building

The full story

The full story 559 397 Abby

About ten years ago, we heard about a opportunity to become part of the farming community in the Loncomilla Valley, Chile. Friends of ours informed us that their neighbours, the owners of a small farm tucked away in the coastal hills near San Javier, were moving away. Our family had fallen in love with Chile on a recent trip. It seemed as if the stars had aligned and that small farm, Fundo Meza, became our home. At first, our dad (and to-be farm manager) Tom spent some time camping out on the land to get a feel for the fields, before the entire family joined and the hard work began.

And so began our journey into regenerative farming.

We planted our first baby trees in 2008. Since then, we’ve worked with the land to slowly and steadily grow over 8,000 olive trees, from which we produce our delicious extra virgin olive oil. Each olive is harvested by hand on our farm as part of our simple philosophy: we do not add anything synthetic and work with the life of each tree. It takes time, but we learn more from each tree year upon year. Sadly the farm suffered a devastating fire earlier this year, destroying almost all of our olive trees and making our produce minimal. However, our energies are focused on healing the land and subsequent regrowth. You can read more about the effects of the fire here .

Olive trees are only part of the story. We began making natural wine and agraz from the old pais vines that remained on the land. We also work with the bees to produce a small amount of honey and care for our vegetable gardens. Today, we distribute our raw, homegrown products in the UK and Chile.

As we learn more about the web of life and organisms everyday, we also learn more about the vital elements of creating a flourishing farm. We aim to work with all parts of the ecosystem to increase biodiversity on the land. While we initially drew influence from ‘conventional’ organic farming, we have expanded our thinking toward permaculture practices, natural agriculture, solar energy and more.

Without access to irrigation canals, our nearby natural springs and two shallow wells are our only source of water. We’ve embraced this by nourishing our olive trees with little water to eventually become dry-farmed. Over the last decade, we’ve experienced earthquakes and forest fires that have dramatically changed the landscape. Still, we do what we can to work with the land in its natural state, which helps us stay aware and have respect for the lifecycles around us. In doing so, we’ve gone far beyond our farm’s organic origin.

We’re committed to building a holistic ecosystem.

Inspired by certain challenges we met along the way, as well as the observation of the archaic ways in which many farmers record vital information about their farms – we set out to create more modern solutions. Abby, the coder and physicist of the family, developed mobile apps designed as smart and simple farming solutions: Sectormentor, to help us keep track of our fields, and Workmentor, to help us keep track of everyone working in the fields. Through building these tools, Vidacycle Tech emerged as a way for us to empower other smaller scale farmers around the world to be more resilient in the digital age.

Along with these apps, we’ve also built a combination of solar pumps and windmills on the farm that keep our water running. From our windmill pump and our solar hot water, to our organic vegetable and fruit gardens that feed us year around, there are many exciting and forward-thinking things happening here.

We’re keen to nurture our growing community, both locally and globally, as we share our journey. Whether visiting us on the farm or following us on social media – instagram, twitter, facebook – we want to share with you as we carry on learning by doing. Together, we can inspire a better future for people and earth.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire. 559 397 Abby

I (Abby) wrote this post in January 2017 straight after the massive forest fires passed through the Loncomilla Valley where we live, I was feeling pretty disturbed by the fact that all of our good efforts to work with the land had come back to bite and actually made the fire damage worse for the crops we are meant to be nurturing (and generating a business from)…

At the time we had to go straight into recovery mode as all infrastructure except the main buildings was destroyed (water, electricity etc) so I didn’t get round to sharing about this until now.

Walking back from the spring with drinking water, all the water pipes and tanks melted in the fire.

Everyday we are still recovering from the fire and will be for a while yet, things like the 4km of fence that needs replacing so the neighbours cows don’t come and eat the olives seems an overwhelming task…but there is hope as the rains have come and the land is covered in green once again. The barren trees may still have life in them yet, we will see in the Spring.

And so, back to January this year:

What was left after the fire: a farmer’s nightmare

Just days ago, the fire ripped through our farm from the pine forests, leaving nothing to spare. The entire valley is black. The spines of pines stand like statues. Years and years of life lost in a matter of hours.

Eight years of care, planting, replanting, nurturing, picking off bugs by hand, watering, observing… all singed in a matter of minutes.

Our farm’s vines are burnt to a crisp, their one hundred year old trunks still smoking as bits of ash fleck onto the ground. Their leaves are burnt golden and ready to fall. Where once the olive groves were golden and green, now they are black and brown. Even the water tanks melted completely, leaving behind damp circular graves where water once was. It’s a sad, sad sight.

The grapes, almost ready to be harvest shrivelled on the blackened vines.

We are forever indebted to the volunteer firefighters and our neighbours for working courageously and with perseverance through the night to save the buildings.

The true extent of the damage will become clear next spring, when the olives and vines sprout new shoots of green — or they don’t. The vines that aren’t dead certainly won’t yield many grapes next year, as the plant remembers the stress of January 2017… but what about the year after? Will they ever return to full production? So many unknowns.

Working with nature takes time

Now we must wait — years. It’s so clear: you can’t just ‘pivot’ or take an ‘agile’ approach to farming. Things take time and can’t be sped up. This is even more true with our Vidacycle approach to regenerative farming, which goes beyond organic. We endeavour to listen, learn and work with nature in a way that allows natural lifecycles to flourish. Over the past ten years, we as a family have learned a lot through doing it ourselves, so many things that are specific to this little valley, this particular spot on earth that no one could tell us beforehand. We’ve also learnt a lot from the many amazing fellow smaller-scale farmers around the world and so have developed the farm using ideas of permaculture, natural agriculture and lots of solar energy. We’ve embraced the dryness of the land and the natural water sources, and from that learned to craft beautiful natural products such as our natural TINTE wine, agraz and olive oil.

Fires are natural

The fire of course is part of nature (although many people were arrested for starting the fires) but no one had foreseen how ruthless it would be — the thousands of acres of pine monoculture meant the fire travelled insanely rapidly and burst onto our farm with an extreme heat. An inferno.

A little house used to be right here. This is where the fire entered our farm from the pines and burnt most violently.

Interestingly the fire didn’t really progress much further than our farm. It was amazing how our many acres of native woodlands stopped the fire from reaching our neighbours, it just gradually trickled out, the regularity of the pine tinderbox was not around to carry the fire forward. So yes fires are natural, but monocultures are not, and it seems humans create an uncontrolled hell when we combine the two.

A way forward

At times, farming can feel like a lot of hard work. Looking out over the blackened landscape for months to come will be a constant reminder of what we are working with. And right now things feel kinda bleak.

I can only think our society need new ways of relating to our food and farming systems. We need to share this risk more widely if sustainable farming businesses are to survive. All of our lives depend on food. All our food comes from farms. Let’s celebrate the work of farmers and their commitment to live through the highs and the lows, live with the unknowns and to feed us all.

You can follow our story here and hear live dispatches as the fire happened on episode 18 and 19 of Farmerama, a podcast we help make, sharing the voices of the smaller-scale farming community.

And you can read more about the damage the fire caused and some of the conundrums we found ourselves in here.

outdoor terrace

outdoor terrace 559 397 Abby

Here is a sneak peak of the outdoor terrace through the olive groves.IMG_3210

The outdoor terrace was designed by Lloyd, a great urban landscape architect, his initial concept drawing is below. A few photos of it’s current state are below and we will post more as progress is made.

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tijerales

tijerales 150 150 Abby

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The roof is on the ‘comedor’ (dining room building), so we celebrated with the traditional ‘tijerales’ party with all the workers. We had an asado (BBQ) with lots of delicious food and drink; the courgette salad was a surprise favourite with everyone – recipe details to follow…

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The beautiful curves have come alive inside the space – now the outside area is being crafted, to create an idyllic spot where everyone can eat our delicious organic vegetables surrounded by the olive groves.

 

rounded roof

rounded roof 150 150 Abby

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The roof construction continues now Spring is here and the rains have stopped. This is no ordinary roof as the building has quite a few rounded walls, so the roof takes on a very interesting shape. You can see the frame for one of the rounded corners in this photo.

comedor

comedor 150 150 Abby

comedor

In our experience great wholesome food is central to a good quality of life – and what makes great food even better is great company. This is why we are building the ‘comedor’ or communal dining space. During the week lunches and dinners for those on the farm will be cooked and served here whilst at weekends we will create a unique food experience for many people to enjoy. The building is still under construction but we are excited about the opportunities this space will offer.

store room

store room 150 150 Abby

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The greenhouse has taken on a new role in the autumn/early winter months. It is a dry, sealed room and therefore perfect for storing many of the vegetables that can be kept and eaten through the winter.

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We have a mixture of white and red onions, lots of butternut squash, some potatoes and heaps of rosehip fruits.

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We have also kept some maize to be dried and then ground up into maize flour.

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covered

covered 150 150 Abby

We are into the last few days of Spring and for the first year ever the vines completely cover the parrón – providing invaluable shade for the vegetable garden (and those of us working in the vegetable garden) during the long summer.

vine growth

vine growth 150 150 Abby

The vines on the parrón are growing very rapidly now that the sun is getting warmer and warmer, they creep over just at the right time to provide some much needed shade.

tecas

tecas 150 150 Abby

Katherine added the pebbly concentric circles, framing the tecas to make a rustic Chilean sculpture.

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