ReOccupy Portugal

I have seen a possibility here and a lot of factors that work in favor of this possibility, so it has motivated me to start working on this idea.

It’s about collaboratively re-occupying and regenerating abandoned rural land, starting here in Portugal. Since I know of no other cases of this here in Portugal I will be starting with my own land as a lead case study,  lead example or pilot project for lack of any better term. I am currently in the process of investigating this further but let me explain the idea …

The idea is based on identifying large areas of land where ‘rural abandonment’ has occurred and where each of the seperate pieces of land within this area can be occupied (via purchase or some kind of exchange agreement) by individuals, partners or groups for the intention and purpose of ‘earth regeneration’. By earth regeneration what I mean is the reforestation / regeneration of land using Permaculture Principles (principles derived from observing nature) to create balanced, diverse and resilient eco-systems capable of supporting productive, sustainable agriculture and as a consequence promote a sustainable localised economy for the incumbent and surrounding community.

The idea would be that each piece of land remains autonomous and that the owners / occupiers (I would like to call them ‘Earth Neighbours’ since it is in tune with the idea I’m trying to convey) would be responsible for the regeneration of their own piece of land (and of course, they would be free and encouraged to collaborate with the regeneration of their neighbour’s land also). Each of these pieces of land would then form the greater area; a kind of Permaculture Community Conservation Park. I refer to it as such because it would be my hope that ultimately these areas could be recognised as sanctuaries (protected areas) for wildlife and biodiversity and therefore worthy of conservation (and conversation – dialogue, etc). Of course that would responsibility would always lie in the hands of it’s custodians.

Obviously there are many things to think about. Right now though it is a simple intention and an invitation for any who wish to express their interest in participating in a co-creative experiment (or perhaps create your own?). One in which we can migrate away from, and also to open the
possibility for others to migrate away from, the current ‘machine mind’ and ‘centrally controlled’ culture that is going through it’s disintegration and work towards the possibility of humans of like spirit cooperating and working together towards effectively regenerating Mother Earth back to a state of health, one peace at a time.

So to draw an analogy, imagine a jigsaw puzzle which is the larger area of land (which could potentially become a Permaculture Community Conservation Park) and each of the pieces of individual land within this defined area being the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. We, the ‘Earth Neighbours’, would be helping to put it all together and then eventually connecting with other surrounding communities that would be doing the same thing (I would like to write more about this greater network but will write something later to express in my view what this would be like, but if you can imagine how the world wide web works – or even better, a mycelial network, then it might give some insight). We’ve already developed it into the World Wide Web so now we just need to implement it with respects to our communities. This could be a great opportunity to experiment with this. The truth is we don’t have much to lose. We just need to start living it.

How did this idea come to be?

I have purchased a piece of land very close to the Serra da Estrela region in Central Portugal. What once was part of Lusitania (means ‘the land of light’). Also the home of another dying breed, the shepherds of Serra da Estrela). Around me I see old pasture land, that has been abandoned, some of it for a long time. The old folks who used to work the land as conventional farmers have now either retired, left the area or passed on and left the land to their heirs whom have no interest in farming. Many of the old farmers I have spoken with express sadness in seeing how land has been left abandoned. The piece of land that I have purchased for example, had been abandoned for around 20-25 years. Most of the lands have buildings / ruins on them, some of them closer to a more habitable state than others and many have wells which seem to have plentiful water. The land is rolling hillside and has great views overlooking the Serra da Estrella on one side and expansive views towards looking towards the Caramulo Ranges along the other side.

When I look out I imagine seeing these hills covered in forests.

The vision came from an idea passed onto me by my friend Leonardo. I have held this vision, or should I say this vision has held me for some time and it has not left me, so I must investigate the possibilities of it and see for myself the possibilities of this. A large part of my motivation for attempting this comes from seeing the deforestation that exists around here as a result of conventional agriculture and fires. I am also motivated by the fact that every day we are deforesting so much of our planet, wanting to make a change and knowing that I can only start where I am now, and that is here.

I see many challenges here also, one of which being that the threat of fire seems to be getting greater here. Usually they are man made. The one underlying cause that connects all these incidences together is tied to ignorance. I will go no further than explaining it that way in order to keep it short and simple. What I believe is required is that a greater awareness be applied to this issue so that awakening can happen in respects to the value of our environment and the consequences of it’s mistreatment. What this means to me is that if there are more people in an area who carry a more conscious vision and attitude towards the environment then this will change others in the area also. It is like inspiration. If we are capable of being inspired by others, then surely we are also capable of inspiring others (by following our inspiration).

Let’s take a little break and be served with some inspiration:

What could be?

I see lots of potential here for a regeneration project such as the one I’ve been describing. Although a lot of the land around me has suffered much fire damage and is left abandoned, I have visions of it being converted into a lush forest and believe that with the co-operation of others this can be achieved. Sustainable Agro Forestry that could re-invigorate the area with bio-diverse life and bring with it the opportunity to create a new economy based on local community values. Something that I believe is much needed at this present moment in time. It could also serve as an example and opportunity to others in Portugal who wish to do the same thing.

The first steps …

So, the idea is grand, but it starts with the first step which is what I’m currently working on; to find out who the owners of each of the surrounding properties are and see if they are all open to selling at prices that would be affordable to those who would wish to join this ‘intentional land sharing and reforestation project’. Even if they are not willing to sell then I will investigate other possibilities with regards to agreements that can be made to allow occupation by fellow ‘Earth Neighbours’.

If I see positive signs then I will look at dedicating a web site to the idea and share the information in a more detailed format. Also to publicise descriptions and photos of the lands that will be available relevant to this area. Then it will be a matter of seeing what interest there is for this and see what kind of intentioned individuals and groups it attracts. If the web site is successful then I guess it can also be used to inspire and facilitate other parties who wish to try the same thing in their area.

Is it an idea that will be welcomed by Portugal?

We will soon find out. If more of these intentional projects can arise across Portugal then perhaps we could see the beginning of a much needed revolution? People coming full circle, going back to the land, reforesting and regenerating the earth and bringing with it a new, sustainable economy based on respecting the values of Gaia. Then we can allow the old structures (economic and otherwise) to fall gracefully rather than with panic and confusion. I fear though that there isn’t alot of time so if you like the idea then I would invite collaboration.

Do you like the idea?

I like the idea and I believe it’s possible. Of course I’m a dreamer. If you like the idea or are inspired by this vision then I invite you to feed back, comment, share whatever ideas you have that could help take this one step closer to becoming a reality.

Treasure is stored in the ruined places. Rumi

Update 11 February 2012
Yay! Article Published on Permaculture News

Update 7 April 2013
1st phase of Earth Neighbours web site live:

Update 1 June 2013
2nd phase of Earth Neighbours web site live: Woooohoooooo!!!

Update 1st September 2015
Blog article clarifying some things about What is Earth Neighbours?

What is Permaculture?

The word “Permaculture” was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It was originally a contraction of “permanent agriculture” but is often now explained as relating to “permanent culture.” Permaculture is an Australian invention but has now spread all around the world.

There are so many definitions for Permaculture. Every time I am asked what it is I have to think about it and often come out with a different way of explaining it. I’ve looked around on the web for different ways of describing what it is so that it can be clearly understood by people who don’t know what it is …

‘Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability which encompasses all aspects of human endeavour. The philosophy of permaculture is one of working with rather than against nature. It emphasizes protracted and thoughtful observation rather than premature and thoughtless action. Permaculture design techniques encourage ecologically sound land use and apply lessons from nature. The system teaches us to create settings and construct systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Permaculture is a way of looking at life and living which incorporates traditional practices with the benefits of modern technology. It creates harmonious relationships between people and the natural environment. Permaculture teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, catch rainwater, dispose of waste responsibly, build socially viable communities, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, and much more.’

Another definition from Wikipedia

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that is modeled on the relationships found in nature. It is based on the ecology of how things interrelate rather than on the strictly biological concerns that form the foundation of modern agriculture. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs; it’s a system of design where each element supports and feeds other elements, ultimately aiming at systems that are virtually self-sustaining and into which humans fit as an integral part.

Permaculture as a systematic method was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s. The word ‘permaculture’ originally referred to ‘permanent agriculture’, but was expanded to also stand for ‘permanent culture’ as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system. Mollison has described permaculture as ‘a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system.’ [1]

Permaculture draws from several other disciplines including organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable development, and applied ecology. ‘The primary agenda of the movement has been to assist people to become more self reliant through the design and development of productive and sustainable gardens and farms. The design principles which are the conceptual foundation of permaculture were derived from the science of systems ecology and study of pre-industrial examples of sustainable land use.’ [2]

And one I saw on that I like …

‘Permaculture – A system giving high yields for low energy inputs, and using ‘only’ God’s intelligent design along with human observation & application to achieve a productive resource of great complexity and stability.’ ~ Jami/Mollison

And probably the most succint explanations I’ve heard recently spoken by one of the legends of Permaculture; Geoff Lawton:

‘It’s a system of design for sustainable living where humanity can provide for all it’s needs in a way that’s beneficial to the environment itself’

If those definitions aren’t enough here are some definitions from the elders of Permaculture.

What does Permaculture mean to me?

For me it means all of the above, but also it’s a real opportunity, to explore how we as humans, instead of being seperate from the earth and bringing degradation and destruction to it, can bring regeneration, stability, balance and sustainability. How WE can get into balance with that in which we are immersed; Nature! How we can find our place within this great eco-system in which we live so that we can live in harmony with that.

For me, this is a worthy endeavor and I feel fortunate that I am on this path.

Some good web sites if  you want to know more about Permaculture:

‘Learning to Live Well with the Earth’.
Andrew Faust has a talent for expressing what Permaculture is at it’s deepest level.

An interesting and humorous lecture on ‘Sustainability’ by Toby Hemenway.
Titled ‘How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization‘:

And if all that isn’t enough here is the cherry on top:

What Permaculture isn’t – and is. by Toby Hemenway