Rolling down the car windows, the smell of freshly cut grass filled our noses, upon exiting the highway towards the small village of Foros de Vale de Figueira and the adjacent Herdade Freixo do Meio. It is located at the confluence of the geographic regions Ribatejo and Alto Alentejo, an incredibly beautiful part of the countryside around Lisbon. Wind blew through our hair, we felt adventurous, open-minded and free of expectations regarding our upcoming stop.
Travelling through Portugal, inquiring about the countryside, crafts and holistic architecture, various people kept asking us whether we had been to Herdade Freixo do Meio. We knew it was time for us to go there when they responded openly to our spontaneous request of dropping by. Chickens scattered in their coop and we watched them for a while before entering the farm’s shop. We crossed a central square, blinded by the strong November light, dispersed by the clouds hanging low above the Portuguese countryside. It looked like rain, it smelled like rain, but it was somehow clear that it would let the dried up earth long for it just a little longer.
We were welcomed by Kerstin, who showed us around the terrain and explained the many aspects of their agricultural practice to us, including syntropic farming and the plethora of products they harvest and then use and sell. Herdade Freixo do Meio has lived through various periods of cultivation and agricultural systems. With the Middle Ages came the system of the Montado, a “multi-purpose agroforestry system” that allowed the Herdade to “reach the end of the first half of the last century without resorting to the use of any factor of production external to local ecosystems”. After more centralised and controlled agricultural systems had taken over, a new generation began to manage the farm in the 1990s and with it came the decision to return to the agro-ecological practice of Montado. From 2001 onwards, the whole farm was systematically transformed to become a wholly organic agriculture practice. This system “prioritises the re-establishment of the soil and the different extracts of the system (arboreal, shrubby and herbaceous) based on complex ecosystems and natural and local fertility cycles”. Nowadays, the farm is run with a multifunctional concept, where forestry, agricultural and livestock activities, food processing and distribution, energy production, research and educational tourism services are managed simultaneously.
The historic agricultural buildings, also housing the farm’s shop selling this homemade produce, spread out in the landscape horizontally. Their shed-like structures and pitched roofs allow them to frame small squares and paths that guide the visitor through the active part of the farm. Today they house fermentation stations, cooling rooms for the harvested vegetables and fruits and a large living room with long tables and a fire place for gatherings. Seeing these old structures used in a low tech manner for contemporary organic farming methods was quite impressive, as it made us understand the many processes that happen at the same time, to manage and sustain such a large producing property.
After this initial rush of curiosity and excitement for the many things we didn’t know before visiting, we walked around the grounds and took in the beautiful and calm atmosphere of the endless stretches of green countryside. The regional climatic conditions bring hot to very hot summers, lasting at least three months and winters are, on the other hand, humid with cold temperatures. Rainfall varies widely throughout the years and can range from 300 to 800mm annually and is concentrated in spring and winter.
The day of our visit in November, however, brought no rain with it until the end, but it left us filled to the brim with new and inspiring information and the sensation of having spent much more time in the countryside than we actually had. We left, overwhelmed by the unique sensation that only the tranquillity of a forest can spawn, having grown for centuries, trees carrying themselves with pride and grandeur against the backdrop of the cloudy but bright blue Alentejo sky.