Farming in Poland goes a long way back and the vast majority of the people are descendants of former land owners or peasants working at these estates, who then acquired land as a result of social and economic changes. However, over many centuries Poland was a hotbed of serfdom (pańszczyzna) where serfs (chłopi pańszczyźniani) who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the lords who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence – in essence they formed the lowest social class of feudal society.
As the European civilization developed, the 19th century saw the common manumission of serfs who, despite a number of other problems, gained their own land and started working to their own benefit. As there were a great deal of peasants (chłopi) who acquired land for personal use, their plots turned out to be rather small, and many could not provide for their families and again started working for the landowners. Smaller farms (gospodarstwa rolne), however, have continued until the present day with most farmers (rolnicy) growing the basic grains, including rye (żyto) and wheat (pszenica), and breeding farm animals such as pigs (świnie) and cows (krowy).
Most contemporary city dwellers in Poland have some sort of family in the country and many still visit their relatives to spend the weekend among the clean rivers and tangy fields of grass. Despite most of the countryside having been modernized over the last two decades and many homesteads now having hot and cold running water and toilets inside, this is still an area where, for many, time has stood still, with wells (studnie) still in use. People love traveling to the country, especially in the summer and early fall to get steeped in those farmyard smells and sounds.
So if you want to travel back in time and know someone living in the country somewhere far from the city, make sure you head out for this place to spend some memorable moments at a Polish farm. As said, the best time for a visit is the summer and early fall, but a fully fledged spring might also be a source of excitement with the rather pungent smells of manure (gnój), the natural fertilizer, being distributed in the fields. Not to be missed is a stroll among the blossoming trees (kwitnące drzewa) of the orchards (sady) with apple (jabłonki) and pear trees (grusze) extending well towards the horizon. Watch the farmers sew the grains covering, in addition to the ones mentioned above, barley (jęczmień) and oats (owies). Many now use tractors to plow the fields (orać pola), but if you are lucky you could still spot a horse-drawn plow (pług konny) here and there.
If you come to the country in June you absolutely must see and smell the wonderful aroma of grass cut for hay (sianokosy) – most of this work is done using modern farming equipment, but there may be spots around the country, especially towards the eastern border or in the mountains, where hay making is still performed by hand using scythes (kosy). This is also the best time to pick strawberries – you can pick your own or buy from farmers across the country. Ah, those early summer spicy evenings with a bowl of strawberries and cream and a haystack or two (stóg siana) in the field!
Late July and early August is the traditional harvest time (żniwa) – you will most probably see a lot combine harvesters (kombajny) in the fields as this work is almost exclusively performed with the use of mechanical equipment. The same applies to threshing which is no longer done using flails (cepy) but rather special threshing machines.
Early September, on the other hand, is the time for harvesting potatoes (ziemniaki) – again, this work is mostly done by machines, but you might still be able to see the traditional potato pickers in some parts of the country performing the work manually. This is also the best time to get steeped in those fall smells of burning grass and straw while getting ready to have some great tasting freshly baked potatoes. So, are you ready for a farm adventure?