Quinta do Vale is a 2-hectare off-grid permaculture demonstration and education centre in the Serra do Açor, Central Portugal.
This is the 'Green Heart of Portugal' – natural parks and forested mountain ranges cut deep by meandering river valleys, peppered with tiny white villages perched on mountain ridges or nestling in the valley floors. Every available square meter of land is terraced and at one time richly cultivated with olives, vines, fruit trees and vegetables.
Rural depopulation has taken a huge toll though, and this project is regenerating an abandoned smallholding and buildings through circular systems design, water retention landscaping, soil restoration, agroforestry and organic growing, natural building with local resources, renewable energy generation and ecological sanitation.
The project has been in development for around 14 years now. It started as a family-sized dream of self-sufficiency, but over the years the steady stream of visitors inquisitive about permaculture and wanting to come and see what we’ve done, volunteers and interns wanting to work here, other eco-immigrants moving into the area, the friends and fellow pioneers who’ve come to work here and throw their ideas, skills and laughter into the crucible, the peculiar logic of the building renovations, the ever-growing growing areas and their ever-deepening diversity, the success of the worm toilet and the workshops it’s spawned, the courses we now run every summer … all have variously challenged and grown the project into something much greater, acknowledging the profound interdependence and interconnectedness of all living systems, human ones included.
The catastrophic wildfires of October 2017 which decimated this entire region, including the quinta, set us back at least 5 years. One building was completely gutted, another half burned, a caravan lost, the geodome greenhouse burnt out ... But the work already done and the resilience it had created has seen rapid recovery (albeit entailing a massive amount of extra work) so that now, 5 years on, we are almost back to where we left off and moving forward again.
It also galvanised our work to move out to a larger scale again to help initiate and design all manner of regenerative projects in the region in partnership with other local projects and residents, organisations, academia and others.