In the foothills of the magical and mystical mountains of Grazalama, Andulusia, Spain, resides a retreat centre focused on Yoga and personal growth. A second branch of their vision, complimentary to this is the desire to regenerate the land using Permaculture and agrocecology as the way forward. I, Doug Crouch, through a contact of a past student, first laid foot on the land in the late winter of 2016 as a consultant/ designer. I saw the land green and knew the brown that was coming, which was confirmed in my second arrival in 2016 for 2.5 weeks in June and again in September 2016.
The place holds a wonderful atmosphere with an amazing work done on finishing the restoration of the buildings that the previous owner had started. It was once la fabrica, a processing center for olives and most likely other crops. Over the years of change, the property had become rundown but the the buildings have come alive again with new wood and a vibrant array of different tints on the wall. The olive trees of antiquity remain on the north facing slopes and are intermixed with horses that are utilized in eco-tours. Meanwhile the south side of this northwest running ridge was in a wheat field lease and was put into production for its last time in 2015/2016. It will be one of the key pieces of land regeneration but all the zones need the regeneration inherent through permaculture. The organic garden lies above the wheat field, which is the transition to the building zone, chill-out spaces and the swimming pool. The garden has been redesigned to build soil and keep water and to form permanent beds. The ridge where the buildings reside has had some mild landscaping done but is now being expanded through greywater pit gardens and tree planting will soon ensue. Furthermore, another part of the land houses some middle age fruit trees with an animal yard in that zone. Chickens, rabbits, alpaca, and donkeys all are mixed together in the space. When you zoom out from the land the surroundings are a mix of abandoned land, some restored, and lots of industrial agriculture. One doesn’t have to look far to remember why we are doing what we are doing on this level of breaking the monoculture for the benefits of polyculture.
The land, which is actually now two pieces of land separated by a small sliver of the neighbors lot, is home to a place of learning. Its founders, including Vidya Heisel of Frog Lotus Yoga, are very dedicated to growing people and the place itself. The land houses most of the permanent staff who aren’t locals and also guests and a crew of volunteers. They have begun the process of landscaping and organic gardening but overtime, especially in the context of the water crisis in Iberia, I was called in to assist with the next phases of implementation.
The project ahead constitutes many earthworks to harvest this wet season water and further the biodiversity aims of the project. A full time garden manager has been hired and is being trained by myself both in person and from afar (June 2016). There is much work to do repairing the soil food web and propagating a diversity of pioneer plants to get the system regenerating. The focus will be much on the lower wheat field conversion but the animal/ orchard area needs love as well as the northern slopes with olives and horses. On top of that edible and fire resistant landscaping will go around the buildings on top of the ridge. Food production increasingly dramatically is a goal of the project so that more and more fresh produce, especially hard to find stuff, helps with the farm-to-table mission. While they already work with a network of organic growers mostly in Spain, there is more and more of an aim of abundance, both in yields and beauty.
While the land shows obvious signs of degradation from years of plowing and over and under grazing, its calcium rich clay soils do seem to grow food quite well despite the harsh mediterranean climate. However this does complicate the water harvesting part as the clay soils infiltrate less water. This is why we will be using a variety of strategies and techniques to regenerate the land that include the following:
I am working as the lead designer/ consultant/ and project manager of the permaculture developments. We work in teams and welcome you participation through volunteering and courses and hopefully in the future more and more employment opportunities. I also work with the crews there in interim periods to facilitate the implementation side of things. Its a very interesting project and with resonance on the mission of the place and the management team, I am happy to join the team to help lift this project up off the ground and start the healing process.
I am also running several courses at Suryalila over the 2016/17 year and will sue it as a base in case you want to volunteer and train your skills through the project.