True Locals: Farmer Maria Gapp
A strong woman: farmer Maria Gapp
Farmer Maria Gapp is exactly the kind of person you think of when you imagine ‘a strong woman’: she can buckle down and work hard and has not let herself be defeated by the blows of fortune. She owns the Gapphof in Reith bei Seefeld – a farm that has been passed down from generation to generation in her family for more than 380 years. Life on a farm is not always easy – but it is definitely a happy one.
One farmer, 35 cows, and a heap of work
The Gapphof in the idyllic village of Reith is home to 16 cows and 19 calves, some rabbits and chickens – and to farmer and host Maria Gapp. “Isn’t that a lot of work for someone on their own?” we ask Maria. “Of course,” she laughs, “but I manage!”. Maria talks with a twinkle in her eye and with a strong dialect. She is thin and fit, and it is difficult to tell her real age. Maria is a woman who has learned to roll her sleeves up. When her husband died 13 years ago she faced a tremendous challenge: the farmhouse, the animals, the accommodation, the family – dealing with all of that on her own. But Maria managed it and the Gapphof is firmly in her hands.
Maria originally comes from Upper Austria, where she grew up on a farm. That meant she learned about the work from an early age: “Even when I was a child I was always happy to go into the stable with my parents,” she remembers.
A heritage filled with tradition
Sometimes it would be wonderful if objects could speak. The Gapphof would then have many interesting stories for us. It has plenty of years under its belt: the farmhouses in the hamlet were first mentioned in the 12th century. The Gapp family has owned it since 1634 and has passed it through the generations. Now it is up to the 11th generation in more than 380 years. A considerable legacy when you think how much the farm and its inhabitants have experienced over all these years.
“In those days, inheritance worked a little bit differently,” says Maria. Rather than inheriting the farm, the next generation had to buy it from their parents. The reason: there was no such thing as a pension in those days. “But you could never retire from the work on the farm!” says Maria with a knowing chuckle. Those who grew up with hard work will carry on doing the same even though they are getting old.
A work day of more than 16 hours
Many of us would complain if we had Maria’s workload: generally, she works over 16 hours a day. She gets up at four in the morning because that is when the cows need to be milked. In summer that is the beginning of a long day: work in the fields, the garden and with the hay must be done; the stable and the guests are also waiting; firewood must be prepared; the fences repaired, the cows have to be taken out into the meadow and brought back in again, the cheese and other products must be made; everything must be cleaned – and there is still much more to do. The list of things to do never ends. The summer workday finishes at 21.00 or 22.00. “Then you just collapse into bed!”
And the weather also likes to play its tricks: when it is warm she airs the hay to let it dry. But when she hears the roll of thunder in the night, she has to quickly get out of bed and up onto the roof to put the tiles back on so that the hay does not get wet and spoil the whole work.
Winter is a little bit more relaxed – if you can call it that. Then the day finishes at an ‘early’ 19.00. Sometimes Maria even has time to go skiing and enjoys the precious moments even more.
From farmhands and milkmaids to machinery and technology
Things on the farm have changed as the decades and centuries roll around: “Once you had farmhands and milkmaids. These days there are only a few people on a farm because it isn’t viable to employ people any more,” says Maria. “You’ve got to be happy when family members help out.” Luckily Maria‘s son had a profession where he can take time off at short notice to help her in the fields over the summer.
The farms in the Tyrol were always on a small scale. “A long time ago you could live from them.” These days that is impossible. High maintenance costs – for example, for the machinery – mean that many farmers have a second job.
The daily working life of many Tyrolean farmers is harder for that reason. Getting up at five in the morning to go into the stable to look after the animals before work. Then into the office and, in the evening, the farm work awaits.
Where the roots are
Maria decided to offer farmhouse holidays to guests from all over the world.
“Why do you do all this when it is so much work?” we ask her. The farmer’s answer is a simple one: “You are much more grounded in life when you have to work hard. You have a close connection to what you have achieved in your lifetime and what has been passed down from generation to generation!”
A life according to the seasons
One aspect that Maria loves about her work is life according to the changing of the seasons: “You experience the seasons and can really appreciate them!” she says enthusiastically. She feels the change of seasons in a more intense way than almost anyone else. “In spring you are happy to see everything blooming and growing again, everything becoming green. From one to another – you can enjoy it all in a more conscious way!”
The difference between the various villages in the region in the seasons is also something distinctive for her – especially in spring. “In Leutasch you can go cross-country skiing in March and April and in Reith we are already finished with the muck-spreading in the fields.”
Of course, you are always dependent on the weather: “Your workshop is in the open air!” she says. The extremes of the weather these days often make it difficult for her. You have to learn how to adjust and submit to the weather, not just when it comes to working in the fields.
She also really enjoys the work with animals: “Every cow has its own place in your heart!”, she says. “Some you like better, some less so, but I often shed a tear when one has to go! But that’s the way it is, life on the farm: you can’t keep them all.”
Appreciating regional products
Maria creates her own products from the milk from her cows: she produces yoghurt, cottage cheese, curd cheese (Quark) and a ‘Herbal Rollino’ several times in the week. The products are not just for her own guests, she also delivers to hotels and other businesses around the region. In summer hikers who visit the Nördlinger Hütte can even revitalise themselves with cheese from the Gapphof.
“Of course, it’s very time-consuming work,” Maria admits. “But I like to do it!” And it is important to her that businesses and supermarkets offer regional products and support farmers from the local area. “Businesses in this area prove that it works!” You can offer lots of products from small farmers and support the local farming community. Maria hope that this awareness can expand further and that more supermarkets and hotels will start to offer local products.
BLOG SERIES: TRUE LOCALS
In the coming months we are going to be writing about people from the region who generally stay in the background. People who typify our region and help push it forward, without us necessarily being aware of it. Without them our region would not be what it is today. Their stories will be accompanied by images from star photographer Fabrice Dall’Anese.
For some time, the Olympiaregion has been in a bit of an uproar caused by the hosting of the Nordic Ski World Championships in 2019. But even though such a big event as this is taking place, life goes on before, during and after the World Championships. Our True Locals are fully aware of this and will allow us to share their own personal stories and experiences.
Fotos: Fabrice Dall’Anese