Jadwiga is charting the way to the alternative destination: revitalized rural livelihoods. Her strategy is to demonstrate to Poland's small farmers and the Polish government that Poland need not repeat the Western experience with unsustainable large-scale agribusiness, a "sunset industry." Instead, she argues, Poland has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in the "sunrise industry" of organic farming. Like agribusiness, eco-farming has a series of corollary economic activities. These relate to the cottage eco-tourism industry. Unlike agribusiness and its spin-offs, eco-farming and eco-tourism are broadly based and overwhelmingly positive for society and the environment.
There are three main strands to Jadwiga's implementation strategy. One strand works with farmers to prepare them to shift to organic farming and to cater to eco-tourists. Another strand involves marketing Polish eco-tourism nationally and internationally. And the third strand involves rolling out further economic activities from the base in eco-farming and eco-tourism. Jadwiga consolidates these subsidiary economic activities under the rubric of "eco-villages."
Initially, Jadwiga provides training to farmers who wish to produce organically. Poland has an internationally recognized certification process for organic goods carried out by Ecoland, a sister organization that works closely with Jadwiga. As the organic farming market is increasingly well-developed, Jadwiga has to do little here beyond providing initial orientation and training in meeting Ecoland standards.
Once a farm meets Ecoland standards for at least half of its products, it may participate in Jadwiga's tourism program. (Ecoland alerts Jadwiga immediately if one of her participating farmers falls below the threshold.) She provides the farmers with orientation and training in catering for tourists. The educational program includes small business skills, health, tourism, and the underlying philosophy of sustainability. She brought her first 400 tourists from Western Europe to 14 Polish eco-farms in 1993. In 1996, the movement accommodated 1,200 tourists on 59 farms. With mounting interest from Polish farmers in Jadwiga's pilot region in southern Poland, the challenge now is to attract larger numbers of tourists.
This should be possible, as the satisfaction levels of those taking holidays in Jadwiga's program are exceptional, with 95 percent indicating that they would repeat the experience and recommend it highly to others. A typical holiday involves walking in the mountains and countryside, riding horses and swimming in ponds and lakes, often with the farmers' and tourists' children going off together. Tourists often participate in farm life, including taking on farm chores such as harvesting fruit, milking cows and making cheese, butter and jam. Collecting herbs, berries and mushrooms is very popular, as is baking bread.
Jadwiga has long prepared for this moment by creating a mechanism to advertise and market Polish eco-tourism. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, she studied the emerging "nature tourism" industry, which was principally oriented toward wilderness and wildlife activities. Jadwiga became convinced that there was a market for a new variation that involved immersion in Poland's small farm lifestyle-healthy, relaxed, and picturesque. She relocated to Holland for two years to improve her language skills (she now speaks English, Dutch and German) and work directly in the nature tourism industry. While there she co-founded ECEAT (European Center for Ecological Farming) to promote eco-tourism. ECEAT now has 60 members in ten countries in Europe and North America and does most of the international marketing for visitors to Polish eco-farms. Jadwiga writes a handsome annual guide to the participating farms, "Eco-tourism-Vacations with Eco-farmers" that is published in Polish, English, Dutch and German.
As part of her ongoing commitment to public education, Jadwiga has also written a guide, "Life in the Country-side Is Healthy and Interesting," and a brochure, "Developing Ecological Awareness." She has also produced a video on these themes.
Despite this well-organized marketing campaign, Jadwiga believes that the principal way that the movement will spread is by word of mouth. "As far as farmers are concerned, once the idea is demonstrated to them in practice, they quickly adopt it," she notes. "I see a media strategy and urban outreach as particularly useful for communicating the wider vision and developing relationship with new groups, such as 'green consumer' cooperatives."
Through their experience with tourism, the farmers have come to see the benefits of greater cooperation. As the numbers of farmers that participate grows, Jadwiga is introducing the idea of further areas of economic collaboration using the well-known techniques of cooperatives for credit and bulk buying, production (e.g., for jam, juice, dairy, cereals), and distribution (by joint ventures with cooperatives of "green consumers"). She is working with two bulk buying co-ops in pilot stages and in the process has discovered that the elderly remember co-ops from before World War Two.
Now that Jadwiga's eco-tourism plan is beginning to take off, she has embarked on a more ambitious project: the eco-village. In 1996, she bought a small farm near Syryszow, her home, to create a village that will apply ecological solutions in education, tourism, energy use, and waste treatment and disposal. The first step was to convince local farmers that organic farming can be profitable and that small-scale tourism is a viable way to supplement farm income. She also had to convince the community of her vision. Having won over the Stryszow authorities, Jadwiga received a small grant to "promote local tourism." Groups of ecologists from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Krakow are providing technical support to the initial group of twenty farmers who are meeting monthly to explore the possibilities.
On a parallel track, Jadwiga believes that urban Poland has a major role to play in the emerging alternative sustainable rural economy. She is marketing the notion of "eco-education" through summer camps on the organic farms for urban Polish students and teachers. She is working with the mayor of Bielsko to start organic gardens in the city. She networks with those most active in the cities (such as ecologists, other nongovernmental organizations and health food shops) to spread the message of "eco-living." For those who actively promote the movement, Jadwiga offers rural holidays at reduced rates.