A new regional market in Austria based on Slow Food’s criteria of ‘good, clean and fair’ is now bringing consumers and producers together to enjoy local food, in a town that has limited access to its own resources. Saturday shoppers in the small town of Horn, Austria, are able to get their hands on a range of local delicacies brought by local producers that come to town to sell a wide range of seasonal and traditional goods. Horn is located in the so-called Waldviertel in lower Austria, an area of forests, green meadows and clear stretches of water. Since its launch in December 2012, the event has become a huge success, with fresh products such as fish, bread and pastries selling out within hours.
A market different to others in the region
The idea to establish the market came from Helmut Hundlinger, the President of Slow Food Waldviertel, and market coordinator Gerhard Heger. Noticing that other markets in the region were selling mostly conventional products, the pair decided to bring alternative products to consumers, and promote the mentality of consuming seasonal, local and traditional food.
As Hundlinger had been collaborating with producers for many years, he knew exactly who he wanted to work with, and the rules he would set. All producers selling their products at the market must fulfill a range of criteria. These include a maximum travel distance of 35km, the use of small-scale production structures, and the supply of preferably organic or biodynamic products. The market now offers a wide range of goods including bread, fish, vegetables, honey, beer, liquor and traditional pastries from the region, such as Mohnzelten (baked potato dough filled with poppy seeds). There are also several products with specific characteristics on offer, such as the bread sold by bakery Bio Troad, which uses traditional types of grain to produce their highly requested bread.
What makes this market truly unique however is the importance given to the social and cultural aspect of food: something which is completely lost in supermarkets. The market emphasizes the convivial nature of eating by bringing people together; and revives traditional products that are cherished by the community. People are actively encouraged to spend time socializing at the market, with traditional meals prepared with local ingredients proving very popular. It also offers consumers a chance to get to know producers, and establish a connection with products. Visitors can see and smell the food, ask about ingredients and discuss production methods and techniques.
A price worth paying
Although the products are in some – not all – cases more expensive, Horn’s inhabitants seem to be aware of the local value and quality of the products, and are therefore willing to pay higher prices that fairly compensate the producers.
With products flying off the market stalls, it seems Austrian consumers are seeking alternatives to supermarket and industrial goods, and value products which tell their own story with a direct connection to the local area. By promoting traditional items, which are part of the cultural identity of many generations of Austrians in the region, the market encourages new generations to learn about and carry on the culinary heritage and identity of their ancestors. It educates people about traditions in the region and strengthens the sense of community by collectively reviving products that may have disappeared.
Among some of the products available are four from the Slow Food product catalogue, the Ark of Taste: a collection of high-quality products, with cultural meaning, threatened by extinction. These included Waldstauden rye - a variety of cultivated rye, potentially endangered as a bread cereal due to its minimal cultivation, and the Waldviertler Kriecherl Plum - formerly a widely distributed fruit species, now less well known due to the time-consuming harvesting process and its limited storage life. The other two were Forest Sheep - an old, native, robust sheep breed which produce little, but high-quality meat, and Waldviertler Blondvieh - a native cattle breed which yields high-quality, seasonal meat.
It seems the Slow Food mentality is catching on in rural Austrian towns. The market in Horn takes place every second and fourth Saturday of the month from 9am to 2pm in the town centre, in the square in front of the church.
For more information (in German): Slow Food Waldviertel