Sarah, to text you an SMS for your birthday I had to climb to the highest point of Güneşköy – the rest of the land is still beyond the reach of mobile phones.
As I climbed to what we call Rüzgar Tepe (Wind Hill), I realised how little information there is in English about the ecological project which a group of us started 10 years ago. So my present to you is my first Güneşköy blog in English.
Our group came together in 2000, from the ashes of a previous project. We knew that to be secure, we needed to own land. Each member needed to pay something around £2000; a dream. 24 hours after I’d been invited to join, I found out that Granny had left each grandchild just about that amount. Kismet, fate. I signed up.
We bought the land in 2002, as an 8-member cooperative, the first Ecological Cooperative in Turkey (the commonest being workers coops and building cooperatives). The land is 65km from where we live in Ankara, and just beyond the border of the county. While this has meant more travel for bureaucratic matters, within Kırıkkale county we were the first to start organic farming – and have been followed with interest by the county’s Agricultural Affairs Administration.
The land is 75 000 m2, on South-facing slopes that had never previously been cultivated. The other side of the dirt track, the alluvial soil has long been farmed by villagers from Hisarkoy – about 1500m away on the other side of the Balaban River, that for the first time we’ve known it has not run dry in the summer. We had to fence the 3.5km perimeter to keep out the flocks of goats before we could think of planting. Some photos of the land from Rüzgar Tepe (near the Eastern edge) will give an idea.
From East to West:
In the bottom right photo, the western edge of the land stretches way beyone the building, beyond the fields where our organic vegetables are growing, to the hedge that is now growing thick enough to block both animals and roasting hot winds.
Our local wildlife: tortoises, lizards, snakes, too many mice (including a tailless variety), crickets, praying mantises, butterflies, birds (a few hours of bird watching last year produced a list of 25 species, I’ll ask them for a photo of our pair of falcons.
6 years ago we attempted our first organic farming: vegetables rotted because we didn’t have a distribution system.
In 2006 we started the first Vegetable Box scheme in Ankara, and are now into our 5th year.
Over 300 trees: acacia, almond (sweet and wild – with thick sharp spines, enough to fend off any hungry goat), apple, apricot, ash, cherry (wild, sour and sweet), chestnut, hawthorn, wild jasmine, lilac, lime/linden, oak, oleaster, wild pear, plane, plum (black and yellow), quince, spruce, tamarisk. And others whose names I only know in Turkish – Karaçalı, Patlangaç. Some notable indigenous plants are Yıldız otu (star grass, also known as Çoban Çökerten – the one that destroys/collapses the shepherd), Çoban Yastığı (Shepherd’s pillow, that I call Hedgehog because it is round and very spiny. Throw a thick jacket on it for a springy head rest). Pıtırak (Xanthium strumarium)
Güneşköy is a journey of discovery and growth, as our dreams are reshaped by realities and encounters, as we learnt to understand the land and weather, the power of flash floods and ways and expectations of our neighbours in the nearest village of Hisarköy.