It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on my blog regarding my Earth Neighbours project or even anything related to my own personal project – Quinta das Moitas.
The last couple of years have been a bit overwhelming for me and didn’t feel that I could write anything positive with all the turmoil that was happening in my life. The disillusionment seems to have served me well in teaching me the basic and fundamental ethic of Self Care – the underlying foundation on which all the ethics of Permaculture are really nothing without. Although, after some reflection on this I can also see that aligning oneself with the ethics of Permaculture – Care for the Earth, Care for People and Fair Share – is ultimately about caring for oneself with the understanding of our part in the greater whole.
Now that the sun is shining and things are looking brighter it seems that it’s a good time to start writing again and so with the opportunity of writing an article for Pure Portugal I thought it would be good to write something on the Earth Neighbours Project. A project I hold close to my heart. It seems that there are some misunderstandings that arise as to what it’s about and how it works and I often get the impression that people think it’s limited to my own farm project (What I refer to as a ‘nucleus project’) and it’s surrounding land, but it’s much more than that. It’s about making it possible for anyone else who is in a similar position and likes the idea. I hope that this writing can help anyone who is potentially interested in the idea to get a clearer understanding of what it’s about as well as invite discussion / questions about it. I originally wrote an article titled ‘Reoccupy Portugal‘ which may have given the impression that it was about squatting land (it was just a word play with what was going on at the time – Occupy Wall St). So just to be clear, it’s not about squatting land, although this kind of scenario isn’t excluded so long as it’s done legally or with consent of owners/locals.
The idea started shortly after I’d purchased an abandoned farm on which I intended to carry out my Permaculture Regeneration Project. This land which had been abandoned for so long, was surrounded by many plots of farm land that were also in a state of abandon, many of which still had ruins on them and some with good water. It seemed to be calling out for a renewal and regeneration. Having been inspired by Permaculture Design I had visions of what could become of all this land should it be reoccupied by like minded folk with similar intentions. What I saw was like a big jigsaw puzzle. Each land being a piece of the puzzle that would bring it’s own colour to the bigger picture and each would be aligned with the vision of regenerating and caring for the land, as custodians and living as a sustainable community – or neighbourhood rather.
As I spent more time in Portugal I met many others who, like me, had been inspired to start a project based on a more natural way of living and were finding themselves quite isolated and at a distance from any like minded community who they could connect with, and that they too were surrounded by abandoned plots of land, that if the owners could be found would make good homes for suitable neighbours who resonated with what these ‘nucleus’ projects were already doing there. All that was required was some way of showing that these projects, each of them unique and wonderful in their own way, were out there, and to facilitate a connection to them for anyone potentially interested in becoming neighbours with them.
So, in it’s essence, Earth Neighbours is a very simple idea, of building community around existing nucleus projects that have already taken the leap of faith in terms of establishing themselves on the land. It is also something that seems to be happening quite naturally in some places, without any assistance, and that’s great, so I just see the EN project as something there to help facilitate this. For me it also has to do with a calling, to help reconnect people back to the land. Earth Neighbours is not defined by any particular project such as my own – Quinta das Moitas (which is what is often assumed). My own project is just one of the many projects that is open to the idea of developing a neighbourhood around them as a collaborative regeneration experiment. I do see my project as a kind of test case and I am, right now potentially the most active in working towards seeing if this idea can really work. So far I have made contact with several owners of land around me and I’m in the process of negotiating with people that are interested in participating. I’m particularly interested in attracting people who, like me, are inspired by Permaculture and wish to restore this beautiful yet challenging landscape back into an abundant and productive forest. The land around me does have certain challenges with respect to year round water availability for irrigation and because of this I see a scenario involving the building of lakes and dams. So too with respects to challenges, I imagine that each neighbourhood project would have it’s own practical challenges with respect to such things as water, terrain, climate, fire risk etc (not to mention social challenges which will always come up) and this would be part of the beauty of it also to see how these things will be dealt with. Earth Neighbours, (for the moment at least) doesn’t try and push any type of spiritual ideology. It’s simply a tool to help build respectful, earth connected communities.
Earth Neighbours as an online platform is about providing a place where nucleus projects can post information about themselves and receive help on any of the steps involved in actually creating a neighbourhood around them. There are several preliminary steps involved and some of them are steps that members of the actual nucleus project may not feel so comfortable with, so I think it would be a good idea if the web site can provide some facilitation to outside help, and this could perhaps create some kind of trade / fair exchange with like minded people that would be willing to help with such things as making connections with the surrounding land owners, finding out details of the available land, working out legal issues etc.
At present the web site looks quite good, but in terms of it’s function is still quite basic. My friend came up with the design and I then built it myself. All project submissions are submitted via email which I then receive and upload myself. So far there are about 15 or so nucleus projects that have been posted on the site. The project is receiving a really good response, but I’m looking for support with respect to developing this project further. I feel that now is the time. I’d really like to be able to develop the web site so that people can register and submit their own projects directly as well as enter and update any information about pieces of surrounding land that they know are available (description, photos, price, distance from nucleus project, etc). I could potentially do some or most of the programming by myself but it would require a good deal of focused time and energy. My thoughts were to submit the project for crowdfunding to see if I can get the necessary capital to pay for the development of this next phase but so far I’ve not had the confidence to do this so if there is anyone out there who has had experience at submitting a crowdfunding project or feel they could help me in any way then I’d love to hear from you.
Update 02 January 2016.
For anyone interested in seeing how things are progressing around me: 2016 – Year of Action