Case study for the Permaculture Center Vale da Lama (Portugal)

DATE: February 14th 2014
PROJECT NAME: Quinta do Vale da Lama
LOCATION: Vale da Lama, Odeáxere, Lagos, PORTUGAL
SIZE: 43ha
DATE DESIGNED/PLANNED: all site design not yet complete
DESIGNERS: Walt Ludwick, Nita Barroca, Xana Piteira, Ana Marreiro, André Carvalho, Maria Rute Costa, Patricia Russo Pereira, Sandra Peixoto, Gonçalo Teixeira, Rita Domingues, António

Walt Ludwick & Nita Barroca

A partnership between Vale da Lama -Seviços de Gestão Hoteleira e Turística and
Projecto Novas Descobertas -Not for profit NGO and Public Institution for Social
Solidarity (PND from now on)


Walt Ludwick –
Nita Barroca –
Xana Piteira –
Patricia Russo –
André Carvalho –

Context – Physical/social/historical

Physical: Quinta do Vale da Lama (QVDL from now on) is situated on a ridge
(ironically, since Vale da Lama means mud valley). It is on the rain shadow of the
Monchique mountain range, around 20Km to the north, with its highest hills reaching
1000m high. It’s eastern limit is the Odiáxere River, developing further down into the
Alvor estuary created by three different rivers, all born in Monchique mountains. This
is a very bio-diverse site protected by EU Rede Natura 2000 regulations and it
develops onto the Atlantic Ocean on Portugal’s southern coast, around 1500m south
of the farm.

Social & Historical: The region of the Algarve was part of the arabe culture for more
than 800 years, and most of the policultures, and food production techniques that
persisted during the following centuries until the modern age where introduced
during the arab control of the region. A thousand years ago the “reconquista” (name
of the christian wars for the economic and territorial control of the region) burned
most of the south of the country and almost eliminated all the “policultural systems”
and villages of southern Portugal.

In the beginning of the 20th century the region was a productive landscape and
people would come in the summer from all around to sow, plant, harvest and weed a
variety of cultures. From olive grooves, figs, plums, oranges and almond orchards,
rice cultivation by flooding from the river, etc.

Nowadays the small town of Odiáxere, about 2Km to the northwest developed beside
a National road which due to increasing fees on highways has witnessed an ever
increasing traffic intensity. The population of Odiáxere is composed mainly of people
above 50 yrs old and mainly involved in producing small vegetable gardens for sale
and subsistence for the colder months.

The costal region is highly explored by touristic entrepreneurs, which has developed
a seasonal “job market” for summer tourism. Seasonal unemployment is a serious
problem in the region.

Site Analysis/Description – Place/use

The QVDL site has three main uses/landscape types:

  • Living Community use
  • Educational use
  • Productive use

CLIMATE: QVDL is part of the western Algarve region on southern Portugal with a
warm temperate climate.

RAIN: average 500mm/yr

WATER: two wells, one bore-whole, and an agricultural canal from a dam 20km NW.

SOILS: alkaline (p.H 8.0) heavy clay soils and some sandy soils on the low lands.


1. POLLUTION sector:

  • Noise from aquaculture industry at the river estuary;
  • Noise from the national road passing about 2Km north;
  • Salination problems due (we think) to the damm higher up in the river, built in the 50’s for agricultural purposes and sea water salination problems;
  • Public road that passes through the property.

2. WIND sectors:

  • Very persistent/dominant strong/destructive winds from the Northwest;
  • Southeast winds that carry moisture throughout the year, although they can be very hot and dry in the summer months;
  • Fresh and moist/salty sea breeze during the hot days;
  • Ocasional eastern continental winds, very hot and dry in the Summer, very cold and dry in the Winter.

3. WILDLIFE sector:

  • A great variety of cereal and bug eating migratory birds coming from Africa in the Spring and in the Autumn from central Europe.
  • PREDATORS: foxes, ginettes, eagles, falcons.

4. SUN sectors:

  • summer solstice: rises 30ºNE, sets 30º NW and reaches 78º in altitude angle;
  • winter solstice: rises 30º SE, sets 30º SW and reaches 30º in altitude angle.

5. TOPOGRAPHICAL sectors (the interference of directional sectors and terrain

  • frosts in the low lands
  • floods on the low lands

6. NEIGHBOURS sectors:

  • Compost maker
  • Aquaculture neighbours
  • Small town: Odiáxere


  • Fire from the Northwest, created by unmanaged land with abandoned pastures, hot and dry summers and strong NW winds. QVDL is on a ridge oriented SW>NE, fire can move faster up the NW slope.
  • Tsunami and/or Flood risk: QVDL altitude is from 1m above sea level to 40m above sea level.
  • Earthquake: There is a tectonic plate failure inside the property
  • Very strong and destructive winds.


  • Electricity produced by solar panels, sold back to the grid
  • Natural Gas Tank filled every year
  • Conventional and Banana Septic Tanks for black waters
  • Vetiver grey water treatment system
  • Casa Vale da Lama -Ecoresort: solar passive buiding; can host 50 people
  • Lama Village: old house and stables rebuilt to accommodate living community + volunteers and interns. can host 25 people.
  • Agricultural Buildings for seed bank, tools, etc.
  • Multi-purpose building with wooden floor
  • 3 independent kitchens
  • Shaded areas for outdoor classes and other activities

For more information contact: Andre Carvalho: tel.: +351 963 014 026; email:

Project Background and History

PND started 20 years ago in 1994 working on the integration of disfavoured children
producing learning and/or empowerment opportunities and/or leadership training for
the youth. QVDL started from PND’s necessity to find a place where it could run activities after the fires at Monchique had destroyed the place where they had their old structures. After a while, they started producing their own food for the courses and/or
activities. They asked Lesley Anne Martin’s support to convert the site into a more sustainable system using permaculture. The design process for the whole site is still undergoing.

Design, Development and Decision-Making Process

  • Design: an assessment was developed to ensure decisions were appropriate and responded to needs in an ethical way aligned with the vision for the site.
  • Development: The development has been focused on organisational structures.
  • Decision-Making Process: The team uses many tools around the central concept of holacracy.

Role of Designers

The designers are member of the living community and/or hired to to focalize design, implementation and maintenance of each of the activity groups and to integrate with each other’s work in sort of a fractal pattern. These activities are:

  • Governance
  • Internal and External Communications
  • Food Production
  • Food Processing
  • Educational Activities for all age groups
  • Joint-action and Networking
  • Eco-Resort
  • Living Community

Programme Elements – what was planned/ the site functions (use, users, activity)

The functions planed for QVDL’s site are:

  • to serve as a didactic and/or pedagogic, demonstration site for
    sustainable, regenerative and economically viable farming methods.
  • to regenerate the landscape and bring back it’s innate diversity.
  • to host and facilitate participatory learning events to empower people
    into taking action for regenerative design.
  • to host a living community and a group of volunteers and interns.
  • to host third-party retreats and events.

Maintenance and Management

  • Short-Term: Taking care for the conditions necessary for a thriving learning community (planning, decision making, integration of activities, healthy food, etc.)
  • Long-Term: Taking care of the land and generating surplus, involving the local community in the regeneration of livelihoods and the natural systems on which they depend.

User/Use Analysis

Presently QVDL presents people with a volunteer programme,
educational activities related to permaculture and re-skilling, cultural
events, guided tours, farm-shop with vegetables and processed foods.

Project Significance and Impact/Lessons Learned

QVDL and PND work together to empower people to regenerate their
livelihoods in ways that do not cause social or environmental

Main Lessons learned:

  • Start small!
  • Use edge and value the marginal!
  • Don’t place elements into the systems when their needs are not yet met!
  • Use and Potentiate diversity of elements and functions.

What could have been done differently?

  • focus on how people will do the work and integrate their knowledge
    into designing, planning implementation and maintenance of the
  • bring some “doers” into the design process


Legal boundaries:

  • Can’t build new structures
  • Eastern half of the farm is protected by Rede Natura 2000 EU laws

Transferable Features and Lessons

Starting on a new piece of land or doing rolling permaculture: Start small, manage well and move on a controlled front.

Future Issues/Plans

We want to produce more food with less work and energy, exchangemore locally, bring more people in and keep on learning and sharing.

Does your project offer opportunities for volunteering or internships?

Yes, you can volunteer for a three month programme, or you can propose an internship at the farm.

Does the project welcome visitors or study tours?

Yes. We design learning experiences for groups.

Can you offer accommodation to visitors or study tours (at the project or locally)?

Yes, either at the eco-resort Casa Vale da Lama, or at the camp-site Campo do Vale

Web Sites/Links

EPT participants feedback on venue


  • Working with youth and kids
  • It is good to see a well-resourced project
  • Algarve has some subtropical climate areas – I saw bananas
  • How to show the designs for a site in a really beautiful way
  • Permaculture does not equal a rejection of comfort
  • The desire by the founders to create an evolving system in which the staff have a sense of ownership – a rich partnership
  • The land demonstrates that permaculture is happening here. Inspiring examples with forest gartden and other parts of the site demonstrate how goals and objectives can be achieved within permaculture ethics.
  • A look at an arid/brittle landscape
  • Functions as a farm/retreat. Lots of smiles and good attitude from the kitchen
  • Biological diversity of the location
  • Very interesting integration of permaculture, environment, education (for children) and local community
  • Good monitoring of energies put into the system (water, person energy)
  • Good external specialists
  • Contrast between snow at home and spring in Algarve really sharpened my appreciation of sun, soil, assemblages and water
  • The poser of biodiversity
  • Good to see such a well-functioning community
  • Vision/model well presented through diagrammes, maps and drawings
  • Satisfied people
  • Stopping tourist development
  • Clear vision
  • Funding levels
  • Plant diversity
  • We have to work small and slow and people are different everywhere
  • Permaculture is not only about work, but also about people and community
  • Things go smoothly
  • People love what they are doing
  • They know why they are here
  • Good functioning core team
  • Happy community
  • Smile, song, children
  • Openness, commitment from owners
  • Site: we are in a time of climate change, chaotic urbanization around us. Quite a large site, creating polarities with higher education vs children education
  • Personal level: better observational skills by seeing a different site
  • Interaction with the youth educational leaders group. Made me observe ways to interact with youth on educating permaculture and education for sustainability
  • People and organization
  • Interaction with the youth group education
  • Seeing local dance and culture
  • People care of host = excellent, relaxed, happy, willing, preparing,
  • Food and drinks are available all day, anticipating needs, comfortable, clean accommodation
  • Kitchen functions optimal
  • A lot of water harvesting
  • A nice design
  • Still a lot to develop
  • A lot of volunteers
  • Harmonic community
  • Biodiversity and richness of the area
  • Possibility to see a food forest
  • Show implemented permaculture not just on paper but also outside (sectors zones and elements)
  • Very strong group
  • Very clear design effort
  • Want to be economically sustainable
  • People care is very present
  • Good example for seasonal planting
  • Diversity of people
  • Residential working community in real life
  • Different cultivated ecosystems in the design
  • PC permaculture on a larger scale

Could Improve:

  • Design of irrigation systems
  • Shade\windbrakes
  • More mulching
  • Using biochar
  • Enlarge complete forest garden
  • Nurture the relationship with the owner of the strip of land in the middle of the site. This is potentially an interesting edge.
  • I would relocate the vegetable garden in order to avoid excess of water
  • Vegetable garden closer to the living area
  • I would not let the plants stay so long on the greenhouse
  • I would build a compost toilet that is as beautiful and comfortable as the others near the guesthouse
  • Compost toilets closer to the main centre
  • An explanation of the water management systems
  • More organic building design
  • Campfire/storytelling closer to the main building
  • Make food production more obvious and closer to the kitchen
  • Make the residents area more aesthetically pleasing
  • Look at the feng shui of the place
  • Tension\edge between “managed” landscape (original purpose of this place) and the “wild”\permaculture landscape
  • To not use plastics, etc. for ponds
  • Make natural swimming pool
  • Some of the elements and practices are fashion and\or event inspired
  • The water system needs improvement in design
  • How to include the people on the border?
  • How to include the ocean in the design?
  • The use of a platform or watch tower to invite the bird perspective
  • More animals
  • Not financially sustainable
  • More animals
  • Install greywater system
  • Improve acoustics in building (soft material)
  • Install urin-separating toilets
  • Connect swimming pool to the pond
  • More in-depth site tour
  • Explanation of the systems
  • Compost toilets in zone 1
  • More ecological buildings
  • People education in how to use the spaces more effectively