What have you learned? Did you observe a difference in the appreciation of ‘sustainability’ of the farmers in the north versus the ones in the south? What was the most striking thing you have discovered? Do you want to be a farmer yourself?
These were just a few of the questions that were posed during the arrival meeting in a beautiful olive grove in Andalusia, where we met with farmers, a retailer, NGOs, some farm advisors and sustainability experts. The whole morning it had been raining and storming. The fireplaces inside were lit, but precisely when we had planned to start the sun came out to see us. We had a delicious ‘BYO’ picnic.
I honoured the two participating farmers, like I had honoured all of the farmers during my trip, by giving them a beat of baked clay, soil from our own garden. The symbolic value touched them, like it had touched almost all of the farmers I have met. They gave a short speech. One of them was in a philosophical mood. He talked about the gradual transformation of his family cotton farm into an olive farm, that uses 1/3 of the water and employs 3 times as many people. He ended his talk by ‘As farmers, we do not own our land, but we are part of something bigger which is called ‘nature’. We take care when we work it.’
Later I gave a brief speech about my trip and observations. Somebody asked if farmers really understood the concept of sustainability. I answered ‘Not really’ too quickly, without well remembering and visualising the 35 conversations I had had. When I rethink it now I would have answered ‘Yes’, thinking of most of the individuals. It’s not the integral interpretation of the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, but 9 of the 10 were aware of the relevant issues for them, threats and solutions, both mitigation and adaptation. Some of them had actually built their full farm around it. They just do not use that type of language.
I suddenly realised that my answers not yet have been formed. My thoughts are still fluid. I can make any story from the observations. I have been listening for 2 months and tried to avoid to conclude and have opinions. I intended to be open and listen without any prejudice. It’s a state of mind that we ( I?) do not have often in this world full of opinions.
By the questions that I was posed I realised that I will now come back soon in ‘real life’, where I will be asked questions like the ones above. I will need to have answers. I will certainly cement the observations together to stories. But at this moment, a week after ending my tour, I am still in the kind of limbo where the ingredients are at the table, but I have not yet decided whether it will be a cake, a pie or bread. It almost feels like finding the stories and providing answers is the next journey.
And perhaps, it doesn’t matter what my answers are, but is the conversation, the searching debate the real added value.
Thank you all for joining me and I hope you enjoyed the velodyssey without cold feet and wet clothes. And last but not least, a big hand for all the farmers who shared their stories and provided a warm hospitality during these winter months.
David and I, planting a tree in the Donana National Park , thanks to Felipe Fuentelsaz (WWF Spain)