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 In literal terms, it’s a bit out of date now.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 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 arising from the 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 has been the itch I’ve constantly had to scratch ever since. The search for deeper knowledge and solutions, for more congruent and coherent models and theories, remained alive and active through an autodidactic approach spanning decades and multiple disciplines. 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 …
But my own work here since the fires has taken on a much larger dimension. It became apparent even while the land was still smouldering that this was being called for. It’s no longer about just the quinta and its immediate community. It’s no longer limited to small-scale permaculture. It’s time to step out of all the comfort zones and take this large because there is a real urgency now.
The fires ignited much more than the surrounding landscape. They have ignited a fire in me that goes far deeper, higher and wider than what was burning before.
- As a woman, my focus is on the need to address our fundamental relationship with this planet, both collectively and individually, and the perspectives that inform it. I want to encourage the strength and power of the feminine in all of us to honour, nurture and care for this magnificent and miraculous living system on which we depend for life.
- As an ecologist, my focus is on the need for a whole systems approach to solving the systemic crisis in the biosphere which goes far beyond climate change, itself just a symptom of that crisis. I want to encourage the circular systems thinking necessary to restore Earth’s feedback loops and embed the principle of reciprocity and the understanding that, in Janine Benyus‘s words, it’s “Life which creates conditions conducive to life” into all we do.
- As a designer, my focus is on the need for regenerative strategies based on biomimicry which catalyse real and lasting change by working with natural systems and processes, including the ones governing how we humans function. I want to encourage an awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependency of all living systems and to bring this into every decision we take.
- As a communicator, my focus is on the need to correct, clarify, distill and potentise the narrative by which we attempt to understand what we’ve done to the biosphere and how we might go about addressing it. I want to encourage a holistic approach to understanding rather than a linear and reductionist one, to embrace the complexity which we all understand to some degree on an intuitive level, and to stimulate discussion and more importantly, effective action.
- As a cell in the body of the Earth, my focus is on cutting through the cultural illusions which have us behaving like cancer cells, living lives of painful separation from community and purpose, addicted to the endless consumption and self-gratification which is causing so much damage to the planet. I want to encourage the recognition that the solutions to so many of our problems flow from this one foundational principle and that to take our rightful place within the community of Life is to fall deeply in love with the Earth and with Life itself.
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.