Here in the Sierra Norte, I met with Marta and Monte, two power women. Sheep and pig farmers, but more importantly they have set up and run an association that aims to revitalize the region. Their primary concern was to keep the youth here and demonstrate that this is a region that offers an attractive way of living. Their drive goes beyond farming. They created Whatsapp-groups to share information about everything that might be relevant: Sheep on the road. A disease that is flagged. Help needed. An event in one of the 10 participating villages. 10 people moderate and 144 people are part of the group.
Another Whatsapp-group is about trade and prices and empower individual farmers in their negotiations. The association exist only 2 years now but is already the unofficial voice of the communities to the government. They fight bureaucracy and corruption. ‘Actually we do not fight’, they correct themselves when we met in a bar in Cazalla, ‘we try to bridge differences and help the members’. I was moved by their combined sensitivity and power. ‘We are not only women, there are many good men in our association. The older generation is not bad but tired and doesn’t believe any more that change is possible. They have given up and only talk in bars and not in meetings with the government or the Cooperative anymore. We have now a representative in the Co-op. A young, engaged, smart guy who has the support of our group and speaks up.’
The problem of Andalusia (and perhaps all Spain) is the bureaucracy. The rules are so complex that it kills all small and new initiative. And nothing can grow.
Earlier that day I had met with a farmer, Ricardo Sanchez (in his mid-forties), who runs a real mixed farm of free roaming Iberian pigs, sheep, laying hens, vegetables, fruit and a B&B with a small restaurant. He runs the farm with his mother and one employee. He gave me the example of the sheep cheese: they make 10 cheeses/week. They can officially not sell them because for that he needs send samples of 5 cheeses to a lab for testing. The rules for wine are even too complex to explain, so his small vineyard is ‘just for their own use and his friends’.
Marta & Monte organise each year a village estafette run between the 10 communities. The runners carry a paper with a statement that is read in each village. The last one was about children that chose to remain and live here.
Although some authorities see them as threat, they underlined several times that they want to contribute positively. Also if they criticise a new law it is always meant to make it better.
Sarah (in the middle) organised a meeting and film in La case de Cultura, about 'realizing dreams
I was introduced to these women by Sarah Denie, a Dutch woman who has started here an ambitious project renovating a 100 years old abandoned hydropower facility. They combine this with farming, education, tourism and community building with her husband Simon and two little kids. I watched her for a few days while Simon had to be in England, managing a group of 10 students, her kids, the old buildings suffering from the recent storm and superfluous rain, a household with a fireplace, while sharing her vision. Truly amazing.
I have written earlier about farming being a man’s job and the self-perceived lack of collaboration of the Spanish men in the bars. Well, my last week of cycling show that encouraging change and cooperation is coming from a new generation of women.
This afternoon on International Women’s Day, I will meet two other women-farmers, who I trust will further contribute to this homage of women power. And last but certainly not least, today I will see Karin again, who kept things going at our home, while I was cycling these two winter months.
Muchas gracias, ladies!