Sunday, November 8, 2009

Winkelhof Visit

On Friday some of us from the school were lucky enough to go on a field trip to Winkelhof, an Austrian trade school where they focus on small organic farming and hospitality. It was a very neat experience, and taught me a bit more about how the educational system works in Austria. Kids can decide at an early age whether or not they want to continue with intellectual studies at the “gymnasium” or if they would like to enroll in a vocational school, like Winkelhof. Winkelhof teaches several different trades to their students (who are usually around age seventeen) and tries to prepare them to make a living in Austria.

For farming they have a number of livestock so we got to see a bunch of cute farm critters. Mainly they focus on cows and dairy, but they also have sheep, goats, pigs, geese, chickens, and horses (which we sadly didn’t get a peek at). There were six-week old piglets there, which were very cute. As a vegetarian, I had some mixed feelings about some of the treatment of the animals (of course it was much better than it would be at an industrial farm-they were quite well cared for), but I would have preferred that they used some free range techniques, but alas (and I did NOT go into the slaughterhouse, or where they make sausages-eew). However, it is really nice that in Austria there is no farm “industry” to speak of; all the farms are small, and many (like Winkelhof) generate organic prouducts, which is great. Winkelhof also teaches their agriculture students a craft, whether it be locksmithing, mechanics, welding, etc., since many farmers cannot make a living on farming alone.

After seeing most of the livestock, we visited what was many people’s favorite stop-the schnapps room. Here they brew and distill that fruity liquor that is quite popular in Austria. They even let us sample some year-old plum schnapps (I did not partake, instead I took pictures) and see the huge tubs where they let the fruit ferment before it goes into the Willy Wonka like machine to brew. We even got to visit the cheesemaking room before we left; a magical place.

It’s nice to know Austria values sustainable farming practices! (I wish the US would do the same) They even had a little market at the school, selling some of their own goods and also with local organic farmers selling teas, cheeses, breads, juices, and delicious looking veggies. Of course, I couldn’t pass up delicious fresh, organic food, so I got some great mango-yogurt, goat cheese and some really good bread to munch on the next day, when I would be taking another excursion...this time to the Salt Mines!

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