By Freixo do Meio Users Cooperative
We’re back on the Montado do Freixo do Meio in Portugal, where exciting plans are afoot to have the community farm recognised as a Private Protected Area. Farmer and owner Alfredo Cunhal Sendim, a member of the Freixo do Meio Users Cooperative, explains their vision of a strong and organised community to safeguard the natural system, and how this ties into the cooperative’s broader visions of agroecology, permaculture and food sovereignty.
What the market allows, or what the planet asks?
In this second letter I will try to share with you why we in the Freixo do Meio Users Cooperative are working to have our Natural System, our farm, recognized by the Portuguese government as a Private Protected Area.
Should we do what the market allows us to do, or what the planet is asking us to do? It is obvious to more and more people that a farm should not be seen only as an economic unit, and its outputs not valued only by the market goods it produces. We are talking about something that we all depend on. The history is clear about the relation between the way we relate with the surroundings, farming, and our state of happiness.
What we feel we should do, related with the way of farming, biodiversity, climate crisis, is often not economically sustainable or needs extra input due to the anthropocentric economy!
In our vision CAP should be immediately transformed into direct contracts with farmers, which pay for positive externalities and tax the negative ones. The global jurisdiction (that does not yet exist) should impose respect for the limits of the planet. But this seems to be even more difficult to achieve in the short term (Common Home of Humanity). In these fragile circumstances we feel more and more that we should connect more elements in the governance.
In Freixo do Meio, we feel this social responsibility shared and connected with the responsibility over the natural system we manage. Our decisions will have consequences over the members of a big community. Are we sure about what to do? Can we do it alone? We don’t think so, that’s why we try to make our responsibility more common.
If something deserves to be nationally protected, and even private, it’s because it’s important for a big community, which is exactly the awareness we want to improve. The Area Protegida Privada do Montado do Freixo do Meio will be protected by a strong and organized community instead of by an individual owner.
The Montado do Freixo do Meio Natural System is a living laboratory that runs over 584 hectares where we can find all the native species expected in the region. The area is organized in three different concepts: Conservation, Montado System and Innovation.
The Conservation area is a living library where we have identified more than 1,000 different species, mainly dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity. An olive tree aged more than 2,000 years is the spirit of our land.
The Montado area is a living system, rich and complex, formed by the relation of thousands of species from all 7 kingdoms. The splendor of the old Portuguese oak forest: a medieval (if not older) agroforestry system that results in a respectful relationship between nature and human built over centuries. The beauty and magnificence of the Montado are a masterpiece of symbiosis and cooperation of various species of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms. A true source of inspiration for our community.
In the Innovation area, the Agroforest concept is the main line of experimentation. Different models of agroforest inspired by Ernst Götsch are being tested on this land, in order to try to adapt the montado system to the ecological principle of dynamic succession. Ecosystems are naturally in permanent evolution, cyclical, from desert, to accumulation, to achieve climax. Currently the Montado blocks the evolution of the ecosystem in the accumulation phase. We are trying to drive the montado to the climax phase as fast as we can. Between 2018 and 2020 we planted 40,000 trees and shrubs.
Visions of agroecology, permaculture and food sovereignty
Our project implements the visions of Agroecology, Permaculture, and Food sovereignty. A path focused on the preservation of ecosystems and sustainable food production, without the concepts and processes unrelated to natural systems.
The Acorn for human consumption is the symbol of Montado do Freixo do Meio. By using the acorn in our nutrition, we are preserving the right to healthy nutrition and defending food sovereignty as an ethical base, assuming the role of Quercus (oak) trees in the system. Acorns were the nutritional pillar of all pre-historic diets in the Iberian Peninsula until the Phoenicians. The food of the neolithic is now transformed into 12 different products such as acorn coffee, acorn flour, bread, crispbread, cakes and cookies, acorn pâté, vegan burgers and sausages, and fermented products.
Eight native domestic animal breeds are part of the Montado do Freixo do Meio Natural System: Black Chicken, Black Turkey, Barrozão cows, black pig, black merino sheep, Sorraia horse, Bagueiro donkey. They are all domestic species and closer to the wild origin. The preservation of genetic heritage is very important, as well as the fundamental services they provide to the ecosystem. Since 2018 all animals are managed in Holistic Management with the vision of Allan Savory. We also work a lot on cohabitation of domestic and non-domestic species.
But more than these animal species, we work hard to preserve and strengthen the overall biodiversity of the Montado: animal, vegetable, fungi, and microorganisms. The final goal at the end of the day is to be able to preserve, regenerate, obtain food and renew resources, and to share at the same time, in the same space, landscape and knowledge.
Our social economy is more and more a diverse mosaic of activities supported more and more by ourselves, the members of the cooperative and the CSA program. Less and less by EU subsidies. But that’s possible only due to the common way. We use the food and the landscape we create as a key to improve the community we need, to do what we all think we should do.
More than 8,000 people visited Freixo do Meio in 2019. This year, as soon the pandemic allows us, we will open the Interpretation Center of the Montado do Freixo do Meio. The focus is to push the visitors to think about human interaction with nature in the past, the present and the future.
Instead of organizing the territory in separate areas of production and regeneration, we urgently need to mix it into a mosaic smaller and smaller till the fusion. Because the regeneration of all ecosystems is not an option. It is a condition not only to live in peace in our home but also to allow the system that created us to continue its cycle with the opposite effect from our side. Instead of noise, symphony.