Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Get involved

This is an invitation to get involved and to participate in the work of the quinta in an exploration of cooperative, crowd-sourced, regenerative development.

Through collaborating with us to carry the work of the quinta forward, you participate in both the project itself and in the wider community in which it’s embedded as we explore ways of reimagining and redesigning human community to work with nature instead of against it.

Participate in the feminine as it rises from the ashes. Participate in the community of Life!

(For details of this photoessay, see the bottom of the page. Image © Mizé Jacinto)

It’s about gaining a foothold in an emergent paradigm. Walking the talk.

In the wake of the fires which swept through this quinta and 2,000 square kilometres around it in October 2017, I had little option but to face the necessity of asking for support. It was clear giving up and walking away was not an option. My work here is not finished. But to attempt to recover and rebuild the quinta alone when so much was destroyed was impossible. There was no choice but to step out of my comfort zone, however awkwardly and clumsily, and put the request ‘out there’.

The response has been deeply humbling. The extent of people’s generosity in the four years since has at times bowled me right over. My heartfelt gratitude and thanks go out to all of you. I quite literally couldn’t have got this far since without you.

Many people have contributed to the quinta’s recovery (still ongoing) both financially and with their own hands and energy. In the course of this I’ve come to appreciate the extent to which this project is capable of inspiring and involving people in the transformative process necessary to restore life and health to this beautiful planet and our human communities within it.

It’s also emphasised the fact that human communities are no exception to the profound interconnectedness and interdependency of living systems, and that no project can ever exist in a glorious little bubble of isolation, divorced from its local context.

At every level of organisation, we are part of the Web of Life and we all thrive in an environment which brings out our natural inbuilt sense of relatedness and community, and our capacity for cooperation.

Self-sufficiency – at least as it’s commonly conceptualised – is an illusion. It’s not how life works.

So when I came to update this page at the start of a new decade, I came up against this word “support” again. It still felt awkward and clumsy. Something about it seems too one-sided, lacking in the mutualistic symbiosis which underpins natural relationships. It’s altogether wrong. It’s not support I want to ask for at all.

So I want to invite you to participate. Participation is involvement. It’s community. It’s relationship. It’s reciprocity. It’s cooperative creativity. It feels much more exciting and full of life and all manner of potential than “support”, even if – paradoxically – mutual support is very much part of participation.

As a beautiful example of the kind of participative mutuality I’m talking about, this stark and moving video was generously made for the entire community by a passing Belgian filmmaker to help us raise funds to rise from the ashes. Quinta do Vale features. (I’m the one with the cats in front of what was the wee house.)

Until the fires, the ambition and scale of this project were still relatively modest, even though it had all grown substantially from how I originally conceived our family-scale initiative a decade ago. All the developments here until the fires were funded from my personal savings. The enormous damages suffered in the fires consumed the last of them.

Nothing was insured as I’d been told I couldn’t get insurance on unfinished buildings. Ironically, several projects, like the wee house and the geodome greenhouse, were so close to being finished that less than a month’s work on each would have seen them completed.

But it is what it is. So now we rebuild.

Participate in the feminine as it rises from the ashes. Participate in the community of Life!

(For details of this photoessay, see the bottom of the page. Image © Mizé Jacinto)

After 18 months of gruelling paperwork, the wee house qualified for support from the EU disaster relief funding provided to Portugal in the wake of the fires. It is being rebuilt.

None of the other structures here were eligible. Or if they were I had so much conflicting advice about them which I couldn’t get to the bottom of I either missed the application deadlines or gave up the pursuit out of sheer exhaustion. This is a risk with doing something different to what’s considered ‘normal’. You don’t fit easily into the designated boxes and officials’ interpretations of what does or doesn’t qualify vary hugely. No box tick, no benefit.

But one way or another we will find a way to restore what was lost.

And with the rebuilding, I want to feel my way into all the potential ways this project can be in service to the Earth and become more of a nexus to explore, incorporate and grow the massive changes needed in all aspects of our lives in order for us to transform, in Clare Dubois of TreeSisters words, from “a consumer species to a restorer species”.

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.

Doing this alone is not only impossible but wholly inappropriate. At the deepest level, this is about letting go of the illusion of the separate self and rejoining the community of Life.

So I would like to invite you to join me! To participate in this work in whatever way inspires you. And by whatever way, I mean literally that. Whether it’s a relationship that develops into a lifetime’s friendship or a dip onto our world that’s only momentary; whether it’s coming here to visit, volunteer or learn, sponsoring a project or sending a donation from afar, or just connecting with the work here online, it’s all hugely appreciated. Your attention and your energy sustains our work on the ground. And the possibilities for collaboration are almost endless.

Project ethos

It feels important to clearly state one basic principle right from the start.

This project has never been and will never be run under anything other than a fundamental not-for-profit ethos. There are running expenses to cover, taxes to pay, and volunteers and me to maintain, but beyond that I have no interest in money. The personal rewards are all in the work and the living. Everything that’s of any true value can’t be bought.

Money is just energy tokens. We really need to diversify away from its exclusive use to bring resilience, connection and a sense of real value back into our communities and relationships. Our fixation on this one means of exchange has made us fragile and vulnerable, not only to its inevitable collapse but to manipulation and control of the means of access. We are breaking all Nature’s rules here. Developing pathways to alternatives – always with an eye to the principle of biomimicry – is what interests me, even while acknowledging that at this stage I am still embedded within a society that runs on different wheels and have to compromise with some of its demands.

Participate in the synergy rising from the ashes. Participate in the community of Life!

The moment Mizé captured in this image (see bottom of the page for details) was the moment when, amidst the contemplation of all the awful heartbreaking devastation brought by the fires – signified by the black clothes we were wearing – I started to think about what the fires were catalysing within us and the beginnings of a smile are starting to form. This project also took me outside my comfort zone – I don’t much care for being photographed – but it was something I had to do. Image © Mizé Jacinto

Everything I receive over and above these basic expenses will go into developing and improving the facilities here for the quinta to realise its full potential. Courses are – and will be – priced as low as possible in order to make them as accessible as possible. Some events will be run on an expenses-only basis. Wherever possible, opportunities for hands-on involvement in the building of low impact structures and infrastructure will be made available in order to share the knowledge.

As I start feeling my way into what the quinta might become and the connections and relationships it can support, seeing what materialises out of that vast sea of collaborative potential to guide the process, this section will evolve and change. So please see the following outlines as just a starter for 10. Where we are now. More suggestions are very welcome, especially since the whole process of redesigning our societies and economies can only be a collaborative and inclusive one!

I anticipate that once this task gathers momentum, the hive mind will come up with innovative ways we can develop mutuality beyond the scope of our immediate communities under a fundamentally circular set of principles.

How you can participate

If you’d like to be kept informed about opportunities at the quinta, whether volunteering, participating in courses, or sponsoring one of our ongoing projects, please sign up to our mailing list below. It’s only used once or twice a year at present and that will grow as participation grows, but I promise I will never bombard your inbox!

Get in touch

If you have some ideas about how you’d like to participate and skills you’d like to contribute, please contact me! I am open to literally any idea you might have! The synergy of a shared creative process always seems to result in something so much greater than the sum of its parts – a signature quality of functional ecosystems.

Forging links with colleges, universities, organisations, non-profits, potential sponsors and benefactors, etc, is also an important area of development. Many academic links have already been made, but this is an area I see of increasing importance as the work of the community association we’ve recently formed begins.

This association will act as an umbrella organisation for all regenerative projects within these valleys, whether environmental, social or economic (see the Community page for more details, or the association’s own website). Aside from specific projects with defined timelines for completion, individual projects like this one come under its umbrella and, together with other similar projects, participate in various programs only available to organisations. Watch these spaces for developments!

I look forward to welcoming you on board.

The image at the top of the page and others featured on this page are © Mizé Jacinto. They are from “ONE“, a photoessay on the fires of October 2017 involving women from the burned regions of the Serra do Açor and Pinhal de Leiria. The images are of me and 3 friends, Raquel Perdigão Williams, Rita Martins and Laura Williams. Here we are after the session, L to R – Raquel, Mizé, Laura, Rita and me. And not forgetting Leo.

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