Find out what it’s really like to be part of a working farm. Join the farmer family in morning chores such as milking and feeding the animals. East Tirol’s scenic Virgental Valley offers the chance to assist the mountain farmers with their daily work: You can spend three days as a Farmer-in-Training and will receive a certificate at the end of your stay.
You’ll rise with the dawn chorus to start at 6:30am, not ready for breakfast but ready for the first milking session of the day. Then it’s feeding the animals and mucking out the stable. The pigs and cows are used to get their food around 07:00am. Regina Berger and her husband welcome volunteers to their holding for an insight into mountain farm life – and some free manual labour. The Farmer for Three Days experience is an opportunity for city dwellers to gain hands on experience of being a mountain farmer and an insight into how today’s dairy farmer runs a mountain farm. Regina Berger is keen to show city folk a real day’s work on Bartlerhof Farm in Virgental Valley.
Groups of would-be farmhands and milkmaids, even city girls and boys at heart, are opting for the farmer-in-training experience. Together with three other local farmers of Hohe Tauern National Park Region, the Berger family has pioneered the concept of ‘Farmer for Three Days’. At the end of the stay, each farmhand receives a certificate – with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. This outstanding East Tirol hands-on experience is available on Bartlerhof, Mortnerhof, Klampererhof and Stoanahof Farms.
“The activities are of course optional and really tuned to the visitor,” says Bartlerhof Farm owner Regina Berger. “We let them know what we will be doing that day at the farm, such as feeding the animals, picking and harvesting herbs and vegetables or bringing in the hay, and then they can decide what to join in.” After having participated in the milking process in the early morning and after a hearty farmhouse breakfast, “we turn the fresh milk into yogurt, butter and cheese.” Regina Berger’s specialty is a Tirolean specialty, grey cheese (Graukäse). It is a strongly flavoured, rennet-free cows-milk acid-curd cheese exclusively made in Tirol. It owes its name to the grey mould that usually grows on its rind. It is extremely low in fat and can be stored for months. Ripened grey cheese has a powerful taste that is similar to Parmesan cheese. “Some of our guests are so enthralled by this process they even try making yogurt or cheese at home,” says Regina Berger. “They regularly send us pictures of their homemade treats.”
Her neighbour, Anna Niederegger from Mortnerhof Farm can only back up the fact that cheese making is a crowd pleaser. On her farm, visitors can learn all the steps of making a specialty that is usually attributed to Italy, mozzarella cheese. “We make it fresh every other day and that’s what people are most interested in,” says Anna Niederegger. Mozzarella cheese is not aged like most cheeses and it is easy to make. “We sprinkle citric acid into the milk and add rennet, and then the curd is shaped into bite-sized balls,” she explains. The mozzarella balls are placed in a bowl of ice water for half an hour and eventually covered in brine for five hours – and then the cheese is ready to enjoy.
The Farmer for Three Days concept is an experience that especially appeals to those seeking a contrast to their everyday lives. “Many of our visitors are managers and extremely busy people,” says Regina Berger. “It’s a great way for them to get away from it all.” And most of them make really good farmhands. Such as the BMW manager who visited the farm two years ago and was completely enthusiastic about her experience.
The idea of turning guests into farmhands was not born as a marketing tool, says Anna Niederegger. “We have been offering farm stays for many years and our guests always have been very interested in participating in real on-farm activities.” Thus it was only natural they came up with the concept, which is very much in demand, indeed. Regina Berger’s Farmer for Three Days experiences are hugely popular and often booked out, particularly during summer school holidays. However, the busiest times on the farms are early May to mid-June and mid-September through late October. Thus, spring and fall offer a great chance to assist the farmers with their daily work, from planting potatoes to harvesting. “They come in and we give them a talk and go through all the different activities and then go behind the scenes. And of course, we answer all of their questions. It takes a lot of time and dedication,” explains Regina Berger.
The price for the 3-day package varies from farm to farm. “It’s an eye-opening experience for many and by the end of their stay they feel grounded”, says Regina Berger. Moreover, they learn to appreciate the hard work of mountain farmers.
Visit www.im-herzen-des-nationalparks.at to book your experience or learn more about it.