Project: Quinta do Vale da Lama
Posted by Walt Ludwick about 7 years ago
I still recognised Vale da Lama when I returned one week ago. It has been about a year since I moved to Germany to focus on my studies, and though a lot has changed on these familiar grounds I was overcome by the sensation of arriving at my home from home. Caspar on the other hand had not been here in 4 years. He simply wanted to visit Maria who had told him so much about the great Permaculture Project happening down here in the Algarve. “From her description I had no idea this was the place I’d been to 4 years ago.” Even when he arrived he wasn’t aware of the fact that he had been here as a Woofer. That is HOW much this place has changed.
“Four years ago we slept in the PND building and there was only a
spiral garden with some vegetables. When I arrived on the new part of
the property this time I had a feeling that I knew the landscape. But it
took me a couple of days to realise: I’ve been here before!”
Other than Caspar I still managed to recognise Quinta do Vale da Lama straight away, but would never have thought that the vision of a sustainable Oasis can progress as quickly as it does in this case. The changes in the landscape made me smile. What left me speechless was the new form of organisation (might be the German in me ).
Dedicated staff works in designated areas to achieve goals that they
set out together (yearly, monthly, quarterly and weekly ones). The
complex tasks here at the Quinta have officially been divided and
finally allow everyone to focus on their work. To break the routine
everyone (including staff from the office) build workgroups which help
on the field at least once a week and three times per week with the
harvest. During the monday meetings staff, interns and volunteers build
groups for the upcoming house tasks and share relevant information for
the upcoming week. Somehow the new form of organisation seems to give
people a frame in which everyone’s work flows much easier.
I believe that the trial and error experiences of the previous years have luckily led to the present improvements.
Volunteers, Employees, Interns, Teachers and Students have contributed to the organisational as well as agricultural development here at Quinta do Vale da Lama. When I walk around the property I see the work of many friends with whom I took part in the first internship and with whom I ended up working here.
Do you remember the Rocket Stove that we built in the old house to make sure Rita and Gonçalo would spend a warm cozy Winter 2011? Well, instead they kept on filling the cracks with clay and admired the moist, good looking, but not functioning artwork throughout the entire winter. But after all we now sit on the heated bench every night and enjoy the warmth. As so many things it just needed a bit more time than expected.
Even the Mosaic wall that we started over one and a half years ago, with the idea of finishing it within 2 weeks, is still one of Vale da Lama’s ongoing artworks. Though I was slightly shocked at first to see the unfinished project, I now understand the beauty of how many hands contributed to this piece of art. The wall turned into some people’s favourite active meditation.
By now our man in charge of the agricultural sector, Gonçalo, implemented techniques of Holistic Management. Starting small the Permaculture way, our donkey Levinho (Catarina passed away last year) now grazes within a certain paddock, followed by chickens (Zeze and his hens) who feed on grains from the last harvest and maggots in the dung. The chicken tank for the vineyard is almost predator proof and the team willing to stock up and increase the chicken population.
The moon calendar guides farming activities such as sowing, transplanting and extensive harvesting. Whilst public holidays (which everyone forgot about anyways) have been replaced by the celebrations of Equinox, Solstice and High Seasons (e.g. summer 1st August). These nature related holidays seem to make much more sense in the context of living on a farm. “And they are the best days to go shopping because we seem to be the only ones celebrating and all the shops stay open” grins Gonçalo.
Under Ernst Götsch’s guidance we planted a fruit forest in November
2011, which has evolved into a vivid green landscape with Sequoias,
Pepper- , Apple-, one Avocado-, Peach- and Pear-Trees, Physalis,
Elderberries, Melon Pear and more. Over time the fruit forest made the
decision to be diverse but definitely not tropical. The kiwis,
passionfruit, papayas and mangos didn’t make it. Learning by doing.
Also the vegetable beds that had been mulched with great care and straw full of grains turned into very green patches of land. We literally planted a wheat field all around the green house, which will be harvested and used for the chickens. For now going on a vegetable hunt is much more surprising and adventurous than ever, because you always stumble upon the unexpected beetroot between the cabbage and wheat grasses. Also the rest of the property enjoyed the rainy winter and covered itself in living mulch. It smells like walking through a gigantic tea bag when you cross the wilder parts of the Quinta. Thyme, fennel, poppies, wild flowers and very tasty nettles (ending up in our soup) are everywhere. The wind and sound of the ocean is their music. The nursery’s music on the other hand is provided by Antenna 2. Here the baby plants grow up listening to Beethoven and Vivaldi.
Even the ground on which one of the old farm houses was situated till
a year ago (between the green house and the canal), is now completely
grown over by pioneer plants. And as much as we all wanted this house to
stay, I must admit that nature suits the space much better.
What used to be a tank full of water, connected to two bath tubs is now a productive aquaponics system. Home of many carps and plants. The fish’s effluents provide the plants with sufficient nutrients. In return the water is being filtered through the roots of the edible plants and pumped back into the fish tank. A closed cycle. To also close the human cycle of food consumption and returning nutrients to the soil 8 new compost toilets have been built close to the volunteer’s and staff’s living area.
When Caspar came here 4 years ago, everyone slept at the bottom of the property in the PND building, over time the staff has gradually moved up and now lives in slightly higher altitudes at the top of Quinta do Vale da Lama. Even the yurt has been moved, so that the entire working community lives together.
In the meanwhile the big house is going through its last construction phase to be ready to host the Portuguese Permaculture Convergence and over 40 Permaculture experts from 18 different countries in less than a month. Another big event happening at Vale da Lama, this time with a team that is just as dedicated as the people I knew here before, but with an improved structure in the organisation and with defined goals.
To all the friends who invested their time, enthusiasm and ideas into
the various projects of Vale da Lama: “Believe me, it was worth it.”
The only thing that has not changed is the most peaceful retreat, our beloved ancient carob tree.
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