Book Presentation: “Agrar-Rebellion Jetzt”

Sepp and Josef Holzer invited to the Natural History Museum Vienna (24.11.2023) to present their new book “Agrar-Rebellion Jetzt”.
Keynote Speaker was Prof. Dr. Bernd Lötsch, former director of the NHM, Doyen of the Austrian environmental and ecology movement and long-time companion of Sepp Holzer who unfortunately was unable to attend. At the beginning of his speech, Dr. Lötsch gave an impressive account of their first, momentous meeting at the Krameterhof:


I miss Sepp Holzer today. I am therefor especially pleased that I can report on him.
Sepp Holzer’s approach is a very unusual one and reminds me of words by natural scientist and philosopher John Muir (1838-1914). “I only moved from one university to another — from the University of Wisconsin to the University of the Wilderness”, wrote the wilderness prophet and classic of incipient environmental knowledge about the most important change in his life.

I too had a change in mind when in August 1995 I took my students (of ecology for nutritionists) from the University of Vienna to the “wilderness culture” of the spirited Sepp Holzer to spend ten days on the southern slope of the Schwarzenberg Mountain surging with life – high above Ramingstein, near Tamsweg in the Lungau District, at an altitude between 1100 and 1500 meters above sea level.


Initially I had mistrusted the tales I had heard about the Krameterhof farm – after all, skepticism is my profession. Scientists can be very prepotent when confronted with too much “originality”. A good 100 years ago the witty writer and satirist Roda-Roda described the attitude of died-in-the-wool academics as “rather than being too surprised I prefer not to believe”.

A versatile engineer, DI Dr. Rudolf Habison, who shot a deer or caught a fish here and there at Holzer’s, had introduced me to this mountain farmer who was as clever as he was headstrong.
Instead of complaining, this man was full of ideas: He terraced his bare steep slope and turned it into a shimmering staircase of ditches, pools and ponds – over thirty in number.

He planted fruit trees instead of spruce monocultures, operated his own micro-hydropower plant, built beautiful little log cabins for summer guests, was experienced in many kinds of game enclosures and even bred – unbelievable! – New Guinea- and Blue-fronted parrots in his glass house. Why? Because each of which could earn him 10,000 Schillings.

Holzer has been a nature observer from childhood on; one who recognized diversity (instead of uniformity) as the insurance of biological systems – and who founded the economic success of his farm on this basis:
“Here we have a wonderful view of the terraces! Pear trees, apple trees and cherry trees. Most trees I will dig out and resell. Down below, at 1,100 m above sea level, the cherries ripen in mid-June, and up at the top not until the end of September. That’s why I have cherries all through the summer. Between my raised beds I grow asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, various potato varieties, and all kinds of vegetables. According to the Forestry Act all of this is ‘forest devastation’ – I call it ‘wilderness culture’.”

The words „wilderness culture“ themselves are a provokingly refreshing contradiction in terms. How can something be wilderness if it is cultivated?
Holzer fought stalwartly against monocultures. “Monocultures are the original sin of civilization”, as one of my best colleagues (Karl Burian) emphasized – Sepp Holzer doesn’t like them either.

He refused to replant new “fields of poles” (monoculture spruce forests) and therefore came into conflict with the administration and authorities.
“Why should I plant spruces? Their needle litter acidifies my soil. Heat and droughts make them susceptible to pests such as the bark beetle and as shallow-rooted plants they don’t consolidate my steep slope either. Here, the spruce monocultures cannot withstand strong winds and they do not foster any feeding of game. They don’t bring any lasting benefit – neither for the animals nor for me.”
So Holzer got caught up in a web of litigation, fines and lawsuits. He remained steadfast – under great financial and mental strain.

He also rebels against having to construct forest tracks that are specified excessively large and correspondingly costly:
“They tear up the slopes and force expensive retaining structures.”
Because he had so much to do on his own slope, this mountain farmer developed an incredible sense of earthworks statics. Sepp Holzer’s experience in this field surpasses that of a construction ecologist or a construction geologist and has earned him a lot of respect on his later travels (e.g. South America) as a consultant. He predicted to local authorities: “Don’t you build here. It’ll all come down anyway” – and he was right.

When I lobbied the Austrian forestry authorities for Holzer, they were irritated. How could one stand up for an eccentric who carried entire forest ant colonies in jute bags to his property and embarrassed the forest engineer who confronted him with questions like: “Do you mean Formica rufa (horse ant) or Formica polyctena (red wood ant)?”

Nature conservation authorities reacted with surprise too: How could I find his excavator-supported landscaping ‘close to nature’? What about all the neophytes and exotics on his property: Chestnut trees, broom, New Zealand kiwi fruits, subtropical aquatic plants, noble hops, citrus plants and sweet potatoes in Lungau!? Even spruce fields would be more appropriate for the location.

So, what did Holzer mean by the charming paradox of ‘wilderness culture’ before he was told that he had developed an alpine variant of permaculture?
Permaculture, a sustainable form of agriculture through the greatest diversity, mutual promotion of species, biological self-regulation and cycles with astonishingly high productivity per area, for the principle of which a Tasmanian professor, the Australian Bill Mollison, had received the alternative Nobel Prize of Jakob von Uexkulls (in 1981).

Sepp Holzer’s Garden of Eden is a permaculture – a permanent agriculture – indeed. It contains all the success principles of genuine wilderness eco-systems – the apparent chaos of the many ecological niches behind which the order of the living is concealed: synergies, competition, self-regulation and cycles.

Permaculture is the controlled coincidence of sharp-sighted observers of nature. “Chance favors only the prepared mind”, said the great Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). And that also fits Holzer senior, who often drew his very unusual conclusions from observations. The discoverer of vitamin C, Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893-1986), said: “Research is to see what everybody has seen, and think what nobody has thought.”
It is as if Pasteur and Szent-Györgyi had known Holzer. And if I had to add anything else to explain his success, I would say: Success is living on the interest of nature instead of on its capital.”

When I met Holzer, he asked me doubtfully whether his thinking was understood. And he was understood! My students – from the fields of nutritional sciences, biology and ecology – hung on his every word for days.
Well, what did they learn at the Krameterhof?
That boulders that heat up from the sun on a previously unproductive south-facing slope can promote heat-loving crops such as pumpkin or apricot – even here, in ‘Austria’s Siberia’ with an annual average of less than 5 degrees Celsius and frosts down to minus 25 degrees Celsius!
They learned how to protect fruit trees biologically against damage caused by game and yet allow game population densities that other areas dream of.
They learned when larches must be felled so one can make durable roofing tiles (and even stove linings that are almost fire-resistant) from their timber.
They were taught how to successfully introduce pygmy owls (Glaucidium passerinum) against mice and voles.
How to use tree stumps to grow hallimasch (Armillaria) and shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) – that earned over 60 Deutschmarks per kilo in Germany – and how to grow the best chanterelles crops from sawdust, fungal spores and herbal extract – even on acidified forest soils.
How to promote earwigs (Dermaptera) as beneficial insects in fruit cropping.
How to get the best added value out of cherry trees and gentian roots (Schnapps).
How to use a walking excavator with a rotating excavator bucket to transplant adult trees from the Holzer slope for the landscaping of hotel facilities – an enormous opportunity for farmers that Holzer had recognized and foreseen very early on: When you spend tens of millions on touristic infrastructure, you are happy to pay one or two thousand euros for a magnificent tree that will look full next year, instead of having to wait decades until an inconspicuous weakling finally develops a stately treetop.

You should have seen him with his semi-wild, curly Mangalica pigs – they seemed to understand every word of their master. When he found them outside their forest enclosure and therefore scolded them, they hurriedly returned through the illegal hole in the fence from which they had escaped.
Later, he used the natural instincts of black spotted Turopolje pigs in his own clever manner. They literally ploughed up the ground in search of food: “I only have to scatter a few sweet peas that they forage for, and they will spare me plough and harrow.”

What hasn’t Holzer come up with and tried out? And indeed, almost everything in his hands became a success. But as soon as he got competition and (with a little delay) others started doing something similar – he was already somewhere entirely else, always looking for new niches.
Remaining unrivalled is an ecological principle of success – at the same time it is Holzer’s economic secret.

His openness to future scenarios soon made him a sought-after consultant – not only in Europe, but also overseas. For example, he could have spent the rest of his life as a consultant in North- or Latin America, in Colombia or Ecuador. I know quite a few of these countries and about the many problems they have. While Holzer himself had to maintain a farm in the inhospitable Austrian cold pole, he met people in Latin America who were starving to death in paradise.
He also immediately recognized the problems that resulted from illegal construction: Even on the steepest of slopes huge settlements – called barrios or favelas – are built. They look like wild allotment settlements: gathered corrugated iron, plastic tarpaulins and wood. After heavy rainfall landslides often occur there – with terrible consequences:
Entire villages sink silently into the depths.
Here, too, Holzer, with his mountain farmer’s perspective, was the one who identified the causal problems and knew how they could be prevented.

All this will be discussed in this extremely interesting book. What gives me the greatest pleasure about it is that it is a collaboration between two highly gifted people that cannot be taken for granted: here a dominant, spirited father writes with his son, Josef Andreas Holzer, a trained forester with ecological depth, as I was pleased to see.

I am thrilled with this new publication for various reasons: Of course, as a friend of Holzer’s originality and work but also because now – many years after the handover of the farm – father and son have been collaborating in such a creative way.
This book deserves to become a new bestseller.

Sepp Holzer’s successful books are something like “join-in-manuals” at the beginning of this fateful and dramatic third millennium of civilized humanity, that will challenge us in many ways. But I am also very impressed by the chapters that Josef Andreas Holzer has contributed to this book. They are written in a different style – on a very high, but always clearly understandable level.

I met Josef Andreas Holzer in connection with nature conservation. More precisely, we fought against a so-called “diversion power plant” that Salzburg AG had planned. They almost dared to divert the Mur in the Lungau, chase it through tunnels, whatever, to produce electricity! And that in Lungau, of all places! Can you imagine this landscape without the river that shapes it?
In the end, together with others, we achieved that the Lungau remains the Lungau and of course I am particularly pleased when inventive agriculturists and nature observers also become powerful conservationists. That too, we’re celebrating today!
Thank you.