walks

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.

distant Andes

distant Andes 150 150 Abby

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The hike up nearby Tabontinaja is a great early morning wake up, a quick slightly steep meander into the coastal hills surrounding Fundo Meza. At one point you turn a corner and suddenly the whole valley swoops into view, framed at the horizon by the massive Andes mountains.

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wonder hikes

wonder hikes 150 150 Abby

We recently did the one day hike, Cascada del Arcoiris, offered by Frank of Costa y Cumbre Tours. It was a wonderful day following a cowboy trail through the vast landscape of the Andes, the trail is a hidden gem with not a soul in sight and multiple huge waterfalls, one of which we swam in. Wildly remote and with dominating scenery this is an incredible journey – we recommend Frank’s tours highly. He specialises in journeys that are off the beaten trail and have a little something extra special, check out his website for more info and details of the many different hikes he offers. Hopefully we will head to the sand dunes in Constitución next.

 

The Cordillera

The Cordillera 150 150 Christiane

Rising before dawn has its merits. In under two hours we had parked not far from the Argentine border and were high up in the Andes beginning our trek along the Maule River in the cool of morning. Above the tree line in a barren basalt landscape, the unusual spikey rock outcroppings have names likening them to ‘Muela de Diabolo’ the ‘Devil’s Molar’. Widely varying colours in the rocky landscape, reveal the degrees of heat and composition of volcanic origin.  Tufts of pampas grass cover the ground and little surprises of vibrant purple, yellows, oranges, pinks come from the wildflowers surviving in this dry antipodean mid-summer.

As the day heats up we’re cooled by the sound of the rushing Maule at our side as we snake ever higher along the path to find the ‘hidden waterfall‘  promised in the description on Frank’s website. Transplanted from a small village in Germany, our guide Frank is married to a Chilean and has established his popular trekking company in Talca (40 minutes from Fundo Meza). As it turns out there are several hidden waterfalls – some so huge their thunder reaches you before their clear turquoise and white froth registers. One of the beauties of this once molten basalt landscape is that it gives off no sediment and the waters run so clear.

By mid-day we reached the base of a most spectacular waterfall and Frank set out our picnic lunch amongst some large boulders.  The six trekkers enjoyed our break in front of this magnificent wall of water, listening to Frank’s tales of watching young Condors learning to fly from the top of the waterfall, being coaxed and overseen by their parents—who we suppose were ready to swoop and catch their fledglings if they faltered.

Our next stop is at the top of a cascada where we can cool off in the small pool that swirls around before sending its water over the edge. Not as dangerous as it sounds! We finished our hike traversing over a field of basalt back to the van. Our route home was back down the newly completed (two months) Paso Pehuenche, that crosses over the Andes between Chile and Argentina from Talca. 

Mountain Trail

Mountain Trail 150 150 Joy

This route takes you up the highest southerly peak that can be seen from the main house, weaving along disused logging roads through the verdant pine forests. Emerging from the pines, you traverse the ridge with excellent views to the west, and then dip back down into the forest and across the creek.

Walk Statistics

Distance: 10.6 km

Time: 4hrs 10 mins.

Ascent: 428 m

STAGE 1

Beginning at the main house, walk towards the beehives, through the olive trees. Cross over the fence to the right of the stand of trees that is next to the beehives. Once on the other side of the fence, turn right (West), and follow the small path running along the fence-line downhill. When this path branches  in two, take the left turn that levels out and widens, leading you into the pine trees, rather than continuing on the small trail downhill. (NB this trail running along the fence leads down to the creek, where there is a refreshing swimming hole and sandy bank. Good to remember for when you return from your walk!) This path curves around the perimeter of the hill. When you come to a branch in the path on your right, follow this downhill to the creek.

Cross over the creek at the stepping stones and walk up the bank on the other side. When you come back to a clear path, turn left and follow it until the path branches in four. Take the left hand trail, and cross the small stream that feeds into the pond that is on your left. Climb up the bank, and turn right at the broad path. Follow this path through the pine forest, continuing straight on until you emerge onto a dirt road.

STAGE 2

Turn right along the road and continue straight. Eventually the road leads you past a disused quarry on your right. The quarry is in three main sections. Follow the road until you reach the end of the third section, and the space along the road narrows again.

Here there is a sharp left turn that takes you off the main road and back into the pine trees. This left turning can be easily missed. As a marker, at the end of the quarry where you will turn left, there is another, more visible, path that branches right. If, having passed the quarry, the dirt road begins to climb steeply, then you have missed the turning and gone too far.

STAGE 3

After turning left off the dirt road, follow this forest trail through the trees, as you begin to ascend the westerly hillside. Turn right at the first and second forks in the road, continuing your ascent. After this, when you come to a T-junction, follow the road to the right and uphill. At the second junction, leave the road and continue walking straight uphill, due East through the trees. (If you turn left at this junction, the road curves to the south and then ends at a steep ravine, where you can go no further.) When you come to the edge of the planted pine trees, there is a narrow track that curves around the cleared cliff-face, then leads you back into pine trees on the eastern face. This is the best view North, looking down into the Valle Botacura. Here it is possible to leave the track and cut straight uphill, through the thick bush to the peak, for views south and west towards Huerte Maule.

Then return to this narrow track.

STAGE 4

When the track re-enters the pines, continue walking east until you come upon a dirt logging road again, which leads you along the ridge with clear views to the west and back at the hilltop you just climbed. Turn left on this road, following it downhill. Passing the first junction, continue straight on, downhill. After the road makes a hairpin turn, take the first left that leads you off the dirt road onto a grassier track. Follow this path downhill through the pines, until you re-emerge on the dirt road. Turn left onto this dirt road, and follow it around the hill, to where you first emerged onto the road in Stage 1 (before reaching the quarry). Turn right, and walk back along this path through the pines, across the stream with the pond now on your right, across the creek as before, through the trees and up to the property fence. Here you can either walk back up to the beehives and cross the fence, or turn left and follow the fence downhill to the creek. At the creek, if you walk about 100 meters upstream, there is a pleasant pool for a refreshing swim, and sandy bank to dry off in the sun.

Creek Trail

Creek Trail 150 150 Joy

This walk takes you down through the luscious eucalyptus trees, along the meandering creek and then back up the ridge and along the hillside, with elevated views of the creek below and Valle Botacura beyond. It is a pleasant walk to do on hotter days, when the shade is a welcome relief from the strong Chilean sun.

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Walk Statistics

Distance: 2.86 km

Time: 1hr 10 mins

Ascent: 57 m

STAGE 1  (15 minutes)

Beginning from the main house, walk down to the dirt road between the greenhouse and Jardin 2. Follow this track down the slope until you reach an open field with a fenced field just beyond it. Walk to the far end of the fenced field, and enter the eucalyptus trees on the North side (i.e. from the side of the field closest to the hill, not the side closest to the creek).

Continue to the start of the woodland. Here a marker shows where the walk starts and ends.

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View to the start of the walk from the field

STAGE 2  (30 minutes)

Follow the path along and then into the eucalyptus trees, walking West with the creek on your left. The path meanders through the trees always following the direction of the creek.

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Start of the route into the woods (Spring)

Cross a rocky slope cutting through bamboo. In summer it may be easiest to cut down early and follow the stream bed. In winter, a higher and steeper route may be chosen. It is necessary to clamber over some boulders but so long as the stream is kept to the left, you are on the correct route.

When the path branches into three take the middle route which leads you through a grassy clearing. Continue straight ahead on the middle way. A faint track will lead to the sandy path which gets rockier as it nears the creek edge.

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Route following the stream (Spring)

STAGE 3  (15 minutes)

Once more, the vegetation opens out, this time to a curving rock face on your right. The track cuts away up to your right up the slope at this point however it is worth continuing onto the rocks. Here the creek runs across a rocky bed. Deep holes are carved into the rock above the water level. On the right hand bank of the creek, scrubby vegetation continues while on the left, the bank is barer with a few cacti. From here, you can see the steeply sloping side of the valley in front as the creek bends at a 90 degree angle just ahead. This would be a good spot for a picnic, especially in spring when swimming is possible.

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In order to climb the steep slope on the right hand side of the creek (directly to your north), it is best to retrace your steps slightly to just before the rock face and take the faint track to your right. The path climbs fairly steeply briefly until the edge of the wood is reached. As the path flattens, carry on north for around 10 metres then turn sharply right (east) into the woods which are initially largely made up of “Roble” (Chilean Oak) changing to Pine as you progress. This is the farthest point of the walk and the start of your return journey.

Weave between the trees climbing upwards towards top of hill. The path is not always distinct but stay on the hillside. As the slope levels out, you have views over the next the creek’s forward journey as it heads North in the direction of Constitucion. Follow the ridge east, keeping to the track to the right closest to the steep slope down to the creek.

With some elevation, you will have a vertiginous view of the creek now below you, looking back through the hills in the direction you came from, with Fundo Meza hidden behind the tall eucalyptus.

STAGE 4  (30 minutes)

From the viewpoint of the creek, follow the signpost up into the ‘Roble’ (Chilean Oak) trees keeping close to the slope down to the creek. The path along the ridge remains clear for a time but as the vegetation opens out into clearings, other tracks branch off and it is necessary to follow track markings carefully. A tall Eucalyptus provides a viewpoint to head towards.

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Track down to the starting field (Spring)

The path leads you back down into the trees, bringing you out at the edge of the eucalyptus and the field where you began.

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Track back to the house (Spring)

Follow the dirt track back up to the house, and enjoy a well deserved lemonade on the patio!

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Radal Siete Tazas

Radal Siete Tazas 150 150 Abby

Famous for its seven chained waterfalls, Siete Tazas National Park is located on the aptly named Rio Claro in the Maule Region.

Just two hours from Fundo Meza, it is easy to reach the waterfalls if you walk an hour or two from the car – and they are magnificent, well worth the hike!

A chain of six smaller waterfalls, each with a crystal clear pool, carve through a rocky canyon. The final waterfall has a huge drop into a large icy pool, where you can go for a super refreshing swim.

 

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