An American musician has found the peaceful life he craved in Portugal and is helping
to establish a model of sustainable and ethical living in Vegan Hills.
Jamming in the Hills
By Helen Daniel
Four decades after launching his own successful music career in London, a Silves-based producer wants to help others break into the music industry.
Jason Bryant was raised in a musical environment in Washington D.C. Influenced deeply by his father`s friend, Wynton Marsalis, the renowned trumpeter, composer and teacher of jazz, Jason began learning the trumpet at the age of five. Throughout his childhood, he spent many hours backstage at Wynton`s shows. "His saxophonist taught me maths," laughs Jason, "and the drummer taught me how to wrestle!" Through his father`s passion for music, Jason found himself behind the scenes at a Ziggy Marley concert at the age of 13. By 21, he was playing guitar in a band with Damian Marley, Bob Marley's youngest son.
In 2007, the band came to perform in the Zambujeira do Mar summer music festival. "I immediately felt a connection with Portugal. It`s not just the beauty of the countryside and the fascinating towns and cities, but there`s a peacefulness that I love." Two and a half years ago Jason decided to look into buying land here.
"One month before making this decision I had become vegan, and coincidentally on my first Google search for land here, up popped Vegan Hills on the first page," he explains, "It was a guiding sign!"
Jason bought one of the forty shares of land that is owned by a collective named Vegoa. The land occupies 104 hectares near Pedralva on the west coast of the Algarve and has been owned by Vegoa for four years. It sits between 40-110m above sea level and is over a million square metres of hilltops, valleys and ruins.
"The collective aims to be a model of sustainable and ethical living with a strong emphasis on forestry management," declares Jason. We plan to regenerate the land, by planting native trees; rebuild the ruins, that now have planning permission, and develop an eco-village to encourage people to come and learn about such things as essential oils, veganism and yoga. We want to create a place that can receive individuals for events and health holidays."
The purpose of Vegan Hills is to establish a cruelty-free nature reserve for a community that lives with deep compassion for animals and in harmony with the environment.
Jason`s role, along with Mathieu Baanders, another shareholder, is to host volunteers to recreate the land. Mathieu is from Amsterdam and is a trained physiotherapist. He is passionate about animal rights and windsurfing.
"A fire swept through Vegan Hills in June this year," explains Mathieu. "It destroyed most of the work we had done so far, so we are very grateful for any voluntary help that we can get or any plant donations." The shareholders and volunteers alike toil on the land with pickaxes and enchadas.
"The fire was devastating," declares Mathieu. "For a while, we were all disillusioned, as we had to start the work again from scratch. Since June, most of our labour has been the immense task of cleaning up after the fire, but we are now at the stage of digging trenches. The trenches collect water from the rain, and indigenous trees are planted on the other side. The water seeps through to hydrate the saplings."
"We are planting native trees to help reduce the likelihood of wildfires in the future and to establish a haven for wildlife. Our priority is to take care of the land and to provide water and shaded areas. We are restoring the land to its potential by following the principles of permaculture."
Currently, there are 11 shareholders, and four volunteers in the community and Jason and Mathieu would like to encourage more. For the meantime, though, they are staying nearby whilst the fire clearing work is being done and until their legal papers are fully in place.
"You don't have to be a vegan to be part of the Vegan Hills community," explains Jason. "Although we do ask that you only eat vegan food whilst you are here."
Veganism is a way of living that tries, wherever it is possible, to not inflict cruelty, or to exploit animals for food, clothing or anything else. One of the aims of the community is to open an animal sanctuary in the future.
Jason and Mathieu have long-term plans to establish Vegan Hills as an eco-village, with the support of other members and volunteers. Jason continues playing the guitar, although he says he is very fussy about who he plays with now.
"Portugal is my home. In the US, I felt an edge of aggression daily. In the UK, the hostility was mostly verbal, but here I feel at ease. The Portuguese are accepting and welcoming."