Inhabiting our habits
The food on our plate is one of our most valuable engagement with the natural world, and the biggest impact we have on climate change as well as our own personal well-being. I don’t perceive food as just a nutritionist, but as a total nourishment for the body, the senses, the mind and the earth.
Small scale farmers are feeding 70% of the world’s population. Only the consumption needs and behavior of people in the USA, China and Europe demand industrialized agriculture. The mass raising of chicken, pigs, cattle and other livestock in large facilities has been spreading like wildfire over the world in order to meet the consumption needs of these industrialized countries. High-volume livestock and plantbased farming has detached not only the farmers, but also the consumers from nature and therefore themselves. This linear growth mentality of production and manufacturing is as much as a threat to our health and that of our planet as it is a campaign to promote energy consumption, in other words: to senselessly waste energy.
We are able to invent many more incredible technological innovations, but if we ignore the fact that the efficiency of our resources (ratio of total energy input to total energy output) is the real dilemma we’re facing, nothing will result in sustainable solutions. This applied self-contradiction will reach explosive levels, as Leonardo di Caprio pointed out in his documentary in November 2016, but what he didn’t mention very clearly was that in order to change direction we, the people, have to change our conditioned thinking, professional practices and consumptive behavior. Instead of waiting for governments and CEO’s to change their minds, I believe my energy is better used looking at our own habits and how we inhabit them.
Late 2014, after years of observation and research,I found myself in an uncomfortable place. Still living in the city, I realized that I couldn’t trust my usual suppliers to act in my best interest nor to prioritize my personal health and that of our planet. At the same time I became aware how much control my monthly bills for shelter, energy and other “exchanges” had over my life. This dependency on corporations and institutions, which I considered many to be the most evil institutions on this planet, started to weigh on me. I came to the conclusion that ,if I didn’t want to empower those who’s practices I didn’t approve of, providing in my own basic needs was the most viable option. l decided to provide a test and demoground for prototypes that accelerate the transitions towards a circular economy: to start growing organic food and medicine by mimicking the natural eco system; to build shelter and harvest energy through a balanced cooperation with nature; to work my way up from there and to share in the abundance with many others.
My slice of paradise in Central Portugal comes with an interesting lay-out and is partly equipped with large terrace walls. It slopes up an down in the valley; provides stunning views and shaded areas; is rich in various water sources; and is south facing for optimal sun exposure. I am planning to transform the existing monoculture of Red oaks, which was planted 19 years ago for timber production, into a multilayered polyculture of edible and medicinal perennials. I will also add a variety of edible species to the existing olive orchard to create a healthy ecosystem which improves the soil, attracts wildlife and increases biodiversity. Further down the Mimosa forest supplies livelong firewood and a topsoil very rich in Nitrogen which can be used on other parts of the farm. The aim is to run the farm for 100% on rainwater collection and to irrigate with the help of techniques like gravity feeding, ram pumps and swales which don’t require any fossil fuel input. Biomass is used as fuel and a small herd of livestock consisting of alpacas, goats, sheep, small-bred pigs, chickens and a donkey or small horse minimises the need for machinery and help improve the soil. They are not used for dairy or meat consumption but play their part as valuable helpers and friends on the farm. My land provides in an abundance of “browns” (carbon), but especially in the developing years, I need to add more “greens” (manure a.o.) in order to produce high quality compost. Most of their nutrition needs are met by grazing and browsing on the pathways (grasses, ground cover), by pruning of low branches or bushes and fallen fruit from the trees. Just like they naturally would sustain themselves if they had the chance and access to their natural surroundings. Besides food for personal use, the local community and that of visitors, the ecosystem will also provide for the sales of quality organic and natural niche products which are high in demand among the emerging group of conscious consumers. You can read more on those products in the following section. The nut trees will play an important role for the vegan cheese and “dairy” products we will develop. Various medicinal syrups are made from the elderberries, goji berries and cranberries in combination with turmeric, ginger, fruit and other natural medicine. The blue berries, wild strawberries and other tasty snacks are for everyone to pick. The soap nut trees provide us with washing detergent and the apple trees for example will contribute to natural cleaning products.
I chose to contribute to the worldwide movement of ecosystem restoration by taking on one hectare at a time. I am blessed to be in the company of various others locally and globally who are doing the same thing in order to collectively make a significant difference. My approach is inspired by the following four principles:
1. Natural Farming
Natural farming, as described by Masanobu Fukuoka, is based on a nature free of human meddling and intervention. It strives to restore nature from the destruction wrought by human knowledge and action. Instead of putting our will onto nature, we have to work with nature and use all the hard working free labourers it already provides, like animals, insects, worms, fungi, bees and birds.
The natural farming philosophy of Fukuoka, of which the Permaculture (permanent agriculture) movement is a more contemporary development, has already resulted in multiple commercially operating food forest farms. These farmers co-operate with nature, produce organically, where the use of chemical pesticides is not necessary. A mature healthy natural farm must be able to supply all materials and resources essential to provide in human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, safety, connection, mastery, achievement, beauty, balance, knowledge, meaning, fulfilment and personal growth.
2. The Carbon Farming solution
Degraded soils give up as much of their carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Industrialized agriculture has caused huge areas of the planet’s topsoil to be depleted, creating dead soil. The surface of our planet functions as her skin. When healthy and in balance the planet would be easily capable of dealing with our carbon output, but if we damage her skin, she loses the capacity to do so with climate change as a result.
Eric Toensmeier has decades of experience with carbon farming and he observed that “although millions of people around the world use agro-ecology practices in some way, people in Western nations are largely unfamiliar with them. Carbon farming is used to describe a polyculture of crops and non-toxic agricultural practices that sequester carbon in the soil and in perennial vegetation like shrubs and trees. If widely implemented, these practices have the capacity to sequester hundreds of billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere in the coming decades while at the same time providing an abundance of food. And if we combine carbon farming with a massive global reduction in fossil fuel emissions, it can return our atmosphere to the “magic number” of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Unlike linear high-tech geo-engineering strategies, these circular practices can also feed people organically, provide fuel and shelter, build more fertile soils, increase local self reliance and contribute to ecosystem health.” A vida Fausto’s agricultural practices are in alignment with this scientific and sophisticated agricultural understanding of husbandry and biology that surpasses the productivity of industrial monoculture agriculture. Carbon farming can help address food security, injustice, well-being, health, local self-reliance, environmental degradation, and some of the core problems with the global food system and I am excited to contribute my part.
3. No Dig Gardening
Both previous approaches focus on the soil as the farmer’s most valuable asset. Industrialized farming often shows short term high returns but by disturbing and depleating the soil, it requires more and more energy input. These practices continue until there is no life in the soil anymore and the producers have to move onto the next area. This linear process has now resulted in huge depleted areas of our planets top soil. The no dig gardening approach is based on building soil by adding to it instead of taking; by leaving it undisturbed so all the creatures below the surface, like worms, fungi and insect can do the work they are best equipped for. My first actions are therefore targeted to build and improve the soil on my land in order to benefit from it for years. When done properly this requires less and less energy input over the years because Nature takes it course, if you allow it. I will apply ancient techniques like hugelbeds and swales to provide in nutrition and to capture and distribute water more efficiently. I also will add livestock to provide me with their many valuable contributions, both in labor and nutrition.
4. Holistic planned grazing
Before I start adding large amounts of edibles that provide in human needs, I will add livestock to the farm in order to build high fertile soil. My land provides in a lot of sequestered carbon, but there’s not enough nitrogen available yet. The manure of animals will help me to improve this balance. When livestock is managed in a way that mimics nature, these practices can heal the land and benefit wildlife, while at the same time benefiting people. Responsible livestock management can generate important ecological benefits, including carbon sequestration, water savings and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. In contrast to factory farm monocultures, agro-ecological principles support the integration of livestock with crop production, using their manure to improve soil fertility while the animals control weeds, thus decreasing dependence on fossil-fuel intensive fertilizers and pesticides. On well-managed pastures, animal waste provides vital organic nourishment for soils and crops, producing less methane than manure stored in vats on factory farms. Holistic grazing systems can also capture and store more water below the ground, which minimises the need for additional irrigation. Ideally all animals find a balanced diet by grazing, browsing and foraging on the farm and through the forest which eliminates the need to supply additional food while receiving their labor and guidance in return. The animals living at the A vida Fausto farm all have their unique role in our collaborative efforts to establish a healthy eco system. I believe that animals fulfil an equally important role as humans on this planet and therefor I treat them as full family members, provide them with their desired habitat and acknowledge their needs. They deserve and therefore receive as much respect and care as any human in our team.
While researching new developments in agriculture I enjoyed watching Inhabit. The books which guide me ever day are The Natural Way of Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka , Edible Forest Gardens Vol 1 & 2 by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier, Integrated Forest Gardening by Wayne Weiseman.
Animal well being as well as the health of our planet has always been of my concern. After being a vegetarian for 6 years, I adopted a plant powered diet in 2015. In that year I started to fully understand what Einstein meant with “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it.Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality.” During that time I was working hard to clear myself from lower vibrational frequencies on an emotional and mental level and I realised that only when I also would feed my physical body solely with high vibrational food I could reach my ultimate goal of setting myself free. In the meantime I started to form closer connections with various animals and was able to communicate with them in a way that changed my perspective on how I viewed the animal realm. They have become the most valuable teachers and guides to understand myself and the world around me much better. I believe that in essence humans are designed to function optimally through nutrition provided to us by plants. However it’s society and our current habits that pushed us in another direction, which rather makes us sick than prioritizes our health and that of our planet above anything.
In order to fully transition to feed myself with only plantbased nutrition I had to start educating myself on what it actually is that my body needs to function in optimal form. Even though I considered myself quite conscious about healthy food and enjoyed cooking fresh meals every day for myself and friends, I realized that supermarkets, even the organic one’s, offer a vary narrow window of healthy nutritional food. I was an addict to cheese and dairy products and thought that leaving these out would result in very dull and boring meals. Until a dear friend gave me the book “The plant power Way” by Rich Roll and his wife Julie Piatt. Their vision on food and easy, yet delicious, recipes showed me a whole range of new options and ingredients. Some I even had never heard of, let alone found in the super market. Adapting a plant powered lifestyle doesn’t mean to just replace your animal products with fruit and veggies. It requires a new perspective on how we connect with food, our own body and nature as a whole. My first 1,5 year in the Portugese countryside has allowed me to gain a good amount of knowledge on these topics and my beautiful large kitchen in the Birdhouse provides me with a comfortable place to experiment. Nevertheless I am only starting to get familiar with a lot of the important foods we have forgotten. I would love to continue to learn more about the wild edible plants, seeds and medicine that grow abundantly in this region. Planting many perennial edible species on the land will also contribute to a more varied and sustainable way of feeding ourselves and everyone else who wants a share. Through this project I hope to connect with inspiring people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience so that we collaboratively give the plantpowered lifestyle a contemporary voice.
Farm kitchen and Food Lab
On the farm I want to build a professional kitchen and food lab, where plantpowered longer shelf products are developed, tested and produced with ingredients straight from the farm. We will devote much of our energy and creativity towards testing and introducing new quality products. I believe that it’s time for us as consumers to change our “on demand” mind state towards one where we follow natural cycles. Nature already has figured out for us, what we need and when through the year, following her example seems the most healthy way to nurture ourselves. To move away from food as an economical commodity towards food as part of local, seasonal experience and community. Once established, the abundance of food provides the residents, visitors of the farm and conscious consumers elsewhere in Europe with the majority of ingredients for a plant-powered lifestyle. Berries and fruit high in vitamins; seeds, nuts, legumes high in protein and minerals; herbs, flowers and trees providing natural medicine; bamboo, trees, and shrubs for renewable building materials; various ingredients for natural health products like tea, creams, face masks, syrup, lip balm and natural household and cleaning products. The healthy multi-layered eco-system will produce food in all colors of the rainbow through every season. By using natural preserving and dehydrating techniques, the seasonal items are also available at other times of the year without the need of adding toxic chemicals or unhealthy components.
I am happy to notice that the demand for plantpowered organic alternatives is increasing among conscious consumers in Europe, but instead of focusing on quantity , at our farm we produce quality niche products based on what nature offers us in that season and in which quantities. This way, we can’t make hard promises upfront about the food, medicinal and cosmetic products we will deliver, but we do guarantee a variety of excellent, organic, unique, delicious and carefully prepared treats straight from the land. We offer our products both to visitors and participants of the educational programs on the farm as well as conscious consumers elsewhere in Europe. This approach requires a high amount of creativity and flexibility, two key-drivers that find their place within the entire project.
Not only will we strive for excellence in our products, there’s still a big need for innovation if it comes to packaging and distribution of consumer goods. I see it as my responsibility to look at the entire chain from harvest to table and to redesign the conventional way of doing things. I am optimistic that the current ideas, experiments and prototypes on biodegradable packaging solutions and waste minimization will accelerate in the near future and I would love to collaborate with experts in these fields. As a producer I also feel encouraged to provide honest and clear communication towards consumers. There’s a lot of opportunity for improvement here, providing food print and fossil fuel prints on all products would already be a good start, as well as providing information about ingredients that are not familiar to most of us anymore, yet very welcome to reintroduce into our diets. If you are motivated to find and work on solutions “from farm to table”, let’s talk and see how we can collaborate.
I enjoyed watching Food Choices and those who, among others, inspired me to transition towards a Plantpowered diet are Rich Roll & Julie Piatt through their book The Plantpower Way, Wholy Goodness from Berlin, my neighbors Heather and Martyn who introduced me to the nutritional balancing program and good friend and digital nomad Felix Eats.