Growing up near the metropolis of Frankfurt am Main in central Germany, it’s pretty safe to say Gaby Wieland never saw herself living the good life on Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast.
The third of four children, and the only girl, Gaby naturally found herself spending a lot of her childhood in the kitchen. Luckily she had a real interest in good food and loved learning from her paternal grandmother, a talented cook. They lived on the city fringe, and shopping at local markets for vegetables and milk was a daily task. Her treat, rather than a sugary confection, was a handful of sauerkraut from the big wooden barrel, costing just a few pence and tasting delicious. Gaby also fondly recalls pilfering the treasured cream from the top of the raw milk. She loved to cook and to make the homemade pickles and preserves which were stored in the cool cellars beneath the house. Every morning started with the delicious aroma of fresh sourdough bread made by the craft bakery next door. School days finished with a scoop of ice cream from the Italian ice cream parlour down the street. Food definitely formed strong early memories in the young Gaby.
Opting out of school early, she tried clerking in a solicitor’s office before taking kindly advice to use her brains and go back to school. This she did, passing her leaving exam and training as a nurse. Although she wasn’t from a political background, Gaby was inspired by the Student Revolution and became convinced of the need for change through politics. When she qualified, she began working as a nurse in Kaiserslautern where she met Hans Wieland from Oehringen, a political activist. They lived there for five years, during which time their focus changed from a belief in changing things through politics, to changing through their lifestyle. Heavy nursing work had taken its toll on Gaby’s back and she needed to change career but it wasn’t proving easy.
A simpler, more genuine lifestyle beckoned, and with four other likeminded couples they searched for a location to start a new life together. Ireland was the surprising choice, the four couples dwindled to two, and with small children in tow, they moved to Tubbercurry in 1985. Their early living conditions were fairly bleak – no electricity, an outside toilet, no proper heating and inadequate accommodation. Idealistic to the last, they did everything by hand – milling flour, baking and hand milking … Gaby laughingly recalls their small herd of black Kerry cows and a strict 12 hour milking regime which led to frustrating searches for jet black cows in pitch darkness. They brought over a quality sourdough starter and began baking pure rye sourdough bread which proved a real winner in local shops.
After two years Gaby and Hans moved to a small farm outside Cliffoney where they still live. They christened it ‘Neantóg’, named for the nettles that grew everywhere and a health food shop run by friends in Germany called ‘Brennessel ‘. At first they lived in a combination of mobile home and derelict house, slowly developing the buildings to the current combination of house, office, workshop and holiday cottage.
Gaby worked as an interpreter in Sligo, they farmed organically, made cheese, baked and operated a real patchwork economy. As the children (a daughter Karin and two boys Yngbe and Demian) grew older, Hans began working fulltime in the The Organic Centre in Leitrim. An interest in herbs, foraging and natural living, led to Gaby doing a series of courses and eventually becoming a qualified Naturopath and Herbalist. She has also written the successful Neantóg Cookbook.
From their early days in Cliffoney they had run training courses, wanting to share their way of life and their ever increasing knowledge with others. As time has moved on, training has become a very significant part of their income, mainly at Neantóg but also in Dublin, around Ireland and even in the UK. They have (reluctantly) given up commercial baking and ceased their cheesemaking which had earned accolades from the likes of Bernadette O’Shea, John and Sally McKenna and Georgina Campbell. When life is so very full, something just has to give!
Gaby Wieland has gained experience in many different areas– health, herbs and healing as well as foraging and fermenting. Teaching others is surely the ultimate in the ‘changing by living‘ she yearned for in her early years – sharing generously and wasting nothing.