The PermaPuebla Inititative’s current project is to establish a Permaculture Research Institute Master Plan Site on a property of 200ha, which is located just south of the town of Tabernas, north of Almeria city, in the Andalusian province of Spain.
Due to it’s location this area has a fragile ecosystem that has fallen into desertification through inappropriate land management, making it the site of Europe’s only desert. Our observations suggest that practices such as deforestation, and an apparent move from hill based agriculture with an emphasis on water management, to intensive lowland agriculture that is dependent on wells, are largely responsible for the desruption of healthy ecosystem functioning in this area. This reliance on wells is depleting the aquifer faster than it can replenish itself, causing many wells to dry up, which forces many local farmers to abandon their land, and their children to move into the city for work, a phenomenon known as ‘Rural Exodus’.
Therefore we consider the acqisition and development of this property into a PRI Master Plan Site to be of massive importance, as its influence will help to prevent the spread of desertification in Europe by regenerating the immediate area, and teaching locals to apply Permaculture techniques to thier own land, which will stimulate the local economy and create local jobs, alongside the jobs provided by the site itself.
The size of the property makes it’s development important as a restoration project in itself, that has the potential to cause a domino effect beyond its borders, but also provides an excellent opportunity to develop and demonstrate a wide variety of Permaculture techniques for both small scale and broadacre farming.
The Story So Far…
In November 2013, whilst searching for a small property in Spain to start a Permaculture project on, Armando came across this piece of land and could instantly see its amazing potential, and has since then been looking for a way to acquire the property and establish a Permaculture project here.
In December 2014 the owner of the property presented the now formed PPI with a generous offer, that we could stay on the land for free and use it to generate the funds needed to purchase the property, an offer which provided a unique opportunity to start something special.
We decided that the best way to utilise the land to generate the funds that we needed was to grow a high value cash crop, and the one we chose was industrial hemp, which has several benefits as it is fast growing, thrives in many climates, is soil decompacting, and currently has high value derivatives.
Through the sale of this crop we predict that it will be possible to both buy the property and have funds left to jumpstart the long term goals of the project, and by generating our own funds in this way the PPI can become financially self sufficient, not dependent on outside funding, which can often come with debt or limiting conditions.
So here we are, a small team living in the semi desert who are taking pro-active steps to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity to pioneer a major project that has the potential to bring lasting, positive change to the world, by establishing the hemp farm, and by putting in place the various foundations that are needed for the wider goals of the project.
Up to now we have been financing our efforts with our own modest savings and odd-jobs, which has not been easy, but has been made easier through the kindness and generosity of people who have made donations, helped with labour, lent us tools and machinery, and assisted us in other ways. We need more help though, so if you like the project and can assist us in any way, we would be very grateful, please visit the ‘How to Participate’ and ‘Support Us’ sections to learn about how you can do this.
The property has been used as little more than an occasional holiday retreat and hunting ground for around 30 years, however the existence of multiple extensive terrace systems desribes a land that was once well managed and productive. Although largely barren and dry now, reports from locals who once lived on the property speak of flowing creeks, active springs, and a wide variety of fruit trees and other crops, no more than 50 years ago, suggesting that the land was not always this way and giving inspriation for the future.
This land has many diverse features that make it an excellent place to demonstrate and develop a wide variety of Permaculture techniques. There are multiple valley systems, both narrow and shaded and wide and exposed, with different orientations and altitudes, providing the opportunity to experiment with and demonstrate the use of several different microclimates.
As well as the diversity of landscape features, the property also contains many pre-existing terraces, which are an important feature as terraces of this kind are characteristic of the region, although many like these have been abandoned, giving us the chance to develop Permaculture techniques to show how these terraces can be used effectively and inspire people to put them back to use.
The Northern House
At the far northern entrance to the property lies the Northern House area, which can be best described as a steep valley with a dry river bed running through it. This area contains a house, a large garage/workshop, a cave room, and multiple terraces of various sizes, already with olives, pomegranates, and almonds growing on them, and has water access from a well.
We see this area as a future base for the PRI, with the Northern House as its headquarters, and other infrastructure for education and accommodation will be constructed using as much material sourced from the local area as possible. The terraces closest to the house will be used to produce food for the inhabitants, and the terraces on the other side of the valley will be used for demonstration and cash crop production. Some of the terraces in this location are so large that they present some interesting possibilities, such as trialling terrace based, tree lane pastures, and other experimental techniques for use on large terraces.
At the bottom of the valley, in the dry river bed, we envisage the construction of a series of pools that will be filled by rain water to create a water landscape, which will transform the microclimate of the valley by creating more humidity, allowing us to plant a wider variety of crops and increasing wildlife diversity. Another exciting prospect for feeding this area with water in the long term comes from a now dry spring further up the valley, which locals have confirmed, flowed no more than 50 years ago. Our preliminary research suggests that there are methods by which we could get a dry spring to flow again through reforestation, so we are interested in investigating and trialling these methods in this area, as success with this would have massive implications.
The Southern House
Nestled within the hills at the southern entrance to the property is Launa Farm, named after the distinctive purple clay found there. Launa Farm contains 4 converging valleys; 3 of which have terrace systems with many olive trees, and the fourth a dry creek with a fairly healthy riparian zone, which is bordered in by terraces on places. This area contains a house, a workshop, a large tent like structure on a flat area, and its own well that can be used to pump water to a 300,000l reservoir.
Due to practical advantages Launa Farm will be the first area developed on the property and will, in the early stages of the project, be used as both a functional arid lands demonstration farm and as an education centre, with the intention of moving the education to the Northern House area, and Launa Farm operating purely as a demonstration farm once the project is suitably developed.
Launa Farm presents a multitude of possibilities for a demonstration farm as it contains both flat, terraced areas and hills, providing the opportunity to develop and demonstrate techniques for each, as well as to demonstrate and utilise the connections between them.
The scope for the development of terraces is wide, and it is our intention for the purposes of demonstration to showcase as many possibilities as we can, including food forests, cell grazing of animals with novel solutions for adaptation to terraces, terraces with ponds to create a wetter environment, vegetable gardens, and even some techniques that appear closer to conventional agricultural methods practiced in the local area, to show that Permaculture design principles can bring enormous benefits to the land and quality of food, without having to make radical changes.
Many of the hills in this area are much too steep to use for production purposes however, due to their large water catchment area, they could provide excellent support to the terrace systems that they surround, as was probably intended in their original design. The hills are currently very dry and suffer from heavy erosion, with the water running directly down through the valleys, bringing salt with it. To tackle these issues we intend to construct a water catchment system, beginning on the peaks, which will lead rain water to saddle ponds and a series water channels/swales that could utilise Keyline Design, which will slow, sink, spread, and catch rain water, and allow us to direct it to where we need it. Alongside this we will plant trees and promote the local species that are already growing there to stabilise the hills, create organic matter, provide shade, and increase the level of moisture in the area, with the possibility of cell grazing goats there to accelerate the process.
Due to its massive water catchment, the creek area has the potential to be transformed into a wetland area through the use of techniques that will slow, sink, and spread rain water, which will cause drastic improvements to the area by attracting wildlife, increasing humidity, and infiltrating water into the ground, as well as creating a microclimate that will provide more options for crop production, and, because of its location behind the house, the creek area would also be the perfect location for the demonstration of a cutting edge natural grey/black water filtration system.
For the education infrastructure we intend to improve the tent like structure, which will become a classroom and study room, transform the workshop and its surrounding area into a student sleeping room and hangout, erect a temporary structure for use as a kitchen/dining room, and prepare a camping area.
The Central Valley
In the centre of the property is a wide open area between two ridges, with a deep and extensive erosion gulley running through it, which we call “The Central Valley”. On the northern side of this area there is a cave house, a system of multiple, large terraces, which are in good condition and have several big olive trees, and an area of hills with a shallow gradient that has some severe erosion. The southern side also has some terraces, but this side has suffered some major erosion, so some of the terraces are in need of repair .Due to large scale mechanical destruction followed by abandonment, this area could be considered the most degraded place on the property, in fact, the degradation here is so dramatic and extensive that it can be clearly differentiated from the surrounding area on satellite imagery!
The Central Valley requires a major restoration effort to be a functional and productive; however its size and massive water catchment give it extraordinarily exciting potential. To start with we intend to establish a base in this area by repairing and improving the cave house, and by using the terraces on the northern side to produce food for the needs of the people who are working on this area, which will also kick start the restoration process by forming a nucleus of life that will spread outwards from this location.
To tackle the gulley in the centre of the valley we have imagined a real “problem is the solution” scenario, whereby we dam the gulley and utilise the rainfall from large rain events, that currently flows down the valley and off the property, to fill it and form a huge lake. From examples that we have seen this would be an achievable scenario, and its impact would be stunning and massively beneficial. Around this we could make use of the gentle slopes and flatter areas for the demonstration of large scale tree lane pasture cropping systems for supporting cattle, growing grains, wood production, and tree crops, as well as establishing a small settlement, with houses and practical farm infrastructure, constructed with, and demonstrating cutting edge ecological building methods. We are very excited about this plan as it would create a working model of a truly self-sufficient Permaculture settlement, and would be an inspirational example of how it is possible to transform even the most degraded land into a paradise through the use of regenerative land management techniques.
Hills and Wild Areas
As well as these 3 distinctive areas there are also multiple areas on the property that are less easy to label, but are nonetheless important areas to develop for the regeneration of the land as they will form our Zone 5, or wild areas.
Most notable of these is the area of hills behind Launa Farm that are part of the Sierra Alhamilla mountain range, which includes an impressive rocky peak that has spectacular views over the whole property and beyond, the upper part of the creek that comes down through Launa Farm, and several systems of terraces with olive trees. This area is a major importance to our regeneration efforts as it is at the top of a massive water catchment, and therefore we intend to engage in a reforestation project, using local species, that will assist the lowlands by re-stimulating the functioning of the water table. We also intend to make use of the height of this area to grow crops that thrive in higher altitudes, which we imagine could take the form of “hidden food forests” that have something special growing there for occasional foraging, or as a treat for unsuspecting wanderers to find, and because of the spectacular views, parts of this area would be perfect for use us camping sites and social areas.
Other zone 5 areas will be reforested at appropriate altitudes, and we will manage the water in the lower areas to stimulate the growth of native species.