Olives, acorns & newborn lambs

While exploring central Portugal, we looked up a few WorkAway projects (similar to woofing) and – although most require at least a week stay – reached out to them to see if we could stop by for a day or so to see the setup and get some insights on life in the region.

Alex and Karina were kind enough to welcome us to their farm, Olives & Acorns, for what ended up being two days and two nights. They are near Penamacor, which is not far from the gorgeous medieval village of Monsanto (see photo gallery below).

Their property spans about five hectares (don’t quote me on that), with one main hill and a significant number of olive trees. When they first arrived, the land had been left to its own devices for so long that everything was covered in dense grasses and brambles. Living off the land is not for the faint of heart! It took them two years to realize one area was set up in terraces and had a well, which is where their vegetable garden is thriving today.

The setup is currently as follows: a two bedroom house with granite walls just back from the main hill, which serves as a guesthouse for family and friends; a small building on the hill, optimally placed to capture the sun’s energy through solar panels and housing a big freezer; the “HQ” area over the hill, with a sitting room, open dining room, kitchen and bathroom (Alex and Karina’s caravan is parked right behind it); a small shed between the solar panel building and the HQ which serves as a lambing shed and to store hay; and a new construction on one side of the HQ which is still in the works and will be a comfortable chicken coop.

They are doing everything themselves, which is beyond impressive and rather inspiring. It gives real meaning to the concept of being self-sustainable.

The view from the dining room table gives onto the “fruit orchard” that has some older trees and newly planted ones ranging from orange trees to cherry trees, pomegranate trees, plum trees, and others around the main well (complementing the other trees around the property). This area is fenced off to protect the trees from the various truly free-range animals who would otherwise make them their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Goats, sheep, and chickens walk around as they please, providing a constant reminder that we are on a farm as well as a steady stream of entertainment.

Case in point: on our second day, we were all surprised by Rachel the sheep giving birth to a lamb (her pregnancy went by unnoticed)! We were a little worried that she was not letting him nurse, and then 20 minutes later Rachel surprised us again by laying down and giving birth to a second lamb! That was mesmerizing. And she made it look easy!

During what little time we had there, I focused on reclaiming two additional sections of the vegetable garden by weeding them by hand. Francois helped me on our last morning to make sure the job was finished (well, this part of it – there is always more weeding to do!) and wondered out loud why mulching or other “faster and more efficient” techniques weren’t used. It seems to me that there are a few good reasons to weed the slow way: one, it’s an easy task to delegate to someone with little experience (i.e. me); two, it’s a kind of meditation; and three, it is a great way to get to know the soil.

The two areas I worked on had very different soils: the first was dry and airy, making it easy to pull out plants with their root. The second section was naturally much wetter, making the soil dense and the plant roots harder to get. Knowing this, the kinds of plants chosen for either location can be tailored accordingly.

Francois helped Alex prep for piping that was going to be laid to bring water to the kitchen and shower (during our stay it was the old school “go get water at the well” approach that was used in interim). That meant figuring out the best path for the pipe, digging a trench, and placing a water tank in an optimal spot.

We also went to gather wild artichokes, which look incredibly badass and apparently taste quite good though we will have to test that some other time!

All in all, it was a great few days. The meals Karina and Rafat – a friend of theirs from Berlin staying for a few months and doing some great woodwork – prepared were all delicious and full of home-grown vegetables. The conversations were enlightening (about what it’s like to live in Portugal and off the land) and entertaining (animal anecdotes!), and what work we did was satisfying.

And isn’t that what life is all about?

Click on one of the photos below to see them in a gallery format with captions: