We were tired and in need of rest when Mount of Oaks came on our path. This intentional community is all about slowing down, simplicity and sustainability. The right place in the right time for us! Their residents believe that living simpler will yield more happiness. Yes, it may be less comfortable, but that trade-off is worth it. We talk to Emma Cowan about the ideals behind this place and Barbara da Nova Leite Cowan shows us the natural buildings: made with straw bales, cob, wattle-and-daub and empty beer bottles…!
Check out Mount of Oaks here!
Welcome in our Greeny-in-Betweeny! Say what?! Yes, this is how we named our van after being on the road for a couple of months already. It was about time to give our dear home on wheels a name, like real #vanlifers. ;-). Why have we chosen this name? It’s explained in this new vlog!
In this tour through the van we feature how we can shuffle our beds from nighttime setting to daytime use, how we make use of our tiny kitchen and how we create our office to work on our project while using the solar panels.
Have fun watching and comment afterwards how you’ve liked this new release. Do you sometimes dream about living in a van and how would it look for you?
Sunny wishes from Portugal!
Many thanks to Independent Solar Solutions for their support with our solar setup. We also made a video specifically about how the solar power works in our van.
‘Sowing seeds, sowing friends’ was the slogan with which Sementes Vivas came to BOOM festival. This Portuguese organic seeds organisation aims to spread awareness about the positive impact of using organic seeds for healthier soils and a healthier planet.
When I was cycling to BOOM festival in Portugal this summer, I found out how deserted the mountains actually were. Many ancient terraces full of old olive trees that weren’t taken care of. Fields overgrown with brambles. Ruins that showed that once life were flourishing here. It was overall dry and the roads were very dusty. I could imagine that farmers gave up living here and moved to cities. I was dreaming away while cycling and became aware of the stunning mountaintops. With little imagination I could see the beauty of living here. Silence, space, possibilities. I found out quite quickly that there is a group of pioneers attracted to this area. They have a specific interest in bringing back life to this region with a focus on sustainability and organic farming. There is governmental support for those who are willing to make the exciting jump to settle here. This is the area where also the organic seeds organisation Sementes Vivas is located.
I got to know Sementes Vivas (Portuguese for ‘Living Seeds’) through a contest on Facebook. They had some BOOM festival tickets that one could win. I was determined to be among the lucky ones. Thanks to much support of many friends I was happily cycling to Boomland with a precious ticket in my pocket. A sustainable travel to a sustainable festival where I would meet my green Santa. A team of enthusiastic internationals was ready to warmly welcome me at the Sementes Vivas stand and put a straw hat on my hat with which we posed. I was feeling so grateful to be able to thank these wonderful people, but also got very curious towards their work! Oscar and I got invited to come over to see their farm.
On a hot sunny day we drove to the place of 25 hectares where we discovered a beautiful farm. Here they produce organic and biodynamic seeds of cereals, fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables. These seeds are spread among some 40 growers all across Portugal. In selecting growers there’s a lot of study involved to find out what the best climatic and soil conditions are for growing. I could easily feel that employees are very engaged here at this farm. All together we had an amazing lunch. What abundance! We happen to sit in front of the founder of the company, Stefan Doeblin. He expresses that the aim of Sementes Vivas is to take care of vital soils, which improves the growth of good food and seeds and leads towards a healthier planet. This is combined with a very conscious and sustainable way of working all across the production process.
After an amazing lunch with home made pizzas, salads, humus and fresh fruits we were given a broad tour around the farm by Merve. She studied sustainable agriculture in Turkey and came to Portugal one year ago to work for Sementes Vivas. She shows us her passion for what she called ‘the nursery’, the kindergarten for the plants. From here everything starts to grow and planted over the many fields that she shows us. On the hottest time of the day we walked over the dusty paths between the fields.
Merve shared her experiences and lot’s of information and explained that it’s part of her duty to help creating awareness about organic seeds and knowledge in seed production. The last field we passed showed a great mixture of veggies. “Here’s the field on which we, as employees, can grow and take home for ourselves”. What an amazing job!
I’ve always tried to buy organic veggies and fruits, but at times this was difficult. Only now I come to realize that there’s a lot of attention needed to grow organic sees, which are at the core of healthy food. By buying and spreading organic and biodynamic seeds and growing from these, we can support the movement towards seed and food sovereignty.
We learned about the difference between organic and biodynamic agriculture. For biodynamic food there’s an independent certification, which is organized by Demeter. The methods used for gardening in a biodynamic way are focussing on ecological harmony. It’s about being in a holistic and spiritual dialogue with nature, which includes very specific rituals for composting and crop rotation, leading to more healthy soils and growth. I remember Sina’s words about sustainable gardening at Fougerette. ‘Working with nature instead of working against it, by interfering only in the slightest way’.
The last place where Merve took us is the hall in which the harvest is going through a whole epic process towards seed production. It includes many steps, like drying the seeds, cleaning them and even sorting carefully by hand (!) before packing them. The smell of supersweet pumpkins entered our noses.
Before we left the farm we bought some of their organic seeds. Since we don’t have a garden yet, we’ve sent these as a present to our friends Haico and Else in their Magic Valley, also here in Central Portugal. Hopefully we can get back to Sementes Vivas soon for bringing organic seeds to our own fields! In the mean time I want to study organic farming as a sustainable production system. I want to learn how to work with biodiversity, how to prepare and take care of soils and how to make green manure. So, let’s look forward to wintertime full of study books and documentaries!
Do you want to know and read more about Sementes Vivas? www.sementesvivas.bio
Franz shows his fantastic eco fridge that doesn’t use any resources. No gas, no electricity, nothing. Watch while he explains with much enthusiasm how he achieves this sustainable feature in the summer heat of Central Portugal.
This video is edited with solar power in our mobile office. We are happy to show you around in our solar setup! With many thanks to Peter from Independent solar solutions for all his input and installation-advice.
Questions about solar panels on your camper van? https://independentsolarsolutions.nl
Questions about vanlife? Ask us!
We’re sowing and growing! Dracula makes space for a permaculture garden here at this crazy castle. Meet Sina and Michel, who’ve just landed at this place where they’re setting up their garden project. Being here you can’t escape a bit of craziness flowing through your veins, but working with mother nature will ground us again. Have fun watching another episode in this Finding A Better Way To Live journey!
Stomping around in a heap of horse dung. It’s not something I do every day. But when making natural bricks (so called adobes) this is a necessary part of the process.
We have gathered in Happy Valley in Benfeita, Portugal, where Prem and Roshni are building a bathroom with natural materials. Part of the walls will be made from a natural type of brick called ‘adobe’. These bricks are made from a mix of clay, sand, straw and some lovely horse dung. According to Bruno, who is teaching us how to make the bricks, the horse dung helps to provide elasticity to the bricks, making them less prone to crack. There are about 15 of us, plus a bunch of kids, and we are eager to get started.
The clay, dung and straw are locally sourced, and because clay is different in every region, it’s important to make sample mixes with different ratios of the ingredients. Bruno calls them cookies, which confuses us, until he shows us a bucket full of them. Indeed, they look deceptively like mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies. We are advised not to eat them if we are fond of our teeth.
Etched into each ‘cookie’ is the ratio of the main ingredients used for that sample.
Bruno prepared all of this in advance. He found that in this region the ratio for dunch/clay/sand has to be 1/2/2. He also already made the mixture for the bricks, with a cement mixer. It’s a huge pile, which we have to keep wet the whole day with a hose and work the water into the mix with our feet. Bring water, mud and a bunch of kids together and you know what is inevitable. Mud fight!
The adobes themselves are created by putting the mixture into moulds, that are made in a simple way from a few planks. “Really whack the mixture into the corners”, Bruno tells us, “Otherwise you might end up with wobbly bricks.” The mould is lifted up and the bricks are left to dry on the ground. To make the next brick it’s important to make the mould wet. The bricks have to dry for 3 days on one side, then they are turned and left to dry for another 3 days. That’s quite a while, but in this climate 6 rain free days is no problem at all.
The sun is shining, the kids are playing, the adults are working. It’s a good day: in the end we have made 300 bricks! That might look like an impressive number, but making bricks this way is a very labour intensive process. That’s why places that build this way often call on volunteers to help. But if more and more people transition to natural buildings, will it stay feasible to do it this way? I like pondering questions like these. To explore what will really work if the world transitions to a more sustainable lifestyle. But not now. Now I just know that I’m dead tired, have backache and a sun-burned nose, but feel satisfied and happy and look back on a wonderfully fun day.