And all roads lead to the abodes of men
Iuliana Dumitru, 2023
I know that the ideal world is only a phantasm and nothing would convince me otherwise but sometimes I arrive in places that give me a spark of hope. The short period of time that I am spending there makes me rethink my position. There actually is an ideal world to be discovered in a lavender garden, a field in which delicious vegetables grow or a parcel of land invaded by sunroots. In order for these worlds to exist, someone had to imagine them and work for them, work really hard. A rebellion against a fast-paced and unjust society that consumes us gives birth to these worlds. An imperfect world brings to the foreground the need of (almost) perfect places, maybe even utopian places. A sheltered environment, which unfortunately has to obey the big world, could change the mainstream views.
Such places are in need of one or two visionary people, some leader(s) that can make things move around and a team that helps with the building process. Alone by ones’ self, such project is unattainable — it is always a matter of community, it is either your given family or the chosen one. Building such a world is a continuous work, one that becomes your identity, one that can add a nickname to your name like for Felicia and Marius from Green Mogo or Ionuț and Alex from Sol și Suflet . I will start to narrate my experience with both of these spaces from an auto-anthropological point of view, relating to them as being part of the Experimental Station for Research on Art and Life collective.
According to the presentation on its site, Green Mogo is a “centre for education and counselling on energy, a space dedicated to dialogues on eco-friendly housing and easy to follow solutions for an eco-conscious life ”. Practically, Green Mogo is a meeting place where caring for the environment is the core subject and caring for the others is a lifestyle. Felicia and Marius founded Green Initiative association in 2006. In 2008 they bought a parcel of land in Mogoșoaia where they built a green house that has an earth roof, a garden, as well as a communal space dedicated to meetings, workshops and learning. What surprises me about the Green Mogo story is that, even though the space in question is a private one, — a family lives in there — it is still opened for the local community and others. Felicia and Marius are always receiving guests that they treat with lessons, knowledge and good food.
Our visit there was a hybrid type of visit in which we received information about the place and the ways in which it developed along the years. We were also treated with delicious food cooked by their son, Daniel. After a guided tour through the garden in which we gathered tomatoes and bitter apples, we went up the green roof of the training hall. There, up high, Felicia and Marius proceeded to narrate the story of the building that we had below our feet. It was made with recycled materials, including car tires. The building itself became a didactic material. They video-documented the entire process so it could serve others interested by this type of building and they also collaborated with students from Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism. They prefer to engage the young in their projects in order to give them a chance to gain that experience that society already expects of them even in the first years of university.
Of all their projects, the one that impresses me the most is the Summer school dedicated to children from the village. Green Mogo is not only a place near Bucharest that uses a resourceful and renowned area, it actually improves the place by giving and holding space for the residents of Mogoșoaia, thus Green Mogo becomes itself an important resource. Felicia is also involved in local politics where she advocates for green areas protection and banning investors’ real estate projects that would erase a big portion of the nearby forest. She advocates for education even outside Green Mogo. She managed to bring “A doua șansă” programme in Mogoșoaia, thus aiding 60 people. Felicia and Marius succeeded to create a meeting space through Green Mogo, a space where local needs and resources can meet with outside ideas and resources.
I first heard about Sol și Suflet when it was still merely a sketch. Back then, it did not even have an official name and the vision seemed impossible to attain. I cannot even imagine the amount of work needed up until this point. I met Ionuț Bănică at tranzit. ro/București and knew him as this godfather of the permaculture that took place in the communal garden from street Gazelei 44. After tranzit. ro/București vacated the place in December 2019, Ionuț and an ensemble of colleagues and collaborators took over the space and kept its legacy. It even took upon itself the name of “The Legacy Bucharest”, a co-working space interested in developing ethical entrepreneurship and honouring the natural eco-system. During the weekend, you can find here fresh vegetables, either sourced by them or other local farmers, honey, teas and herbs. I find more than fascinating the way in which these initiatives and their initiators cross paths upon different occasions and timelines, and how each of these meetings generate new ideas, collaborations and projects.
In July 2021, we were eagerly heading towards Sol și Suflet to discover the first regenerative farm in Romania, which is situated in Dâmbovița county. We saw the food baskets online and I was impatient to bargain the colourful vegetables. The vastness and openness of the farm amazed me, everything seemed so large, almost limitless. I immediately realised the amount of time it takes to get from a solar to another. To this adding the amount of physical work that the farmers go through everyday; from Monday to Sunday and then, on repeat. Even though the effort seems overwhelming, Ionuț and Alex greeted us with joy, ready to tell us about their adventure. We received a special guided tour and tasted the freshly ripen tomatoes. The nearly commercial moment was the presentation of all of the equipment used to work the land. The role of these tools is to make the farmer’s life easier without polluting engines. I liked the perfectly straight lines made by the manual hoeing and covered with mulch netting that stops the grass from taking over the crops.
We entered the market house, still in the building process. This was to become the primary line for basket preparations, shipping and selling. At this point there was only a table inside but as we were being told the story and the vision for this place, I began to imagine everything. There are plans for the future of crop-less land: a mixed orchard for biodiversity, a pond for collecting irrigation water and also for attracting biodiversity. 10% of the land will remain wild in order to honour the spirit of regenerative agriculture and spontaneous flora. Sol și Suflet is a space to be experimented, and the simplest way to do so is to consume its foods. For Alex and Ionuț the general goal is to produce vegetables without the use of pesticides, and the final goal is for their practice to be adopted by other local vegetable growers. They do not wish to be exceptional on the market, they wish for this system to become the norm so we could all benefit of access to clean food.
Of the Experimental Station for Research on Art and Life is both easy and hard to write about. I am way too involved in its process not to be passioned about it and maybe even have some biases. The experience gained at the Station helps me see the other initiatives from a similar point of view, facilitating my understanding to their processes and stories and also to the roads took by people in order to arrive at this point. For us, the Station is “a bet and a promise, an experiment and an investment in a future that we can still shape.” For me it is another home. It is the first time my name appears on a property document and not consider it my own. I consider it to be a common good for many. By this I do not only mean the co-owners, but also the society at large. The station is going to be a place for contemporary arts, an open-space to any curious visitor. I tried to encompass the ethos of these universes that I managed to assist and I hope that I have succeeded to write about these places and people with the subjectivity and objectivity of a committed anthropologist.
These worlds are being built in an eco-system that we have the duty to preserve and grow. There is a single eco-system that embraces the world and each of us has to continuously nurture connection and the practice of building roads. For this purpose many resources are needed: economical, emotional, resources of resistance and resilience. Connection matters because these worlds grow one upon each other and nurture one another. It is essential that the information spreads, thereby reaching everyone, not only those interested in sustainable living and harmonising with the environment. These initiative show how society, damaged as it is, is still capable of producing ideal worlds through people, firstly through their dreams and then through their actions. People that have access to resources grow and build roads towards the others. “But it happened that after walking for a long time through sand, and rocks, and snow, the little prince at last came upon a road. And all roads lead to the abodes of men. ”
Research realised in 2021, part of the mapping of eco-farms and other resilient practices in Romania, commissioned by tranzit in the frame of C4R project.
Text: Iuliana Dumitru
Photographs: Raluca Voinea
Translation by Octavia Anghel