags-to-riches story is the stuff of legend in Hungary.  Kishantos sued to retain possession of the lands but alas in vain.  The final kick arrived right after last year’s general elections: the new lessees immediately plowed under earlier plantings, destroying HUF 117 million (USD 400,000) of crops. The organic farm claimed that the new farmers forcefully and unlawfully took possession of the lands before the legal process ended.  And with the range of chemicals and fertilizer they later used, they destroyed the results of 22 years of bio-farming in a single stroke. Mrs. Ács claimed that with this, they caused a further HUF 300-400 million in damage as all the lands in question immediately lost their EURO BIO and BIOSUISSE ratings.

The new lessees agreed not to use chemicals for one year. And yet Kishantos has already identified five instances where chemicals and fertilizers have been used. At another field, seeds treated with fungicide were sown in May.

Mrs. Ács recounts the latest developments with sadness: Mezőfalvai Zrt., the handler of the forest in the lands, started to chop down the natural windshield forests, destroying entire forests in the vicinity of Kishantos. New lessees also plowed under hedges that previously served as natural shelters for useful wild animals, resulting in a decrease in wildlife.  The mechanical equipment of the organic farm stands mostly idle while many of the new lessees do not even have machinery and they hire others to work their land.

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The ministry lied

A few weeks ago the government authority responsible for state lands presented Kishantos with a bill for HUF 14 million (USD 50,000) representing the cost to the new owners of guarding the land and foregone rent. But there are positive developments as well.

On May 12 the Budapest Capital Court of Appeals ruled against the Ministry of Agriculture, ruling that it had violated the good reputation of Kishantos Nonprofit . According to the verdict Márton Bitay, under-secretary responsible for state-owned agricultural land, misled public opinion when claiming last year that Kishantos was behind in its rent and had damaged state interests by not complying with agreements. According to Mrs. Ács the government tried to justify the politically motivated destruction of Kishantos with such claims.

The leader of the organic farm is confident that ongoing legal procedures will yield similar results. They are prepared to take their case as far as the European Court, if necessary. She also said that “it is a hundred percent that we will get our lands back” even though they can no longer be considered bio-lands.

They attempted multiple new enterprises including planting organic gardens. They destroyed a number of derelict houses, growing garden vegetables – such as cucumber, salad, carrot – in the remaining land, that is still littered with small chunks of brick and plaster. At the fringe of the seed beds small piles of plaster are visible as well. “We tried to acquire every single drop of land left to us to use it,” Mrs. Ács said. Another design they came up with is the selling of boxed organic vegetables, although only in a limited customer circle. They cannot produce the quantities desirable for entering the market once again.

A garden of wonders

They continue to work with their special “garden of wonders” too: the territory besides the symbolic seed beds is divided into three parts, with the characteristic plants of Hungary, Europe and America. The plants are protected with hedges that serve as windshields. The Hungarian part contains tartar onions, rebarbara, anemone, stonecrops and special rose species.

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The European part is basically an imitation of Benedictine monastery gardens, where pests were kept away by plants of essential oil and their scent that was being spread into the air by the clothes of monks. The plants here include sage and hyssop, a plant known for growing antibiotic mushrooms, as well as wormwood shrub, that is known in Hungary for its scent allegedly giving courage.

The American part sports special purple-skinned potatoes, but also coke plant, monarda, with wormwood, as well as rue which can be made into a potion “against snakes, toads … and bad intentions” as the Hungarian saying goes. Boundaries of the farm are planted with fruit trees, old Hungarian and modern species alike. The objective of this garden is to demonstrate to students of the private college what to plant in an organic farm and how to grow it.

The money was in the land

The people’s college, established on a Danish licence and known for its international reputation, was financed from farming incomes until the state took their leased land. This made it possible in the past for students to access classes here without tuition fee, and sometimes even making it possible for Kishantos to provide them with free lunch. This has come to an end now. They charge for the costs today, as Kishantos prepares for the worst conditions to sustain itself in.

It also develops its range of activities using application for funding, their own capital as well as outer investments. Right now, they are busy building a yurt camp where they plan to host children in summer camps. An organic playground, butterfly-garden and many alternative means of accommodation are being planned and developed to be able to host larger groups: This can either be students of their college, or hosts on planned catered events (such as weddings, school reunions, family events.)

This is, however, a costly endeavour, especially because “Kishantos does not simply keep its money in a safe, it kept them in plants that now lie destroyed. On 12 April last year, the new lessees inflicted HUF 117 million of damage on us in a single day. We are in a grave situation, after one and a half years without income, we feel robbed. Right now, all of our reserves are running out,” Mrs. Ács informed us, even though she is confident about the future. “Last year Kishantos received the solidarity of nearly 25,000 people as well as 330 different organizations. We trust in the power of having truth on our side, in our many supporters and we will continue to do what we can. They cannot take 22 years of experience and knowledge away.”