Wow, what a year! Sunseed saw so many new faces, and so many projects this year. When we set out to make our 2012 Sunseed Annual Plan late in 2011, we might have not guessed that we would make so many of our goals into accomplishments. The success was not only in accomplishment though, but also in the process and invaluable learning opportunities. Sunseed is a project for learning, and 2012 was no exception.
Some of our most exciting projects involved major upgrades to infrastructure. Our Appropriate Technology coordinator Csaba Zagoni helped Marlene Richter – a German MSc Process Engineering and EU-funded Erasmus student design and build the software and structure needed for our solar tracker. This tracker moves the panels with the sun, and increases the electricity we produce throughout the day. As Csaba reported in early February, “Sunseed’s closure for the whole winter (2011-2012) gave us an opportunity to do major works on all the photovoltaic systems … and by focusing on optimization, a low-cost solar tracker (based on open-source Arduino) for the main house, will provide us with more electricity for the best price-performance and the least environmental impact”. It looks as great as it sounds, too! We also streamlined our wind-turbine rotary-blades. With the project of erasmus student Andrew Tsim, our wind-turbine is more aero-dynamic.
-Eco-construction and Maintenance-
Gaye’s house has been beautifully refurbished by volunteers guided by our ECM coordinator Leo Alvárez. Included in the renovations were sculpting beautiful more-permanent furniture fixtures in our dorm room, white-plastering walls, installing a stove for the downstairs and updating lighting systems to give Gaye’s a feeling of a perfect Andalusian rural-paradise. Work has also included the refurbishment of our second compost toiled, named the “Jungle Loo” and renovating near ruins to create a new kitchen for Isabella’s house (see the photo next). We hope to show you the transformation of the building in next newsletter!
In Dry-lands management, Sunseed’s greywater system was redesigned and remade through the work of our department coordinator Jose Maria Torres and Erasmus student Sarak Voříšková. The system was re-cleaned and re-designed, and now is leaving our grey water cleaner, running clear and less smelly! We are hoping to fundraise for water testing equipment in the future. Also, we started a Retama scaprerous trial using mycorrhiza. Retama is a native re-colonizing species, which has a deep root for breaking soil to reverse compaction and slow erosion.
-Seeding-Change – 7-day course funded through the EU-
One of our greatest outcomes of the year was in receiving the Grundtvig grant from the European Lifelong Learning Program. We began applying for this grant in October 2011, and we were thrilled to find out in July 2012 that we had won it! This grant allowed Sunseed to organise the European course called Seeding Change – Tools for Personal Growth and Social Transformation. Eighteen participants from different EU countries (Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romany, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Ireland, UK and the Netherlands), arrived to Sunseed, without any cost to them and participated in our week-long course. The course was innovative, unique and focused on many important topics:
* Local economics & transition movements towards a more sustainable society
* Practical resources for low-impact and sustainable living
* Permaculture – using design principles in life
* Tools for personal change and growth
* Tools for developing community resilience
* Participatory processes for groups
* How to make successful projects every time
* Conscious Communication skills – effective listening, non-violent communication, and conflict resolution.
The success of this course set a precedent here to mark scale, quality and the type of events we could host. Furthermore, it’s very rewarding to know Sunseed made a positive impact helping 18 change-makers from all across Europe experience useful tools for transitioning their own communities towards more sustainability. We hope to see many of their faces into the future, and that the positive ripples of this Seeding-Change course has seeded similarly positive shifts here at Sunseed. Likewise, we are excited to announce that Sunseed has been chosen to host the next internal Iberic Ecovillage gathering happening next winter 2013!!
-Communication and Education-
Other exciting shifts here at Sunseed happened in the Communication and Education department. Patricia Rios Canas, and assistants Martin Hyams and Cassandra Caroline worked duly this year to educate, publicise and set groundwork to for further fund-raising. We hope to re-launch our alumni network “Friends of Sunseed” in 2013, and now have a good online platform through Sunseed’s new website. The department also helped to host a Documentary filming with Carlos, Jean Luc Danneyrolles and Samuel, from the French project “Le potager d ́un curieux” . This film will highlight the passions, motives and efforts of over 40 projects and communities working in Spain towards a more sustainable future. Check out “La Voz del Viento” when it is released in mid-2013! We hope to host a screening, too since we are so happy to have played a part.
Also, several magazine, newspaper and freelance journalist came to Sunseed to talk with the team in order to write articles about the project, such as the Green Guide Olive press. We also had the opportunity to write three articles for the famous Spanish eco-building magazine Eco-habitar. And a Danish permaculture magazine. We have been formalizing collaboration agreements with several Universities & students for students placements & internships and had seven students in internships granted by EU funds Erasmus or Leonardo coming from 1 to 6 months. We posted results from their projects and research on our website, please take a look!
In Sustainable Living, our coordinators Mimi Prell, and new coordinator Ana Sanchez Barrioso helped volunteers to learn all about collecting and preserving a lot of our own food. We have made many,many jars of different fruit marmalades, tomato and mushroom preserves. And of course olives and almonds! Solar cooking is alive and sizzling this year, and a solar cookery class helped us build a new solar-oven which reaches 150°c! We nave been experimenting with new-types of breads as well, and are still finding ways to deal with kilograms of red-hot chilipeppers! (thank you Iain!) Harisa anyone? (a delicious, ultra-spicy Tunisian condiment, yum!). The Sustainable Living department helped all our volunteers arrive and feel at home with great success, because from our 2012 volunteer feedback forms so many were impressed with our local, tasty food and comfortable living spaces.
One of the most exciting highlights of this year was when we acquired one hectare of “new” land from our kind neighbor Jose Antonio, who has leased it to Sunseed rent-free for 7 years. Under the agreement we will cultivate and care for it. This significant increase in our growing area means we’re one step closer towards greater food self-sufficiency. This Summer we produced 40% of our produce, and next year we’re aiming higher. Maria, a permaculture trained volunteer from Sweden introduced a new compost technique. How to make compost in just18 days! We produced excellent seed compost this way. A traditional method from Bangalore using clay was tried and tested by one of our Erasmus students Ilaria Elephante with great success. Our Mediterranean Garden is our only garden that does not use water from the acequia but from the ram pump! This summer we found ourselves using buckets to hand-water the vegetables! Forming a chain to pass buckets of precious water uphill brought out the community spirit! Ironically we also found out it’s possible to over-water tomatoes, even in desert drought conditions! That said under the intense summer heat this year’s strong focus on thick mulching helped us maintain soil temperatures and not to lose any plants to the heat.
-A major challenge-
One of the year’s most powerful experiences began during the early morning hours of September 28th when southern Spain experienced the worst flood since 1973. Spain’s weather agency said up to 245 liters of water had fallen per square meter in the areas around us. With all this water the Rio Aguas lived up to it’s name and we saw it raise by at least 4 meters, raging with a turbid, brown torrent, that sadly also included a lot of garbage-debris from nearby settlements. The flood path looked cataclysmic, and with the pressure of water careening down the river we saw 20 years of caña over-growth ripped out from it’s roots freeing the river to be open again. Indeed, the event was tragic because 11 people died in Spain from the floods, and while we were affected by the deluge, we are so grateful no one here was injured. However, the scale of cleanup was massive; here in Los Molinos the river caused a landslide that knocked hundreds of cubic-meters of earth into our ancient-irrigation system. 20 volunteers spent two-weeks digging the channel by hand, which eventually allowed us to restore the luxury of running water to our village.
Today, it’s impossible not to see the mark of this rain storm wherever you look. Roads are still damaged, our river charts a new course,and we have a new deep, long swimming hole. Even the hills reaching far into the distance are a color green that we are amazed to see. We feel the power of nature from this event, and it’s the power of our group of people which held us through. It was a community effort here to clean up, an effort which allowed us to restore a sense of ordinariness here, and we celebrated all together here with a village dinner hosted by Sunseed.
-Gratitude and Annual Planning-
Volunteer participation creates Sunseed. People come here to participate, bring ideas, and a sense of care-taking. Their sincere efforts to work fully shape this place into the small paradise that it is. In 2012, we are so grateful to have welcomed over 100 volunteers, 60 visitors, 65 students, and 40 course participants (who visited us for the six residential courses we offered this year).
We have also had between seven and twelve full time staff orchestrating the thriving day-to-day activities of Sunssed (alongside other volunteers, of course), and this year we have had the support of seven trustees
Related to council was a magnificent closure of the year for Sunseed staff and trustees, who come together as a full-team for three days this November. We used a participatory methods to create an opportunity for staff to recall and celebrate achievements over the past year and develop a shared vision and commitment for activities in this year ahead. We tried to ensure all ideas and aspirations could come forward to be heard and thought about, and then we worked together to prioritize our works for 2013 into a monthly calendar. Ahead for 2013 we’re looking at more infrastructural updates, including efforts to improve indoor temperatures and stop leaks, as well as efforts to bring gardens into a fuller production. We also excited to develop an informal accreditation scheme to be adapted into our volunteer program which recognizes all practical hands-on skills learned in department work, as well as the more informal and ‘invisible’ social & community- based learning which happens here at Sunseed inbetween the scenes.
In 2012 Sunseed said good-bye to many of our longer-term staff. Csaba Zagoni from Appropriate Technology moved to London to join a position with Green Peace International. Leaving with Csaba was Mimi Prell, our sweet yoga-teaching, jam-making Sustainable Living coordinator. Iain Wilson our Organic Garden Coordinator for 2011-2012 left us with a legacy of many tastey chili-peppers and much more (very needed) compost! We are deeply grateful also to the work of Jef Cerrick, Kirsty Heron and Patricia Cañas, who have each worked here for nearly 3 years. Jef worked in the role of Project Manager, Kirsty as both Gardens and Project Coordinator, and Patricia as Communication and Education Coordinator – their contributions to the project are innumerable. We are also grateful to Martin Hyams, assistant to Communication and Education who laid most of the groundwork for the Grundtvig grant, as well as our volunteer mentoring program and the Friend of Sunseed alumni network that should be
launched in 2013. Hasta Luego, hasta pronto amigos!
It’s another full year ahead, and hopefully in one year’s time we will be able to say that once again our
success has not only been in the start and accomplishment of projects, but also in working together to live through the change processes happening, and in finding ways to integrate all the invaluable learning opportunities we made together.
See you in 2013!
-love from the Sunseed Staff and Trustees
December 2011 – Summary
2011 has been a good year for the Project. Following many years of substantial losses, the Project’s income met it’s expenditure over the last 12 months. Thanks in main to an increase in the number of volunteers, well over 200, who pay a donation for their stay and an increase in the number of full time long term volunteers. Volunteers with experience and qualifications, often at Degree level have contributed enormously to the Projects aims this year particularly in the fields of Education and Publicity, Appropriate Technology and Dryland Management. Second to UK visitors in terms of numbers were visitors from the U.S.A and Germany. It is still disappointing to note that despite our presence in Spain that Spanish visitors are a small minority of those who come to Sunseed. Stricter and more accurate budget management and account keeping by the staff team has helped to reduce expenditure. Our food and developing Environmental Policies, for example the use of recycled building materials, help to achieve the Trust’s aims whilst lowering costs. However a review of the amount of contribution’ collected from volunteers and course participants is necessary to ensure that we remain a financially viable Project. Rising food and fuel costs, wages and increased advertising and information dissemination all need to be covered by the income we receive from volunteers.
In the UK there have been changes to the structure and members of the Board of Directors. New Appropriate Technology and Eco Construction and Maintenance Trustees have been appointed and two new Director positions, that of Secretary and Chair have been created. Currently there are three Trustee vacancies: Organic Gardens, Sustainable Living and Dryland Management.
A number of courses have been run in Spain: A thermal mass stove was built in Lubrin, a wind turbine course run in Albox and a Permaculture Course at the Project in October. Drylands and Sustainable Living also provided additional learning opportunities. Appraisal of these courses is taking place over this winter and although there is no doubt that their educational value and content meet the aims of our Strategic Plan the cost of putting these courses is prohibitive if not covered by course fees.
A successful, in terms of enjoyment and media coverage, 25th anniversary event took place in October.
Assistants to Coordinators in the Gardens, Dryland Management, Education and Publicity and Sustainable Living have helped with not only improvements to the Projects infrastructure but also ensuring that the visitor has an enjoyable and rewarding experience when at Sunseed. Catering and housekeeping for 30+ people in the height of summer is no easy task and the dedication and willingness of the staff team to ensure that Sunseed is successful at this is recognised.
The Project is currently ‘closed’ to volunteers as the main house undergoes refurbishment works . This closures the first in Sunseeds 25 year history will enable Sunseed to offer even more from February 2012 when we reopen.
Project Manager, Jef Carrick, who has been at the Project for three years has decided not to renew his contract in March next year and his input and dedication to the Project will be missed and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him and to say good luck and success with your own future projects. I wish his successor and all of the staff team a happy and rewarding new year and we look forward to welcoming many more visitors and volunteers to the Project in 2012.
Paul Freeman, Chair, Sunseed Desert Technology, Spain, December 2011
Sunseed Memory 2011
If you wan to now more about Sunseed activities and results on 2011 you can download and read here Sunseed Memory 2011