Organic farmer, political activist, teacher and drummer, cheesemaker, fermenter and father … would the real Hans Wieland please stand up? The truth is that Hans is a remarkable composite of all the above and much more besides.
Born the son of a German tailor in a small village named Untersteinbach an hour from Stuttgart, Hans early life sounds close to idyllic. They were quite a self sufficient family, growing fruit and vegetables in their huge garden as well as making jams, sauerkraut and cider for the winter months. The village had orchards and strawberry fields, two grain mills, a dairy, a butcher making the full range of charcuterie – and of course vineyards and winemakers. His father worked part time for the fisheries and was responsible for 5km of river. Hans recalls fishing for wild trout with his father and catching dozens of fish which were sold directly to local restaurants and showed up on the menu an hour later. No food miles at all.
During his youth he helped in the garden, learning skills which stood to him in later life – although he was more interested in getting to band practice or football. Politics attracted him from an early age and in his teens he was a student representative, protesting against the Vietnam War. He became involved in the student revolution in Heidelberg, thinking he could change the world with street protests and demonstrations. Hans remembers making his first public speech to 500 people, supporting the Free Angela Davis campaign, working to release the American civil rights activist. Some of his co-activists are still in Green Party politics.
Hans studied Politics, German and History in university which led him to the teaching career which he has stayed with all his life. He and his young wife Gaby came to Ireland in the mid 1980s. They wanted to live somewhere that offered them the chance to homeschool their two small children and was free of nuclear power. Ireland met both criteria, though the homeschooling lasted only a couple of years – the children themselves demanding time with their peers.
In those early days they learned as they went along, mastering the skills of cheesemaking, fermenting and foraging which they now pass on through their courses at Neantóg. Hans was involved in The Organic Centre from its foundation in 1995 and has worked there in many roles from admin to management. He is currently responsible for training and education programmes and teaches popular “Growing in Polytunnels” Workshops.
He is passionate about Neantóg, the kitchen garden school which he and Gaby run in Cliffoney. Through their courses in fermenting, foraging and cheesemaking, they want to pass on their knowledge and expertise to as many people as they can. Some will just become more educated consumers, changing their attitudes; others will take up these activities for themselves changing their lives. Either way, Hans reckons that even without the political protests, they are now changing the world, one little ripple at a time.