By Sophie Sadler

When I arrive at Campo do Vale, it is like suddenly coming across a vision of Utopia. An enthusiastic group of shoeless individuals is busy pounding a mixture of mud and straw with their feet in an act resembling wine crushing. Another group is industriously constructing cane fencing around an eco shower. This is not a dream – this is the permaculture design course at Projecto Novas Descobertas.

Although they might not be trying to create Utopia, the aims of the Projecto Novas Descobertas are still high. This non-profit association was founded in 1994. Their 27 years of work has incorporated social inclusion, environmental issues, education, citizenship, community inclusion, family support, support for children and youth, non-formal education, and eco-social regeneration.

Novas Descobertas aims to promote discovery, learning, action and sharing. With that in mind, it works with other like-minded projects either with education or by providing volunteers.

Patricia Russo Pereira shows me around and is an enthusiastic ambassador for the project. A former biology student, she became involved in educational projects in South East Asia, where she identified the need to bring the idea of ecoregeneration into education. “I saw the need to give children the skills in problem-solving, which they are going to need to reverse climate change.

We want to explain environmental issues to kids but not with a sense of fear. We don’t want them to feel like they are doomed, but we want them to engage, have conversations and learn by participation.” Patrícia herself first arrived to do a permaculture teacher training course and later became an education for regeneration trainer and facilitator.

An example of this working in practice is Rachel. She is supervising the mud pounders, who are creating a building material from mud and straw. Rachel started coming here for education projects when she was eight and now works as the project coordinator educator. The farm encourages children to have empathy with the natural world; they learn to observe nature, rather than imposing themselves on it.

The project was established by the owners of Quinta Vale de Lama – Nita Barroca and Walt Ludwick. Their farm incorporates an eco-hotel offering retreats and an opportunity to eat from farm to fork with their biological produce. Although a separate entity, they partner with Campo do Vale for specific projects.

Novas Descobertas began with educational camps for children and has grown over the years to the extent that now the Câmara de Lagos sponsors some of the children in state schools to visit as part of Um Dia na Quinta.

They then started to develop training courses for adults. I chatted with Lesley Martin, a former biological farmer from the UK. In 1995, she enrolled on a permaculture course and was then persuaded to become a teacher. After holidaying in the Algarve, she moved here to retire but, for a short time, there were no permaculture teachers in Portugal. So she saw the importance of filling this knowledge gap. “I hope the people I teach take the message with them and pass it on. A lot of my students become teachers themselves. Many come to the project from abroad and stay onsite, while others have moved to the Algarve and want a change of lifestyle.”

If you think you are there to learn how to grow better tomatoes, you are a long way off. Patrícia explains, “This course is a design tool. It brings people together to create human ecosystems. The human race needs to work out how to live as nature, not against it. It is also holistic in terms of having a regenerative affection for the planet; we need to change our financial systems, evaluate how we make decisions and work out how to work together. This can only be done through communication. This course hopefully opens a dialogue; people will walk away and initiate this discussion with others.”

Maybe this project won’t achieve Utopia, but it is encouraging to witness such a progressive learning environment creating regenerative bonds between the individual and themselves, between the individual and the community, and between the individual and their landscape.

There is an ecosystems regeneration camp taking place every Monday during November. They also offer permaculture design courses every spring and autumn along with several regeneration camps throughout the year.

www.projectonovasdescobertas.org

www.projectonovasdescobertas.org/en/programasaprender/ campo-de-regeneracao-de-ecossistemas