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Farm Hands: Raising "Fearless Vegetables" on a Spanish Biodynamic Farm

Ronald Saunders

Vanessa puts away her cell phone and digs into permaculture on a volunteer placement in Spain.

I was born at the foot of a mountain in a house with a garden for a roof, deep in the south of France. Or maybe it was really a 1970s ranch-style house in front of a cornfield in rural Ohio. There was definitely a garden though.

The garden was made up of straight rows of carrots, beans, peas, squash, and sometimes pumpkins. I helped my Dad plant the seeds in the spring, carefully placing them in the cool, dark earth, then sprinkling water over them as if to christen or bless them. I always said my own little prayer for each of them to grow big and strong and fearless. I’m not sure why I thought vegetables should be fearless but I did. I thought that maybe it was good for everyone to be a bit fearless. I tried to be.

About a week ago, I arrived in a cloud of dust on a dirt road outside a stone house surrounded by olive and almond trees. I had biked up a winding mountain road from Valderrobres, Spain with my backpack. The house had sort of snuck up on me and I had come to an ungraceful skidding halt at its gate. This was to be my home for the next two weeks, where I would help with gardening and (hopefully) learn a little about building a sustainable house.

There didn’t seem to be anyone around and I wondered if I should call out or just walk right up to the house. As I looked closer, I noticed that it looked as if someone had started some sort of garden on the roof of the ancient stone house. I smiled and headed for the house.

I was greeted by a couple dogs and chickens and, eventually, Kristin, my host. She hugged me and showed me to my room that had a beautiful view of the mountains behind.

“Let’s have some lunch,” Kristin said, “then I’ll show you around.”

Kristin and her husband are working on various projects, all of which are biodynamic and utilize the principles of permaculture. I didn’t know much about either before showing up but Kristin is a great teacher and an endless fountain of information.

Biodynamic gardening is essentially the practice of creating a diversified, balanced farm that generates health and fertility from within. I was fascinated.

Biodynamic gardening is essentially the practice of creating a diversified, balanced farm that generates health and fertility from within. It is about manifesting your own little "circle of life" and nurturing and encouraging it. It is the idea that everything you need comes from nature and yourself. I was fascinated.

Permaculture is a "whole systems" kind of thinking. It is a creative design process heaped in ethics and principles. I believe there are 12 principles, but the two that Kristin talks about the most are "small and slow solutions" and "produce no waste."

Everything here is done with great thought and care. I am learning a little about patience. Kristin watches the seedlings grow though I can hardly discern a change from day-to-day. “Look closer,” she says, “look closer.”

They do have cell service and Internet here but, after the first day, I started leaving my phone in my room and I don’t think about Instagramming anything or posting to Facebook.

I think I want to keep this little piece of Spain to myself. I’m happy here in the mountains, my hands in the dirt. I am helping to make things grow. I say my blessing for each seedling just as I did when I was young and helping my Dad. I told Kristin the story and she thinks it’s a great thing for vegetables to be fearless.

The moon is up now and I can hear Kristin and her husband laughing somewhere in the darkness. I get up and walk barefoot out to the yard, across the field. I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. Tomorrow, we’re going to do some work on the garden on the roof. I can’t wait.


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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Vanessa Nirode

Vanessa Nirode is a runner, cyclist, writer and pattern maker based in New York City, who is taking an adult "gap year" this summer. Through www.workaway.info, she is working on eco-projects in Spain, Italy and Croatia, including building an earthship in northern Spain. She is also taking part in a work study program hosted by City Travel Review in Barcelona, where she is assisting in writing a city travel guide.

Website: www.girlsdrinkstout.com

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