It takes a village. Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms, Virginia, visited Ronda, Andalusia this past weekend, giving his first conference and appearance in Europe at Finca La Donaira.
His words sent chills down my back. It's easy for me to sit on my soapbox and grumble over the lack of interest in organic lifestyle. I never created this site to harp on the bad, but to highlight the good that people are doing, those going against the grain in a true position of minority; Crica in Valladolid, Rio Grande of Malaga, or my latest meeting with Huerta La Vega in Asturias. But finally the moment came, the "world's greatest farmer" in my neck of the woods, chastising the current agriculture situation in Spain, and he seems to have struck a cord. The word is out, Spain will have its moment to decide the future for the health of its citizens, for the conservation of its land and biodiversity, and for the preservation of farming generations to come. But this change, this alter of perceptions must come from the citizens, from the consumers. Will we be ready to stand up and fight for good? Will we battle pesticides, herbicides, cancer causing agents, and harmful water runoff into the peninsula's vast oceans? I sure hope so.
I hope you'll take the time to get to know where your food comes from, the people that dedicate 12-14 hours a day to livestock, land and sea. I hope we'll begin to see that organic isn't expensive -- (last week at Aloe in Malaga I purchased avocados at 3.15€ a kilo and oranges at 1.25€!!!) -- it's the intermediary spokes of the wheel that suck the highest % from the consumer and leave the farmers with cents per kilo. Many of us/Spaniards come from pueblos, we/they still visit our/their birthplaces or vacation homes on the weekends. I would guarantee that if you looked closer, investigated a little further during your next visit, you'd be amazed at how gracious and ardent the toda la vida farmers and agriculturists of our society are; pull into the olive oil estate, ask the shepherd if he'll sell you some milk, offer your afternoon to harvest almonds. Through this thought process, the future looks very bright, the community is that much stronger, and the power over your decisions is yours, not the puppets controlling la bolsa (stock market) or your bolsillo (wallet). It takes a village.
Read below his summary of feelings while in Spain (or read the original text here):
"I arrived in Spain on Friday (April 19, 2013) to do a two-day seminar for RegenAg, an international
organization devoted to pollinating the world with the best agricultural ideas available.
I flew into Malaga in the south of Spain, then drove an hour and a half inland to Ronda,
a city of about 35,000 that straddles a famous canyon, is the gateway to Andalucia, and
home of the oldest bull fighting arena in the world. In the canyon right under my hotel--
my room is perched literally on the cliff of the canyon wall--is a holding cell where the
Conquistadors kept Montezuma (yes, THE Montezuma from Mexico) for a few years.
This area was invaded and held by the Romans--on the edge of town is a military installation
built by the Romans to house two legions of soldiers. Later, the Moors (Muslim Arabs) took
over the area. Essentially, this area skipped the industrial revolution, then had a republic
that Franco overthrew, and today is a Socialist Democracy paying the price for government
Unemployment is 27 percent. In the age bracket of 18-25 year olds, the unemployment is
50 percent. Every day several people commit suicide by throwing themselves off house and
apartment balconies. It's a country in deep despair. The conservatives (Democrats) have
taken power and are trying to shrink government, but it's a tough battle with so many people
on welfare, unemployment, and government payrolls and pensions. Here, the Republicans
are the liberals. In a country of 43 million
people, the easy money after joining the European Common Market created a building boom
with government money that crashed the economy. Today, hundreds of thousands of empty
homes, brand new, sit in massive urban developments around the country. By some estimates
1.5 million homes and apartments are unoccupied. To put that in perspective, an equivalent
number in the U.S. would be about 13 million. Massive projects, half built, have been
abandoned. In some cases, the cranes still sit in the half-finsihed skeletal hulks, waiting for
This despair has created a tremendous interest in the Polyface message of land healing hope
and agricultural opportunity. The seminar hosts hoped for 50 registrants, and had 107. The
thirst and hunger for a better way and new opportunities is palpable. The people are warm
and friendly, and treated me to a Flamenco party last night. Preserving the cultural traditions
of the Arabs and Spanish into the Gypsies, Flamenco music and dance is a cultural icon of
The U.S. influence is remarkable. Some 300 yards from my hotel in Ronda, arguably a central
point of heritage culture, is a McDonald's. This morning in the vestibule of my hotel an American
family readied their belongings to check out and a 6-year-old boy dutifully carried his McDonald's
helium balloon--why would an American family come here to Ronda, Spain, and eat at McDonald's?
To say that this Mediterranean countryside is unique and beautiful is an understatement--olives,
vineyards, and lots of rain this spring to make it really green. BUT, it's a desertifiying, soil-losing
landscape, desperately in need of organic matter, perennials, hydration, ecological massage.
Grain fields are everywhere on hills so steep it's hard to imagine how a tractor can even stay
upright on them. Deep gullies, raw scars, course down these fields.
Amazingly, ponds are illegal because the powers that be don't want anything to interfere with
the flow of water heading downhill. Dear people, ponds will keep the water from rushing downhill
and create a hydration system to keep springs and streams flowing during dry times. I've been
working on La Doneira farm on the outskirts of El Gastor, a working village of 1,500 people. This
seminar, drawing all these people from around Spain, Portugal and even Sweden, created quite
a stir in this town and created a literal one-day turn-around among the mayor and local bureaucrats
to get out of the way of La Doneira's plans to develop a grass-based farm as an agritourism mecca.
Not on everything by any means, but on many.
The rules are amazing. It's illegal to have hay in chicken nest boxes. Imagine, chickens cannot
make a nest when they lay eggs. The farm's eggmobiles cannot have ANY wood in them--they
must be constructed completely of metal. Chickens may not come into contact with wood--these
are sanitation requirements. The list doesn't end, and a host of environmental police routinely
cruise farms to see if an infraction has occurred. My hottest selling book here?--EVERYTHING I
WANT TO DO IS ILLEGAL.
Desperate to maintain things as they are, the preservationists have convinced politicians to pass
laws that forbids salvaging and rebuilding tumbled-down homes. The picturesque countryside
is littered with these old skeletons that cannot be salvaged, lest it undermine the rustic naturalness
of the landscape. My hosts, as they explain all these things, simply laugh gaily and say: "This is
a crazy country." Only the Spanish could laugh about such idiocy. It breaks your heart to see these
fun loving, smart, romantic, creative people so suffocated by bureaucracy, EU regulations, and UN
agendas that it rips the soul out of their indigenous food and farming. These farms that used to
make goat cheese and cure acorn-finished ham can no longer do so. Meanwhile, I've met many
farmers desperate to relocalize their food system and create a place for the next generation on
Indeed, it's far more like the U.S. than you can imagine. And that's the report from Spain.