Our StoryLight Reading about Walt and Nita life's work.
The series of events that led to the growth of Quinta Vale da Lama as we know it.
1. Seeding the dream
This story starts many years ago, in the faraway lands of America. Walt, a visionary with many dreams, runs a family business in the USA and Canada. Nita, a Portuguese socially engaged community worker, is working with homeless people and families in need.
Walt and Nita, farm owners, meet in 1987 and start dreaming with their potential impact in creating a better world. Together they are willing to invest their resources and skills in something positive and useful not only for themselves, but for the planet and humanity.
Inspired by traditional portuguese culture and willing to live closer to nature, they decide to move to Portugal and develop a project that would benefit people from diverse backgrounds, providing learning experiences for kids and supporting families with their needs.
2. Starting New Discoveries
Project New Discoveries – Educational and Recreational Association (PND), a non-for-profit organization is founded in 1994 and grows with endless support and energy from family and friends. It’s not long till their Summer Camps and community action become an enormous success for all those involved. And that is only the beginning…
After joining the Summer Camp experience, older kids are trained to be camp counselors and a new generation of trainers is born. PND develops a strong network of national and international partners throughout the years and reaches out to countless families and kids.
Camps are held amidst Monchique Hill every Summer until 2003, when PND is sadly surprised with a big fire that covered the mountain with ashes and is temporarily left without a home for residential programs.
Because the problem is the solution, flames kindle the dream and space is now open for further new discoveries…
3. Finding the land
Nita and Walt envision an oasis of sustainable good living that flourishes in coastal Algarve despite increasing pressure from global climate change and expanding mass tourism.
As they search for a piece of land in South Portugal to manifest their vision, they come across Vale da Lama and in 2005 the search is over. A combination of different plots were purchased and soon Projeto Novas Descobertas had a new home, which is nowadays the Educational Campus.
As PND is entering the path of Environmental Education developing farm based activities, Walt and Nita come across with Permaculture and its underlying ethics – Care for the Earth, Care for the People and Share Surplus. It immediately matches their vision and they decide to go deeper into it and explore this new territory.
As the first experiments start towards regeneration and food production, several renowned teachers join as consultants to design the 43 hectares of land that aims to become an educational center based on the practical application of Permaculture ethics and principles.
As the word spreads out, many young enthusiasts travel to Vale da Lama to be part of the project and join the first Permaculture Design Courses, Internship Programs and Volunteer Experiences. Local workers, permaculturists and WOOFERS all together give life to the first vegetable gardens, food forests and bio construction projects. At this point Vale da Lama is known as Permaculture Institute and its major focus is to develop Permaculture trainings and implement sustainable systems on the land.
4. Expanding the dream
“The difference between your dreams and reality is called action”. someone said…
For such a vast dream to come true many steps have to be taken. There is no ideal formula to achieve ecological, social and economic sustainability, but there are many ways to try it…
As the project moves forward and different needs emerge, it launches a social enterprise to financially support the whole operation. Walt and Nita create an AgroTourism company named Vale da Lama – Serviços de Gestão Hoteleira e Turística Lda. to combine efforts with PND’s work on educational programs as a non-for-profit organization.
After many legal boundaries, complex bureaucracy, approvals and licenses, the passive solar building that is now Casa Vale da Lama EcoResort is ready to welcome people and provide an ethical service of fresh organic food and quality accommodation.
Quinta do Vale da Lama aims to open up to a more inclusive environment on the farm for people of all backgrounds by providing a greater variety of services. It expands from a Permaculture hub to a broader Regenerative Farming project to explore and combine multiple ways of organic farming as well as a wider offer of educational programs and healthy lifestyle experiences.
5. Emergence of a Learning Community
All those who are familiar with Vale da Lama probably heard at some point that “this is not a community, this is not an ecovillage”. And it’s true. But it’s not totally true and we all know it.
As the dream expands, more people connect with the project willing to understand the vision and support in whatever it takes to make it real.
It´s between 2011 and 2012, with the synchronized arrival of those who became the first residents of Lama Village, that the first evaluation and participatory planning process supported by an outside consultant takes place. With an organized team, defined service offers and a designed action plan, a group of young dreamers jump into the boat and is ready to sail into unknown seas. This process include assessments, designs, research and development, marketing strategies and much more. It include specially great cooperation and willingness to take action. It creates community.
By the end of 2013 after an intense evaluation process, another planning stage occurs and the team revisits the initial dream to build a common vision and mission for the project. Using Dragon Dreaming and other useful collaborative planning tools, Nita and Walt share their deep beliefs and concerns and take the organization to a whole new level – to implement a horizontal governance model.
From 2014 onwards the challenge increases while trying to figure out how each circle can become socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. The major focus is to proof the financial viability of the project and to build more autonomy for all those involved. Inspired by Holacracy and Sociocracy organizational models Walt takes the lead and encourages the team to experiment a more holistic way of managing projects within the farm by having people energising different roles within semi-autonomous circles of governance and action.
Around 2017, due to overworked management teams and increasing financial loss, those who lived in Lama Village – the home of many volunteers – had to say good bye to the farm. It was time to rethink the learning community of Quinta Vale da Lama.
6. a new generation takes over
The end of the volunteer program propels the search of new ideas for the learning community’s rethinking: inviting people committed to learning and deepening their knowledge on sustainable agriculture and farm management, while maintaining financial autonomy, low management needs and a thriving learning environment. This is when the Internship Programs came to fruition; a 6 month long opportunity for people from all over the world to learn with us all it takes to manage the different circles of the farm. This program solidified the partnership between PND and Vale da Lama even more, by combing both their work to create an educational plan and give life to an outdoor classroom.
It’s around 2019 that Walt and Nita’s eldest son, Miguel, embarks on a ‘mission’ to bring a revolutionary energy into the project. With new ideas, pilot projects and long-term planning he is slowly learning all it takes to manage the farm and, in the future, transform it into a stronger, more resilient project with a broader offer to the local community.
The worldwide pandemic started in 2020, and with it came a crisis and a struggle that Vale da Lama has never seen before. But with everyone’s gathered resources and efforts we are able to stay productive, motivated and able to arrive in 2021 with positivity.