The tag line to this website says “One family’s attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way”. In literal terms, it’s a bit out of date now. The family has grown up and moved on. But as the work here at Quinta do Vale has evolved and deepened, I am leaving it unchanged in recognition of the extended ‘family’ of all the wonderful people who’ve come to visit, volunteer, attend courses and workshops and otherwise participate here.
My name is Wendy Howard and I’m a single mother and now grandmother who, in 2008, got to the point where I could no longer sustain life in a rented cottage in Scotland watching powerlessly as my power bills surged while my income remained static.
I wanted to be free of shackles over which I had no control. I wanted to know where the food and water that I put into mine and my children’s mouths came from so I knew what had gone into it. I wanted to grow my own food. I wanted to stop wasting valuable resources, to work with nature, not against it, and to put back into the land at least as much as I took out. I wanted to stop feeding the monster that’s destroying this Earth. I wanted to be able to look my children in the eye and say I did something positive to try and reverse the damage we’re doing to the planet they’ll inherit. I wanted to be able to live with myself.
There was no chance, with land prices and ownership patterns being as they are in the UK, that I could afford to do any of this there. So I came here instead.
I grew up on the fringes of a small market town in southern England (now a soulless suburban sprawl) at a time when things like growing all our own fruit and vegetables, keeping chickens, wasting nothing, and living in a house without central heating on which we did all our own maintenance was a perfectly ‘normal’ and natural way to live. Nobody thought twice about it.
I studied biology and ecology at university in the 1970s, but didn’t finish. Something essential was missing. I had no sense of what it was at the time, only that being directed away from the big picture into ever more narrow academic specialisation felt instinctively wrong and the subject had lost its ‘juice’. How could something so lifeless successfully model life?
That sense of dissonance has remained ever since: this mismatch between a mechanistic, materialistic, linear, reductionist view of the world born out of an unreal and unattainable construct of ‘objectivity’ and the experience of existing as an integral part of the natural living world. I went on to work in a number of different areas in the UK, Europe and the United States over the next decades.
But always the search for deeper knowledge and solutions, for more congruent and coherent models and theories, remained alive and active. So I took the autodidactic approach. Alongside it, the imperative to live in a simpler and substantially more sustainable way became slowly but inexorably ever more pressing.
There was no option. Nor any doubt. It was something I had to do sooner or later.
The move from Scotland in 2010 to take on this quinta full time involved stripping much of that lifetime’s questing, experience and discovery down to an ever more simple and practical conception of life. At the end of the day, even the most comprehensive Theory of Everything can only ever hope to sketch the barest outline of a reflection. Not of what’s ‘out there’, but the nature of what it is to be human, simply because all we ‘know’ is filtered through the subjective experience of life in human form. I think ultimately the greatest thing we can ever learn is just how to get out of our own way.
I love to work with my hands as much as my head. I love to bury my hands deep in the soil and nurture the life in it. I love to work with rocks, stones and wood to realise the forms they want to express themselves in, whether it’s a building or a sculpture. I love to sit with friends round a table with a good meal and a glass of wine and put the world to rights. I love to sing …
The kids do their own thing, safe in the knowledge that if the shit truly hits the fan they at least have somewhere to come if they need to.