Andrea Casalinho, along with her husband Jeroen and their children, run Casalinho e Escabelado
, an emergent permaculture project in the mountains of central Portugal. They invite volunteers from around the world to experience a different lifestyle and become empowered by learning more about the production of their own food. Permaculture
is a sustainable design system focused on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It is inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka
’s natural farming
Andrea, Jeroen, and their children moved to Casalinho 8 years ago from their original smallholding, when the family wanted more space to pursue their dream. When the family moved to Casalinho, much of it had been abandoned for many years. The property consisted of a lower section made up of the house (needing renovation) and agricultural land which had at one stage been a market garden complete with numerous fruit trees but had more recently been used to grow animal feed crops; and a higher, larger section made up of pine forest and scrub. The agricultural land was in poor condition as many of the fruit trees had been mechanically ripped out of the ground, hugely disturbing the soil layers, and the soil in the main fields had suffered from years of compaction with tractors and the use of agrichemicals.
“Our adventure began by accident some years ago when we bought a derelict little smallholding in the middle of nowhere,” Andrea says. “We worked hard on it, experimented, practised our skills, but eventually realised that we wanted more space. . . .We bought Casalinho e Escabelado, which is … in need of much love and attention. We are slowly reclaiming the land and now supply most of our own fresh vegetables and fruit. Eggs, milk, cheese, a little meat, much fertility and a lot of enjoyment are provided by our animals. We keep goats, pigs, rabbits, ducks, chickens and pigeons productively, and we’ve got cats and dogs too.”
Prior to living in rural Portugal, Andrea worked in an office management role in England. She fell in love with Portugal while traveling there simply for a holiday, met her partner, and eventually moved to the mountainous center of the country. Andrea undertook the Sustainable Land Use Course including a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with Patrick Whitefield
in 2011. She was so inspired that she came back insisting Jeroen also attended a PDC. She realized that in order to live a life conversant with her values she needed to communicate them. And so it was decided to host the first PDC at Casalinho,
and the tradition of hosting annual summer courses and volunteers was begun!
According to Andrea: “We’ve had immense help over the years from an ever changing group of international volunteers from all over the world and have hosted around 900 so far! Our volunteers share our lives for a short while, receiving meals and basic accommodation in return for their help with our daily activities and special projects.”
“We live a simple life without many of the trappings of modern life, but what we lack in material terms is more than made up for by the satisfaction of shaping and living the life we want. We try to live by the permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares.”
While observing how the health of the land is improving, Andrea and her family have found that the range of skills and experience they continue to acquire is really empowering. Their constantly growing repertoire of knowledge has made them much more resilient as individuals and as a family.
Andrea also is focused on imparting valuable experiences to the many visitors and volunteers. As she described in a beautiful video documenting Casalinho e Escabelado
, “I also want us to be in a position to offer an educational experience to people. What I think the thing we are trying to offer to people is the opportunity to discover a lifestyle which is different to what they may experience at home. We appreciate that the way we live is perhaps different from the majority of people, and if we can show people that that’s not so bad, perhaps they can go back, and if they can put even one aspect of that into operation then I feel that we will have done something worthwhile.”
Five Questions with Andrea Casalinho
What Makes You Come Alive?
I love that moment when someone leaves Casalinho and tells us that they've had an amazing time. My hope is that they'll go home, back to their day to day lives, remembering that there are alternatives to our industrial food system, to pollution, to the reliance on others for our daily needs. Discovering that range of alternatives still excites me. I love that people from around the world email me and choose to spend their precious time and energies here because they're excited or inspired by what we do. I love connecting with people, hopefully giving them confidence that an unusual lifestyle can be lived by normal people!
Pivotal turning point in your life?
I initially came to Portugal on a long holiday. With nothing specific to do other than enjoy the scenery and the company of my son, I had the time and space to realise that there was more to life than I was currently experiencing. And that was when I decided that I owed it to myself to explore that.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
After I made the decision to rethink how I would spend my time, money obviously became more of a concern. I really wanted to educate myself on sustainable land use and found a course which would suit my needs perfectly. Unfortunately it was well out of my price range. I emailed the teacher and received a discount which allowed me to afford the course, which turned out to be the best educational experience of my life. This is what inspired to pay it forward by running our own affordable permaculture design courses and making places available to those who couldn't afford them otherwise.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I don't keep a bucket list. I'm afraid it would look like my to do list, 47 pages long ;)
One-line Message for the World?
The permaculture ethics are Earth care, People care and Fair share. I think that encompasses everything.