Saving the Soil in The Garden of Gaia – Part 2
Starting a Rural Project
In this post we return to El Jardin de Gaia, where I was part of a guided tour organised by Save Soil volunteers.
I was eager to find out more about how this pioneering rural project first came into being. What were some of the first steps taken? Did they buy to rent the land? How that all important question, how much does it cost to start a rural project like this?
Luckily, I was nosy enough to ask and David, the co-founder, was generous enough to answer.
One of the biggest obstacles that we face in moving out of the city is access to land. Without a big sum of capital, how do we get ourselves a small plot to realise our dream?
I have always ruled out the idea of renting because it seemed too risky. I have experienced firsthand whilst living in Madrid, the unpleasantness of losing my home as a renter and having to find somewhere else to live.
What if you build your rural project and invest in the land by building infrastructure and improving the fertility of the soil, and then the owners kick you off and you have to leave it all behind?
This is why I was curious to know if David and his brother owned the land that El Jardin de Gaia was built on or not. When I got the chance, I politely asked him the question.
The answer surprised me. Interestingly he doesn’t own this land, but rents it with the view to buying it in the future.
David sees the idea of renting land a little differently.
“Of course, it is a risk. But so is buying land when you don’t know if your project is going to work the way you hope that it does. First you need to try it out and see if the land and the ecosystem can support your project. If so, then you can look into buying it. Otherwise you could be left with land that you can’t sell, and a project that doesn’t work.”
Hmmm, interesting point, I thought.
He went on to say that in the case of his land, the previous owner had done just that. He had bought the land for a lot of money with the idea of making it into a golf course. This didn’t work, so when David approached him with his project, the guy liked it and agreed to rent it to David and his brother.
The proposal that David outlined was detailed with all the changes to the land, the constructions and their uses. There was commitment on the side of the owner to allow them to rent the space for the purpose of creating El Jardin de Gaia.
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How much did you invest initially to get the project started? I asked.
“Between 50 and 100 thousand euros, between myself and my brother”, he said.
And how long till you were able to start making money after you started?
“In the beginning it seemed like we were just constantly pouring money into the project. It wasn’t until our third year that we really started making money from it”.
How did you support yourself and the project financially in that time?
“I keep my previous job in the company I was working for as did my brother.”.
I noted that this was one of the good points about where El Jardin de Gaia is situated. Other than the 6km dirt track, it isn’t out in the sticks by any stretch of the imagination and is within easy reach of the nearest towns, with Madrid being only a 40 minute drive on the motorway. Hence, it was possible for David to continue to keep his job whilst also working on the project, which is ideal.
“In time”, he continued, “we started renting the allotments, a few at first and then every year a little bit more. Then we started to give courses and also built the cabin and yurt for people to accommodate paying visitors. Eventually we were earning enough for me to quit my job and dedicate myself to the project full time.”
He also spoke of the extent of the paperwork that had to be done and the amount of time it took to get permission for the project to go ahead. Having first hand experience of bureaucracy in Spain, I shuddered at the thought.
Interestingly enough, David runs courses that help people get a better understanding of what it takes to start a rural business, from the initial studies of viability to the legal requirements and paperwork.
This could save a lot of time and work and help you avoid potential mistakes that could later greatly impede the success of your project. I made sure to note it down for future reference. This kind of information is good to have in your back pocket for a later date.
Finally we took a walk around the rest of the land and showed us some of the eco-construction that he had been working on. He explained how the walls were made of hay bales and cal, which is a more natural alternative to cement, the material that the Romans used to build their buildings.
Inside was cool and fresh. Even though it wasn’t anywhere near finished, I loved the handmade feel of it. David acknowledged that these types of construction took a lot of time. He had been working on this building on and off for the past eight years!
“Es que, no me da abasto con todo el trabajo que hay”, he said. The work here is just unending.
To finish the day, we all shared some fruit and snacks and chatted about the Save the Soil movement and our own experiences growing food or taking part in similar projects.
As the day drew to a close I was tired after being out in the heat all day but happy. It had been a successful trip. We had gained new knowledge and insight and had some useful information for the future about possible ways to bring a rural project into being.
I had really enjoyed being out in the vegetable gardens and seeing first hand that it is possible to grow food in an 100% natural way that helps heal the Earth. I had heard so much about regenerative agriculture so seeing it up close and personal was a real privilege.
One thing that was going around in my mind was the amount of money David and his brother had invested in starting this rural project. This kind of figure is beyond the kind of money I could ever imagine available to fund my dream.
I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel a little disheartened by this. I looked at Sergio and wondered whether we have just been fooling ourselves all along, thinking that we could fulfil our dreams the way we have until this point: living on the cheap and creating a lot out of little.
I also thought about the half finished eco-house that stood between the trees awaiting its next round of construction. It makes one wonder if leaving the cushy consumer life in the city is really worth it when it appears that you still never get round to doing the things you want to do in the country. We think that life is slower in the country, but by the looks of it, it is just as busy as in the city, if not more so.
We often see the glossy finished products as being an inspiration without really having any idea of the blood, sweat, tears, and patience that has gone into it. Nothing comes easy it seems, even when you have enough money to invest initially in starting up your project.
But we may not have much right now, but we have our dreams and the freedom to pursue them, even if it takes us our whole life. For that, I consider myself lucky.
It takes courage to keep going even when the odds seem stacked against you. The ‘radical dream’ could also be referred to as the ‘ridiculous dream’. History is full of ridiculous dreamers who set about doing ridiculous things in a whole manner of creative ways who ended up achieving what they set out to achieve. Some of them changing the world in the process.
That’s how society progresses, with vision, creativity and the stubborn determination to no accept no for an answer.
Inspiration to Keep Going
For me, Sadhguru and the Save Soil movement is an example this kind of ridiculous dreamer attitude.
He rode almost 19, 000 miles around the world on a motorbike to raise awareness of soil health and its effect on climate change, biodiversity and global good security. In each country he visited he spoke to political leaders and people of influence about the degradation of our agricultural soils globally and the disaster that is sure to await us if we don’t act to reverse this trend using regenerative methods.
Following his lead hundreds of thousands of everyday people like me and you have taken to social media to speak out about the problem and help to raise awareness. Many others have also set out on their own journeys like Sadhguru, some by bike, some by foot, but all with the same intention: to save the soil from extinction.
Mobilising so many people is no small feat. The only way he is able to influence so many people is because he inspires and empowers them with a vision for what could be possible. It is a vision based on facts, and once people understand that, they find it easy to get on board.
His message is clear: let’s start a conversation about the importance of soil before it is too late.
With no heathy, fertile agricultural soil, you can forget your dreams. And I can forget mine.
So here I am, starting a conversation with you. If you would like to know more about the Save Soil movement, information on how to get involved or just want to know about the soil extinction that is happening across the globe then you can visit the Conscious Planet website.
Let’s be the ridiculous dreamers of our time and make it happen for ourselves and the future generations!
Let’s save soil!
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