Guest post - Volunteering at A Quinta in Alentejo
by Laurence Manchee from Keela Yoga Farm
In May 2016 we volunteered at ‘A Quinta’ in Alentejo, south west of Portugal and not too far from the coast. A project with 130 hectares of beautiful land that is being restored through permaculture practices and regenerative agriculture. This farm consists of a small community of residents and volunteers, has many examples of the permaculture systems that we hope to use in the future, and was a great learning experience for us both.
Originally, this was not an area we were going to explore for Keela Yoga Farm. However, that changed during a chance meeting with a friend of a friend from Hong Kong at our Portuguese school in Lisbon. She invited us to stay at her yoga retreat and farm on our way down to Algarve that weekend and we were struck by the beauty of the area almost immediately. We decided to look into volunteering in Alentejo after our stay at Osho Gardens, which brought us to A Quinta.
When we arrived at A Quinta we fell in love with it straight away. As we drove onto the land, we could see the refurbished ruin in the distance surrounded by fields and trees. We passed by free range chickens and guinea fowl, quite a few ponds and a large vegetable patch. We were greeted by a lovely couple from the UK who were also volunteering and they showed us around the property making us feel really welcome.
We learnt so much at this farm. I worked mainly with an ecologist from the UK, called Bruce who was staying there and helping with the permaculture designs. He shared his knowledge about keyline design, reforestation and ecology with me. As per my previous soil blog, our focus as gardeners should be on the microorganisms in the soil to ensure we have healthy plants in abundance as nature intended. Without the bacteria and fungus thriving, the plants won’t be full of healthy nutrients and minerals that they need, and what we need in order to be healthy. Bruce taught me how he manages the microbiology within soils which I will bring to Keela Yoga Farm.
Although the project is only a couple of years old, it already has an established community feel with everyone taking turns to make the meals, do the washing up or the cleaning. During the day everyone gets on with their jobs which were mainly digging swales, paths and helping to regenerate the life in the soil in a planned food forest and building. I also helped with an outdoor sink, building a polytunnel arch out of canesh (a cane like bamboo found in Portugal) with the local builders, clearing brambles, helping another volunteer to make a beehive, making a grey water cleaning system and of course cooking and not avoiding washing up. In our free time we would hang out together in the communal areas, walk down to the local cafe for wifi or continue our search for land with the local estate agents.
Kimberly worked with a building team to put the finishing touches to the exterior of the main house. She learnt how to mix cob in the different consistencies needed at various stages in order to create window and door frames, and a bench. She got to start and finish a project which was a great learning experience. We hope to have as much experience as we can with natural building techniques so that we can apply them to our own place in the future. Cob can be worn down by weather however, and needs replacing or maintained more often than traditional building techniques but the materials can be sourced locally and on your own land bringing building costs and global impact down significantly.
They had everything on site from chickens to goats and horses running free on their 130 hectares of land. Their overall aim for the project was to regenerate the land through key lines, microbiology and sustainable animal management on the pastures and build an education centre to teach people about permaculture and sustainable living.
We learned so much from working with all the different volunteers as everyone had different skills which they brought to the farm. A Quinta is a wonderful place and I would recommend volunteering there if you are in to permaculture, sustainability, animals, nature and do not mind basic accomodation.