olives

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.

learning from our weeds

learning from our weeds 559 397 Abby

We have learnt that a great way to learn more about the land is to understand what grows naturally on it. Weeds are an important part of this – so we did a little survey of all the weeds growing out in the olive groves to try and get a further glimpse into the plentiful world of the soils below. We have tried to identify as many of them as possible but there are still quite a few we haven’t identified yet. If you know any of them then please let us know!

Haplopappus illinitus

Haplopappus illinitus

Cirsium vulgare (Cardo negro) Spear thistle/Bull thistle?

IMG_3918

Convolvulus demissus () or Ipomoea purpurea (Gloria de la mañana)

IMG_3871

Plantago lanceolata (Llantén / Llantén menor) Buckthorn plantain (also here)

IMG_3877

Taraxacum officinale (Diente de león / Lechuguilla) Dandelion

IMG_3889

potentially Lupinus polyphyllus

IMG_3880

Dipsacus sativus (L.) Honck.   Carda , Cardilla

IMG_3916

Madia chilensis (Nutt.) Reiche

IMG_3866

IMG_3879

Oenothera mollissima L

IMG_3878

and the rest we haven’t figured out yet…

IMG_3921

 

IMG_3915

 

IMG_3900

 

IMG_3867

 

IMG_3876

 

IMG_3870

 

IMG_3886

 

IMG_3884

 

IMG_3885

verjus, vinegar and lemon juice

verjus, vinegar and lemon juice 559 397 Abby

DSCF0027

When I was thinking about what to make for the tasting dinner I was drawn to look at Alice Water’s book ‘The Art to Simple Food II’, after flicking through the pages to glance at inspiring recipes, verjus jumped out at me in a range of recipes, from dessert all the way to drinks! There were also several of Alice’s recipes that use lemon juice and champagne vinegar – both of these can be substituted with verjus. It was interesting she often coupled it with rhubarb, and I had rhubarb and chard growing in the back gardens so I went for the rhubarb and chard crostini plus the other recipe I liked was the crab salad with tarragon and chicory. Both went down really well and the flavours of our agraz and olive oil really sang through to create a fresh flavour combo! Next time I’m going to try the salad with Manchego cheese instead for a good vegetarian alternative.

Joy

DSCF0018

DSCF0024

DSCF0065

first olive oil

first olive oil 559 397 Abby

This year was the first year we made enough oil to make a small quantity of taster bottles to share with friends and family. Here is a bit of the blurb from the bottle: The land of Fundo Meza is now the home of many dry farmed olive trees, all of different ages, which produce small but flavourful fruits. Each olive is harvested by hand and processed on the farm which is all part of our simple philosophy – do not add anything synthetic and honour the trees. It takes time but each tree has a life of its own and we learn more each year about the workings of nature and the trees. This olive oil is our first offering, the authenticity of each tree’s upbringing shines through in this oil’s rustic flavours.

Olive

tea

tea 559 397 Abby

IMG_4892_site

We experimented using the leaves around the farm to make some teas. We used olive, mint, rosemary, eucalyptus, stevia and Meyer Lemon leaves plus some lavender buds as well. Heidi made a smooth, rounded and relaxing combination from stevia, eucalyptus, olive leaves and a bit of Meyer Lemon leaf, it was everyone’s favourite flavour, it just left us feeling imbued with calm.

IMG_4898_site

pruning olives

pruning olives 150 150 Abby

Last month Francisco, an olive expert came over to discuss pruning techniques for our trees that vary in age from two to five years. Pruning convention is to leave the straightest shoot with the strongest growth and prune away everything else below about 50cm – this leads to a perfect tree for harvesting. Sadly, this didn’t seem to be working for us as repeated late frosts hit the young trees hard. On trees where there was only one shoot, if that shoot was damaged by the frost, the whole tree died back and had to start again.

IMG_4675_site

This year we decided not to prune and the trees survived the frosts much better. Although there was still some die-back, it seems that the unpruned trees had more chance of survival – there were lots of other shoots and branches on the tree that were still growing strong. Also maybe the additional growth around the base provided some extra protection from the frost.

So we combined our experience with Francisco’s initial advice and settled on a pruning technique that leaves two strong shoots for all younger trees, that way each tree has two lifelines and more chance of surviving late frosts. We will see if this works come next October!

IMG_4679_site

baby olives

baby olives 150 150 Abby

IMG_2504

The tiny beginnings of this year’s olives are peeking out after the flowers have fallen away.

IMG_2506

pollinators

pollinators 150 150 Abby

IMG_2456

Around the world there are many ‘save the bees’ campaigns because large numbers of bees have mysteriously died off over the last 20 years. According to Greenpeace a third of all our food depends on pollination by honey bees and other insects – so it’s important we look after them. Of course on the farm we don’t use any pesticides, and we try to keep a good mixture of plants around so the bees can feast away. They seem overjoyed by the vast quantities of flowers on the olive trees. Spread the word, save the bees!

IMG_2453

flowering

flowering 150 150 Abby

IMG_2441

The oldest olive trees are now pretty large and winged with a splurge of green leaves drenched in white blooms. The trees have fully flowered this year and hopefully this means there will be lots of fruits to follow.

We respect your privacy and will not share your email address.