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The downshifter

Having originally trained as a joiner and salesman, Philipp Thoma now keeps chickens on the steep Nördersberg mountainside. Does he ever fancy going back to the big city? Never.

Philipp actually grew up in Prad/Prato, down on the valley floor. And he had no idea either that he would one day end up at an isolated farm right at the top, overlooking Tschengls/Cengles and the Obervinschgau valley.

A long, long way away

Finally, after spending many years in the city, Philipp and his wife Alexandra wanted a farm in an isolated spot, somewhere in the back of beyond. They left their old life their jobs in the organic supermarket, their holidays, their free time – behind them. Some people thought them a little crazy. Philip bought an old, mould-ridden farmstead complete with steep-sloped meadows, impenetrable woodland and hardly any sun in winter. Both of them loved it. Their son Josef felt free and completely at home.

Standing on your own land, gazing across the valley, looking at the white peaks all around, and thinking about the hustle and bustle going on in the valley below, but not hearing a sound. Not a single one. “That’s what I liked the most. This silence, the freedom and the ability to do whatever you want.”

Philipp, Alexandra and the hens

Right from the start, the two career changers knew that they wanted to make a living out of their farm. So they needed a good source of income, an idea. Philipp went off, did his research and then simply got stuck in: 300 chickens arrived at the farm, followed a bit later by the same number again. They wanted to sell organic eggs – laid by happy hens.

It was tough going at the start. Now, though, six years later, the eggs from Psegghof farm can be found in shops more or less throughout South Tyrol and enjoyed in many of its hotels. It wasn’t long before Philipp set up a cooperative, with two neighbouring farms also coming on board. He’s responsible for packaging, marketing and deliveries. “Most farmers don’t really enjoy those bits,” Philipp says.

Animals everywhere

It’s clear that sustainability and the circular economy are very dear to Philipp and Alexandra’s hearts. Their work revolves around nature and the well-being of their animals. Down on the farm, the little lambs gambol around the new giant puppy on the terrace. Here, everyone’s a part of the family: the Mangalica pigs, the Indian Runner ducks, the cats, the sheep and the chickens.

“We only keep dual-purpose chickens, and ours have to be quite resilient,” explains Philipp in the barn. “We get hawks and foxes here, so we need chickens who’ll keep their eyes open.”

Hard-boiled, soft-boiled or fried

And how do you like your eggs in the morning?

My favourite is soft-boiled. The colour, the creaminess, the taste – there are some big differences. Sometimes we also do a blind tasting at home. My wife, on the other hand, likes her eggs best in her homemade advocaat. She says that a glass of it gives you your strength after a stressful day. The farmers in days gone by knew that.

How can you tell whether an egg is fresh?

A fresh egg will sink in water. Older ones float, because they’ve got more air in them. You also spot it straight away when you’re peeling hard-boiled eggs: fresh ones are harder to peel, regardless of whether you’ve put them in cold water first.

Text: Karin Heinisch
Photos: Armin Huber