Countryside Day to open rural businesses to visitors

LSM had the chance to hop on a bus on a day-tour to the farms, wineries, bakeries and other rural businesses of the welcoming Latvian countryside in preparation for the Countryside Day for Travelers which will be held on October 17. The event will see 53 farms and producers of countryside goods fling open their doors to visitors, giving everyone the chance to see and experience rural life in Latvia.

Among the activities rural businesses will offer are sampling goods such as homemade sausages, smoked fish, mushrooms, bread, honey and beer and trying ancient crafts like pottery, churning butter, shooting with bow and arrow, making nails, and walking around farms guided by nice people. You'll also be able to buy goods directly off of farmers' hands and witness how food you eat each day travels from the fields to stores. 

The Countryside Day is organized by the ecotourism promotion initiative Lauku Ceļotājs (Countryside traveller) and Zemnieku Saeima (The farmers’ parliament).

Bread and salt

Our course through the history-rich region of Zemgale - never straying too far from Tērvete Nature Park - took off with a visit to the somewhat secluded Svētes maize bakery, complete with shop and wooden terrace and engulfed with the sweet scent of freshly-baked bread. The bakery, which stands by using old recipes to bake bread, biscuits and other treats, not only sells its products but also ingredients like linseed, sesame, raisins, pumpkin seeds and more to aid baking efforts back home.

What stood out during the brief visit were the lengths Svētes maize go to produce real, as opposed to factory-made bread:

In addition to an old-school clay-made oven, they also mill their grains on the spot in small but punchy miniature mills and use local, non-GMO products to make their products as close to those of olden days as possible.

In cases of sugar cravings, biologically-made ice cream, in a biodegradable cup, complemented with a spoon made of corn starch that our guide said was ‘safe but not recommended to eat’ will top off the visit on environmentally friendly terms. Their products are sold outside the bakery in a number of places if you can’t make it to Svēte parish.

Wine and dine

‘Latvian wine’ may sound like a metaphor or something similarly non-existent, but in fact locally-made Dyonisiac offerings are becoming more and more popular these days. In addition to the usual grape wine, local winemakers experiment with the local flora, and the results are fresh and definitely out of the ordinary. The Tērvetes vīni winery offered samplings of gooseberry, apple, quince and raspberry wine at a small winery by scenic Tērvete river and panned out the winemaking process with a tour of the winery occupying part of an attractive, low log house.

Besides being quite affordable at €8 a bottle for regular and €12 a pop for sparkling wine, the unusual varieties of wine conjured a variety of possibilities in combining it with food.

Tērvetes vīni owner Sandris Laizāns would definitely be one to talk to if you’re interested in making your own wine or are already doing so, especially if you want to use berries other than grapes. It must be adding that the bragging value of tasting such wine is also pretty high.

A number of other wineries and breweries open up their doors on the Countryside Day (look for the glass symbol in the event map).

While lunch took us to Pūteļkrogswhich served unmistakably Latvian cuisine with a lot of sour cream, vegetables and potatoes. The long-standing brick building, which doubles as a hotel, serves as a reception house and gives visitors a taste of food and pre-war architecture.

Learn and sweat

While another slightly imposing but equally pleasant surprise for city dwellers or farmers who want to gather valuable intel on the state-of-art farming in Latvia will be the chance to visit the numerous farms. In LSM’s visit to two industrial-scale farms - the agriculture farm Vilciņi 1 and the animal husbandry farm Mežacīruļi - the first stood out with the use of the newest technologies, including a weather station and GPS-aided tractors. 

Mežacīruļi, on the other hand, boasted a huge herd of cows along with a massive greenhouse complex where salad and tomatoes were grown.

The farm also hosts a biogas factory and a generator turning the gas into electricity that powers the whole farm (they sell off the surplus) along with a state-of-the-art waste water purification system utilizing reeds to remove excess minerals from field water.

While the Gaidas fruit farm with its tomatoes, apple and pear orchards, and a heap of berries from strawberries to raspberries, painted a homelier but also warmer picture of the countryside. Instead of selling their wares outright, Gaidas offers visitors to pick berries, apples and more with their own hands with kangaroo bags around their backs. It's also a hip place to get some apple juice (though it seems that they press it themselves) at completely non-exorbitant rates.

Why go there?

Latvia is known for its historic architecture, scenic coastline and cold winters, but the ‘eco’ side of touring Latvia is often neglected, with many visitors never leaving Rīga to enjoy a completely different view of the Baltic country. 

That is set to change as many locals running traditional businesses have discovered that what they do and what they make is interesting not only to specialists but those who wish to enjoy and learn more about the bucolic ways of life.

The Countryside Day is a rare opportunity to get away from the concrete metropolises and to see a calmer side of life; it's also an opportunity to learn something you won't be able to experience and see on TV.

"We are running this Countryside day as we feel a growing interest in society about what happens at agricultural businesses. [..] I ask everyone to use the chance to spend their holidays in an interesting way and to get to know the daily life of real farmers," said deputy head of the Zemnieku Saeima Maira Dzelzkalēja.

Visitors are invited to partake in the countryside day on October 17 and learn more about what Latvia has to offer - though if you fancy something that doesn't take as much planning, Lauku ceļotājs offer a number of eye-watering tours that guide visitors through the gastronomical, scenical and less-known part of the Latvia.

If this sounds like fun, here are the tips, provided by Zemnieku Saeima, for planning your day in Latvia’s countryside:

1. Choose the farms that interest you and plan your route. The participating businesses are listed here, separated into categories, while the map of the event is available here. [You also might want to consult the pan-Baltic countryside map that has translated descriptions of most of the places that participate in the Countryside day.]
2. Visitors are welcome to the farms from 10 AM to 6 PM (if not specified otherwise).
3. Announce your visit by calling or otherwise contacting the participating farms. The contact info is available here, by pressing ‘Lasīt pilnu akcijas piedāvājumu’ by what interests you.
4. Get more people to join! It’s more fun to travel in groups.
5. Prepare for your trip. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unfitting clothing, so prepare as you think is apt for a countryside travel. There’s a chance to buy homemade goods at many of these places, though not all of them accept credit cards. Be equipped with a map and mark the places you plan to visit before leaving!

Some countryside lingo brought to you by LSM:
Beer - Alus
Tasty - Garšīgi
Wine - Vīns
Honey - Medus
Tea - Tēja
Beautiful - Skaisti
Can I have some more? - Vai var dabūt vēl 
Thank you - Paldies

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