How did you find this place?
I was living on the coast and I used to visit a friend with land
up here. I liked the area and started looking for a farm for
myself. At that time almost anywhere was for sale: people would
approach you in the village and ask if you wanted to buy their
land. I was lucky as I didn't know so much about land then (it
was 1988) but I still bought a really good farm.
Are there still lots of farms for sale round here?
No - the people value their land much more now and don't
sell so many of the good pieces of land. The trend for locals to
leave the area has reversed, and now, more of the young people
stay and work their farms.
Why did you want to have an organic farm?
(Rory) I had worked for other people and done voluntary
work, and I liked the idea of being my own master and settling on
a piece of land. I never had any idea to do conventional farming,
it was obvious I should do it organically.
A. I studied as a biologist and when I finished I
went to South America for a year working on rainforest
conservation projects. I realised then the importance of
sustainable agriculture in habitat conservation. You can't just
tell local people to stop cultivating the land because they
happen to live in an ecologically unique area; you've got to give
them alternatives so they can grow their food and make a living
but without damaging their environment.
How did you come to join Rory on the farm?
I was working in Sevilla, and looking for
contacts in organic agriculture, when I discovered La Mohea and
met Rory. When my job finished I did a permaculture design course
and came to live at the farm. Everything just fell into place for
What do the locals think of what you're doing?
not that strange for them because it's basically the same as what
they've always done themselves. They do think it's a bit peculiar
that we don't have a television and washing machine, and that we
don't want a house in the village so we can have these mod-cons
like they all do. The neighbours are always curious about what
we're doing here, and they give us help and advice - most of
which is very useful. Recently one old neighbour (he's 84 years
old) started mulching his garden like we do, which is a complete
contrast to the "bare-earth" policy they normally
follow, so that gave us a good feeling when we saw it.
Q. Do you ever feel
isolated living in such a remote area?
It's not really that remote because in just 40 minutes drive we
can be on the Costa del Sol (not that we go there unless we have
to!). We're lucky because the world comes to us: we get
volunteers and visitors from all over the world, and that offers
a tremendous potential for interchange of information and
experience. We've put Genalguacil on the world map!
Q. Are there things
that you miss from a more "normal" lifestyle?
For us, our lifetyle is normal! You get used to living
without all these mod-cons that have taken over people's lives in
the first world. I suppose there are some things that we miss out
on, like going to films, but such small details are more than
recompensed by positive aspects of our life, such as the freedom
and space, that we both value very highly.
Q. Do you find some
people can't cope when they come?
It's all a question of your expectations and attitude. Someone
who expects a countrified middle-class Western lifestyle will get
a shock! We've opted for simplicity in our lives, and trimmed our
lifestyle back to the basics of good food, clean air and water,
and a satisfying and worthwhile occupation. Having said that,
we're letting some complications creep in, such as the computer;
it's hard not to, when that's what is all around you. Most people
who come here enjoy the experience, and it prompts them to
question what sort of a lifestyle they want.
What is permaculture all about?
It's all about design - the conscious arrangement of different
elements within the system - to build up a network of beneficial
relationships between the elements. It can be applied to food
production, community development, house building, and planning
right thing in the right place! You can interpret that at any
level, from the purely physical such as the kiwi vines and
comfrey we've planted below the sink under the shade of the
grapevine, to the social such as making connections between
community composting schemes and the growers supplying the veggie
box system. Permaculture in farming comes down to harmonious
methods of production that will be good for hundreds of years, so
we don't run ourselves out of fertile soil and fresh water, which
is what's happening in conventional agriculture.
Q. How does La
Mohea as a permaculture site differ from an ordinary organic
lot of techniques we use are common to both organic agriculture
and permaculture. Perhaps the most striking difference is the
density and complexity of the plant combinations, so you'll find
"guilds" of plants that benefit each other mutually
grouped together, which is what happens naturally in the wild.
For example, we have young kiwi vines with maize and squashes
surrounding them, giving them protection from the drying sun, and
tagasaste (a leguminous nitrogen-fixing bush) interplanted with
young apple trees to give them shade, protection and provide them
with nitrogen. We also leave a lot of garden annuals and
perennials to self-seed, so they propagate themselves from year
to year, and have aromatic plants like fennel and wormwood
combined with vegetables and fruit trees for the protection they
give against insect pests.
Q. What advice
would you give to someone thinking of starting up their own
"Work with what you've got" is a useful maxim to bear
in mind. That could mean working within existing parameters like
climate, landscape, infrastructure, tree cover and so on, or it
could be as simple as eating the food that is around you, in
season. It's also important to keep your ideas flexible and your
eyes open; observation and lateral thinking are useful skills for
developing your permaculture design. Be aware of limiting factors
like water availability, temperature, topography etc., and don't
forget that your own imagination (or lack of it!) can
significantly limit the productivity of your land.
(Rory) When you're looking for land, don't undervalue esisting
infrastructure like trees, terraces, water catchments and
deposits; this can save you a lot of hard work and expense in the
beginning. And if you are starting from scratch with a piece of
land, be prepared to work hard; permaculture might be
minimum-maintenance, but that's when your system is set up and
functioning. Don't be fooled by people who have a garden full of
weeds, with a few struggling vegetables in between, who claim
that they are doing permaculture! (unless the "weeds"
are actually useful edible plants, which is often the case with
our gardens in wintertime) A permaculture farm should be very
productive above all.
snowfall in winter 1998
La Mohea Homepage
Website designed and
maintained by RENVIEW.COM