To your health, an Ihre Gesundheit, a su salud -- or as you might hear at this year’s BioFach World Organic Trade Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, “În cinstea dumitale.” That’s Romanian, and after years of an uphill climb for the new EU member state in Eastern Europe, some health matters are finally coming up roses. And they’re organic roses, at that.
In 2013, Romania’s organic sector will take pride of place at BioFach, where it has been designated “Country of the Year.” The east European country put itself forward for consideration and was readily selected because of its “strong organic market with great future prospects,” Barbara Böck, public relations manager for NürnbergMesse GmbH and host of BioFach, told OWN.
Another criterion that made it a shoe-in for “Country of the Year” was that Romania “belongs to the top exporting countries in some product segments such as honey, wine and cheese,” and with a lot of room for expansion, Böck said.
As “Country of the Year,” Romania has to bring a “certain number of exhibitors” to Nuremberg. Last year’s title holder, India, came with around 50 exhibitors, and Romania is expected to match that number or even exceed it.
Even though Romanian organics are not that well known to most outsiders, bringing 50 or more exhibitors to BioFach shouldn’t be a difficult task for the country. Statistics from the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development show that the area covered by organic farmland has increased from 97,099 hectares in 2006, the year before Romania joined the EU, to 567,995 hectares in 2011. The real growth spurt in acreage came between 2010 and 2011, when landmass devoted to organic farming trebled from 182,706 hectares to more than half a million.
With a little luck, many of the BioFach exhibitors from Romania will be producers of honey, one of the exports that the country has rightly become known for. Romanian-born Adrian Bejan, now a professor at Duke University in North Carolina, told OWN that he recalls Romania having a rich variety of honey to dip a spoon into as a kid, thanks to the fact that, when he was growing up there, beekeepers would move their hives to take advantage of different flowers that were in bloom. “There was lavender, jasmine and linden tree honey; acacia honey was very common. There was lots of honey, various colors,” he said.
Today, more than 200 certified-organic beekeepers are registered with the Romanian Agriculture Ministry. Organic honey production has leapt exponentially since 2000, when the country produced just six tonnes, to 1,242 tonnes in 2006 and 2,800 tonnes today. As production has increased, the percentage of organic honey that is exported has fallen slightly, but Romania still exports more honey now than seven years ago, mainly to France, Germany, Hungary and Japan.
Some argue that producing organic honey is nigh-on impossible, because bees fly for miles to gather pollen, and there is no guaranteeing that that pollen is entirely pesticide-and chemical-free. But Romania’s agricultural history makes it easier for organic beekeepers to have the peace of mind that the honey their bees produce likely is organic. A report released in Germany in 2007 found that around a third of Romania’s population of 10 million at the time lived from the land and the majority of them were engaged in old-style farming using horses and ploughs to till the soil, and manually planting and harvesting produce. The same report also said that Romanians had been too poor for years to afford chemical fertilizers for their land, still couldn’t afford them after their country joined the EU, and that the quality of the soil was superior to that in Germany.
Romania is also a leading European producer of organic oilseed. But only one percent of EU oilseed comes from organically managed farms. According to a report commissioned in 2009 by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Romania has recognized a gap in the market and risen to the challenge by turning over more than 26,000 hectares of organically managed land to the production of key oilseeds, which can be used not only to produce edible oil but also biofuel, animal feed and green fertilizer.
Romania has a long history of wine production. Some even say Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, was born in present-day Romania. Wine also benefits from that unsullied farming history – but the market share of organic wines is minuscule. In 2006, just 83 hectares of vineyard in Romania were organic; 400 hectares two years later, but still represented just a drop in the ocean compared to the total land area planted with wine grapes (around 220,000 hectares in total), according reports published in 2008 and 2009. Most of the wine produced in Romania is consumed there. And organic wines are a new phenomenon in Romania’s landscape, and a shift from the mindset under communist rule, from 1848- 1989, when quantity took precedence over quality.
The biggest export market for Romanian wines in 2011 was Germany, which bought nearly 3,300 tonnes. Next came Great Britain (1,358 tonnes) and, in third place, China, which bought 800 tonnes of Romanian wine – more than the United States.
One of the oldest producers of organic wine in Romania is the Franco-Romanian venture at the Dealu Mare domaine. The estate covers 40 hectares, of which more than a quarter – 12 hectares – are planted to pinot noir, the grape that produces some of the greatest reds from Burgundy in France. Five hectares are planted to merlot, which produces some of the best wines from the Bordeaux region in southwestern France. The rest is planted to two red Romanian varietals – five hectares to Burgund Mare and three hectares to Feteasca Neagra – and two white varietals, 10 hectares to Chardonnay and two to Italian Riesling.
And what better to accompany a glass of Romanian wine than some organic Romanian cheese, the generic word for which is brinza (the i is pronounced like a short letter e) in Romanian. Cheese producers are likely to present their cheeses by type at BioFach, so you keep your taste buds primed for a chunk of Cascaval (pronounced “cashcaval”), which is similar to Gruyere or Emmental cheese from Switzerland; or for Cas, a sheep’s milk cheese which is pronounced “cash”, which is comparable to Fontina or Pecorino from Italy. There’s also Romania’s answer to feta cheese, which is called Telemea.
Organic cheese production requires organic pastureland for the cows, goats and sheep to graze on, and although organic meadows and pastures still make up only a small percentage of the Romania’s overall “eco” landscape, their acreage has grown nearly 15- fold since 2006. In fact, organic pastureland trebled between 2006 and the following year, from 294 hectares to 954 hectares. Since 2007, the area covered by organic pastures and meadows in Romania has more than quadrupled, reaching 4,166 hectares in 2011.
That’s a lot of organic grass and wildflower, which is good news for the bees, cows, sheep and goats who produce so much of the quality organic food that has earned Romania the title of Country of the Year at Biofach 2013.