The Vision

Our vision is to create an example of a highly productive food system that has high levels of biodiversity and a low environmental footprint. Utilising
practical skills learnt during our years spent as rangers and gardeners and knowledge gained through horticulture courses and the permaculture design certificate, we will create a thriving oasis for both people and wildlife, on our hectare of paradise in central Portugal, called Aveleiras.

 

Sustainable living

Food production

Mimicking patterns found in nature we will create functioning ecosystems with a large edible component, allowing us to grow food, timber, medicine and other materials for both us and the local community. Creating biodiversity through careful design and plant species selection will negate the need for any artificial fertilisers or pesticides, which are highly harmful to the environment in both production and usage. Worrying trends in wildlife decline globally can be reversed, and positive human intervention has already seen improvements in certain areas.

By producing food, timber and other materials for human use within this system we minimise our impact on the wider environment, such as deforestation and desertification due to bad farming practices. Producing lots of food in a small area means more space for natural ecosystems to flourish. Once established we hope to produce food for local cafés and restaurants and launch a veg box scheme in the local area.

Permaculture design

We would like to launch a permaculture design business to help other gardeners, including ex-pats who have bought local land, to create their own thriving ecosystem that provides for their own needs in a sustainable way. This would be one of the main income sources to fund free designs for local spaces and the reforestation program discussed below.

Traditional skills

We wish to help preserve traditional skills such as dry-stone walling, scything and wood crafts, working alongside experts in these fields to run skill-sharing days for the local community. We hope to host volunteers who wish to learn traditional skills and about sustainable food production, to spread this further.

Renewable energy

Alongside energy reduction methods we hope to be powered by solar panels, which are the most appropriate technology for our south-facing house. Ideally we want to install a scheme bigger than for our own needs, so we can add power to the grid. This will be an additional income source to fund the project but also mean our neighbours will be running off clean energy, as the grid will draw on the nearest power source.

Connection to nature

People play a huge role in permaculture systems. Human suffering has caused every man-made problem, and I believe a lot of this stems from seeing ourselves as separate to nature. When we do not feel a deeper sense of belonging we strive for greater and greater distractions but find no more fulfilment. More and more research links deep connections to nature with peace and happiness, and with this we develop a contentment that does not need to consume more and more to survive.

Therefore developing this connection to nature is a key part of our aim. We plan to embed techniques into achieving a connection to nature in all we do – courses, retreats, local community days and more. These will light the spark of curiosity we all have within and will teach simple methods to protect and enhance the natural world we depend on. Our methods stem from the Wilderness Awareness School and other teachings of Jon Young –  they merge indigenous teachings with the sciences of brain patterning and learning, to help develop a deep connection to nature. Only when we realise we are part of nature will we strive to protect her, and change our mindset and lifestyle in response.

We hope to be a place where people can take refuge in nature, running retreats merging gardening and food growing with nature walks, yoga and mindfulness mediation. We have both benefited enormously from practising these techniques – sharing is caring!

Restoring native woodland

Sustainable woodland management, through the restoring and replanting of native tree and plant species, is another key facet of our project. Natural ecosystems are developed over thousands of years, with rich connections between trees, insects, plants, animals, fungi and a whole host of other beings. Sadly a lot of these have been replaced with monoculture plantations of eucalyptus, occasionally mixed with a non-native pine, which have virtual no value to wildlife as they have not developed associations with the insects and fungi that kick start the food chain. They drain the land of water (chosen because they grow quickly, fuelled by heavy drinking of water), leaving dry and dusty landscapes. When fires are ignited by the hot summer sun the oils in the tree burn hot, spreading fire over huge distances. Many native tree species, such as the cork oak, have defences against fire, lower water needs and much higher biodiversity value.

We hope to purchase plantation land when available (is currently lots) and slowly return it to native woodland, to help rebuild these lost natural connections. The hydrological cycle can be repaired and wildlife can thrive once more, leading to self-perpetuating growth, increased biodiversity and lower fire risk. We can still use these native species for food and materials in a sustainable way, by thinning trees (providing more light for woodland plants and space for some trees to get larger, better for wildlife) and utilising excess leaf fall for compost and branches for firewood. Through community action days and working with the established local permaculture group we will help take the reforestation program beyond a project and into a culture.

The next steps

To achieve these aims, we are currently undertaking a full permaculture design for our one hectare paradise. We have drawn up a scaled map, and are layering climate data (sunshine, rainfall etc.), topography and other features and elements such as current trees, structures and fire risk. We will then look at how water flows through the site so we can use techniques to maximise the use of rainwater and minimise use of our well (to minimise disruption to the groundwater flow). Utilising the solar aspect will ensure sun powers the garden – from plants photosynthesising to solar panels generating electricity, and passive solar heating to negate the need for plumbed heating in the house.

We hope our garden can become a demonstration site to show that living as part of nature is not only possible but delightful. We feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity and I hope the benefits can be widespread.

To get the project off the ground we need to invest in tools designed to last, water storage, solar panels, building volunteer and guest accommodation, and buying up plantation land for native woodland restoration. We would be eternally grateful for any financial support towards these, but also for friends and family to visit and be involved in this exciting project, as much as you would like to be. The small house on the site currently needs a new roof and floor but once we have done this using local timber and contractors we hope to move in and start the rest of this work, hopefully towards the end of 2018.

We don’t know everything but we have taken positive steps, and hope to share our learning and that of like-minded folk via courses, volunteering/retreats, and blogging, so others can join us on this path to sustainable living.

Thanks for reading, and please do get in touch.

Email: info@aveleiraspermaculture.com

 

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom

Anais Nin

 

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