Sustainable Rural Development Cyprus 2016

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Funded by Erasmus+, promoted by ARCH, host partner, Kato Drys

In April 2016 I was able to participate in the Managing our Natural and Cultural Assets programme, provided by NET, an organisation that offers training courses to those working within the natural and cultural heritage sectors. Working in Museum Education, I was eager for the opportunity to explore the ways in which cultural heritage was used to promote learning. My two key objectives were:

  • To learn how the landscape is used to promote natural and cultural heritage
  • Based at a museum in South Ayrshire, a well-known farming community, we have an abundance of natural landscape but currently no methods in place to utilise it. I hoped this trip would provide me with knowledge and skills that I could share with colleagues in order to develop an outdoor learning programme; primarily one that would focus on traditional skills and encourage sustainable development of the natural landscape.

Based at a museum in South Ayrshire, a well-known farming community, we have an abundance of natural landscape but currently no methods in place to utilise it. I hoped this trip would provide me with knowledge and skills that I could share with colleagues in order to develop an outdoor learning programme; primarily one that would focus on traditional skills and encourage sustainable development of the natural landscape.

  • To learn how local cultural heritage is used to empower communities and encourage inter-generational learning
  • Ayrshire has a number of traditional crafts, such as Ayrshire lace-making, that make up its cultural landscape. Unfortunately, these seem to be dying out due to lack of skill-sharing between generations. I was curious to see how Kato Drys’ Green Village project tackled this particular issue and encouraged all sectors of its community to get involved and engage with its rich cultural heritage.

Ayrshire has a number of traditional crafts, such as Ayrshire lace-making, that make up its cultural landscape. Unfortunately, these seem to be dying out due to lack of skill-sharing between generations. I was curious to see how Kato Drys’ Green Village project tackled this particular issue and encouraged all sectors of its community to get involved and engage with its rich cultural heritage.

I was joined by two other cultural heritage professionals on this trip to the small island of Cyprus. We met at Glasgow Airport on a rather dreich day, bubbling with excitement about our imminent trip and each with slightly different expectations of what we might get out of it.

A few hours later, we touched down in Paphos and headed to our base in Pano Lefkara, a village in the south-west foothills of the Troodos Mountains. We arrived at night-time so, after a quick cup of tea and midnight snack, we went to bed to get some much-needed sleep in preparation for our busy week ahead.

  • Our group certainly packed a lot into our week in Cyprus from foraging for wild food and making pots to building ovens and eating cheese! We were looked after by our two wonderful hosts, Martin David Clark and Panayiota Demetriou, who were full of information and kindly shared their stories with us. For me, all of our activities fitted into two categories – things that encouraged environmental sustainability and things that promoted cultural sustainability.

Our group certainly packed a lot into our week in Cyprus from foraging for wild food and making pots to building ovens and eating cheese! We were looked after by our two wonderful hosts, Martin David Clark and Panayiota Demetriou, who were full of information and kindly shared their stories with us. For me, all of our activities fitted into two categories – things that encouraged environmental sustainability and things that promoted cultural sustainability.

Environmental Sustainability

Wild Food Foraging

Cypriots use a huge variety of wild food in their recipes. Personally, I have never been foraging before so I was intrigued by the prospect. There was certainly an abundance of wild food to choose from – asparagus, fennel, olives, oranges, almonds, nettles, carobs, garlic, lentils, kokonia seeds… the list was seemingly endless.

Our main goal for our first trip foraging was asparagus. Panayiota described what we were looking for and explained it was best to snap it with your fingers rather than cut it with a tool as that allowed you to find the natural breaking point. Got it? Yes. Except, I struggled to spot the asparagus amongst all of the greenery around us. In fact, I only managed to find one solitary asparagus all day. Turns out I am not a natural forager!

Although I struggled to forage for food, the benefits of it are plentiful. For a start, it is free. It is sustainable. It also adds a ‘sense of place’ to any recipe that it is used in which ensures local customs and traditional recipes are maintained. On our final night in Cyprus we prepared a meal for twenty-two dinner guests, using local recipes such as a rice-based dish called Lefkara Tava. It made the meal that much more special, knowing that it used local ingredients that we had picked ourselves.

Cheese-Making

We visited Loulla’s Farm, a local goat farm that produced, amongst other things, delicious halloumi cheese. Loulla was the woman who owned the farm and she invited us into her home so that we could watch the cheese-making process. It was a very delicate and time-consuming task that involved all of the family.

In recent years, Loulla has extended her business by opening up the farm to tourists so that they come and watch the cheese being made, purchase it at her shop and sit down for a traditional Cypriot breakfast in her home. This was another example of sustainable development, a local business producing local product using traditional methods.

Oven Building

Our main task on this trip was building an outdoor oven. To do this we started by making adobe bricks from a mixture of clay, sand, water and seaweed. This was a fascinating process and the use of seaweed was particularly interesting. Tonnes of seaweed is deposited on the near-by beaches every year and it is removed at a great expense to the local councils. This project produces an alternative, sustainable way of using local material to produce something that is useful and long-lasting.

Creating the mixture for the bricks required us to clamber into a pit, clad in wellington boots and layers of sunblock, and churn it all together using our feet. It was great fun! We then ‘splatted’ (I believe this was the official technical term) the mixture into moulds and carefully shaped our bricks so that there was no missing corners. These were left to dry for a day and then we returned to build the oven.

We aimed to create a dome-shaped oven so this required Martin to measure out the circumference with a piece of string. We then used this to build up the shape of the dome – as long as the string hit each brick in the middle, at a 90 degree angle, we were good. It took us about half a day to finish it and we were all proud with what we managed to produce. The oven was tested on the final night when Martin lit the fire and we cooked some bread in it. The oven worked perfectly and the bread was rather delicious!

Cultural Sustainability

Lefkara Lace

The villages of Pano Lefkara, Kato Lefkara and Kato Drys are known world-wide for Lefkara lace, a beautiful traditional textile. According to legend, Leonardo Da Vinci visited Cyprus and purchased a piece a piece of ‘Lefkaritika’ and took it back to Milan Cathedral to be used as an alter cloth. The lace itself is notable for its hemstitch, satin stitched fillings, needle-point edgings, white, brown, ecru colours and intricate geometric patterns. It is a common sight to see groups of ladies working on their embroidery whilst strolling through the narrow, winding streets of the villages.

Traditionally passed down through the generations, lace-making is becoming less popular as the younger generation move out to cities or abroad to attend university and follow different career paths. In an effort to keep this local skill alive, the Green Village project is due to open a shop in the village that will use traditional textiles to produce 1950s fashion. This is one of Green Village’s ’empowering communities’ actions whereby the community works together to promote traditional lace in a contemporary and fashionable way. Indeed, we were lucky enough to browse some of the collection that will appear in the store when it opens; beautiful polka dot dresses, cinched-in waistlines, flowing skirts, patterned collars… a fashionista’s dream!

On a very hot day, we headed to Kofinou to witness a photoshoot taking place to promote the shop where two lovely models – Rachael and Vesela – were dressed up in their vintage best and posing in the surrounding meadows. The juxtaposition between high fashion and the natural landscape was striking and worked perfectly to capture what the project was all about. It really is a great concept and a way to ensure that the skills and endeavour of older villagers will not be lost but transferred to a new generation. It’s also easily transferable to anywhere where traditional textiles are available.

Pottery

We visited the Women’s Pottery Cooperative in Kornos and watched two extremely skilled women using a traditional way of making pots that had been passed down, generation to generation. The speed and accuracy with which they worked was quite a thing to witness. Pottery of all different shapes and sizes was on display, most featuring the distinctive Kornos design of a bird. When the pottery wheels were handed over to us I wish I could say that we took to it like naturals but, unfortunately, that was not the case! After a little bit of help (okay, maybe more than a little), we all managed to produce a solid, handsome-looking pot that we had some small claim to.

Unfortunately, much like the case with Lefkara lace-making, Kornos pottery is in danger of ceasing to exist as the women of the cooperative do not have anyone to pass the skill on to. Hopefully the ladies will be able to realise their dream of having their own workshop as there surely will be an audience keen to learn from their valuable skills.

Conclusions

I’ll be honest, before I began this trip, I didn’t think I would find many similarities between Scotland and Cyprus. For a start, I pictured Cyprus to be hot, sunny, dry and dusty. Scotland, on the other hand, is more likely to conjure up adjectives such as cold, wet and grey. How can two places so far apart and with such wildly different climates have anything in common? Well, very easily, as it turns out.

The socio-economic situation is very similar in both countries with a young generation moving away to cities meaning local cultural landscapes are fast diminishing. The current economic market requires both places to look to alternative solutions to generate income, such as sustainable tourism.

The natural landscape offers many opportunities in both places. Though they may be different, wild plants and flowers in Scotland and Cyprus provide the potential for environmental sustainability in a number of ways.

Learning Outcomes

With this in mind, my trip to Cyprus has provided me with numerous ideas about how we can use the natural landscape and traditional skills to promote heritage and empower the local community. My main learning outcomes are:

Combining traditional textiles and fashion to promote traditional crafts and encourage intergenerational learning.

One major similarity between Lefkara and Ayrshire is that both places have a tradition of lace-making. Seeing how the Green Village project utilised the skills of older generations by incorporating traditional textiles and patterns into contemporary fashion was inspirational and could easily be transferred to Ayrshire, or indeed anywhere in Scotland. Ayrshire lace, houndstooth, tweed, tartan – any of these traditional patterns could be used to create contemporary fashion that will engage a younger generation. This model could also be reproduced in other areas, such as traditional crafts like willow-weaving.

Using the natural landscape and local materials to promote cultural heritage

The adobe brick oven we built in Cyprus can be built anywhere. In Scotland, it could easily be recreated by substituting seaweed with straw. There might be a slight problem with drying the bricks so quickly (see aforementioned dreich weather) but the principle is essentially the same – local materials can be used to create structures rather than relying on importing more expensive materials.

In terms of the development of an outdoor learning programme, everything I learnt about wild food and foraging will prove invaluable. Of course, we don’t have orange trees or carob trees here but we do have wild garlic, nettles and dandelions – just think of the possibilities!

Thank Yous

Finally, I would like to thank the people that made this trip possible. Libby Urquhart for making everything run smoothly. Martin and Panayiota for being so lovely and welcoming. You’re both brimming full with information and I learnt so much from you. Rachahel Alderson for ferrying us around, sharing your experiences with us and generally just being lovely! And all of the people we met who took the time to show us around and share their stories with us. For the purpose of this report, I haven’t been able to include everything we did and everyone we met but I will remember it all and take it forward with me in my cultural heritage career.

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