By Josep Crous-Duran, Joao HN Palma and Alfredo Sendim
The Herdade do Freixo do Meio (HFM) is a farm located in Montemor-o-Novo in Portugal that manages 440 ha of cork oak and holm oak Montado agroforestry systems. The farm also includes portions of irrigated land, vineyards, olive groves and biodiverse pastures and enables to produce nearly all the ingredients of the Mediterranean diet with the exceptions of milk and fish. The HFM is considered an example of a multifunctional farm based on an agroforestry system in Portugal and remains one of the few economic viable projects on the area.
After being confiscated in 1974 during the Carnation Revolution, HFM was returned to the former owners in 1990 and since then tried to bring a new way of managing this heritage guided by the ethics of respect for the people and for the environment. The challenge of the new project was to efficiently manage a very ancient agroforestry system in Portugal by combining ancestral knowledge and sustainable practices and adapt it to the idiosyncrasy of the XXI century.
The project seeks an economic sustainability along with the actual practice of appropriate social and environmental policies despite the hegemony of the economic markets that look for the maximization of profits at high environmental and social costs.
When the new project began in 1990, Alfredo Cunhal Sendim, the representative of the owners and new responsible, found the farm in weak conditions with a poor soil, erosion problems and a Montado with low levels of productivity. His first action was to ensure the recovery and maintenance of the quality of the soil as the base for increasing the productivity. The next step was the implementation of a new strategy with the unique goal of finding a sustained maximization of the management efficiency, considering the social-environmental-energy issues in order to achieve an economic stability.
The new strategy was based in 4 basic pillars:
- Diversification: taking advantage of the structure of the Montado offering a multifunctional environment to increase the possible uses of the land and activities and therefore the sources of revenue. Example: tourist activities and environmental education.
- Differentiation: using local breeds, regional varieties and traditional treatments adding value to the final product. Also by using innovative and more sustainable techniques such as organic agriculture.
- Efficiency: improving the efficiency of the processes by adopting professional management and qualified workers, increasing the knowledge and welcoming the use of new sustainable technologies and sources of energy.
- Verticalization: considering the inclusion of all the steps of the product processing from field to final consumer including the opening of an own shop.
Since 2008, HFM acts also as an economic active agent by embracing autonomous but complementary projects that strengthen the system as a whole and increase the amount of products available from the farm. The independent projects include a 4.5 ha aromatic and medicinal garden (2011), home-made bags and complements (2011), 2 ha of a horticulture garden and 5 ha of orchards (2011), free-range chicken production with a movable chicken house (2012) and a centre for artistic animations, storytelling and pedagogical workshops (2012).
HFM also implemented several projects concerning alternative sources of energy: solar, wind and recycled diesel. It acts as an eco-tourism centre hosting an eco-camping and organizing several pedagogical activities related to agriculture per year. It also supports scientific research project innovations (AGFORWARD since 2014) and PhD experimental plans (3 since 2011).
Nowadays the farm includes 7 types of activities (see table 1), produces around 300 different products and employs 12 workers directly and 8 through the associate projects. Four times more than the farms located around dedicated to intensive agriculture. The average budget of the farm for the last years has been around 0.5 million €/year (See Fig 7 for a monthly breakdown).
Interested to see a variety of pictures of and to learn more about HFM and Montado in Portugal? Please follow this link to download Alfredo Sendim’s presentation (06/2014).