Farming in an abandoned village, does it make sense?

As farmers are protesting all over Europe because they can no longer make a decent living, is there any future for farming? Let alone farming in a Spanish mountain village on marginal lands? The answer might surprise you.

It is beyond the scope of this article to list every reason why farmers are protesting. To get a better understanding of how a rigged system is destroying farmers I recommend viewing the highly entertaining and educational series of Clarkson’s farm. Suffice to say that bureaucracy is overburdening the farmers with red-tape, and profit margins benefit large corporation while farmers get mere pennies for their hard work. In Spain specifically there are five bureaucrats for every farmer.

At the same time, people continue to need food. Yet farmers and wannabe farmers need to be willing to think outside the box. This is hardly the first time an oppressive system stifles the producers of wealth to benefit those that produce nothing of value. As our freedoms are eradicated by ever increasing rules, our society more and more resembles communism. From history we know that citizens of communist countries often had no choice but to use the black market to buy and sell goods in order to survive. In fact, as government controlled farms and industry became less and less efficient, those in power were forced to tolerate black markets as the only way of keeping their economies afloat.

People have no choice but to break unjust laws in communist countries

The successor to the Soviet Union, the European Union, is keen to repeat the mistakes of the past. They are even working on creating digital versions of the bizarre forms of money that many communist countries introduced. While it is hopeful that some maverick politicians attempt to fix the system through political means, the ordinary citizen should not expect to be saved. Rather, just like the cynical Soviet citizen, farmers and other small entrepreneurs should strive to creatively circumvent the system altogether.

In addition to farming not being the most obvious business venture of our times, the location we have chosen was abandoned for a reason. Clearly something wasn’t working in the first half of the 20th century or at least some people would have continued to live there. We know that the decline of Penadexo and other villages around it started a century earlier. For a long time, some sources claim since pre-Roman times, many iron mines operated in the region. These mines gradually closed down from the 19th century onward, being out-competed by the Basque steel industry. Several mines operated within a few miles of Penadexo, and the village provided workers, food and mining tools to support exploitation. When the mines closed, Penadexo had nothing more to offer than farming villages at lower altitudes situated on flat lands.

Wheat became the cash crop of choice. The only benefits over farms in the valley below were high altitude summer pasture for grazing, and the late autumn chestnut harvest. This sustained the village for a little longer, until the advancement of industrialized farming. The steep, hard to reach mountain plots did not lend themselves for large tractors and combines. At the same time, heavy industry in nearby cities such as Vigo and opportunities elsewhere in Europe offered far better deals than subsistence farming. The youth left in droves and only elderly remained. The young villagers traveled far and wide, married women from other areas of Spain, raised their children in cities, and very few returned.

Why would a small farmers in a place such as Penadexo fare any better today? Times have changed, and there are many differences between 1950’s rural Galicia and 2024. Let’s start with some obvious ones:

Penadexo got connected to the electrical grid in 1969. Up until then people had zero appliances. No electric light, washing clothes by hand, and worst of all, no television! Instead, they resorted to having sex at night, the horror.
They had no plumbing until some time after that. No running water, no toilets, no hot water showers. Having no electricity or running water also reduced productivity. No electric drills, angle grinders, sewing machines, and little work being done after dark. Living without electricity was hard and city life by comparison, seemed much better.

Obvious clue when this house was abandoned. The kitchen was an open fire. No electricity, no plumbing, no bathroom not even a sink could be found.

The industrialization of farming initially began with big and clumsy tractors. It’s only from the 1960’s onward that functional mini-tractors and appliances became widely available. Nowadays one can find almost any farming attachment for any size of tractor. But it’s so much more than big machines. Take for example an aluminium ladder you can carry with one arm or chopping a tree with a chainsaw instead of an axe. No need to maintain irrigation ditches when you have PVC tubing, pumps and plastic water tanks and so forth.

Small farms have lower capital input and can achieve higher yields than their bigger counterparts. This has been shown in research, as well as demonstrated by successful mini-farmers. Even long after the fall of the Soviet Union, dacha gardens continue to produce an impressive amount of crops in now mostly capitalist Russia.

One common arguments against small farms is that they are more labor intensive. It’s therefore important to consider what crops justify the time. This can be done by keeping accounts, experimentation, trial and error of different crops, and lots of creativity. But why come up with new ideas when you can borrow them from others? Having internet access gives us infinite resources on how other people are solving similar problems. The 1950’s farmer did not have ‘YouTube University’ at his fingertips. Nor could he order things online to be shipped to his door (yes, even in Penadexo!).
In addition, internet allows you to investigate the most profitable (niche) crop. Perhaps Penadexo could be a great place to cultivate precious mushrooms. Perhaps breeding precious Iberian pigs, on a diet of acorns, is the way to go. The ham of these priced pigs is sold for 350 euro per kilo, locally! Who knows, there could be high value crops from other parts of the world that can be cultivated in Penadexo.

Better means of communication and logistics also allows for farm-to-table initiatives. Vegetables can be harvested in the morning, sent to Madrid before late afternoon, and served at an exclusive restaurant in the evening. Crops with short storage life, such as chestnuts, can quickly be transported to refrigerated warehouses over roads that did not exist 80 years ago.

Youtube University

Another major difference between the 1950’s and today, is that land in Penadexo is no longer divided in small plots between many family members. Yes, we buy it up bit by bit from the remaining heirs, but afterwards we can cut and join plots in ways that make more logical sense. This way we can unite lots with the houses that are closest, create flatter terraces, and make optimal use of the best land available by those with the best farming skills. Steep and inferior plots can be used for grazing, firewood or chestnuts instead.

Some of the documents I found in the ruins revealed a history of petty arguments between past residents about right of entry, use of water and so forth. It was sad to see that people who had known each other their whole lives, could not resolve such simple arguments without involving a magistrate from another town. Envy made the harsh circumstances under which they were already living far harder.
Hopefully our group can avoid such shameful quarrels, so that our member don’t need to ask a permit to cut down one tree (which was already required in 1958!). In order to make a living as a farmer it’s necessary to break many rules made by feudalistic bureaucrats in Brussels and Madrid. The last thing one can use under such circumstances is an envious neighbor reporting you to organized crime.

All things considered, I doubt that any of our group members will become a full-time farmer. More likely several members of our group join forces to farm part-time. As a semi-professional hobby it reduces our grocery bills, provides high quality food, free physical exercise, offers an enjoyable social activity and an insurance policy against SHTF scenarios.
By keeping several small holdings instead of an actual farm, we can circumvent most of the rules and regulations that professional farmers are suffering from. While at the same time our combined output justifies buying labor saving farming implements. Similar to soviet workers and their summer dachas, only in this case, we live in them full-time.

For another luxury that our 1950’s predecessors did not have, nor our soviet counterparts, is the possibility to work online and/or develop tourism. Although the romance of farming often does not match reality, we can certainly bring back some of the joys and benefits of producing your own food with all the creature comforts of a modern home.

One thought on “Farming in an abandoned village, does it make sense?

  1. This makes sense in many ways. To show how little land you need: around 70m2 is enough to provide vegetables for one grown up all year, including patatoes and dry beans. (Apart from fruits and cereals). For cattle you need a lot more space of course, but pigs do well in oak forest and can be fed by leftovers.

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