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Quinta do Vale da Lama
Quinta do Vale da Lama
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Odiáxere, Algarve, PT
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Quinta do Vale da Lama

Quinta do Vale da Lama

Odiáxere, PT

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Portugal - How human cycles and rhythms change the vegetation and the climate

Project: Quinta do Vale da Lama

Posted by Mari Korhonen over 11 years ago

Some recent musings that came from our dear friend Rosemary after her visit to Vale da Lama in April.

This is such an interesting story of human intervention in a landscape. Portugal is so enticing. The wave-filled coast, the small winding roads, the curved hills, the deserted stone farm houses. And most of all the warmth and human-ness of the people.

Some people are ordained by culture to be ‘chosen’ by language, by religion, by destiny. Being chosen creates its own cultural aura. Despite their ‘great’ age of exploration and colonisation, the Portuguese seem to dismiss this as “then”. They laugh about ‘greatness’ and claim that they are all to some degree African.

But let’s go back. Way back when the Romans came and Portugal was a land of forests, of Mediterranean oak and understorey and damp soils and running water. The vast ocean cliffs were held back from decay and collapse by the weft of roots and the density of coastal vegetation protecting soils, water and people from savage winds and desiccation. 

But about 600 AD the forests were cut. Portugal was shaven and bare. However over the next 1000 years the forests grew again, nature being merciful. They re-established a strong canopy and tall trunks and tried again to protect a battered coast from Atlantic gales.

Then came the age of finding out. So tiny ships set out from Lisboa to see if the world was flat. Was there was a huge southern continent to balance the northern one? What sort of monsters existed?

The ships were barely 40 feet long but they were numerous – a fleet in fact. Hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands. They cut the forests of Portugal – again. This time they didn’t recover.

Rivers sped to the sea. Soil ran away. Many understorey plants died never to return. Animals known to live there forever, became extinct. The population grew. People went into the bare areas and planted houses of stone, built walls of stone and pushed cuttings of fig, grape, olive and pistachio into the earth when it was wet in winter. They had goats and cows; chickens an pigs and vegetable gardens. They worked very very hard with the plough and plough animals and meeting their own needs. They were poor but they had enough.

A strange thing happened to the landscape. It became an open woodland and not a forest any more. It became drier and hotter, so they changed their crops. When the cool, wet winters came the people pushed cuttings of fig, olive, pistachio, grape into the damp soil and now although it look green and looked treed, it was half the size of the original forest.

The people had made a new cultivated ecosystem downgrading from forest to woodland but it looked natural. People accepted it but it could not sustain farming.

Homes, farms and villages were deserted in the 1970s for cities where there were more resources and life was easier. The foreigners came, mainly the English, needing warmth and openness and the blue skies. They became the economy and saved Portugal from financial disaster. The Portuguese welcomed them and included them. The EC changed standards from toilets to roads. A new time of ease arrived. Rich, Portuguese and foreigners bought and refitted some houses and added garages.

Now the olives, grapes, pistachios, figs and stones houses and walls were deserted. The walls weathered. The trees lived and became a native landscape. Olives grew up, unplanted, in the middle of pistacios which protected them. Some streams flowed a little longer each season. Soils started to accumulate under the trees.

Nature was adjusting and responding with a new eco-system. But the coasts and cliffs fell away into the Atlantic Ocean. Every year huge swathes of soil and rock fall off the edge of the country and the coast is littered with landfalls.

With the GFT in 2008, the good life suddenly collapsed. Jobs were lost, banks failed, prices rose. The people were shocked. They had taught their children to expect a good and every improving future.

Now the young graduates were out of work. It seemed likely to them that they may never have employment. Permaculture arrived among some young people. They learned. The pioneers among them went back to find their family villages. They perma-occupy. They paint, dug, plant, build walls, harvest sun and water start markets. They are also working with nature who tries, as always to restore Earth’s forests.

Another Portugal is about to be grown.

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João Gonçalves
João Gonçalves : Hi Mari, From my experience this "another Portugal" about to be grown has always been here in some ways. Recently, i've heard someone pointing out that somehow "our delayed state is our advanced state" referring to Portugal socioeconomic condition. This "another Portugal" has been captured in "Alface" the movie shot in Aldeia das Amoreiras. The movie is about people who are and have always stayed in touch with the soil, the growth power of the seasons. In remote villages, lost in the Portugal country side, we are to find the teachers of the "rural university" that only by searching we will find. We are a long way to power down and restore the regenerative abundance state of soils and biodiversity, and to master the strategies needed. In this transition period a powerful "pattern dynamics" language and ecoliteracy is needed to approach the complexity of current culture-society systems. The system is composed of decay and regrowth of "another Portugal" processes. Cultural values will remain diverse, with the "green wave", eco sensitive making a breakthrough leading to unseen creativity. Interesting to see the "ordinary-everyday-everywhere" battle fielf between "eucaliptus monoculture, market cultural values" versus "reaforest Portugal- pro-eco-diversity campaign values". Are we going to work for a living through permaculture systems ? We are to learn that it's one viable way. And the examples will become more known as more people are inclined to "recognize" them, even if many are not labeled as permaculture or trasition. Good sense and meeting people in their own terms is appropriate in some cases. Paying attention to patterns first. Names and labels, personal bias remain for a later step analysis. I believe that we are still to see what the "pioneers" really learned... here we would need a follow up program that would keep track of the "fresh-permaculture-warriors" and learn about their learning curve, challenges, successes in Portugal. Greetings from the mountains! Joao
Posted over 11 years ago

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