In the winter of 2017 the Schwab family from Germany bought their own piece of Andalucia in Spain to set up a new organic farm.
Over the course of 2018 a lot of work was put into building a new home on the farmstead and to set up some basic infrastructure. Over time old existing structures will be remodeled or replaced to meet the needs of the farm operation as it develops. Here is a quick video that we shot to try out a new dron. It’s not perfect but gives a first impression of what we started with and shows some early stages of the development of the place. It was filmed in summer 2018.
Plans are pretty useless to follow but the act of planning is essential for every undertaking. By thinking hard about what to do and how to do it gives you a lot of insight into the problem you want to solve or what exactly you want to create.
That said we don’t have a precise plan with milestones and fixed dates. In the very end nature will tell us what works and what not and we have to constantly adapt to it.
But we do have an idea about a sequence and that is what we can share here. The sequence represents what we want to accomplish in that order. It does not say we are only doing these things and wait until we start the next step. It’s always good to look a bit ahead but one has to be careful not to become too distracted by doing so.
At the moment we live in the small town of Pozoblanco which is about 50 km away from the farm. That means we have a daily drive of 100 km for anything we want to do. As you can imagine we don’t really like that situation but at the moment there is no other way. So the highest priority is to build a house and be on the land fulltime to develop it further. You can follow along as we build the house.
Food for humans comes from plants and animals. In 2018 we already have a number of animals present at the farm. There is a horse, a few sheep, pigs and cows. None of these are directly involved in food production. Their job at the moment is teach us about how we should create a positive environment for them and help us to regenerate soil by doing what they do.
The cows are regenerating the pasture and thus help to retain more moisture in the soil for longer which should help to maintain the place green for longer when summer starts. Healthier pasture should also attract more insects, birds and other animals as well as plants. Nature will certainly take advantage of improved conditions that the cows create through our rotational grazing system.
In order to sanitize the areas where all the grazing animals hang out we introduce chickens. They will distribute the manure through scratching and eat the fly larvae and maggots that, when out in force, do damage to the grazing animals. At the same time the chickens will further fertilize the soil with their own manure. The chickens will be free ranging and have some mobile shelter for the night. The hens are being provided nesting boxes in these mobile shelters and thus we will be able to collect eggs.
Therefore this development stage will be about producing eggs and set up some food forests and an early version of the market garden for vegetables and other produce. We will learn how to do these things and have lots of opportunities to optimize our processes and to find the right tools.
Unlike in the past centuries we cannot really expect potential customers to find us. We need to find our market. That process is called customer develoment and is at the center of ideas such as Lean Startup.
Coming from a software development and high-tech background we will try to leverage as much of 21st century methods to communicate and interact with our customers to make finding and buying high quality food as effortless and pleasant as possible. We do hope this will give us a competitive edge.
Once we got the basics right we can continue to create more food production systems based on feedback and demand from our customers. We also want to find and offer companion products and services. That might be tools for the kitchen and recipes so that it’s easier to make good meals out of the raw product that we provide. Or it might even be prepared and canned meals that are easy to heat up and consume. There are many things that we might be able to offer in the future.
We certainly will open up our farm to visitors. Not only that we want to actively invite people to come and have a good time at our place. We also have some ideas about offering farm stays, horseback riding adventures to the surrounding areas amongst other things. That will involve to construct a number of small wood cabins and maybe even have an on-farm restaurant.
Further, people should be able to come and work with us and learn about permaculture and holistic management. We might have an internship program.
We might also offer some seminars about modern corporate management practices, software development and other topics in cooperation with other people.
We might be trying hard to do the right thing and may believe that’s enough. However, not everyone does and there are authorities around to supervise what’s going on in the food industry. We have to learn to work with the authorities that govern animal keeping and food production in Spain and the European Union.
The good part is that we can leverage a lot of experience from all across the European Union. The rules are essentially the same in all member countries. Unfortunately for us, Spain has a bit a reputation of being overly formal and strict in some areas. We do believe that by engaging in a dialog with the people working in the authorities we can resolve issues that might arise but here and there it might take time.
We already noticed that some of the ideas we are pondering about are unheard of in our area of Spain. So we might have to do some convincing here and there.
It’s a bit unfortunate that trying to establish natural systems and good animal stewardship or even a stress-free slaugthering process seem to require explanations and some sort of negotiation with the authorities. But then we are not the first. Many permaculturists have faced the same obstacles and prevailed before us.