A modern twist on tradition: Rediscovering home economies
Working with partners in Hungary as part of the CoSIE project – a three-year programme of work that looks at the co-creation of public services across Europe – the People’s Voice Media team have been using Community Reporting techniques to support people living in rural areas of the country to share their stories.
In the CoSIE project, nine pilots are taking place to test out different co-creation methods in different public services and the Hungarian pilot aims to revive forgotten culture of household economy, horticulture and livestock farming on disadvantaged rural areas. The pilot seeks to strengthen the local families (and community) to develop their role in the local economy and enhance the local families’ awareness, self-respect and self-subsistence. As part of the pilot, families will be supported to design and implement their own household economy plans with equipment, mentoring and coordination. The pilot will also prepare the local actors (mayors, coordinators) for mobilizing the household economies. Last year, two of our trainers from Budapest went to Solznok to work with families and coordinators involved in the pilot to train them as Community Reporters and capture their stories of the pilot so far. This feature article presents a short analysis of some of the findings that show an interesting dynamic between the desire for a traditional way of life, and the desire to capitalise on it.
A desire for traditional living
One of the most prominent things to come across in the stories is a desire for a traditional, simpler way of life that involves less reliance on existing capitalist structures, and a greater emphasis on self-employment as well as self- and community-sustainability. One chicken-keeping participant mentions the use of traditional feed for his livestock, as well as the fact that they eat green waste from his home and that they are “happy” living freely in his garden. He says this means “the eggs are nice, good and yellow,” equating traditional methods with quality. Another participant from Tiszazörs also mentions the use of traditional feed such as barley, wheat, corn, peas, and green food waste for his chickens, as opposed to processed feed, and goes on to explicitly state that he would like to bring back a traditional way of life to his village: "One has to work in this project. It is good to take part in this, also from that aspect that we try to give example to the other inhabitants of the village, by trying to bring back the traditions of village life. That can be crop production or livestock farming." The sense that these traditions have been lost and need to be found again can also be found in the story of a participant in Tiszazörs who says she would like to “help” her community with her knowledge of keeping rabbits, which she describes as “the healthiest meat of all”. These stories suggest that the traditional way of living is superior to aspects of contemporary living, that modern changes to this way of life may have been detrimental. This can also be seen in the story of the Jászladány coordinator: "I would surely recommend this project to other people. In the present world, believe, it is absolutely important to produce food, if one can produce something around himself. First, because he will know what he eats, because he produced it, and it will be free of various chemicals, which are not necessarily harmful, but are surely risky, and second, our environment will be nicer. A nicely cultivated garden also looks nice. It is useful, and one will feel better, because he produced something." Here, traditional means of living and production are not just better in terms of economics and the products produced, but also in terms of the environment, and physical and mental wellbeing.
There is a sense throughout the stories that a move away from modern capitalist structures towards more traditional ways of life is preferable. However, there is also a recognition that while these traditions are perceived as “better”, they may need to be monetised in some ways in order to be sustained long-term, something the next section will explore.
Expanding and monetising tradition
While the pilot’s aim is to have people consume the products they produce and share them among the community, and does not permit them to sell at market, many participants readily discuss how they look forward to being able to expand their operations and/or monetise their products and demonstrate that they are actively planning for it. The woman who keeps rabbits states that she keeps eight female and two male rabbits of various species and would like more. She has also asked for a brushcutter as part of the project so she can collect more grass for their feed quickly and efficiently. A woman who keeps chickens mentions that she plans to get a chicken-plucking machine in a joint project with three other families – a way of modernising traditional methods, making the processing of chickens more efficient and enabling her to process more chickens for eating. She talks about the gradual expansion of her operation: "Every year I add a little more to it. First, I had a few livestock, two hens and a cock, then the neighbours said it is not OK for a cock, six hens are needed. Then I got more, I bought from other households, and then I developed my present livestock, that I have 10-12 hens, six chicken and two cocks." These ways of modernising the traditional methods in order to create expansion is a small-scale reflection of the capitalist model, of increasing operations in order to increase output and profits, although in these cases, the profits would go directly back into the operations or the household economies of the participants. The man who keeps chickens in Tisazörs is keen to plans to do this by selling his chicken’s eggs to a local noodle factory (itself a social cooperative) and expanding his livestock roster to include 50 hens producing 400 eggs a week, which will enable him to also sell to local people. Another participant who has found he cannot keep up with the local community’s demand for his home-produced eggs actively mentions his desire to be able to expand and turn a profit: "At the moment I have 50 hens and there is a demand for more eggs. Therefore, I am planning to extend the stock. I am planning to buy another 50 hens. The place is given, there is no extra work needed, and I hope it will bring profit."
These stories make clear that even at the traditional, individual, home economics level of production, there is a contemporary, capitalist mindset to maximise production and the ability to make money in order to continue growing operations. They also demonstrate that there is demand within these disadvantaged communities for fresh, home-grown and home-made produce that is often, within contemporary western society, associated with the middle classes and ‘hipster’ culture, suggesting working class people are ready and willing to reclaim them from gentrification.
Although this is only a short analysis of some of the findings so far, it demonstrates that there is an enthusiams and a sense of pride in what has been achieved and what will be achieved, showing a level of ambition that is not often associated with disadvantaged communities who are often overlooked or stereotyped as wanting “handouts”. These stories demonstrate a keenness to provide for oneself that is not always reported.