One family’s attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way
"I think if we could get Earth in a living and stable state, not a constantly degrading and dying state caused by our actions, then we have won some right to go to the stars. But at present I don't think we'd be welcome anywhere else in the universe. You wouldn't welcome anybody who'd laid waste to their house and wanted to live in yours, I'm sure."
The catastrophic wildfires which swept through a vast area of Central and Northern Portugal on October 15-16 2017 cut off these valleys and burnt everything in sight, including the quinta. 22 families and individuals lost their homes. We were lucky enough not to lose the main building and yurt, but the wee house, greenhouse and the volunteer accommodation and facilities were destroyed. If you feel moved to help us out, please see the Support our project page.
This has been one of those dreams which, instead of fading away gracefully with time and age and 'sense', got progressively stronger and more insistent, so its eventual realisation became not just completely irresistible, but utterly inevitable.
The dream? Living a self-reliant, "green" and Earth-friendly lifestyle, designing and building autonomous accommodation from natural, benign, locally-sourced, renewable and/or recyclable materials, growing our food organically according to ecological and permaculture principles, generating our energy from renewable and sustainable resources, caring for the environment by working with nature rather than against it, and preferably amongst a community of like-minded people.
It often felt like something with a life of its own. Sometimes it felt like a crazy utopian delusion. Yet simultaneously it felt like a deeper undercurrent of wisdom pushing me out of dreaming into action: being the change, walking the talk, living life in full conscious awareness of the unity of all life and the presence of life in everything. A wiser, deeper, more authentic way than this brief modern flirtation with an illusorily 'objective', fragmented, superficial, mechanistic and lifeless conception of existence which is leading to so much misery, death and destruction in the biosphere and is simply unsustainable, whichever way you look at it.
The way of the heart as much as the head. The way of substance as well as form. The way to an abiding sense of wholeness, sufficiency, gratitude, joy, peace, which is so hard to sustain in a reductionist and materialist culture where the stress of affording rents and mortgages, energy and food bills and the relentless imperative to consume-consume-consume-because-too-much-is-never-enough makes grim treadmilling slaves of us all.
How were we to find 'our' place though? The piece of land and community where we'd be able to do this? The answer eluded me for a long time until, in late 2008, the land found us instead and the dream somehow tumbled into reality.
I'm still amazed at how it happened the way it did, but now we – that's me and my children, both in their presence and in spirit – have taken on responsibility for Quinta do Vale, 2.5 hectares or so of beautiful mountainside in the Serra do Açor (Mountains of the Goshawk) in Central Portugal. We're guided by the sun and the rain, the stones, the trees and the wind whispering through them, the living waters that tumble through the land, the birds, the soil and the plants that grow in it, the sound of laughter, songs, silence, inner nudges, serendipity and 'coincidence', permaculture principles and design, ecology, evolving soil science and mycology, the creativity and experience of others who are doing similar things here and elsewhere around the world, and the warm and generous people of this place.
And as it's evolved, the project has slowly taken on its own life. It's grown from a vision of cosy family-sized self-reliance into something much more. As I've responded to the unique nature of the quinta, more and more I've realised it's not just for me and the kids. The steady stream of visitors wanting to come and see what we've done, volunteers wanting to work here, the peculiar logic of the building renovations, the ever-growing growing areas, the friends and fellow pioneers who've come to work here and throw their ideas and skills into the melting pot ... all have pushed me just as inexorably towards creating a place where not just me but much of the surrounding community can educate others and demonstrate the various aspects of off-grid and sustainable living, natural building, permaculture and regenerative agriculture that we've all variously explored and experimented with. There's still a lot to do before it gets to that point, but it's coming closer.
This site started as a simple record of our progress: our triumphs, our disasters, what we felt about it, what we did about it - a virtual scrapbook, repository of working ideas (I couldn't lose them if I put them here!), and a means of letting friends and family stay in touch. As time has gone by, it's slowly evolved into an information resource, helping others improve on our successes and sidestep our failures. In time, it'll become a full project record of everything we've achieved here and there will be details of workshops and courses in all aspects of regenerative living.
If you share the dream but not the reality, I hope this site will offer some inspiration and encouragement. And if you don't, perhaps there will still be something here for you when the western economic system ploughs full speed into the buffers at the end of the line ...
point is, if you are not standing on solid ground in terms of not just food storage,
but a plan for sustainability, then you and your family are in serious danger.
This is not a game, and it is not to be taken lightly. It is not something to
be shrugged off and postponed for some undefined “later date”. If you have not
already started the process of prepping for economic downturn or collapse, then
you need to start today."