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About us: through the eyes of an interview for the Cărturesti blog

Find here an extract from the interview that our colleague Ben Mehedin gave to Anca Cocioartă for the blog Cărturesti. The information is still current and broadly summarizes our story; along the way we will complete the site with up-to-date news from Saschiz, local and timeless culinary recipes, events from the ceramic workshop and more pictures from the spot.

We let you read us:

~ beginnings

Ben told us that the foundation's activity in Saschiz began in 2004, following a "discovery" by Nat Page and Cristi Gherghiceanu together with John Akeroyd. Nat and Cristi met in a project to restore Saxon houses, but the visionary in this team is Nat, the one who felt the potential of the area, especially working with the people and seeing firsthand the natural wealth."

The first project set up by ADEPT was together with the World Bank, which, in the end, did not happen, but it helped to accumulate a lot of information about the area, how agriculture was used, types of land, how how the land was used, the culture of the area, how the people of the area lived, in short - the unique natural and human endowment.

An important role in the Adept foundation and its development was also played by John Akeroyd, constantly drawing attention to the natural wealth of Transylvania.

Ben says of John “the most important thing about him is not that he is an expert in the field (PhD in Biology, UK), but the way he gets excited. I remember how he got excited when he saw the spring robin, he got down on his knees "O Thank Goodness, I found you", because he only knew it from books. And at one point, with a delegation, mostly English, they thought they were playing theater. But no, that's how he is naturally. He got out of the car on the way because he had seen iris sibirica, an iris that shouldn't be here, but in Transylvania there are many flowers that live in a harsher, drier climate, especially those that grow on calcareous substrate. They are protected at European level, having incomprehensible names. They mostly refer to steppe plants, which need marshy land. Hard to explain to farmers anyway. Going back to John, gathering information, doing an inventory study, he came to the conclusion that what we have here is also due to traditional practices.

When it comes to a community, which integrates into nature, establishes rules between its members, how they use the land and the resources they have, then the values of the place are created; which are only appreciated in time or when they begin to be missing. And these people came with a different and new perspective - in England if 19 species of plants are found per square meter, they declare them as wonders of nature, here we have found more than 100 species of plants per square meter, even though some of these are common, their association and the fact that there are so many, in combination, all these make the meadows of Transylvania unique. In addition to everything the Saxons have and brought and the fact that they are only in the south-east of Transylvania, plus their values, this element alone is a fabulous marketing one, you have something that no one else has, if you know how to use the fact that it is here this wealth, put especially in the current contexts, of biodiversity, you can bring prosperity to the people here. And from these elements I left in 2006 - 2007, laying the foundations of one of the first local action groups, I also came with this idea of finding a brand image embraced by people and I found - the hunted scai - Eryngium planum, which is also biodiversity indicator. This hunted scaly was also found as a decorative element on ceramics. From discussions in another project I learned about Saschiz ceramics. In the "4 Generations" project, following interviews conducted by young people from the locality, with elderly people, we learned about - Saschiz pottery, which is characterized by drawings on a cobalt blue background.

~ an overview of the foundation's 15 years

Looking at the past, it is easy for us to look at the ADEPT project, we could not define 14/15 years ago what ADEPT will do and what it will look like, but now, looking at the past, we can say that it has developed modular, on the lego principle, but each module was added to lead together to a common vision - what did we want?! to bring the concept of sustainable development (Nat does not like this concept because it seems to him that it has been abused), to develop the communities based on the resources in the area. We dream of bringing everyone from the community together, sometimes we don't even realize that we are being abusive and we want to bring them by force.

Over time I did a lot of courses, a lot of communication. Everything developing organically. But you only have a tourist objective for nothing, if you don't have a place to eat, where to sleep, where to get an interpretation of the area.

Ben says that he learned everything as being like another culture, he believes that Romania is a country of countries."

The introductory courses were essential because there was a dialogue with people. Forming a sense of local pride and belonging. In Saschiz, the most projects were developed because there was more initiative on the part of young people, but the projects extend to all the surrounding villages.

~ about local products with the ADEPT imprint

One of the first ADEPT projects was the transformation of an outbuilding into a micro fruit and vegetable processing unit. A complicated project because it came with a change of mentality, because it was somewhere on the edge of the law, there was no regulation, a law that said how to do it.

ADEPT worked with A.N.S.V. S. A. (National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority) making a set of mini food hygiene rules for small producers in the area, also having approval from Brussels, in 2007.

Initially, those who wanted to produce could come to the Foundation to use the facility and space, but with the 110 law, this was no longer possible if those people were not authorized as a local producer.

The first projects were on rural development and biodiversity conservation, which will continue.

You started so...

That if you do a man a favor you are good, the second time you are his hero, but the third time, he gets used to it, and the fourth time, if you stop helping him, you are his enemy, so, no we stop because of the reputation says Ben laughing.

There were also projects to support small producers, almost all of them went hand in hand with the resources in a sustainable way by the communities. If man is friendly with nature and nature with man.

Photo from the workshop by Diana Radu

~ Saschiz ceramics

We had in mind to restore the ceramic workshop, and in 2012, following the visit of the Camelia Botnar Foundation, we managed to fulfill this wish.

The Botnar Foundation is related to Romania, being basically about a Romanian from the north of Bucovina, who emigrated to England and during the war had a thriving business selling Japanese Datsun cars. But their only daughter died in a car accident. After this trouble, the family chose to go to something by setting up a foundation that had a kind of vocational schools, which gave a second chance to troubled children from disadvantaged families.

Following their visit, they proposed to revive this craft in Saschiz - pottery. Having the opportunity to send young people from the area to their schools and workshops. The exact technique of the potters in the area is not yet known.

We sent many young people to England for training, but Marinică, fortunately, is the only one who returned to the area, being the most motivated and interested.

The ceramic workshop is still a challenge, in some cases we still intuit how it is done, in others we try.

~ the history of ceramics

A bit of the history of Saschiz ceramics, also told by Ben it has its roots in the former Czechoslovakia, in Moravia. The only pottery with this scratching technique is found here. But there are debates, whether the raw vessel, before the first firing is immersed in blue angoba and after drying the drawing is scratched, leaving the white drawing, which is what Marinel is doing now. But there are other opinions that in fact the batik technique was used, that of inked eggs. That is, the surface you don't want to paint, cover it with a layer of melted wax spread with a feather. And when you dip the vessel into the angoba, where the wax is, it is not covered with paint.

Probably both techniques existed here, they are currently being researched by museographers from the Astra Museum, Sibiu.

The symbols used on Saschiz pottery are from nature. The grape is the most common, Christian symbol of well-being and opulence, the Sunflower, and often used symbol. Birds and the tree of life, the hop, the pomegranate. Many are related to spirituality, others are related to the individual or persons, personalized with years or family initials.

There are no explanations yet for the disappearance of ceramics from the area. In Moravia it suddenly disappeared. It suddenly appeared in the Saschiz area and just like that, it disappeared.

Photo from the workshop by Diana Radu

~ foundation plans

The activities of the foundation are dependent on funding, we are continuously looking for funding lines.

We want to develop the pottery workshop, whether we get new funding or not, because we are constantly developing and improving.

In the meantime, the information center opened in the village, which also has a shop with the products of the foundation, which I talked about above, from jams, jams, jams and syrups from fruits and vegetables from the area, certified organic, to ceramics blue – cups, ashtrays, bowls and even lamps, but also other products from the villagers.

Ben Mehedin - Manager Responsible for Farmer Communities and Local Products


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