Vale da Sarvinda: when the ideas become realities

Since We are collaborating in a project about agriculture, ecology, sustainable way of life, and we are knew this topics, we had the opportunity to visit a big project that is implementing the same principles. Vale da Servinda is placed in the south centre of Portugal, one hour far away from where we are working. So we went to see their working methods and their vision to have a more clear idea of those kind of realities in which Portugal is investing now a lot, and that people from all over the world is coming to know. 

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It is situated in the council of Vila Velha de Rodão, Castelo Branco district exactly inside International Natural Reserve of Tejo. If you want to explain someone where is Vale da Sarvinda you must say the location. Looks easy to reach.. But if you don’t  know where Federico you will wait for you, it is very simple to get lost!

Alright don’t be afraid it was just my feelings, it is such a big land: 180 hectares; if you think that it is as four Vatican City! This land is full of olives tree, blue currants, berries, green house for mushrooms, other plants and “weird” roundhouse buildings and many other things. So after got lost just one time we arrived and we met Federico, who brought us  to discover the land explaining all the different parts.

The foundations of the project had been based over ten years ago when Federico and his two friends, a lawyer and a financial counselor, begun to think how to put in practice their project, moved by a different vision of the world. In 2012 they obtained 40 hectares of land that at the beginning was rented with selling option.

“The starting point has been complicated” said Federico, “We had nothing, I used to  live in a tent and it was really hard”. In spite of this first difficulties, thanks to a good planning and European funds, They achieved the actual condition: 180 hectares of land with more then 20 different projects and this year also the win of Prémio Quercus.

Organizational structure

Every project of Vale da Sarvinda is independent, each of them are managed by one singular responsible entity. This choice is interesting because the presence of many independent projects allows to split the risk between all of them and at the same time to let them advance in a heterogeneous way. In addition the workers have the possibility to choose in which project be involved also in more than one contemporaneously. They can independently decide about the tasks to carry out, but they have the responsibility to prove that the convergence between the roles and their competencies is satisfying. The decision process is engaging, all the members of the project participate to an assembly to take any decision through vote. They have also a peculiar approach to the division of salaries: nobody can perceive more than two times the minimum wage. This contributes to create a confidence and involvement climate.

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Sustainability 

The goal is to create a completely self-sufficient ecovillage for both food and energy. For what concern food, they already have different species of vegetables and fruits but they want to increase this variety (also cereals) utilizing the principles of permaculture and biodynamic agriculture.

With regard to energy they are using two sources: solar panels and biomass. They are already self-sustaining and increasing the dimension of structure there will create a big network of energy: connecting solar panels one to another, to windmill blades and to water system.

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Solar panels
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Water heating system

One of the main problem of that land is the lacking of water. There is a river but at the moment is too expensive to take the water from there, so they are working to develop a system for that;  in the while they are using ditches for the gathering of rain water and the pumping from the soil. IMG_6138_edited

The major part of the land has been terraced in order to use the plot in a more practical way but Federico also showed us a portion that is going to be left in its natural incline. In this portion they are going to implement an innovative system of irrigation, called Kilian system, that basically permit water to take advantage of the incline to cover the area.

The projects

The projects treat different fields, one part will be dedicated to the agricultural production (olives trees, shiitaki mushrooms, one green house for sprouts,  cereals, aromatic and medicinal herbs and every kind of fruits and vegetables). IMG_6129_edited

Another section will be assign to the tourist activities (construction of one twenty rooms’ hotel, tree houses site, a restaurant, camping site). IMG_6159_editedAll materials provided for the buildings will be natural and eco-friendly like wood, clay, straw and plaster. A further project will involve also distribution, in fact the idea is to create more proximity between the producer and the consumer referring to a particular model invented in France, called Biocoop.

Community involvement

Beyond the production and tourist activities that will guarantee the economical sustainability of the project, there is one more important goal that consist to share with the community a reasonable lifestyle. “We want to contaminate positively the people” Federico said, “promoting a moderate use of energies and a healthy consumption of food”.  The energy provided will be enough for the structure as long as people has an aware of its utilization, without using too many devices simultaneously and avoiding the unnecessary. Furthermore they interact with the community creating a connection between city and countryside through the organization of workshops, events and activities. They are focused on fighting two important topics like GMO and nuclear energy.

Personal reflections

To find out those kind of experiences can leave many reflections but definitely  one of the deepest thing is: to put on practice some ideas. Nowadays people use too much terms like sustainability, ecology, responsible consumption without fully comprehend what do these concepts mean. Often we forget that beyond use nice and pretentious words, what really counts are the facts. In Vale da Sarvinda we saw a few people that really are putting on practice these concepts in which they believe; moreover they want to actively interact with the outside community, sharing their vision of the world and promoting an alternative lifestyle.

Musical suggestion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmiUloNblaY

Andrea & Valeria