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Richard Perkins
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The Agrandes, a good example of committed and creative inclusion

Posted by Richard Perkins almost 11 years ago


Down in the village of Garganda la Olla below Mills’ place in the mountains live a young and growing community of Madrid raised folks who have moved out here to the country to start a new life.
 PictureThe Agrandas have chosen their name (the town name is “the mouth of the cooking pot” to “make the cooking pot bigger!”  Living communally in cheaply rented shared houses these young couples and individuals have taken on an abandoned finca (farm) to make their living from the land.

The Agrandas have chosen their name (the town name is “the mouth of the cooking pot” to “make the cooking pot bigger!”  Living communally in cheaply rented shared houses these young couples and individuals have taken on an abandoned finca (farm) to make their living from the land.

They have caused a stir in the locality, everyone is aware of what they are up to it seems.  Even walking 10 minutes up the mountain foothills to the finca is unusual for the locals who prefer to drive these days.  Out on the farm the group is busy picking cherries and growing vegetables on recovered terraces.  The group are learning as they go, none of them come from farming backgrounds, but together they are using their unique gifts and talents to eek out a living and affect the hearts of those they work with.

As they all come from Madrid they have fostered their connections in the city to enable selling high value produce like organic jams and preserves at top prices by sending off van loads when people visit friends and family.  Presently focusing on high value “storable” goods seems like a very good strategy, particularly in a prime cherry growing location!  They are supporting local farmers to explore direct marketing also through the networks they have established.  In this region most farmers take their produce straight to a wholesale co-op to sell and forget about it.  What the Agrandas are showing is that by marketing directly with consumers a better price can be secured.  Organic agriculture is often viewed as money wasting here we are told, but this initiative seems to be making people reconsider when the see the returns.

Currently the group is just growing vegetables for themselves, but the plan is to expand as other families and people in the area like the idea of supporting a market stall with more diverse and regular products to engage consumers with.
PictureThis group is a little unusual as they were mostly good friends before they started.  Regardless, they are doing everything by consensus and seem to be thoroughly enjoying the learning process.  It became apparent quite quickly that despite deep friendships, decision-making and inclusive ways of doing this were very important. Perhaps this is easier when people already have a common connection, but possibly not.  It is explained to us how meetings are run weekly to organize working schedules and peoples general availability.  Check- ins for venting emotions and sharing a sense of wellbeing are run weekly also, but separately to avoid making decisions based on feelings.  Everyone shares in the general work, particularly any tasks that are best done together, like jam making on a large scale.  They seem to be finding a lot of joy together as well as learning a huge amount.

The finca the group is farming has an interesting story behind it too.  Seeing for sale signs on a scouting mission two of the early “movers” in the group enquired at the local sales offices and explained their vision.  The agent contacted these particular owners feeling like they may support the ideas of the group and they did!  So the farm is not rented or owned by the group.  Currently they are on a 1 year verbal agreement with owners they have never even met.  Soon they are coming to visit we are told, and the Agrandas want to try and secure a 5 year agreement.

It is a clear example of the benefit of connecting landowners with motivated people, which seems to be happening in many countries now.  It represents easy access to land for people with low finances.  Whilst it may not be the most secure arrangement it allows action to happen fast. 

The group all put a percentage of their savings towards the group’s funds in the beginning, and this has paid for rent and establishing the farm; essential supplies such as drip irrigation, seed and materials.  Everything they earn is shared together and all decisions on how to spend money run through their consensus process.  It seems to be working very well, which we are impressed with, having rarely seen effective consensus groups lasting long.  It is still early days, but we guess the friendships of this group combined with the willingness and flexibility to commit to shared and inclusive processes will likely be successful over a longer period.  Miguel is excited to share that this is the first month the group made more money than it spent.  Not bad considering what has been achieved so far on the land and with 2 houses to rent.  Initially it was only 2 folks out here and the group has been assembling now over the last year as commitments in the city are taken care of.

We take a walk down to the local school with Carmen and Miguel who have been painting the walls of the whitewashed school with a beautiful mural with the children.  They continue today along another 15m strip, with permission to paint as much as they like with the children!  Its testimony to how a group of approachable, kind and caring folks can win over the hearts of a new community and begin to affect change on multiple levels by engaging with beneficial intentions

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