The catastrophic wildfires which swept through a vast area – over 2,000 square kilometers – of Central and Northern Portugal on October 15-16 2017 cut off these valleys and burnt everything in sight, including the quinta. In these valleys alone, 22 families and individuals lost their homes. Fortunately nobody lost their lives. We were lucky enough not to lose the main building and yurt, but the wee house, geodome greenhouse and the volunteer accommodation and facilities were destroyed.
What this means is …
WE CANNOT HOST ANY VOLUNTEERS AT THE MOMENT WHO DON’T HAVE THEIR OWN ACCOMMODATION AND COOKING FACILITIES
– ie. you need a camper van. In summer, we can host people who can bring tents and hopefully by then we’ll have some cooking facilities sorted out. At the moment, I’m also not in a position to provide food.
The community here is still struggling to get back on its feet and come to terms with our losses. It’s a bit like a war zone here. As we go forward into summer, there is every likelihood of severe water shortages. Nevertheless, good things are happening. Lots of community self-help initiatives and people coming together to help and support each other and the devastated environment. Volunteering here at this time is certainly not your usual type of volunteering, but you will have the opportunity to be part of something quite special.
I’ve left this page pretty much as it was before the fires since it still provides a flavour of what volunteering at Quinta do Vale is all about, but please note until we’ve rebuilt the volunteer accommodation and facilities, a lot of what follows no longer applies.
If you feel moved to help us get our facilities back together again, please see the Support us page.
Quinta do Vale is now listed on HelpX, but until I did that, I only accepted occasional volunteers through direct application, so if you’ve come across a Quinta do Vale on sites like WWOOF Portugal and Workaway, it’s not this one. There are a lot of Quinta do Vales in Portugal – see Clearing up some confusion for more details – so please make sure you’re applying to the Quinta do Vale you intended to!
In what follows I’ve tried to be as clear as possible about what I’m looking for in volunteers and what I provide for you in return. It’s been mostly informed by the occasions which didn’t work out quite so well, so I have to say right away the majority of volunteers here have been wonderful and we’ve achieved a lot, learned a lot from each other and had a lot of fun (thank you all of you! – you know who you are). Many have stayed longer than they originally intended, some have even ended up living here, and many have gone on to become friends. Please bear that in mind as you read on …
Please read this right to the end before you even think of applying. Yes, there’s a lot to read and I appreciate not everyone finds reading easy especially if English isn’t your first language, but this is the only way I have to communicate with you at this stage and time spent reading now can save a lot of problems and misunderstandings further down the line. It also shows me you can follow instructions to the letter and respect the need for them. Be aware a surprising majority of applicants for volunteer positions here haven’t successfully completed this first and very simple task.
First off, if any of this feels the slightest bit uncomfortable, then don’t apply!
This is all about making sure we’re a good fit for each other. I love this place and working on the land and buildings here and, while it would be unrealistic to say I enjoy every moment of it, the enjoyment massively eclipses the occasional grief, stress and frustration. I love to share this enjoyment and I’d like nothing more than for you to enjoy your time here too. It’s simple: if it’s not a good experience for you to be here, then neither is it enjoyable for me to have you here.
At the same time, an acceptance to volunteer here is an invitation into my home and my world. Please respect that.
One other point before we get into the detail … just because volunteering involves a moneyless exchange doesn’t mean any part of the deal is ‘free’ – I don’t get ‘free labour’ and you don’t get ‘free food and accommodation’ – and I don’t think it helps to think of it in those terms because it devalues the exchange. There’s a cost to me in time and effort in having you here and a cost to you in time and effort to stay here. The target is a fair and worthwhile exchange at the very least. Preferably a fun and rewarding one as well.
Work is likely to involve any combination of digging, hauling, clearing land, pruning, weeding, watering, sowing, planting, harvesting, cooking, preserving, laundry, cleaning, emptying the compost toilets, caring for the poultry, planting trees, felling trees, cutting and chopping firewood, construction and building work, and helping out with the courses here.
There’s minimal use of machinery – it’s impossible to get anything seriously useful onto most of the land – so all earthworks are dug by hand and all building materials moved around the site by hand. Petrol strimmers/brushcutters, chippers and chainsaws are used and it’s an advantage if you’re an experienced user of any or all.
There’s no rigidly set working day. We work as weather, project progress, materials, machines, power availability, inspiration, flow and necessity dictate, and we frequently work on several projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as conditions suggest. Days can range from a full-on, intense, 12-hour stretch at one extreme to a what-the-hell-let’s-go-to-the-river-beach at the other.
While the days aren’t rigidly defined, getting an early start in the morning is essential in summer. It works best to get most of the day’s work done by lunch time, leaving the hot afternoons freer to slow the pace or go cool off in the river.
You need to be fit. I can’t emphasise this enough. Work on the land, especially in heat if you’re not used to it, is physically demanding and so is this steep terrain. As noted, we can also put in some very long days on occasion.
Life here goes with the flow, so an easy-going, flexible, humorous attitude will go a long way towards preserving everyone’s sanity, as will the ability to work independently if circumstances and other workload demands.
This is the place to come if you’re the sort of person who …
- can jump straight into quinta life and immediately become an enthusiastic part of the project;
- shares the passion for this way of life and has interesting contributions to make to the solutions we’re working on;
- enjoys this kind of work and has relevant practical skills and experience,
- or, has a down-to-earth practical DIY approach, openness, humour, enthusiasm and an ability to listen and observe and to quickly grasp instructions. This can count for just as much as experience;
- naturally becomes part of a team and doesn’t need prompting to take appropriate actions clearly required by the situation;
- will ask straight away if there’s any doubt at all about anything and who will communicate issues before they become problems;
- has a willingness to get stuck in for however long it takes to get the job done.
This is NOT the place to come if you’re the sort of person who …
can’t get out of bed much before 10am;
- Allergies/hayfever – it’s very hot, dry and dusty here in summer and it’s impossible to keep the dust out of the buildings. The pine forests produce enough pollen to visibly coat everything to the depth of a couple of millimetres, there’s a huge variety of grasses around the place with no rain in summer to take the pollen out of the air and the schist bedrock reduces to a superfine powder which gets into everything. I also have a dog, two cats and ducks and chickens;
- Respiratory, cardiac and/or musculoskeletal problems – this quinta is on the side of a mountain. Whilst the terraces are relatively level (nothing is flat), you will also be working on slopes of 30-45°. There’s a height difference of 60m between the top and bottom of the quinta and you’ll be constantly going up and down steps and slopes, often carrying stuff, as you move around the land. The nearest villages are either 100m below or 100m above us. Good lungs are an asset and good knees essential;
- a cheap holiday;
- ‘free’ accommodation while you party your way round Europe;
- budget lodgings while you concentrate on finding your own property;
- somewhere quiet to sort your head out, “be in nature”, recover from trauma or illness, or a retreat (whether artistic or spiritual) – you have my sympathies if this is what you’re looking for, but this isn’t the place to come for it.
If you’re not into getting sweaty and dirty and immersing yourself in that indescribable deep undercurrent of satisfaction that comes from physical work on the land, then you’re not into what we do here.
I have accommodation in a small building (one or two people) or a 4-berth caravan (up to four people). There’s a park-up for one camper van as well. I don’t have facilities for young children, groups or companion animals. I may occasionally take volunteers in the winter, but it’s the exception rather than the rule and is dependent on prevailing weather conditions. Generally the volunteering season here is April to end-September.
I provide …
- accommodation in a tiny cottage (subject to availability – course participants, my family or guests have priority) or caravan. The caravan has electricity (from the quinta’s solar and hydro systems) with both British and European plug sockets and running water, but no heating yet. Please bear this in mind if you’re applying to come in spring or autumn. Nights can be surprisingly cold. You can bring your own tent in summer if you prefer. Camper vans can be accommodated at any time of year;
- fresh organic food from the quinta, organic staples from our local wholefood buying coop and non-organic items from local markets and suppliers. (Please see note on diet below);
- a lift to the shops/market in nearby towns when I’m going if you don’t have your own transport;
- kitchen facilities;
- composting toilets, both dry and flush;
- bath/shower with hot water;
- use of the washing machine with laundry soap provided;
- working gloves and appropriate protective gear (excluding footwear and chainsaw trousers) for operating machinery. If you come during the wet months or are asked to do a job which means standing in water, there are a selection of welly boots here. If I don’t have your size, I will buy them;
- off-grid electricity with both UK and European plug sockets;
- use of my books and DVDs/videos (which include a full 72-hour Permaculture Design Course) and a TV for watching videos and DVDs;
- the chance to join in on our regular community workdays, which is a great way of meeting other people in the area and getting to see other off-grid quintas;
- when courses are running, the opportunity to join in any specialist instruction provided as part of the courses here, duties and minimum working hours permitting (* see note below);
- again when courses are running, the opportunity to tour other off-grid projects in the area along with course participants (* see note below);
- free time for exploring the locality and enjoying the nearby river beach, summer outdoor café, workshops and markets at the local craft cooperative and other parties, festas and events;
- introductions to the local community, including many other potential opportunities for volunteering, and lifts to local events if I’m going to them;
- collection from and drop-off at the nearest point of access to public transport (see Getting here for more details).
- give me a rough minimum 30 hours’ help on the quinta per week. I don’t count but I will notice how much you participate. Outside of jobs requiring everyone’s help and/or regular chores you’ve taken responsibility for, you have some flexibility to chose the hours you work to suit your preferences and how you want to organise your time off (though note the paragraph about early starts under ‘Work’ above);
- stay a minimum of one month if this is your first time volunteering at the quinta (** for exceptions see note below). For returning volunteers, the minimum stay is one week;
- bring towels, work clothes and suitable footwear (see note about what I provide above). If you’re staying in one of the caravans, you will need to bring a sleeping bag. I provide pillows;
- do your share of the cooking;
- provide for any special dietary needs/preferences you have beyond the basics I provide;
- observe the no-outdoor-shoes-in-any-building-or-accommodation rule;
- clean up after yourself at all times and ensure anything that possibly can be recycled is. On average, we produce less than 6 supermarket carrier bagfuls of landfill here in a year. I’m aiming for none;
- use only natural/biodegradable shampoo, soap and toiletries (I’ll provide them if you don’t already have them) and make full disclosure of any medications you’re taking – this potentially impacts the quinta’s composting and grey water systems;
- wash your own clothes (I provide laundry liquid and washing machine);
- be frugal with your use of resources such as water and power;
- return all tools used during the working day to the place where you found them and in the condition you found them;
- show respect for each other, local people and their property, the environment and permaculture principles;
- take personal responsibility for anything that happens to you or your belongings. I make volunteering opportunities and the facilities here available in good faith, but at your own risk. Accidents happen so please make sure you have adequate and appropriate health and travel insurance and are covered against injury to others as well as yourself;
- disclose any pre-existing medical conditions which might affect what I ask you to do or which could conceivably result in me needing to call in medical help for you;
- fill in and sign a form on arrival confirming your acceptance of this agreement, providing your mobile phone number, registered residence in whatever country you are from, email address, the contact details of someone I can reach in case of an emergency, and your passport/ID card details. Your emergency contact should be someone who’s prepared to come here to accompany you home if necessary.
Within the overall requirement to get the day’s jobs done between us, if you particularly enjoy things like cooking, preserving and cleaning, then you can opt to do more of that than the land or building work. Or vice versa.
If you’re a couple wanting to come here and only one person wants to work, the other will need to pay their way.
I can just about get by in Portuguese and French, but I’m a long way from being fluent in either, so a good understanding of English is imperative.
* A small fee is payable to the person providing the specialist instruction if it’s not me. A matched donation of 5€ is required for touring other quintas (ie. you pay 5€ and I pay another 5€ on your behalf). Visits are not part of your weekly minimum working hours. Course participation is, provided you’re simultaneously helping out with refreshments, meals, and generally lending a hand with things. (That will mean you miss bits here and there, which is why you get it for free.)
** Exceptions to the one month minimum stay for first-time volunteers here can be made for experienced volunteers, horticulturalists, people with trades like carpentry, forestry, building, stonework, etc, or people who are just very quick on the uptake where I can put you to work usefully straight away, you know what you’re doing and you don’t require detailed instruction and supervision.
Smoking, drinking, etc
All accommodation and buildings here are no-smoking zones (as well as no outdoor footwear zones). Smokers MUST be acutely conscious of fire risk, which is extreme here in summer, and responsible for cleaning up after themselves at all times.
I have no objection to smoking and drinking, etc, provided it’s in moderation (eg. socialising/unwinding at the end of the day or the occasional party), doesn’t compromise your ability to function or operate machinery on a daily basis, and isn’t of the level of dependency that’s required to even get you out of bed of a morning.
There is parking and turning space with a park-up for one average-sized camper van.
While our track is perfectly negotiable (with care) by anything between an ordinary car and a large wood lorry, underpowered vehicles with low ground clearance may struggle with some sections.
This part of Portugal gets just as much rain as the UK and the rest of Europe’s Atlantic coastline, except it usually all falls in the winter months, often in large amounts. Camping in a tent through these seasons can be pretty miserable and isn’t recommended.
Portugal has a lot of devastating wildfires in summer and campfires are not permitted between May and November.
Benfeita village shop, which stocks a reasonable range of basics, is 500m away down the hill from the quinta. There’s also a post office (mornings only) and café, and a craftworkers’ cooperative with a workshop and shop. The butcher’s is open on Wednesdays. There’s a number of van deliveries: two daily bread vans, weekly fish and vegetables, and monthly frozen food, though catching any of them is mostly a matter of luck or ESP.
There are also two village shops/cafés in the village of Luadas, 100m above the quinta and around 2-3 times the walking distance.
Being right above the village of Benfeita, we’re reminded of the time every half hour between the hours of 7am and 10pm by the village church bells. If you’re staying in the Wee House, caravans, or camping around that side of the quinta, it can be intrusive if this sort of thing bothers you. People do find they tend to get used to it very quickly though.
Mobile phone signal here is good to reasonable, depending on your network. Portugal Telecom’s MEO network has the best coverage. Vodafone is patchy to poor. If your network doesn’t work here, you’ll get a signal in Luadas.
In summer, the outdoor café in Benfeita has free wifi. The café/restaurant in Pardieiros, the next village along from Benfeita, has free wifi year round. My own internet connection is wireless, has patchy reception and a limited data allowance, so is not available for volunteers’ use except in emergencies.
If you don’t have your own laptop/tablet/smartphone, free computers with internet access are available for use at Côja library 8km away. I can give you a lift if I’m going that way, you can shout out for a lift on the Benfeita Car Pool Facebook page via my connection, there’s a bus (infrequent), or it’s a good walk.
There are great walks to take in your free time in the surrounding hills and valleys. Summers here are liberally punctuated by these, visits to mountain swimming spots, local markets, festas and restaurants. Life here isn’t all hard work …