We grow olives, almonds and soil. Olives because in Catalunya we tasted the best olive oil we had ever experienced. Almonds because they are a wonderful tree based "grain alternative" bursting with nutrition. And soil because the world's running out! Through permaculture and regenerative farming methods we are building an integrated cycle that feeds our land, our crops and our family.
Our Finca is a small 3.5 acre olive and almond grove passed down three generations before we took ownership of it. Farmland here is divided into these small plots of family heritage and as well as olives and almonds we are surrounded by orchards of pear, peach, nectarine and apricot and vineyards in the river valley.
However, as in most of the world, small scale family farming isn't viable in terms of the income it brings or the productivity of the depleted soil and ecosystems left behind by the chemical input farming methods.
At Finca Slow we are trying to build an integrated loop of a system where the various elements feed into each other and provide multiple functions and outputs. For example the chickens; we have more chickens than a family of four needs, but we require a big enough impact from them as we "tractor" them under the trees managing the grass, fertilising and picking out the pests such as the larvae of the olive fly. The cost of keeping the chickens is less than the previous owner spent on chemical fertiliser and selling the excess eggs makes the balance even more favourable. We are starting to grow some cereal crops such as sorghum and amaranth for the chickens' feed and hoping to neutralise the input costs by selling some.
Tree growers here have a standard practice of burning the prunings in big bonfires. We share a chipper with three other friends and make fabulous compost and mulch with the chippings. We are in the process of building a big Jean Pain compost heap to provide us with a year's worth of hot water. Woodchips are also perfect for growing mycelium, both for eating and developing healthy soil and trees. These are all ways of turning a waste product to our great benefit.
As well as spraying the tree crops heavily with fungicide and pesticide, another standard practice in the area is killing all the grass under the tree crops with herbicide. The rationale is removing competition for water, but in fact the effect is the opposite. Bare ground causes the water to run, take topsoil with it and evaporate quickly whereas healthy pasture holds water like a sponge and the roots hold the topsoil in place.
Healthy soil is alive with organic matter, minerals and a load of micro- and macro-organisms that transform nutrients into digestible form for the plants. We have learnt regenerative agriculture techniques for harvesting bacteria and fungi from natural ecosystems, multiplying them at home and making inoculants to inject life back into the eroded soil. The micro-organisms strengthen the trees making them less vulnerable to attack from pests or illness.
With time we are hoping to sell the inoculants too to other growers and home gardeners.
We are experiencing the annual cycle of the grove for the second time now. We have acquired so much knowledge and understanding, but we still have huge amounts to learn. The list of things to do keeps on growing as fast as we tick things off. But we are excited about every step, because living and working on the land, we finally feel we are doing what we were meant to do.