Mijas food forest project seeks a reconnection with nature

Paul uses organic waste to create his own soil.
Paul uses organic waste to create his own soil. / SUR
  • A Dutch couple are using their finca in Mijas to experiment with a project that involves various permaculture principles to create a food forest

Until recently there was little mainstream interest in growing one's own vegetables and food. However, there is now an increasing focus on taking back control over what we eat and where it comes from.

One of the sustainability philosophies that is gaining increasing popularity is permaculture, a process that allows us to creatively redesign our environment and our behaviour. Horticultural specialists are inspiring people to turn their gardens, balconies and rooftop terraces into green havens where food is harvested.

Those with larger areas of land, like Paul Arts and Marina de Boer, are experimenting with forest gardening, a sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems. This system incorporates fruit trees, shrubs, herbs and perennial vegetables; in fact, anything with yields that are beneficial to humans.

"We really enjoy our own cultivated food, so we decide to see how far we could go. We've always had a small kitchen garden and it developed from here. We started studying the best way we could make a food forest and ways in which it could be as natural as possible. There is a lot of ideology involved, but we are beginning to reap the benefits," Marina told SUR in English.

The couple, who first came to Spain in 1978, have decided to use their finca in Mijas to run Back to La Tierra, a project that involves various permaculture principles to create a food forest.

"Back to La Tierra is a soul driven project where we bring together everything that constitutes wellbeing. Our orchard garden, where we are growing our own food, is a way to reconnect with nature mindfully and learn to observe and approach life through a different lens," Marina explained.

Originally from the Netherlands, the couple have dedicated their lives to the project since 2018. Over the last 12 months, they have planted over 30 trees and designed rainwater catchment systems to prevent having to irrigate in summer. They have also finalised their plant filter system to filter their own wastewater.

"Whilst we wait for politicians to start implementing serious measures to contribute to the climate agenda, individuals are increasingly starting up their own projects. Ours is a lifelong project that will never be finished as everything changes all the time. The hardest part is to take the time to observe and wait," Marina said.

Paul has been studying soil microbial ecology, a process that enables him to make his own soil using organic waste. Everything that is cut or pruned from the trees and plants, as well as the leaves that fall in the autumn, are combined with compost to make nutritious soil.

"Soil is the base of all life. We don't really think when we eat our food that everything begins with soil. We need good healthy soil that has nourishment and we use all organic waste in order to create it," Paul said.

The couple have purposely chosen not to seek subsidies or financial support, as it is important to them to stay independent. However, they benefit from the support of the worldwide Helpx platform, an online listing of host organic farms that invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.

"People come to learn about permaculture and we also offer yoga lessons, workshops and courses. It's a peaceful, happy place where visitors can reconnect with nature," Marina concluded.

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