Food forest & Nature Sanctuary
Our trip to Sicily didn’t bring us to our home, it rather strengthened our commitment to stick to our plan of settling in the more northern part of Italy.
Although we have seen one land that we fell in love with near the Madonie Regional Park of Sicily…. It was a beautiful ancient cork oak forest surrounded by mountains and sea. It all seemed so perfect with a small stream flowing through the land, the abundance of mushrooms, wild herbs and a big olive groove. We were really ready to go ahead and make a base for the association there, until the moment we went to the technician… This enchanting stream turned out to be the filtered sewage water coming from the village above…!!! SO A BIG LESSON for us and for you dear readers: always double check even what at first seems obvious 🙂
That’s how we came back to Liguria region, where we straight away started to work on the food forest that is in the process of being donated to our Association. When we first arrived to the land we were astonished by the beautiful view on the Alpi Apuane mountains. There are around 100 nut, fruit and olive trees on the land and as it has been abandoned for a longer while we’ve found all the trees covered with brambles and bamboo. Additionally the land has 18 small and steep terraces so at first it was quite a mission to work on it.
But with the help of wonderful friends and volunteers (who found us through our new volunteering opportunity on http://helpx.net/) we have managed to free many of the trees, giving them back light and space to breathe and flourish again. We were all so happy to see how quickly by working in a team we could change an abandoned landscape into a magical beautiful garden.
At the same time we did a lot of work connected to the other land that is being donated to the Association for pure conservation purposes. This is the place that will become the ‘The Tree & The Water’s’ first Nature Sanctuary.
It took us a lot of time to figure out the boundaries of the 20 ha of land as neither the owner, nor anyone else had a clear idea about their exact location. Eventually, with the help of a local land surveyor we managed to create a digital map of the land which allowed us to visit and explore it. We were deeply touched by its beauty and potential.
Also, it seems that the right land for us to live on might have found us. We will write about that soon! 🙂
Updates from our journey
We want to share with you where we are at with our search for the Association’s first land. We have gone through a wonderful journey through Tuscany and Liguria on a quest to settle and begin our projects.
Thanks to helpx (www.helpx.net) we have met some wonderful people who hosted us and gave us tips about lands and shared their experiences (see previous posts 🙂 ). Our intention was to find a land close to Foreste Casentinesi National Park but the journey itself led us to Alpi Apuane’s area and then even further to wild Liguria.
These regions are famous for their environmental diversity, still habited by wolves, deers and many other species which in other parts of Italy/ Europe became endangered or extinct. That’s why we were so drown to them, as we longed for such wilderness. However, being in those beautiful areas made us realise that many of them (particularly the more remote ones) are pretty well managed and cared for.
So somehow we felt that our intention and work are not as needed there. We felt much confusion in our hearts. One side of us was so eager to settle in such peaceful lands, full of lush greenery and wildlife. The other was telling us that that’s not where our home is and that we should settle somewhere where such biodiversity needs to be brought back.
Meanwhile few opportunities arose for the Association which we are still processing and considering. One of them is a forested land in the Liguria region that might be donated to us for pure conservation purposes. We are so grateful for the owner’s trust in our intention, and the empowerment and motivation that we gained through his will. His land was originally intended to be gifted to a National Park but it wasn’t accepted as it’s located too far from it. We are humbled and excited for the possibility of creating our first nature sanctuary there but everything is still in process, so we will see what unfolds.
With all this happening we decided to go back to Sicily to rescue our old dog and take him back with us. While going south we were so puzzled as both of our hearts were strangely and strongly vibrating with the feeling of going home. That made us even more confused but at the same time we recognized the purity of those feelings and decided to trust and explore the possibilities on the island. That is a big change of direction for us. We will see what wants to come.
Sicily is a spectacular, unique island where there is so much work needed in the fields of environmental protection and conservation (about this in the next post). Also in many ways its climate and ecology (and the challenges that come with them) remind us of the places where we both have already lived and worked on projects connected to permaculture and reforestation (Spain, Malta, Portugal). In Sicily we also have support from family and friends which is important and valuable for us and our mission.
So here we are… already searching for lands around the island’s last protected forests. We are at the moment in the Madonie Regional Park and for the next 2 weeks we are going to explore this area.
We also have to admit that the whole process, whilst being beautiful and transformative, takes a lot of our energies in the form of time, resources and lack of stability. We can’t wait for that day when we will grow our roots, put all our things in one place and direct our energies more into the practical work of the Association.
“Home sweet home”. This saying is ringing in our ears a lot these days and we trust that our commitment will bring it to us soon.
Dried Melon, Wild Chickens & Chestnut Orchards
So much has happened in the last month! So many beautiful beings we have met and so much inspiration came to us that fueled our motivation to work towards “a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”.
Recently we stayed with a beautiful couple that lives in a remote area of the Tuscan Appennini Mountains nearby ‘Foreste Casentinesi’. Their beautiful home is surrounded by magical orchards of ancient chestnuts, probably abandoned for few generations. Together with them we have rediscovered the beauty of foraging and eating wild plants. Most days we were collecting wild celery, primroses, wild onion, dandelions and lungwort flowers for our dishes and farfara (aka coltsfoot) for the infusions.
We also learnt about the simplest ways to dry and preserve fruits for the long winters. One of the yummiest surprises was the sun-dried melon which was a snack we will never forget. Guys shared with us their technique which simply consists of laying the thick slices of melon (or other fruit) on a framed grid covered with glass/ plexiglass. Then you place it on the roof of your house/ very sunny spot until the fruits are dry but still slightly soft. Guys stored them in glass jars for the whole winter.
Another even more surprising treat were their cherries! Fresh from the summer at the end of the winter! We were so mesmerized. And the technique is even simpler! Just pick your cherries (without stems) into a glass jar and place it in a very sunny spot for 2-4 weeks (depending on the heat). When you see that the fruits released a lot of juice and the jar has sealed (the lid sucked down) your cherries are ready to sit for a long winter and to be enjoyed during one of those days when you sit near the fire waiting for the spring to arrive 🙂 How simple is that?! The most amazing thing is the summer freshness that comes out of the jar when you open it. You can also try to do it with other juicy fruits with thin skin (like grapes, berries, plums, etc) but we haven’t tried yet!
Now the Wild Chickens!
What happens if your hens and roosters are all in one closed space when a sneaky predator breaks in? – Most likely few if not all of them will turn into dinner!
Well, not our friends’ friendly birds. They’ve been trained from the very first night to sleep on trees. How? In the early evening just throw your new rooster on a tree and the hens will follow (this is how it went for our friends). By doing that chickens learnt how to sleep and hide on the trees, where it’s much harder for the predators to get them. Even if some try to climb, the roosters will alert the hens with loud alarm callings and escape in time.
They not only sleep on trees but also walk around wild & free (even cross bridges 😉 ). Thanks to this they relearnt how to be independent – they became better foragers, they got stronger, more alert, lay better eggs and surprisingly they never run away or go too far, as they know they are safer around humans. We have never seen such healthy and beautiful chickens before!
The only thing is that finding eggs becomes quite an adventure! 🙂 But they usually lay them in the same hiding spots so at some point you will know where to look for them.
During our stay we helped clearing the old chestnut orchards. It was such a beautiful experience to help our friends on their mission to free these magnificent, ancient beings and bring them back to production. Every year our friends set up what in the region is known as a ‘mato’, a ruin used as a chestnut dehydrator. At the ground level they light a fire which is kept on until the chestnuts dry on the grid which is placed on the first floor of the ruin. The chestnuts are protected from being burnt by a metal panel placed between them and the fire. Our friends shared them with us and we have to admit that they produce the most delicious chestnuts and chestnut flour ever! 🙂
And that’s how we discovered CASTAGNACCIO ! Our new favorite dessert/lunch/dinner and snack. Soon the recipe! Don’t miss it!
Ps. There’s a lot more we would love to share about our new friends (creating ponds, truffle dogs, rodents turning hugel beds into their homes, cob structures built from pure intuition, etc.) but we would be going on and on far too long, so that’s it for now 🙂
Curry plant (Helichrystum italicum)
I love when nature gifts me with new discoveries surprising me with new colours, flavours and scents that nourish my body and soul. Today this beautiful herb came to us while walking through the olive trees and cherishing the time with the horses. I haven’t noticed it before and when I smelled it, it was like something completely new. It really does smell like curry and it’s so refreshing!
Curry plant is native to the Mediterranean area and Asia, and it’s harvested mostly in Italy, the Balkans, Spain and France. Its aromatic leaves can be used in salads or as seasoning in cooked dishes (but cooked apparently they get very bitter). The beautiful yellow flowers are used to make infusions and it is also common to extract from them the essential oils – which have so many health benefits, including anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant & anti-allergenic properties.
Helichrystum italicum is also known to dissolve mucus, to help with sunburn relief, acne and candida. For thousands of years it has been used as a diuretic, helping to reduce bloating and to relieve stomachaches. ‘Different tribes in Africa have used helichrysum mostly for medicinal purposes like healing wounds and treating fever, chest complaints, sores, and coughs, to name a few. The leaves of the plant were also burned and used for incense’ (source).
What an amazing plant! We can’t wait to experiment with it and bring this new aroma into our life!
Two angels dance with the wind among the olive grove…
Our journey has begun and we are now close to Mount Amiata – a beautiful inactive volcano, in southern Tuscany. Here we have met a wonderful man who is dedicating his energy and resources to guard and protect a beautiful piece of land. He planted more than 10,000 trees in his life and he continues to come up with ideas on how to create sustainable solutions to the disappearing forests.
He told us about the initiative of the Italian Parks Committee which gathers people who decide to dedicate their land as a Nature Reserve ‘as a clear indication of their voluntary commitment to respect and protect its heritage from the perspective of culture, identity, landscape, history, archaeology, architecture, and nature as an ideal investment for the future, not only for themselves, but for society as a whole’. We were so surprised to come across this initiative as it resonates so much with the objectives of ‘The Tree & The Water’ Association.
Our host also helps with an inspiring project in Africa that provides permaculture education to local women and supports them in setting up small enterprises for producing organic Aloe leaves, handmade soaps, honey and fresh organic vegetables.
We are so happy that our quest to find land has started with such a motivating encounter and it is beautiful to witness what one person can do if he/she starts to take responsibility for the change he/she wants to see in the world.
We can’t persuade others to do things differently but we can create examples that we truly believe in, so they can be experienced. Providing experience is such a powerful tool to inspire and motivate others. We often find ourselves in so much gratitude for all the experiences that were given to us in different projects and communities. They empowered us and gave us hope and trust in what we first thought was just a dream.
Now we just see this dream so clearly changing into reality that we are full of enthusiasm for what is yet to come.
ps. Here’s a short quote that came to us on our first day on this beautiful land, where the two angels dance with the wind among the olive grove…
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
– Arundhati Roy