So my last post was all about a wwoof experience gone completely awry. In the true contrarian habit of life and travel, I now want to write about one that gets it right.
A week after leaving the farm in Yecla. I got on a bus from Malaga to Torrox exhausted from sleepless noisy hostels, but as usual optimistic. Two fellow Americans were waiting for me at the bus stop. Their last place of residency was also NY; I was really surprised to find two other Brooklyn residents, (not native) in this rural part of Spain. I don’t remember much from that short car ride, just fleeting thoughts that the open air and windy dusty roads were a good start. I walk through the doors of a stunning Spanish villa and am transported back to England. There are 10 other people standing in the living room, all from the UK, except the two other Americans. They are all smiles and, “Are you ok?” I stand there somewhat consciously trying to grapple my head around all the people and their places here. Eventually all the pieces come together and I figure out who the hosts are, who are visiting family members, who are past and present wwoofers; who stays and who goes.
I was at Finca La Paz for a little under a month and the shifting of wwoofers, and visitors, and friends was consistent and played a huge part in my stay. But what played a larger role was the finca, the land, the garden; and what I could find there. The garden has been up and running for about six years and in the last two years or so a permaculture design and practice has been more rigorously implemented. There were 12 huertos, vegetable beds, and over 60 different fruit trees not including dozens of olive trees. I could spend a post on each vegetable bed I think, expect for two and seven. Two just had asparagus that we just looked at in confusion for the first two weeks or so and eventually started watering twice a day. Bed seven just had sweet potato whose irrigation got turned off so they looked a little maltreated. But I spent a few hours weeding and mulching and with the irrigation back on in 10 only days or so they looked grateful for being remembered.
So permaculture is basically using nature with nature and not against itself. No spraying of pesticides, no extreme use of fossil fuels, only for the strimmer. We don’t just weed carelessly and profusely, rather we pull weeds and mulch, using them around vegetables and fruits to protect the soil from the drying tendencies of the wind and the sun. There are no chemical fertilizers, but the soil in the south of Spain is extremely dry so once a week there is a plant feed. There are four different types of fertilizers we used: potassium, nitrogen, iron, and manure water. The potassium is made up of ash from the fire place mixed with water. The nitrogen water is made of these weeds called stinging nettles. Their name is pretty self- explanatory, if you touch them with your bare hands you feel this burning, stinging sensation for about 10 minutes then it goes away. There was an agave plant that really helped for the impatient, like me. Mush up the stinging nettles and add water for nitrogen water. The iron water is made up of old pieces of iron soaked in the water and the sun for ages. Add more water, get more iron water. Manure water is exactly how it sounds. Let manure, a pretty horses’ or handsome donkeys’, sit in a tub for about a year so it becomes all liquid and gross-ish, and then it’s like Herminoe waved a piece of wood around, or time just passed, either way it’s manure water. All that is needed is a thin layer of feed into a watering can and then it is fully diluted with water.
A wwoofer veteran who has been coming to finca la paz every winter for four years left a manual behind with all the rules and guides of what to do; connecting huerto to huerto. He wrote some lovely quotes one is, “Trust mother nature she knows how to take care of herself better than you do.” I guess that is what permaculture is, it is acknowledging the fact that the natural forest thrives and lives so well without human interaction. To use nature for cultivation we should follow the model she has set.
Now in our oil drenched, energy obsessed age of comfort that is easier said than done. There are all these things we need. But besides that we have processed nature so far from herself it will take a few years for her to get her groove back. When she does, we may have to change a few of these needs to not cramp her style too much. Long hot showers, high toilet paper usage, non-local diets, electricity and running water for days. If we think about the source of many things we find “normal” well they are actually quite luxurious. If we think of the amount of energy and water is used for flushing toilets, running water while washing dishes, fully lite homes in the nighttime, and having excess food waste (as I am guilty of as someone pointed out because I tend to leave a bite behind), it isn’t permaculture. It isn’t using nature the way it was intended to be use. But baby-steps, this isn’t a sprint.
Every week I spent at finca la paz was like taking baby steps; in my mind, intellect, and emotions. My knowledge of the garden and my familiarity with what the plants needed and liked slowly grew. Getting to know the chickens better and looking after them. Making a compost heap with brown and green matter. Planting baby tomato and basil plants with another wwoofer and watching both relationships grow. Coming from an experience that left my guard sky high and slowly letting the daily tasks and the sun melt it down. Like putting straw under strawberries to keep the slugs from munching into them as the sun burned into my muscles. Or carrying sacks of heavy manure up and down the hill in the garden. Harvesting lettuce, oranges, avocadoes, swiss chard, arugula, strawberries, onions, calbrese, broccoli, and many more food items for our lunches and dinners. Skipping down to the chicken house to collect eggs every evening around sunset. Eventually I started to find my equilibrium and optimism in my tasks and the people around me in a balance unlike I have ever had before.
It wasn’t that I was always comfortable or always felt amazing, rather multiple times in a day I felt so present. Now thinking back on it what dragged my emotions in all sorts of turny ways didn’t have to do with the garden. Working there gave me a calm presentness that can only be truly recognized when it’s gone. But I did appreciate it along the way; at the point when I turned off my knee-jerk reaction to run and seek for who knows what, I saw how truly amazing it all was.
Another quote from our garden guide, “You can cut down all the flowers, but you can’t cut down the spring.” There is this consistent renewal of energy in nature that is just there, pulsing, driving, procuring, coming. It can’t be stopped. Pain can be felt and others can try to put you down or attempt to take pieces of you from yourself; but each of us as individuals and collectively are a force of ourselves that cannot be stopped. To be immersed in the beauty of that left me feeling aided in the pursuit of my life, I guess, or something of the sort. It is just an energy that cannot be defined.