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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Europe’

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Photo: George Chernilevsky
A basket of wild mushrooms in Ukraine. Hunting mushrooms is a popular activity in Eastern Europe. And it’s good for the environment.

Danger, wild mushrooms! That’s what I was taught and that’s what I taught my kids and grandkids. But it’s only because the only way I know if mushrooms are edible is if they are in a supermarket bin. In places like Eastern Europe, however, identification skills are learned young.

A story from UN Environment explains why using forest products like mushrooms is important both for subsistence living and environmentally sound forest management. (Boy, how I wish I’d known all this about Bulgaria when I was in sixth grade and had to write a fancy report: there was no information anywhere.)

“Wild mushroom picking in Eastern Europe is more than a tradition. It is a social event. Every year, in late summer and early fall, thousands of people roam the woods for the biggest, most perfect specimens. They take their children along to teach them which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous, which are ripe and which should be left for another week or so, passing on generations-old teachings and care for the woods. In the evenings, families share their harvest around a plateful of tasty, butter-fried delicacies. Together, they celebrate their love for the forests, sharing the best spots they found and recalling the animals or birds they sighted along the way.

“Forests are among the most valuable treasures on earth: they supply energy from timber, help with water regulation, soil protection and biodiversity conservation. Yet in traditional forest management, trees are still primarily viewed as a source of wood. All other products derived from wooded lands — such as honey, mushrooms, lichens, berries, medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as any other products extracted from forests for human use — are considered of secondary importance.

“Non-timber forest resources, however, have far-reaching benefits for millions of households, both in terms of subsistence and income. These by-products go into food and everyday items like cosmetics or medicines. The protection of their environment is therefore a vital need.

“Bulgaria, whose forests cover more than a third of its land area, is one of Europe’s richest biodiversity hotspots. Brown bears, lynxes and wolves can be found in its woods, which also harbour hundreds of bird species as well as a great variety of tree types, including beeches, firs, spruces and oaks.

“The country has a long tradition of forest management practices. Large-scale monitoring programmes are in place, and local communities are known to keep a close eye on the natural environment. Together, these factors have allowed national authorities to make the most of their biodiversity.

“Over 90 per cent of the annual yields of wild and cultivated herbs are sold as raw material to Germany, Italy, France and the United States, making Bulgaria one of the world’s leading suppliers in this sector. By gaining expertise in the protection and sustainable use of non-wood forest products, they have become a model for other Balkan countries. …

“Around 80 per cent of the developing world’s population use these products for health and nutritional needs, notes Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova, Project Coordinator at the Connecting Natural Values and People Foundation. The practices and skills learned from Bulgarian experts are crucial to work on identifying non-wood forest products and pilot testing in [places that have not protected their resources].

“Educating local office managers and the business sector on the sustainable use of forest resources is a cost-effective solution to address climate change. Sustainable resource use helps to improve the state of forests and habitats and, by extension, ensure economic and food security for local communities.

“In addition, forests act as carbon sinks and can remove pollutants from the atmosphere, making them a highly versatile tool to fight air pollution and mitigate climate change. Every year, they absorb one third of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels worldwide.” More here.

By the way, an amazing book about subsistence living, Ramp Hollow, permanently changed everything I thought I knew about history. Recommended.

 

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Some years before Suzanne launched Luna & Stella, her brother started his own entrepreneurial business, Optics for Hire. John’s work has entailed regular trips to Ukraine and Belarus to meet with optical engineers.

In 2008, his dad decided to join him on a trip to Lviv, Ukraine (called Lvov when it was part of Poland). Here they are.

John is on the left, then the Good Soldier Švejk (Schweick), then my husband, then a Ukrainian engineer.

Do you know the Good Soldier Švejk? He is a character in a Czech antiwar novel written after WW I. The book reemerged as the thing to read around the time of the Vietnam War. The Wikipedia write-up says in part:

“It explores both the pointlessness and futility of conflict in general and of military discipline, specifically Austrian military discipline, in particular. Many of its characters, especially the Czechs, are participating in a conflict they do not understand on behalf of a country to which they have no loyalty.

“The character of Josef Švejk is a development of this theme. Through possibly feigned idiocy or incompetence he repeatedly manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance: the reader is left unclear, however, as to whether Švejk is genuinely incompetent, or acting quite deliberately with dumb insolence.”

I was delighted to see that Švejk is still appreciated in Lviv.

Meanwhile, whenever John goes to Lviv, I always ask him to hunt down the lost masterpiece of the Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, best known for The Street of Crocodiles. He is said to have given his greatest work to a Catholic friend for safekeeping just before being shot in the street by a Nazi officer. I have read a good bit about him, including the biography Regions of the Great Heresy, and I am really worried about the missing work, The Messiah. He was an amazing writer.

 This write-up on the Internet generally coincides with what I have read about Bruno Schulz, except for the emphasis on his Polishness. Nations fight over his legacy because that part of the world has shifted so often. Israel also thinks he is theirs and about 15 years ago undercover agents upset Ukraine mightily by absconding with a mural Schulz had painted and taking it to a museum in Israel. The web write-up also mentions the great Israeli writer David Grossman’s novel about Schulz,  See Under: LOVE, a difficult read.

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