It all sounded pretty great to me when I applied for this project and, just a few weeks later, poof! Here I am, straw hat on head, sitting amidst kale and broad beans writing this blog. I am Franziska from Germany; I’ve recently turned 25 and I am the new plough hor… I mean agro-ecology trainee at La Bolina.
Last year I graduated from a Master’s degree in sociolinguistics and multilingualism where I had made great experiences and insights from learning about and living in different cultures. In terms of my future path, however, I felt none the wiser.
All I knew was that after 6 years of studying I needed a break from abstract concepts and was longing for a hands-on task with an immediate visible outcome. As a nature lover and nutrition geek I have long been concerned about the waste of resources and pollution involved in global food production. In my view smaller scale, decentralised operations and empowerment of local farmers are likely the best way to construct a sustainable future in this regard.
This may sound smart written down but I realise that I have no idea what that really means put into practice – what it takes to nurture a plant from seed to harvest. Two weeks into the project I am only beginning to find an answer to that question and it seems that it all starts with a strong back and high SPF sunscreen…
For the next 6 months my days are going to look something like this:
7:30: Get up, check which muscle is sore today, do yoga, have breakfast catch a ride to the AlmaZen (another La Bolina project space, located in the neighbouring village Restabal).
9:00: Check-In at the AlmaZen, a daily ritual where everyone gets together to share how they feel, make announcements or discuss specific tasks.
9:30: Catch a ride with Jenny, my supervisor and also extremely witty and lovely human being, to one of various patches of land that La Bolina grows vegetables on. Do whatever needs to be done that day; weeding, watering, planting, harvesting, etc.
15:00: Return to the project house (aka “The Hub”) to eat a delicious, plant-based lunch with vegetables from our own production or local ecological farms. Siesta!
16-18:00: Time to study Spanish (very important because I am an absolute beginner and I need to know how to order tapas at the local bars), hang out with the others, call home, etc. Also, I am responsible for watering the Hub garden, which at the moment takes about 1h because I can’t use the very convenient ditch irrigation for the seeds that were just put into the ground – not so convenient…
19:00: Have dinner, which is early by Spanish standards, given that most restaurants only start serving food after the lunch break at 20:00. Dinner at the moment consists of a bar of chocolate and some salty nuts, but I’m soon going to run out, scary!
21-23:00: depending on my energy level I will either hang out with the others, read, watch something or just collapse into bed to do it all over again the next day.
After the first two weeks of this routine my body is aching and I am constantly tired – who would have thought that spending 6h daily at a desk for my previous job at a call centre wasn’t adequate preparation for the physical challenges I was going to face? Moreover, my Spanish is improving quickly, but still not quickly enough to really communicate, so often times I stand at the side-lines puzzled and a bit lonely wishing I could connect with people they way I want to.
Despite these daily challenges, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to call this stunning landscape of endlessly undulating orchards and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada at the horizon my home and I am experiencing a strong sense of purpose and belonging. On the day of my 25th birthday doing yoga on our rooftop terrace I looked up to El Pico del Caballo and I cried because I am so damn proud of myself for following my heart exactly where I want to be at this moment in my life.
“Cebolletas, cebolletas, cebolletas…”. With what is barely an A1 level of Spanish, this will be one of the words that’s been ingrained into my brain after the last two days and I’ll surely never forget.
After having planted over 100 ‘spring onions’ yesterday, Xavi, our local expert in agro-ecology, has come to judge our work and he is not looking too pleased. Using a tool lovingly called the “Bazooka” to plant the seedlings was fun, but the rows of fragile-looking plants are uneven and too far apart.
Luckily, it takes Xavi only a couple of minutes to rig up some ropes to indicate precise rows on the neighbouring bed. In a zig-zag pattern we now plant the seedlings roughly 10cm apart, three plants to a hole – Valencian style.
Before reforming our cebolleta-planting, Xavi gave us a short introduction to the world of microorganisms, including our very own batch of home-made fertilizer/pesticide. In a circle we stand around him as he mixes wheat bran and various types of soil with sugar water, forming on the ground a huge pile of what looks like porridge or vegan meat replacement.
The added soil from a patch of forest in the area contains millions of microorganisms including fungi, that are meant to thrive and multiply in the anaerobic environment that will later be created by tightly packing the concoction into a sealed plastic barrel.
Once the mixture has fermented for 1-3 months, it can be used like a sourdough starter to create liquid fertilizer that can either be sprayed on the plants to crowd out pathogens or be mixed with water for irrigation. Waiting for the result of this long-term experiment hidden in the black plastic barrel is surely creating a lot of suspense, but luckily we have more cebolletas to plant to keep our hands and minds busy in the meantime.